Founded in 1899, Flossmoor Country Club (originally Homewood Country Club) has a illustrious and intriguing architectural history. According to the 1901 Chicago Green Book, the original course was laid out by Chicago golf pioneer H. J. Tweedie, member Dr. H. W. Gentles, and club professional Jack Pearson. The course has evolved over time, with many notable changes made by Flossmoor professional and greenkeeper Harry Collis, who reconfigured the course in 1915 to accommodate a new clubhouse location following the Club’s second devastating clubhouse fire. Under Collis, Flossmoor reached its architectural and competitive pinnacle in the Roaring Twenties when it hosted the 1920 PGA and 1923 U.S. Amateur. A recent update by Ray Hearn has restored Flossmoor's position as one of the elite courses in the Chicago area.
The Curious Case of Herbert J. Tweedie, Dr. H. W. Gentles, and Jack Pearson
Herbert “Pops” Tweedie (1864-1906) was born in Bombay, India, to Scottish parents in 1866. Tweedie spent his formative years in Hoylake, England, where his father was a founding member of the Royal Liverpool Golf Club in 1869. Growing up next to the links, Tweedie learned the game alongside the great English amateurs John Ball and Harold Hilton and twice defeated Ball to win Hoylake’s Junior Championship in the 1870s. The Tweedie family relocated to Chicago in the 1880s. Tweedie was instrumental in working with Charles Blair Macdonald to establish golf in the Chicago area.
When he died at age 41 in 1906, Tweedie was the leading golf expert and architect in the Chicago area. In addition to Homewood Tweedie was responsible for laying out over 30 courses, including such noted early courses as the Glen View Club (1902 U.S. Amateur and 1904 U.S. Open ) and Midlothian Country Club (1914 U.S. Open).
Much less is known about Flossmoor's first professional Jack Pearson. What is known is that he was a long hitter who hailed from Fife in Scotland. When contacted by Dr. Gentles to come to Flossmoor, Pearson was working at East Middlesex Club outside London. He was a frequent playing partner of the great James Braid, who, in addition to his résumé as a champion golfer, would also become a fine architect. It appears that Pearson spent two years at Flossmoor, 1900-1901, and worked the winters as a golf professional in Ocala, Florida. Despite its unfinished state, the 18-hole course was inaugurated on a September 8, 1900, with a match between Pearson and Alex Smith, the Washington Park professional. Smith defeated Pearson 5 and 4. Smith won his second Western Open title at Flossmoor in 1906 and also was a two time US Open Champion winning at Onwentsia in 1906 and again in 1910 at the Philadelphia Cricket Club.
There is some discord in the record regarding who designed Flossmoor’s original course. A number of sources indicate that Tweedie laid out the course with the Chicago Daily Tribune reporting Tweedie was on site working to lay-out the course in April 1900. However, The Tradition Endures, Flossmoor’s centennial book from 1999, contains a 1948 letter from original member Dr. H. W. Gentles that muddies the picture by claiming he and Jack Pearson were responsible for the original course. Gentles contends that Tweedie completed an initial routing which was less than satisfactory. According to the letter, he convinced the club to let him hire Pearson, and he and Pearson made changes to the course to eliminate a poor start and to take better advantage of the potential in the south end of the course, where the back nine is located today. Among Gentles' complaints was that all three nines of the 27-hole course could not finish at the house, a problem that was not remedied until 1915. The 1901 Green Book, which given the nature of the information listed must have relied on information supplied by the Club, credits the layout of the course to Tweedie, Gentles, and Pearson. This authoritative source establishes some degree of involvement by Gentles and Pearson while not discounting the role of Tweedie.
In that era, as now, it was customary for club officials and professional staff to assist an experienced architect. For example, the Green Book gives credit to Tweedie and two club officers at Midlothian as well. There is no evidence that Gentles and Pearson were involved in the design of any other course before or after Homewood, whereas Tweedie was a well-known and accomplished architect. Perhaps 50 years later Dr. Gentles confused the process of constructing the course and making early improvements with the initial layout of the course. In any event, absent compelling evidence to the contrary, it is far more likely that Gentles and Pearson assisted Tweedie, or made some later modifications to his layout, rather than rejected his work entirely. Until it can be conclusively proven otherwise, the Flossmoor’s view that Tweedie should be credited as the primary architect of the original Homewood CC course is upheld.
