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William B. Langford

National championship team member and golf architect

Of all the Yale graduate golf course architects, William Langford (Class of 1910 S) had the longest and most productive career but remains the least well known. He was born in Austin, Illinois and learned to play golf as part of his rehabilitation from childhood polio. Bill Langford played on the golf teams that won the national championship every year he was at Yale. After graduation, he went to Columbia University to study mining engineering but remained above ground! In 1917 he began a fifty-year, golf course construction collaboration with Theodore Moreau. With Langford doing the designs and Moreau directing their eighty-person construction crew, the pair built more than 200 courses mostly in the Midwest, during the next half century.

Mark Chalfant has written a delightful essay about Langford’s designs, subtitled “Making Waves in the Heartland.” He describes a Langford course as fun to play, full of variety, strategically interesting with routing that is often bold and expansive. In 1919, Langford himself wrote, “Hazards should be placed so that any player can avoid them if he gauges his ability correctly, so that these obstacles will make every man’s game more interesting, no matter what class player he is.” His affection for the common man was also reflected in his proposal to build six-hole courses to accommodate the budget and the schedule of a busy working man. Even though this idea was not adopted, he did operate several daily-fee courses in Illinois. Chalfant summarizes Langford’s design style:

It seems rather clear that his tendencies and thematic concerns often bear striking similarities to the gifted disciples of Charles Blair Macdonald, Seth Raynor and Charles Banks. Large pushed up greens that are peppered with intense undulation and also defended by deep bunkers with steep walls are shared motifs. However, Langford rarely relied on template holes derived from acclaimed paradigms imported from theBritish Isles or France. Occasionally, he seemed to mildly allude to the Biarritz or Redan.

The course and place names of Bill Langford’s best known designs evoke a different time and place, such as Wakonda in Des Moines, Iowa, Harrison Hills in Attica, Indiana, Skokie in Skokie, Illinois, Maxinkuckee in Culver, Indiana (played often by Roy and Pete and Alice Dye early in their careers), Ozaukee in Mequon, Wisconsin, Lawsonia in Green Lake, Wisconsin, and Happy Hollow in Omaha, Nebraska.

He seems like a fellow whom you would like to have in your foursome.

Yale Varsity Golf Team of 1909 posing at the “Yale Fence.”

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