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Charles Blair Macdonald 1855-1939

In 1928 CB Macdonald wrote, “To-day Yale has a classical course which is unexcelled in comparison with any inland course in this country or in Europe.” [1] In 2006 the Yale Golf Course was named the best university course in the country. [2] Macdonald would be pleased, but not surprised, as he was accustomed to getting his way. The best example of that trait is found in the story of how he founded the United States Golf Association and won its first national amateur championship in 1895. [3] And it was still being noted 100 years later (see below). Born in Canada of naturalized American parents, a Scottish father and a part Mohawk Indian mother, he grew up in Chicago and was educated at St. Andrews University in Scotland [1872-74]. There he learned golf from Old Tom Morris. He was a successful stockbroker in Chicago and later in New York. That success allowed him to indulge his avocations of “golf architecture” [he was the first to use the term] and maintaining the integrity of the game. He laid out the first 18 hole course in America at the Chicago Golf Club in 1893 It took another 17 years of study and planning before his “ideal golf course”, the National Golf Links, opened for play at Southampton, L.I., N.Y. [4]

Yale won the first national intercollegiate championship sponsored by the USGA in 1897, and it went on to win 13 of the next 20 championships. Harvard and Princeton split the other seven. However, in 1922 Yale had not won in 7 years, and that prompted George T. Adee, class of 1895, to write to John T. Blossom, Esq. at the Yale Athletic Association to propose the construction of a Yale golf course. He pointed out that Princeton had a university course in close proximity to the campus and that Harvard was about to break ground for its course [which never happened]. He implied that the distance from campus of the Racebrook Country Club, and its overcrowded conditions had contributed to this title drought. Then, being the good stockbroker that he was, he presented a detailed prospectus of how a Yale course could be built [5]. As institutions do, he was made chairman of a committee to study the matter. Remarkably, with the help of his classmate, Mortimer N. Buckner, within 3 months the childless widow of Ray Tompkins had been persuaded to purchased the 700 acre Griest Estate and give it to the University, “to be used to encourage outdoor sports among the undergraduates” [6]. By the anniversary of Adee’s letter, his good friend Charles Macdonald [age 68], who had “renounced having anything to do with building another golf course” [7], had agreed to serve as a consultant, and Seth Raynor had been hired as the architect. A 36-hole plan was drawn, financing for Course No. 1 was arranged, and the Athletic Board of Control authorized the execution of contracts, so that construction could begin.

Macdonald wrote that “the building of it was a difficult engineering problem.”

The land was high, heavily wooded, hilly and no part of it had been cultivated for over forty years. There were no roads or houses upon it. It was a veritable wilderness when given to Yale….When in the timber one could not see fifty feet ahead, the underbrush was so thick. However, we found on the high land wonderful deposits of sea sand, indicating that the sea must have swept the land during the glacial period. In a bog some quarter of a mile long we found deposited some four to six feet of wonderful rich black muck. These two deposits of sand and muck made it possible to build the course. [7]

There is no evidence that C B Macdonald visited the construction site or saw the course after it opened on April 15, 1926. That was the work of Seth Raynor, Charles Banks, Ralph Barton, and Bill Perkins. Macdonald was involved in the design and construction of 15 golf courses from 1893 to 1926. He accepted no fee for any of this work. Significantly, when he wrote his autobiography he chose to write about only four courses, National, Lido, Mid-Ocean and Yale. [1]


At the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the USGA, held in and around the Temple of Dendur a the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, on December 8, 1994, John Updike said,

“The organization [USGA] was founded, essentially, by a champion golfer, Charlie Macdonald, who resented a ruling and rough conditions which cost him a victory in the first American golf championship, played in Newport in 1894. Once the USGA had been founded… Charlie Macdonald was able to win the first official Amateur Championship, again at Newport in 1895. Like the Church of England, then, the USGA founded to ease one man’s dissatisfactions, and the continuity in its Executive Committee, whose overlapping membership goes back to Macdonald, suggests an episcopal laying on of hands.”

Golf Dreams by John Updike, New York: Alfred A. Knopf 1996 page 170.

Photo circa 1922.


  1. Scotland’s Gift – Golf,  Scribner, 1928,  pg. 248
  2. Golfweek’s College Almanac, 2006 – 2007
  3. The Story of American Golf, H. W. Wind  Third Edition, Revised, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1975, pg. 28-34
  4. The Evangelist of Golf, by George Bahto, Clock Tower Press LLC, 2002
  5. Link to letter of 12/12/1922
  6. Report of The Yale Golf Committee to The Board of Control, 2/22/1926
  7. Scotland’s Gift, page 251

JAG 1/19/2007

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