Remembrances of My Grandfather
By Dr. Philip W. Brown

Dr. Philip Brown, Jr. MD
Grandson of A.W. Tillinghast
Rochester, MN


There is no great genius without some touch of madness. — Seneca, circa 50 A.D.


This saying applies well to my Grandfather, Albert Warren Tillinghast. My sisters and I knew him as Dadgan, probably a youngster’s corruption of “Grand Dad.” Many of the stories that follow were provided by our mother, Elsie Tillinghast, who was Dadgan’s younger daughter. Other recollections are from my two sisters, Pam and Fran and my cousin, Bobby Jane, who was born to Dadgan’s older daughter, Marion. A few months prior to her death in 1974, mother came up with extensive recollections of Dadgan at the request of Frank Hannigan, who at the time was an Executive of the USGA.

Hannigan used much of this material in his 1974 article in Golf Journal. I mention this only so you will understand that I relate material from about as direct a source as I know. But I recognize that the matter may be tainted by mother’s memory faults at that time, and by those of mine at the present.

Born in 1874, TilIie-Bertie-A.W.-Dadgan as he was variously known, was the natural product of his upbringing. His father, Benjamin Collins (B.C.) Tillinghast, attended the U.S. Naval Academy during the Civil War. Unfortunately or not, he had to resign because of illness, presumably tuberculosis, from which he recovered well. (He must have been a very popular fellow for he was invited to the 50th reunion of his class and at the reunion was awarded his class ring.) B.C. was very successful in manufacturing rubber products, the most unusual but best selling of which was a rubber suit for ministers who baptized by immersion. He also was a golfer and wrote poetry for the American Golfer under the pen name “Duffer.”

B.C. could afford to spoil his son and only child and he certainly did so. A perfect example of this is a photo of young Dadgan, about 8 or 9 years old I guess, in a London zoo riding on the head of Jumbo, the largest elephant ever in captivity. With his face smugly set, his bearing implied that the world owed him obeisance. Although Dadgan’s later writing and speech manifested considerable knowledge of the classics, he bragged that he never graduated from any of the several schools that he attended—he either quit was thrown out. Perhaps the many overseas trips with his doting parents enriched his knowledge.

In his late teens and early 20’s he belonged to a cadre of rogues—wealthy, arrogant, flashy, reckless, heavy drinking playboys. The fashionable Philadelphia Cricket Club, whose golf course he later designed, served as one of their bases of operation.

In 1894, circumstances necessitated his marrying my grandmother, Lillian Quigley (whom we called Damee) a lovely woman quite his junior; to them were born my aunt, Marion, and my mother, Elsie. The financial support of the young family is quite uncertain. It probably came from B.C.’s company, but the company’s success was not due to Tillie’s time, efforts nor business acumen. He apparently had little interest in it. For instance, the company devised a rubber scraper attached to a wooden stick—but didn't patent it, much to the delight of Rubbermaid. So after B.C. died in 1918, the company began to wither and as I recall mother closed out the dismal remnant of it in the 1950’s.

Dadgan became immersed in golf in 1896 on his first pilgrimage to the celebrated home of golf—St. Andrews. He would return annually for the next five years. Damee accompanied him on all of his golfing jaunts. And it was his great privilege to know Old Tom Morris quite well.

Because of Dadgan’s knowledge of golf and the courses of Great Britain, Charles Campbell Worthington, a family friend offered Dadgan the chance to design and supervise the construction of the currently dissembled course at Shawnee-on-the-Delaware in 1909. The course was immediately accorded accolades and served for many tournaments including two on a national scale. With this course and a few others under his belt, he began to make a name in golf course design.

In the early part of the 20th Century, golf was a rich man’s sport and it was money that came to seek out Dadgan, not the reverse. And it was big money for the times so Dadgan could thrive on the good things—the chauffeured limousines, the staterooms on trains, the finest of three piece suits, the best tobacco, beautiful antiques to furnish his beautiful house, and the rich and famous with whom he associated. One day when Damee and he were in Mexico City, a somewhat rumpled man hailed him by name. The conversation led to Dadgan inviting him to lunch where the man carried on in heavily accented English. When finally alone, Damee asked who the person was, not having been introduced as was commonly the case, “Oh some Russian refugee-Leon something-yes, Leon Trotsky.”

