Manufacturers’ Golf & Country Club
|Manufacturers’ Golf & Country Club|
511 Dreshertown Road
Ft. Washington, PA 19034
Architect: William S. Flynn
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Twenty years ago, at Royal Cinque Ports, one of those wonderful sandhills courses along the English Channel down in Kent, this author met a member of the golf club who said that he had once been to the United States, courtesy of the Royal Navy. It was during the Second World War. He played just one round of golf in America, at a course very near Philadelphia, where his destroyer was tied up at the Navy Yard.
He went on to say that it was an exceptionally good course and that there were three things about the place that now came back to him. The first tee was high, enormously high. Secondly, there were slot machines in the changing rooms, something he’d never seen before. And third was the club’s name, which was most unusual, very odd indeed for a golf club, like no other club name he’d ever encountered. It was on the tip of his tongue, but he could not seem to ...
The clubhouse at Manufacturers’ was once the home of sugar magnate William Frazier Harrison
"Yes, yes, of course, that’s it. Manufacturers’. Most extraordinary, don’t you agree? Manufacturers’. Marvelous name! Absolutely original!"
The club had its roots in the now defunct Manufacturers’ Club of Philadelphia, founded in 1887 by a group of leading industrialists, predominantly textile executives. Their handsome clubhouse, also gone now, was at Broad and Walnut Streets. In 1923, with golf as the spur, the town club decided it needed a country club. President John Fisler appointed a committee of the board to scout possible locations. On the market was the 200-acre estate called Ridgewood Farm, in Oreland, Upper Dublin Township, Montgomery County. The home of sugar magnate William Frazier Harrison, it had, 150 years earlier, been the site of the Whitemarsh encampment, with George Washington’s line of troop deployment extending from Militia Hill on the west, across Fort Hill, Camp Hill, and, along Dreshertown Road, east to Edge Hill.
The property was ideal for a country club: beautiful rolling meadowland traversed by the broad Sandy Run Creek (a tributary of the Wissahickon), a magnificent stone manor house that could easily be adapted to a clubhouse, and a number of subsidiary structures that could house staff members and equipment. The purchase price was $175,000.
The charter of the Manufacturers’ Country Club was granted in Montgomery County Court on October 8,1923. The by-laws called for nine directors. The original board members were: John Fisler, George M. Bridgeman (also one of the founding members of Cedarbrook), J. D. C. Henderson, Charles J. Webb, William H. Folwell, E. A. Weihenmayer, Charles J. Miller, Fredrick M. Devlin, and Leon Goodman. The other six original subscribers were A. M. McBurney, Charles L. Gililand, Percival E. Foerderer, Edward C. Dearden, Walter D. Larzelere, and William H. Richardson. Among the prominent early members were Ellis Gimbel (Philmont’s patriarch), Jules Mastbaum (Mastbaum Theatre), John D. Shibe (Shibe Park), and George W. Sigel (center-city restaurateur and father of Helen Sigel Wilson).
The ’120-yard 8th, across an abandoned quarry to a green in an amphitheatre.
Architect Frank Seeburger was retained to devise the necessary alterations to the imposing residence and to provide plans for a locker room and other additions. Built of limestone quarried on the property, the manor house is strikingly set far up a grand hillside, seeming to be a part of the elevation itself as it rises harmoniously from the ancient hardwoods that crown this eminence. Extensive sleeping quarters on the third and fourth floors would prove invaluable when, in the Thirties and Forties, the club accommodated the football teams from West Point, Annapolis, and Notre Dame, whose schedules frequently brought them to Philadelphia to play at Franklin Field or Municipal Stadium.
Toomey and Flynn were chosen to design and build the golf course. The firm, with its offices in Philadelphia, had been formed shortly after World War I. William Flynn handled the design, Howard Toomey the engineering and construction. Dick Wilson, Robert "Red" Lawrence, and Doylestown’s William Gordon, who would later become prominent golf architects in their own right, all learned their craft with Toomey and Flynn.
It is a truism that, from the standpoint of golf course design and construction, the Roaring Twenties were the Golden Twenties. The finest course architects this country had yet seen—Charles Blair Macdonald, Alister Mackenzie, Donald Ross, A.W. Tillinghast, George Thomas, Perry Maxwell, William Flynn—were not only busy, they were at their brilliant best. Ross, Tillinghast, Thomas, Maxwell, and Flynn all worked at one time or another designing Philadelphia area courses, and some of the evidence is still here to be relished today. But only William Flynn has endowed Philadelphia golfers with a veritable cornucopia of excellent eighteens: Huntingdon Valley, Green Valley, Philmont North, Atlantic City, Philadelphia Country Club, Lehigh, Woodcrest, Rolling Green, Manufacturers’. Not to mention Bala and Springhaven, neither of which is generously endowed with acreage but both of which offer a number of worthwhile holes.
There was no such constriction at Manufacturers’. Here there was space to spare. It is said that Flynn did much of his original planning simply by sitting atop the clubhouse hill and, with a sketch pad in his lap, routing the holes over the terrain spread out far below. The course that finally emerged was reportedly little changed from what he had envisioned as he commanded the entire sweep of the tract from this aerie.
