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The Tillie Controversy (Part II)

June 2009

Seven years ago, we identified Joe Burbeck as Bethpage Black's architect of record ("The Real Man Behind the Black," June 2002), with A.W. Tillinghast as consultant -- infuriating Tillie fans who said we were robbing the man of a significant legacy.

Our evidence? The official history of the Long Island State Parks says that Bethpage's courses "were designed and constructed under the direction of Joseph H. Burbeck, the Superintendent of the park, with A.W. Tillinghast, internationally known golf architect, as consultant."

New York records show Tillinghast was hired as "consulting golf architect" on Dec. 30, 1933, for $50 per day for 15 days, and was laid off on April 18, 1935, a little more than a year before the Black Course opened.

Tillinghast wrote in February 1934 that he was "honored by being selected as the consultant in the planning of these courses" and wrote of the Black Course in August 1937, " . . . it was Burbeck's idea to develop one of these layouts along the lines which were to be severe to a marked degree. It was his ambition to have something which might compare with Pine Valley as a great test."

Recently, we came across an article, "A Paradise for Golf's Forgotten Man" in the July 1937 issue of National Golf Review. In it, writer Lester Rice recounted his round on the Black with Burbeck, whom he identified as "the architect who had designed three of the courses and renovated the fourth . . . "

Of the golf, Rice wrote, "Having fiendishly planned this 'inferno,' [Burbeck] had carefully avoided its pitfalls like a man stepping from stone to stone." Burbeck was evidently not a hack.

But a Tillinghast proponent referred us to a New York Times article from Nov. 13, 1936, that says, "Tillinghast laid out and supervised the construction of the four 18-hole courses at Beth Page [sic] State Park . . . "

It appeared in the Times, but it was an Associated Press piece filed by an unnamed stringer in Chicago who was covering the annual meeting of the PGA of America. The article included an announcement that the PGA was proposing 600 work-relief projects, and that its employee Tillinghast would assist in selecting sites for the courses.

Besides the misspelling of Bethpage, the article had other obvious errors. Only three courses were built (Bethpage's Green already existed), and everyone agrees Burbeck supervised construction. The AP article appeared in many newspapers that day. In most of them, all mention of Bethpage was edited out. In some, all mention of Tillinghast was edited out.

Does that one item convince us that Tillinghast deserves primary credit for Bethpage Black?

Nope. It's still Burbeck, architect of record; Tillinghast, consultant.

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