Architects, Contractors & Professionals

Architect Prichard to revive historic shuttered Ross muni

A routing plan of the Ross course, drawn by his associate J. B. McGovern

The Donald Ross-designed Tumblebrook municipal golf course, closed since the end of the 2019 season, is to be revived and transformed into a community-focused golf campus by a new grouping formed by two golf course architect aficionados in collaboration with Upper Saucon Township.

The nine hole Tumblebrook course was founded in 1931 by Harry Holscher, formerly manager of Lehigh Country Club. Holscher commissioned Ross to design the course, and it is believed that the architect’s associate J. B. McGovern oversaw construction. The family continued to own and operate the course until the death of Harry’s son, Harry Jr., in 1994. In 2001, the course passed into the ownership of the township and ran as a municipal, under several different management regimes, until February 2020, when the last management company terminated its lease agreement. The course did not open for the 2020 season, and has remained closed ever since. In early 2020, local golf enthusiast Josh Woodward went to Tumblebrook in search of a place to play with his two sons, and found the course closed. Woodward spoke to township officials and was horrified to find that they were considering repurposing the site as sports fields. He remained in contact with the township, and inquired about the possibility of an RFP for a new operator for the golf course.

Later that summer at a golf event, Woodward met Donald Ross Society board member Pam Allen, and through her was put in touch with Dr. Joseph Bausch, a Villanova University professor, Golfweek course rater and avid golf historian. Bausch offered to facilitate an introduction to his friend and Donald Ross design expert Ron Prichard. The three were unable to connect until a providential meeting between Woodward and Prichard at a local grocery store. Woodward then pitched his vision for the course to Prichard and Prichard immediately thought of connecting him with Vaughn Halyard. Halyard — also a Ross Society board member, a Golf magazine rater, a former senior Disney executive, and now a film maker — was greens chair of the Cedar Rapids club in Iowa when it went through an acclaimed restoration of its Ross course with Prichard a few years ago. Halyard and Woodward began exploring options for the golf course, created a new company, Tumbebrook Golf Campus LLC, and have been chosen as the preferred operators of the facility by Upper Saucon Township. At a public meeting held on May 8, the Board of Supervisors of Upper Saucon Township voted unanimously to approve the issuing of a Letter of Intent to Tumblebrook Golf Campus LLC.

Related: Restoring the “Old Style” Essence of Donald Ross at a Historic Golf Course

Halyard helped fashion an agreement with Prichard – known in golf circles as ‘the father of restoration’ – to create a full architectural master plan. “Ron will base the plan on Ross’s original design of the Tumblebrook course,” says Halyard. “The golf writer Michael Bamberger played and wrote about the course in 2019, and said he didn’t see a lot of Ross there. The reason for that appears to be that Ross’s design was never properly built. Josh was able to obtain the original drawings of the course from the township’s archives, and Ron is going to use those to guide his work.” Prichard, who lives half an hour from the site, has become an equity partner in Tumblebrook Golf Campus.

Prichard has also enlisted the help of fellow golf architects Jeff Mingay and Christine Fraser. “Christine’s work on the early concept was invaluable, in putting on paper what only existed in our heads. We wouldn’t be where we are today without her and Jeff’s contributions,” says Woodward.

“What’s really exciting about this is that, although the course was designed by Ross and built by his key associate, his design was never fully executed. Effectively this will be the first time Ross’s finishing touches have ever been built at Tumblebrook,” says Prichard. Brad Becken, president of the Donald Ross Society – and author of the recently published book ‘The Golf Architecture of Donald Ross’ – says: “There have been more than 120 Ross restorations over the last thirty years, and most of them have been excellent. What’s really exciting about this project is that it will see the realization of Ross’s vision for the golf course. Ross built a lot of courses in the Philadelphia area, but very few of them are open to the public. Saving Tumblebrook will be an important contribution to his legacy.”

“Included in the project are 90 acres of additional land alongside the course, and we plan to use that for a second nine hole course, to be designed by a world-class golf course architect,” says Halyard. “The extra land will also support a range and learning facility. These are critical in support of our plans for a golf-forward community environment. We are resolved to deliver the kind of golf that should keep kids active outdoors for hours. We are in the early days of our project as our current plans are dependent on a number of factors such as zoning and other approvals.” 

The team expects to lead off with the Prichard work on the Ross course concurrent with the driving range build out. Construction of the second nine hole course will commence as the Ross course opens. “The future of public and junior golf in this part of Pennsylvania is very bright,” says Woodward. “Our golf campus concept — to use golf as an educational and recreational tool — will provide programming in scholastic, youth caddie, community and township parks and recreation areas. It will be part school and playground for golfers, part teaching facility about the business of golf, and part STEM and STEAM lab. All parties involved are very excited, and we cannot wait to get started!”

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