Tom Bendelow On Building A Golf Course

Tom Bendelow On Building A Golf Course

Tom Bendelow On Building A Golf Course

Tom Bendelow has sometimes been called the “Johnny Appleseed of American Golf,” for his prolific golf course production. Over his career, Bendelow designed some 700 courses.

Bendelow immigrated to the United States from Scotland in 1892. Working for the New York Herald, and on the side as a golf instructor, his first design was a private six-hole course on Long Island. Within a few years, he was hired by A.G. Spalding to promote golf in New York and New Jersey. During this time, he was hired by the New York City Park District to redesign and manage the Van Cortlandt Park golf course. Among the things he brought to golf in the United States: Tee times, marshals, public golf instruction and caddie training.

In 1901, Bendelow was hired as Spalding’s Director of Golf Course Development. and moved to Chicago. From there, he traveled North America, promoting the game,  designing courses and offering advice on construction. It made sense for Spalding. An increase in the number of courses and players translated to greater equipment sales. Bendelow jumped ship in 1917 and got on board with Wilson Sporting Goods in a similar position. In 1920, he was named Chief Golf Course Designer with American Park Builders Company as Chief Golf Course Designer, where he became involved in a wide variety of planning projects, including parks and cemeteries.

While at Spalding, Bendelow served as editor of the company’s annual Official Golf Guide.  The guides contained lists of national, state, association, city and club champions; lists of golf clubs; advice on greenskeeping; articles on the state of the game in various states (as well as Canada, Havana and Britain); and the official rules of golf. It was quite the undertaking. For 1914, Bendelow, wrote a short article with advice on laying out a golf course. I found it interesting. Here’s Tom Bendelow On Building A Golf Course:


Useful Pointers

by Tom Bendelow

Hints on laying out a golf course.

Very little has been written on the subject of laying out golf courses, and rightly so, by the numerous scribes who have added to the large and every increasing number of books on the subject of golf. No doubt, they all realized that it was a subject upon which more mistakes could be made in a minute than could be remedied in years, and very wisely refrained. Were conditions the same everywhere the task would be a comparatively easy one, but as they are not this is what makes it almost impossible. We have no intention, therefore of laying down any hard and fast lines to go upon, but merely give some general ideas of what is requisite.

The acreage necessary for a nine-hole course of an average length of about 3,00 yards is about 45 acres. This will give about two or three acres space for club house and the amenities thereof. Of course, for an 18-hole course, with the added attractions usually to be taken care of in a proposition of such magnitude, 100 acres is none too much. Understand, however this is on land that is practically free from any large quantities of trees. Of course, if a park effect is wanted in connection therewith the acreage will have to be largely increased.

The ideal land for a golf course, be it a 9- or 8-hole one, is land of an undulating nature, having some natural attractions in the nature of a stream meandering through it, or some good elevations which can all be used to splendid advantage. The ideal soil is of sandy loam with a gravelly subsoil, but as this cannot always be had, a good golf course may be laid out on nearly any kind of farm land. Of course, the exercise of a little judgment is absolutely necessary as to the placing of the greens to the best possible advantage.

If the ground has been under cultivation there is no other course open but that the whole should be plowed up. Previous to eh plowing, all fences and other lines of demarcation between fields should be thoroughly removed, as well as all stones and other debris, when the whole then can be thoroughly harrowed preparatory to seeding.

If fertilizing of the soil is necessary, the best thing that an be done is toe spread some rotted stable manure on the ground before the plowing has been resorted to and seeing to it that the whole is well turned in.

When the harrowing has been done satisfactorily, the ground should then be seeded. As the seeding is a matter of the very greatest importance no chances should be taken, but the best advice obtainable on this subject should be had. False economy practiced at a time like this in the sparing of the quality of seed sown will be a disappointment.

This does not mean necessarily that you are to go and pay all kinds of fancy prices for so-called imported mixtures that are being advertised from time to time, and which, b y the way, are not nearly as good as the native grasses produced in our own country. Why should they be, when climatic conditions and adaptability — the two chief factors with regard to satisfactory growth — are so vastly different. No; but there is an old axiom common to agriculturists which is to the effect that if you do not put it on the ground you may never expect to take it off, and when the right kind of seed has been procured suitable to the soil, it should be sown at the rate of at least from 100 to 125 pounds per acre.

If the ground, however, has been lying fallow, or in pasture of any kind, there is no need for being so radical int eh preparation of the soil, as it is infinitely better to keep what you have got in the way of turf, however, poor it may be than go to the unnecessary expense of undoing what Nature has taken probably years to do, and which can, by little attention, be improved 100 per cent. A disc harrow at at time like this will do wonders and the best thing to do is to see to it that the ground is thoroughly disced, care being taken that the discs are not set at such an angle that the turf is displaced, the object being merely to cut it. This will have he effect of breaking up the soil and stimulating in it chemical action, thereby making available a great many properties which are natural to the soil itself. When this has been done, then some good commercial fertilizer can be used, after which seeding and rolling may be indulged in. Seeding on ground so treated should be at the rate of 50 pounds to the acre.

Medinah Golf Club, one of Tom Bendelow’s creations, although remodeled by Robert Jones.

The staking out of the course should be the next thing that should occupy the attention of the committee in charge of this work, and we would strongly advise here again that the best advice possible should be got on this subject — having an expert who has been accustomed to do this kind of work for years, and not any Tom, Dick, or Harry who perhaps has not laid out a golf course in his life, hut who may have pretensions to be able to play the game in a capable manner; yet, when it comes to utilizing ground to the best possible advantage he is fairly at sea. See to it that the length of the holes should be such as will call for the best efforts of the golfer and that the holes are of such playing length that credit is given to good playing and that the mediocre player will find himself exactly in the class to which he belongs; in other words, that the holes will be of such as length that there will be no possibility whatever of a man making a mistake and being able to catch up to his opponent without being penalized for his misplay. The object of the expert who is laying out your grounds should be to start with a hole of considerable length and continue with the same idea in mind to avoid congestion and to allow the players to get very well spread out before he comes to shorter holes. A good hole to start in with is probably one about 460 yards, not bringing in any short holes until probably about the sixth or seventh. This will give a field a chance to be to be thoroughly well spread out and preclude in a very great measure the possibility of congestion occurring at the first tee. If it is an 18-hole course that is needed it is a good idea to always bring back the ninth hole to the club house, starting out again at the tenth tee and bringing back the eighteenth to the club house again.

We would strongly advise, however, for those who intend to have a golf course laid out in connection with any club, that the services of an expert be got and that the matter be placed unreservedly in his hands, as it will certainly save a great deal of money to the club contemplating such action. It is false economy to suppose that any man can do this kind of work simply because he happens to play golf, and clubs have proven this to their discomfiture many a time.


I have had the good fortune to play a several of Bendelow’s designs, including Medinah in Illinois. In Michigan, I’ve played Huron Hills Golf Course, Atlas Valley, Marshall Country Club, Maple Brook, Ella Sharp Park and Cascades. Cascades, in Jackson, is one of my favorites. I try to visit it once each season.

Tom Bendelow On Building A Golf Course first appeared on GolfBlogger.Com on December 21, 2017.

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2 thoughts on “Tom Bendelow On Building A Golf Course”

  1. Enjoyed the article, nicely presented and incisive. I have yet however, to find a cemetery credited to him. Not even his own!


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