The Original Course
The earliest routing plan available, shown here, dates to the Chicago Inter Ocean’s 1901 Green Book. The original routing started at the clubhouse, which was located on the north end of the property. Like the links courses in England and Scotland, the course ran out to the south end of the property before turning back and returning to the clubhouse. An auxiliary nine-hole course, which no longer exists, was built in the middle of the north end of the property. Similar to other Tweedie layouts from the gutty era, when drives of the best players traveled just 180 to 200 yards, Flossmoor when it opened was a very long course, coming in at 6,100 yards.
Like most courses from the early years, the course was slow to round into form and took time to reach its full potential. By the September 1900 opening, the greens were reported to be in very rough condition, and in early 1901 Pearson was still completing work on the greens. Other reports indicate that bunkers were added in 1902 and that more bunkers “along the most current scientific lines” were added in 1904 to combat the new rubber core ball. A significant change to the course was made in 1903, when the greens on the 16th and 17th holes were both moved to their present locations on top of the ridges formed by the old banks of Butterfield Creek. Perhaps these were the changes Dr. Gentles felt were needed to improve the south end of the course. Ever since its green was moved up on the ridge next to the old farm cottage, the long 17th has been considered one of the best holes in the Chicago District. It was included in a 1917 Chicago Daily Tribune survey of the best 18 holes in the country conducted by Beverly CC professional George O’Neil.
When assessing an architect of Tweedie’s era, it is important to understand the limitations of the period. Architecture at the turn of the century consisted primarily of laying out the routing of the course. Construction techniques and budgets were minimal and greenskeeping techniques and staffs were rudimentary. The emphasis among the best architects was on the routing where they worked to fully utilize the natural features of the course and locate tees, hole corridors and greensites accordingly. That Flossmoor was laid out with uncommon architectural skill for the era can be seen in the magnificent use of Flossmoor’s natural landforms on such Tweedie originals as 11, 12, and 15.
The 11th, Spion Kop, is only a little longer today than when Tweedie laid it out as a 130-yard par 3 in 1900. It features a terrific uphill approach to a well-bunkered green set on a plateau. The green, one of the best on the course, flows with the natural slope of the land from front left to rear right. The hole was named after a hilltop fortress that was pockmarked by artillery shells in the Battle of Spion Kop on January 24, 1900, a turning point in the Second Boer War.
The 12th was originally a 450-yard par 5 with the tee adjacent to the 11th green. The drive from the hilltop needed to be placed in the valley as close to the creek as one dared. The second was blind, up and over the crest of the hill, then downhill the last 100 yards to another fantastic bunkerless green running away from the player with the natural slope of the hill. Still a wonderful hole today, one can only imagine how good this hole was in 1900.
The 15th, another of Flossmoor's many distinctive par 4's, is described by the Club as one of the best driving holes anywhere. A large oak guards the left side of the gentle dogleg left and the fairway drops into the valley formed by the old creek 190 yards from the hole. The creek must be traversed on the way to the green. A green expansion by Hearn has added several new hole locations.
Despite dramatic changes in the game and a relocated clubhouse, it is quite remarkable that today’s course retains much of Tweedie’s initial routing and many of the best holes retain the imprint of the original Tweedie holes laid-out in 1900.
The par 3 2nd.
Like many courses built during the era of the gutty, Flossmoor had to adapt to changes in the game and has evolved over time. Marked by the opening of Charles Blair Macdonald’s National Golf Links of America, golf course architecture was rapidly evolving by 1910. New construction techniques, advances in agronomy, and an emphasis on strategic design were taking hold. It was around this time that unconfirmed reports indicate Scottish architect William Watson may have added two new holes in 1910 while he was engaged to expand the nearby Ravisloe Club to 18 holes. While documentation of Watson’s involvement may be sketchy, it is clear that what are now the 2nd and 3rd holes were modified between the Western Opens of 1909 and 1913. The new holes (originally 17 and 18) were a well-bunkered 180-yard par 3 and a 550-yard par 5, which encountered a small creek on the way to what was then the home green, located directly in front of the clubhouse porch. They replaced a pair of short par 4’s including the 280-yard 18th, which approached the west side of the clubhouse in what must have been viewed as a weak finish for such a brawny course.
