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Golf architect A.W. Tillinghast celebrated on Long Island

No. 12 hole at Bethpage Black golf course,

No. 12 hole at Bethpage Black golf course, site of The Barclays PGA event Aug. 23-26, 2012. Credit: Handout

Monday will be a holiday of sorts at Island Hills in Sayville, Southward Ho in Bay Shore, Sands Point Golf Club and on Bethpage Red and Black. All of those courses were designed by the late A.W. Tillinghast, who will be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame that day, and whose work makes golfers at those places feel like every day is a holiday.

"I don't think people tee it up and say, 'I'm proud to be teeing up on a Tillinghast course,' not every week, anyway," said Bill Gradante, president of Island Hills, which Tillinghast built from an existing nine-hole layout in 1927. "But very clearly, in conversations at the bar or with friends, it's something you're very proud to say. When you walk off this course, you hear the name. People know the design,"

At Southward Ho, which Tillinghast finished in 1923, officials believe it is fitting that Monday will be the first day of qualifying for the Long Island Amateur. They are hopeful of making an announcement to the competitors and are proud of the fact the course still is relevant for young championship caliber golfers, more than 90 years after it was conceived by one of the game's greatest architects.

Of the ceremony, which will be held at St. Andrews as part of British Open week, Southward Ho head pro Dave Preston said, "Our members are obviously very proud of that."

Tillinghast is recalled as a flamboyant Roaring Twenties personality who loved every aspect of golf: playing, teaching, promoting, writing about it and developing places to play. He is known for his courses that still host major championships, notably the Black, Winged Foot and Baltusrol. But on the Island, he is just as revered for building tracks that are still exemplary for every day play. Including his redesigns at North Hempstead and Rockaway Hunting Club, his work on the Island comprises public and private, Nassau and Suffolk, North Shore and South Shore.

There are a few trademarks, such as back-to-back par 5s -- Nos. 3 and 4 on Island Hills, 10 and 11 on Southward Ho, 17 and 18 at Baltusrol -- as well as huge bunkers and greens that tilt back to front. But mostly his trademark is not having one. "Tilly" took what nature gave him at every venue and made something eye-catching out of it.

Gradante said, "We use his name in our marketing material all the time, but I think what really attracts people to the course is the way he designed it. When people play it, they walk out and say, 'It's fair, and it has the best greens.' "

Island Hills head pro Darren Goralski said that Tillinghast built a course that satisfies both low and high handicappers. The latter group likes the lack of sidehill lies and that, "I think it's hard to lose a golf ball here," he said. The former group likes the variety. "At most courses of this length, I'm hitting a lot of irons and hybrids off the tees. Here, I'm hitting driver a lot when I want to. Having choices while you're teeing off is a big thing."

Tillinghast courses take the name seriously. His Long Island clubs used to hold an annual team championship among them. Sands Point hired Tillinghast specialist Keith Foster several years ago to bring the course back to its designer's vision. His goal, he said, was to "make the work look like I didn't do anything."

The work of "Tilly" still holds up in the age of massive drivers and souped-up golf balls. A lot of caps will be tipped on Long Island Monday. As Southward Ho's Preston said, "The golf course here is not blessed with the topography that some courses have. But people love playing it, every day."

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