It was the peak of America’s Gilded Age and along the Jersey Shore a new era of development was about to begin. In Spring Lake Beach, a group of wealthy eastern industrialists had combined with a number of influential local businessmen to form the Spring Lake Beach Improvement Company with the intent of creating a seaside resort. On the oceanfront they erected the Monmouth Hotel and, in July of 1898, a group of these gentlemen met to discuss the formation of a golf club. On August 20th, the Spring Lake Golf and Country Club was officially incorporated in Monmouth County. The newly formed club elected to build the original nine-hole course on an 18-acre tract in the southwestern sector of Spring Lake. The original course is believed to have been laid out by Willie Norton, a Scot from Prestwick, who was then employed as the Golf Professional at Sea Bright Golf Club, one of several clubs that later merged to become Rumson Country Club. Assisting Norton with the design were Harrison Townsend, the first president of the club, and Alexander Jamieson, another of the founding trustees. The nine-hole course played to 2,130 yards with a par 35. It was in use from 1898 to 1911.
The first clubhouse was the rambling former home of Captain Forman Osborn on Mercer Avenue in Spring Lake. As the young club prospered and development of the Spring Lake area accelerated, the founders investigated potential new locations for an expanded 18-hole golf course. In September of 1909, club founders formed the Spring Lake Real Estate Company to purchase the nearby 118-acre Thompson farm on which the new course would be built. Soon thereafter an additional parcel of 30 acres was added to the complex. To design and build their new course, the trustees selected 36-year old George C. Thomas, Jr., a member of the so-called “Philadelphia School” of golf course architecture.
Spring Lake was only Thomas’ third design, having earlier laid out a nine-hole course for the Marion Golf Club near Plymouth, Mass. In 1908, his initial 18-hole course design was completed on his family estate outside Philadelphia. Shortly thereafter this tract became Whitemarsh Valley Country Club. In his early years of design work he closely studied the works of Donald Ross, A. W. Tillinghast and his close friend George Crump, the founder and designer of Pine Valley Golf Club. Thomas received assistance in the design of the Spring Lake course from famed Scottish golfer George Duncan. Assisting in the construction phase was another young Scot by the name of David Aitcheson who, upon completion of the project, became the first Green Superintendent
In the spring of 1911 work was completed on the course which played to 6,030 yards and a par 35-35-70, including his monstrous 4thhole (now the 3rdhole), a par five of 610 yards known as “Hell’s Kitchen." Spring Lake would be the last course that George Thomas would design on the East Coast and his only course in New Jersey. After completion of his active military service in World War I, Thomas moved to California where he revived his interest in golf course design, gracing the pristine canyons around Los Angeles with such classic layouts as Riviera Country Club, Bel Air Country Club and Los Angeles Country Club’s North Course.
With the completion of the new course, Spring Lake’s clubhouse was shifted from Mercer Avenue to the old Thompson homestead between Essex and Sussex Avenues on the east side of the Manasquan-Long Branch Turnpike (Route 71). While this clubhouse was in use, the first tee was just across the road in a location that is today’s 18thteeing area..By 1915, the Thompson clubhouse had outlived its usefulness and a new facility was needed. Construction soon began at a more central location on the course. The new clubhouse was completed in 1916 and, with its occupancy, the golf course holes were rotated to align with the new location. The original 2ndhole now became the 1stand the original 1stbecame the new 18thhole. The Thompson clubhouse was saved and was eventually reborn as the Village Barn and, currently, Doolan’s Shore Club.
Perhaps influenced by the golf course construction going on at clubs such as Pine Valley and Merion Golf Club, as well as the new clubhouse at Spring Lake, the trustees determined in 1917 that their still young course needed a substantial updating. To create and execute the new plan they turned to one of America’s greatest golf course architects, Albert Warren Tillinghast. As a golf course designer, Tillinghast had much in common with George Thomas. Both were devotees of generous teeing areas, small greens, artful bunkers and well-placed trees to frame a hole.
In the spring of 1918, The American Golfer reported on the progress that Tillinghast was making in his reconstruction effort, noting that the extreme length, from the back teeing grounds, has been increased to nearly 6,400 yards, several dog-legged fairways have been introduced and new teeing grounds constructed. Probably the most pronounced improvement is that of the home hole. Here the old green in the hollow has been abandoned and a new one rears its face from the ridge beyond. In places nearly 15 feet of fill was used in the making of this new green. The former 200-yard par three 2nd hole has been lengthened to a 375-yard par four and the infamous par five 3rd hole has been reduced in length by some 75 yards. Many pits of sand are being placed and, when the work is completed, Spring Lake will be a very notable course.
In addition to the changes referenced in The American Golfer, the new Tillinghast design incorporated several additional revisions. The par four 6th hole was shortened to a par three of 220 yards and the 9th hole was expanded by nearly 50 yards to become a par five, leaving the outward yardage at 3,110 yards, only 65 yards longer than Thomas’ design. Par on the front nine remained at 35. On the back nine, Tillinghast lengthened the 13th hole by almost 50 yards while transforming it into a par five. On the 16th he moved the teeing area back, added 65 yards to the length and made it into a par four hole. The yardage on the 17th was increased by 110 yards, the 18th expanded by 45 yards and the two holes remained par fours. In total, the inward nine was lengthened by some 325 yards, making it into a par of 37 and raising par for the course to 72.
During a roughly thirty-year period, A. W. Tillinghast designed over sixty golf courses, including some of the treasures of American golf…San Francisco Golf Club, Quaker Ridge Golf Club, Baltusrol Golf Club, Winged Foot Golf Club and Ridgewood Golf Club. His course designs are considered among the best in the world and he is widely recognized as one of the prime figures of the golden age of golf architecture in America.
Since his reconstruction effort was completed at Spring Lake, relatively few major changes have been made to the golf course. The par four 9thhole has been lengthened by over 50 yards and made into a par five, the par four 11thhole has been extended by 75 yards and the par four 16thhole has been shortened by 100 yards, once again becoming a par three. This has transformed the course from a par 35-37-72 to today’s par 36-36-72. During this period of time the overall length of the course has remained essentially the same, increasing in length by less than 150 yards. Changes have been made to several greens and sand bunkers along the way but there have been no other major architectural changes since the time that A. W. Tillinghast completed his work at Spring Lake.