The Collis Era
Harry Collis was the one of the club’s early professionals as well as greenskeepers.
While Flossmoor’s routing still follows much of Tweedie’s original layout, several holes and the stellar green complexes of the course can be attributed to an English import from Blackheath, Harry Collis, who worked at the club from 1905 until 1929. A fine player, Collis was originally hired as the Club’s professional in 1905. At the urging of the Club’s president, Collis took over full-time greenskeeping duties in 1911 with the responsibility of bringing out the full potential of the golf course. Collis immediately began upgrading the course and eventually became known as an accomplished agronomist who created a popular grass mixture for putting greens called Flossmoor Bent.
The par 3 7th was added in 1915.
|The par 5 18th finishing hole.
Collis’ most far-ranging improvements followed the devastating 1914 clubhouse fire and the decision to relocate the clubhouse to the middle of the property on the west side of the grounds. The clubhouse move eliminated the original out and back links style routing to enable both nines to start and finish at the new clubhouse. Collis went to work on the course and in 1915 he debuted two holes: a short par 3 7th hole, which called for a mashie shot over a pond, and a new finishing hole that combined the old par 3 14th and par 4 15th holes into what is now the uphill par 5 18th hole with its green located in front of the clubhouse (as it was on the old 18th). Reports from 1915 also indicate that Collis reconfigured the 14th into a tricky 296-yard par 4 that rewarded placement over length to create a short two shotter that adds great character to the course. At some point, Collis added the signature Flossmoor bunker to the 16th hole, which was previously unprotected in the front (the grass fangs are not visible on the 1939 aerial and probably were a later addition). To accommodate the new clubhouse, the first tee was pushed east, creating a gentle dogleg to the right.
Another important Collis addition to the course came when he shortened the 5th hole from a par 5 to a 447-yard par 4 and moved the tee on the 6th hole back by 100 yards, creating a slight dogleg right. Originally just 315 yards, the 6th was extended to 417 yards. Homewood's homegrown champion golfer Warren K. Wood considered the new 6th with its challenging drive between OB left and a grove of old growth oaks on the right the best hole on the course in the 1920's. Bobby Jones labeled it “The Difficult Sixth” after Max Marston made the first of three consecutive birdies in the afternoon round of their match to start a stirring comeback that paved the way to Marston's victory in the 1923 U.S. Amateur.
The hand of Collis is most clearly evident in Flossmoor’s remarkable green complexes. Collis' Flossmoor Bent can still be seen in the pleasing variety of green, yellow, red, and brown hues, which lend a mottled, old school look to the green surfaces. The smooth, quick greens are quite varied with some on the smaller side and others quite large. Many, like the 11th and 12th, take full advantage of natural slopes, and others like the 4th, 6th and the treacherous 14th have slopes which flow off mounding built into their green pads. Green side mounds built by Collis are another unique characteristic of Flossmoor. A particularly noteworthy example is the use of small mounds surrounding the bunkerless 12th green, which creates a punchbowl effect.
The 6th green in 1923
Collis was also known for rugged, deep, oval greenside bunkering, which can be seen in the 1923 photo of the sixth green.
In addition to his duties at Flossmoor Collis also worked on the side as an architect, often teaming with Olympia Fields professional Jack Daray. A nearby public example of their work can be found at Glenwoodie Golf Course, which features excellent greens and a back nine with a remarkable similarity to Flossmoor’s. Most would agree that Collis' best work can be seen on the ground in Flossmoor.