Dadgan loved his golf even more than he loved the good life. He played it well, very well actually, but erratically. I have a sterling cup that he won in a driving contest. He entered many tournaments including some on a national scale but even if he gained an early lead he rarely would play on to win. He couldn't play consistently enough to go the length. Sometimes he arrived on the first tee quite hung over and on at least one occasion in the remnants of a tuxedo. Once he made a substantial wager that he could use a friend’s heirloom pocket watch as a tee and that the watch would never miss a tick. Unfortunately the friend never heard the watch tick again. But worse yet, Dadgan lost a lot of money. Betting and braggadocio were not foreign to our grandfather.

Dadgan quit playing competitive golf abruptly when he lost his amateur standing. His income from writing and golf architecture classified him as a professional by the USGA. In an impetuous, but typical, response to the USGA he wrote: “If such be sin, then I will continue in the ways of sin.”

He was so very quick mentally that in short order he usually would dominate any conversation. In this he was aided by an exceptional memory for people and places. He was a superb raconteur and told a lot of jokes, but in mixed company, none that were off color. He also had a fertile imagination and a creative bent for things in which he was interested. For instance, to aid in his work in the field, he invented, he later claimed, the clip board.

Naturally he failed to patent it. He enthusiastically played any and all card games and especially loved bridge. He wrote a lot and he wrote well. Some of his short stories Mother considered maudlin, as do I. Yet I see that the USGA has issued a new specially-bound edition of his two books (The Cobble Valley Yarns and The Mutt and Jeff). His photography was superb. And when it came to designing and supervising construction of a course, he was completely focused and almost indefatigable. An old man once told my sister that when he was young he saw Dadgan advising on a course for the Works Progress Administration. He described Dadgan’s imperious mannerisms to a tee, commenting that as he walked around the course he would wave his hickory pointing stick in a grand way and say: “Bunker here!” “Tree there!”

One humorous quip attributed to Dadgan understandably gained currency because it really is clever. When my father asked for mother’s hand in marriage, he is alleged to have mentioned his having done well on his tests in medical school. To this Dadgan is purported to have said “Young man, the only test I’m interested in is your Wassermann Test!”

At any rate, mother and father were married in 1922 and Dadgan loaned them one of his cars for the honeymoon, not any car of course, but a Stutz Bearcat! Enroute, this wondrous luxury machine suffered the ignominy of running into a pig. The consequence to the car — and to the new son-in-law — are unknown. One would suspect that Dadgan simply waived it all off.

Father and Mother established residence in Rochester, Minnesota. And soon thereafter Dadgan designed a gem of a golf course at Rochester Golf & Country Club. This course was built for our family—Father and Mother were members of Rochester and I grew up playing the game there. On behalf of Father and Mother, Dadgan waived his customary fee and asked only for the carfare for Damee and him to visit. The carfare soon became quite a joke, for Dadgan, as usual became quite involved in the course and popped out quite often to see how things were coming.

The good times went on. The money rolled in and the money rolled out. The Roaring 20’s were roaring and Dadgan was in on the roar. He bought options on 200 acres on the Jersey side of where the George Washington Bridge is now located, but failed to register the deeds. He was a “Broadway Angel” but none of the plays he backed was ever a winner. Prohibition didn't seem to hamper his drinking one bit.

And with the times being as they were, there was no reason to save for the future, a future that was unfortunately forecast on a Tuesday in late October 1929, the Black Tuesday when the stock market crashed.

Golf course design was not a Depression-proof occupation. Scheduled payments from courses began to dwindle and the request to design new courses screeched to a halt. Embarrassingly, some personal objects had to be sold and then some more. It was hard to relinquish the good things and the good ways of life. And one certainly must maintain appearances! Eventually, he had to hire out to the W.P.A. to advise on courses. This provided some income as did some of his writing.