By and large, the land Flynn had to work with was rolling, but the start of the round was downright—the emphasis, happily, is on the first syllable—hilly. Is there, on the entire roster of Golf Association courses, an opening shot more truly exhilarating? Understand, it is not a free swing—no, there are bunkers right and left in the landing area, and husky evergreens just outside the sand. Still, the fairway is not really pinched, and this launching pad of a tee, so eloquent in its promise of a long, soaring shot, encourages us to swing the club fully back and fully through. If we should do exactly that, and do it smoothly, then how well—how satisfyingly—has the game begun! And though the scorecard reads 376 yards (390 from the back tees, 360 from the forward markers, as Flynn was the first to dub them), we know that the playing value is rather less. We will now approach a green open across the front with something like an 8-iron, and the likelihood of jotting down a 4 as we head toward the 2nd tee is very high indeed.
It is on the 2nd hole, which has much the same measured yardage, that we encounter the broad Sandy Run Creek for the first time. The hole is flat (it is, in fact, the one truly flat hole on the course), it doglegs neatly left around a cluster of trees in the landing area, and the green sits just on the far side of the stream. We will often be going at the target with a 6-iron, a bit more or less depending on the breeze. The green, bunkerless, is not large, and it is angled somewhat to the line of flight, thus making it play even smaller. Nor is it particularly hospitable. Even though squarely struck, our approach inclines to work its way to the back collar, perhaps even a foot or two beyond it. This may not be a hole that declaims its quality, but in truth it is one of the best two-shotters in the entire Philadelphia area.
But then, so is the 3rd, a 444-yarder (455 from the back) that is big golf. It ripples away between standoffish trees for a good 350 yards, then climbs to a green carved out of a lefthand slope and defended on its right flank by a deep sandpit. It is a brute, this 3rd hole, and it is superb. It can be mastered by only the accomplished player, and he better possess a very sensitive touch on the greens, for the ball that comes to rest above the hole will be all but uncontrollable as it leaves the putter.
It has been a well-nigh textbook start: the inviting 1st hole that gets us off in high spirits, the exquisite 2nd that calls for skill, not strength, and the mighty 3rd, where a bogey is not all that disappointing. The rest of the nine is equally good and scarcely predictable. There is only one more par 4, the water-fronted 384-yard 5th. The other five holes consist of three one-shotters—a falling 167-yarder out of the trees and then back into them, a climbing 201-yarder to a dangerously sloping green, and the delicious 120-yard 8th, played over an old abandoned quarry to a tiny green in a natural amphitheatre—plus two short par 5s which are very possible birdies. In both of these cases, however, the spirited nature of the green—in truth, the terracing on the 9th is little short of scandalous—often quashes our hopes. The first nine measures just 3,005 yards from the regular tees; par is 35.
The incoming nine is more of the same as far as outstanding shot values go, but there is a significant difference in length: against a par of 36, the yardage is 3,433. Stronger hitting is called for. Both par 3s are very testing, the uphill 201-yard 11th over a bank to a green not in view (the flag is, but not the putting surface, just as on Flynn’s excellent 15th at Philadelphia Country Club) and the 227-yard 13th, with sand sealing off most of the front of the green here. Again, the two par 5s offer distinct birdie possibilities, but four of the par 4s are just as distinctly bogey possibilities, with the 420-yard 10th (the ubiquitous Sandy Run Creek defending the green) and the 416-yard 16th (another deep abandoned quarry just short of the green) raising the specter of even worse.
Manufacturers’ is classic parkland golf. It is beautiful— majestic hardwoods and flowering fruit trees mark the way. It is easy to walk (and the tiny tram that carries us from the last green up the steep hill to the clubhouse earns everyone’s gratitude, not least of all the caddies!). It is straightforward and natural and honest—caprice is almost never a factor, except perhaps on that 9th green. So admirably varied is the design that there is no suggestion of repetition. And, above, all the course is crammed with top-notch golf holes, holes that consistently demand sound thinking and sound swinging. It is William Flynn at the top of his form and, like all the Flynn courses that Philadelphia golfers are heir to, it is a delight to play.
Manufacturers’ opened officially on May 15,1925, with a match that pitted Walter Hagen and Joe Kirkwood against Huntingdon Valley’s "Ducky" Corkran and Merion’s Max Marston, whose extraordinary year in golf, 1923, remains unparalleled.
In 1937 the club was reorganized, the name was changed to Manufacturers’ Golf and Country Club, and the roster would soon disclose the names of business and professional men from all callings.
Joseph "Bud" Lewis succeeded James Cole as head professional in 1943. Bud Lewis was equally renowned as player and teacher. Among his pupils were Bill Hyndman, Howard Everitt, and Manufacturers’ own Jack and Joan Hubbert, the only brother and sister to win Pennsylvania Junior Championships. Patty Berg once called Bud Lewis the best instructor in the game. In the 1940s he began teaching the blind, organizing tournaments for them and playing in many of these events. Twice (1942 and 1950) he won the Philadelphia Open and twice (1943 and 1948) he won the Philadelphia PGA. Like Marty Lyons at Llanerch, Lewis’s very name was synonymous with golf at Manufacturers’, where he stepped down in 1979 to become professional emeritus. For years he held the unofficial course record, 64, seven under par. Far more remarkable than the score, however, is the fact that he shot it three times in a row. Recalled Lewis a number of years ago, "When I shot 64 for the second time straight, many members found it hard to believe. John Dalls, the club secretary, kiddingly said at the time that he didn’t think anybody could shoot a 64 on this course. I jokingly said, ’What are you doing tomorrow?’ The next morning we teed off and went around together.