07/20/2016

The Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, New Jersey, the site of the 98th PGA Championship and soon host to its 16th major championship, has such a long history that nobody remembers anymore where the body was found. Literally.

The body gave the club its name. It came from 61-year old farmer Baltus Roll who was murdered there in 1831 while working the acreage that then included an orchard and vegetable gardens.

Sixty years later, the founder of The Social Register, Louis Keller, had converted the farm to an estate and used it as a weekend retreat. In 1895 he built the first golf course on the property, opened a club and called it Baltusrol. As far as golf is concerned, the history was just beginning.

By 1918 the club had already hosted five major championships including two US Women’s Amateurs and two US Opens when A. W. Tillinghast was brought in to rework what was soon to be called the “Old Course.”

 

“It came from 61-year old farmer Baltus Roll who was murdered there in 1831 while working the acreage that then included an orchard and vegetable gardens.”

 

Tillinghast, a proponent of what was then known as “modern golf design,” proposed that rather than rebuilding the 18 holes as sited, it be replaced with two new championship courses. The then radical “Dual Courses” concept was approved and in 1922 the current Baltusrol courses, the Upper and the Lower, opened for play.

Tillinghast’s triumph at Baltusrol was a routing that has been lengthened and refreshed over time, but remains virtually intact almost 95 years since it opened. Tillinghast went on to design other famous courses including Bethpage Black and Winged Foot, but the courses at Baltusrol were almost immediately recognized as among his best works and today the club is a National Historic Landmark as designated in 2014 by the National Park Service.

The Lower course, where Jason Day will defend his 2015 PGA title beginning July 28, hosted its first major in 1926. That US Amateur saw Bobby Jones denied his third straight Amateur championship as he lost the 36-hole final 2-and-1 to George Von Elm. Ten years later the Upper course conducted its first major; the 1936 US Open in which Tony Manero came from behind to win by two strokes when “Lighthorse” Harry Cooper bogeyed three of the final five holes.

While both courses have a rich tradition and golf history, the Lower course has hosted 10 majors while the Upper has only three (including Jeff Quinney’s victory in the 2000 U.S. Amateur that utilized both courses).

The Lower course will play as a par 70 over 7,400 yards for this year’s PGA centennial. There’s only water on one hole, the signature “Famous Fourth,” a 200-yard par-3, the shortest hole on the course. (The longest hole is No. 17, a 650-yard par-5.)

Some of the best players in the world have played majors at Baltusrol, but only the greatest golfer ever, Jack Nicklaus, has won twice there, taking US Open titles in 1967 and 1980. Other men’s Open winners at Baltusrol include Willie Anderson (1903), Jerry Travers (1915), Manero, Ed Furgol (1954), and Lee Janzen (1993). Women’s Open winners on the Tillinghast courses at Baltusrol include Mickey Wright (1961) and Kathy Baker (Upper Course, 1985).

The only previous time the PGA Championship was held at Baltusrol was in 2005 when Phil Mickelson birdied the 72nd hole for a one-stroke win over Steve Elkington and Thomas Bjorn.

Mickelson, of course, is coming off a dramatic runner-up finish to Henrik Stenson in this month’s British Open and will be one of the favorites again.

But whoever ends up hoisting the PGA Championship’s Wanamaker Trophy will join a distinguished list of winners and make a little more history at one of golf’s most venerable championship sites.