Like many courses today, tree encroachment, green shrinkage and erosion of bunkers had taken its toll on Flossmoor by the time of its centennial celebration in 1999. Recognizing the need to recapture its former glory, the Club engaged Ray Hearn in 2006 to develop a long-term master plan. The work completed in 2008 includes a brand new par 3 13th (replacing a hole many have cited as a weak link of the course) and a newly located green perched perilously close to a pond on the long par 4 8th. Both greens are surrounded by closely mown chipping areas, which add to the options around the greens. This feature has been combined with a program of green expansion on several other holes, including the 7th. An intriguing example of green expansion took place on the 12th, where the green was extended out to the mounds surrounding the green.
Another notable change by Hearn was made to the 319-yard 4th hole. Previously featuring a lackluster blind drive yet possessing a green of very high merit, the 4th didn't live up to its potential. Hearn eliminated the blind drive by bulldozing the hill and opening up a sweeping view of the fairway. Removal of some withered old trees and a significantly widened fairway on the right, combined with carefully placed fairway bunkers, have created a variety of options, all now fully visible from the tee. The result is a very fine short par 4 hole possessing genuine strategic merit.
Throughout the course, worn-out ovals have been replaced by elegantly understated bunkers built in the 1920's style of George Thomas; some are new to address changes in the game and some are restorations of historic bunkers. A remarkable job has been done with tree removal, particularly on the back nine, opening up vistas previously enshrouded in overgrown willow trees that choked the finishing holes. With the addition of Ray Hearn’s new par 3 13th hole, the back nine is as good as any in the Chicago area.
Flossmoor provides a genuine, broad-shouldered style of golf demanding long and accurate play and a deft touch around the greens. One might quibble that the early holes are built on less than inspiring land and that too much of the course runs north and south so that there is some monotony with how to combat the wind. However, the combined contributions of Tweedie, Watson, Collis and Hearn have created a course with a character and personality all its own. This is due to the foundation laid by Tweedie's long and bold original layout that has stood the test of time, the nature of the terrain which was superbly utilized on the back nine, and a superb set of Harry Collis greens which are unique to Flossmoor.
In 1913 when the great English Golf writer Bernard Darwin visited, he concluded the strength of the course was found in its long par 4’s, which are now complemented by Harry Collis’ greens, interesting short par 4’s, and picturesque par 3’s. With the completion of the renovation, Flossmoor has rightly reclaimed its place among Chicago’s elite courses and remains today, as Darwin concluded in 1913, "a good, honest searching test of golf."
Architectural Evolution of the Course
- Course opened for play in 1900
- Holes 1- Tweedie original. Tee on first hole moved 50 yards east in 1915.
- Holes 2-3: New holes by Willie Watson built in 1910. The 3rd hole changed to a par 4 in 1990.
- Holes 4-6: Tweedie originals as modified over time by Collis. The 4th tee and green were moved back from original positions by Collis. Hearn modified the 4th in 2008 to remove the blind drive and widen the fairway to create more options. Collis converted the 5th to a par 4, which allowed the 6th to be lengthened by 100 yards and bent into a dogleg around the trees.
- Hole 7: Collis original 1915. New Gilley tee added about 1990.
- Hole 8: Tweedie original tee location and hole corridor. New green in 1990. New Hearn green in 2008.
- Hole 9: Tweedie original hole corridor. Expanded to par 5 in 1990
- Holes 10-12: Tweedie originals. The 10th green was relocated closer to the creek. The 12th has been shortened and converted to a par 4.
- Hole 13: Hearn original 2007.
- Holes 14-17: Tweedie original hole corridors. Collis updated the 14th hole in 1915. Green on the 16th and tee and green on the 17th moved up the hill to present locations in 1903. The signature fanged Flossmoor bunker on the 16th was added by Collis.
- Hole 18: Collis original 1915. Combined a par 3 and 4 into the present par 5. New green by Dave Esler in 2000's.
© Daniel Moore - Daniel Moore is an avid golfer who lives in Chicago. This article is based on original source research and information compiled by Dan for a book he is writing on the history of golf course architecture in the Chicago area from 1892 through the Golden Age of Golf Course Architecture.