When Mother “took me East” in 1934 at age 5, we stayed in the house in Harrington Park, New Jersey. This house, which would soon “go on the block” along with much of its contents, was set on generous grounds. (It was recently located by the efforts of Louis Chanin of New City, New York.) Lining the wall adjacent to the stairs that gracefully rose to the second floor was a splattering of framed photographs. I learned many years later that these were from the rich and famous, inscribed “To Albert” or “To Bertie with love,” from the likes of Lillian Russell, Jack Dempsey, Thomas Alva Edison, and so on. One night, I recall, there was quite a party—a large one with yard lanterns, servants, food and many people. Among them were some Russian nobility who had fled the Bolshevik Revolution some 15 years earlier. Dadgan could never resist a chance to hobnob with the elite, even if they were ex-elite.

Some have claimed that Dadgan’s madcaps and escapades have been grossly exaggerated. Having heard my mother’s (and my father’s) stories over the years, I accept them as probably true for the most part. There is no doubt that he did “take off” at times. He would simply leave home without any announcement, never for long, perhaps a few days to a week or so, and in no regular fashion. I don't know how often nor over how many years he did this. And what he did and where he went is anybody’s guess, but church was not likely on the itinerary. Equally unannounced he would return, offer no explanation for his absence, and resume his usual life. Sometimes, if momentarily short of funds, he would pawn some of Damee’s furs and jewelry. When he came upon sufficient funds, he would reclaim most of the items he had hocked, buy something more as a peace offering, and then cycle them all through again.

Dadgan’s dark side is best illustrated by one of my mother’s recollections. One night, when roused by loud voices, my mother got up and went to the head of the stairs frightened and puzzled by the scene below. Dadgan, apparently drunk was shouting and waving a pistol while Damee held his wrist and shouted back. The what’s and why’s of this my mother would never know, for apparently she never spoke to either Dadgan or Damee about it. So our grandfather, who charmed so many people outside the family, created bad relations within it. My mother was afraid of him and found him cold. She disliked being called in to see him in the drawing room and then being dismissed with no warmth or tact. My aunt Marion at one point is said to have detested him. She even gave her little gifts from him to my mother.

At some point he and Damee moved to the Los Angeles area, and in Beverly Hills they started an antique shop in partnership with their friend Nedda Harrigan. Nedda’s father was the Harrigan of James M. Cohan’s song by that title; Nedda later married director Josh Logan. Dadgan’s exquisite taste, his knowledge of asset values, and his proclivity to be a pack rat now stood him in good stead.

Over the years he had collected and enjoyed a large number of high quality articles, from furniture (his forte) to glass to artists' sketches or anything else of value that caught his fancy. He may have had to sell them for less than what he paid but at least they kept him going. As there were many people who also had fallen on hard times and were trying to survive, he could buy or broker additional material. He was smart to have gone to Hollywood, as the financiers and other high-rollers were broke but the movie people were still making good money.

Nonetheless the going was tough and then got tougher and finally there was an end to it. Basically everything was gone. At some point in this slide into poverty he changed. Our father had always held Dadgan in limited respect. After all, a toper, a spendthrift, and in general an F. Scott Fitzgerald type did not garner points with a man raised by WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) parents in a remote mining town in Colorado. Additionally, Father’s income had also been sharply reduced by the Depression and he had three kids to raise; he was therefore more than a little disgruntled at having to send support money to a once-wealthy father-in-law who was a victim in part of his own extravagance. But Father did say to me on several occasions that he admired Dadgan for the way he responded to this catastrophic reversal of fortunes. Dadgan stopped his drinking, he no longer caroused, he scrambled hard to survive and to my knowledge never bemoaned his fate.

Dadgan’s health may have been a factor in his turn to temperance. Arteriosclerosis in his legs and mild diabetes had been diagnosed in 1936. In 1941 heart disease became sufficiently severe to put him out of commission. He and Damee moved to the home of Aunt Marion in Toledo. There he continued some off and on writing up to his death on May 19, 1942. Being true to family values, Damee remained dedicated to him right to his end, despite his imperious attitude toward her. My cousin recalled that when he would bellow her name from an adjoining room, she would always drop whatever she was doing and hurry to him for whatever need or whim he had at that moment.

My last remembrance of Dadgan is very sketchy. He visited Rochester, Minnesota one hot summer when I must have been 6 or 7, about 1936. I sat in his lap, fearful of the waxed mustache and the scratchiness of the heavy wool 3-piece suit he wore despite the heat of that dust bowl summer. In heavy pencil lines he quickly sketched cartoon figures, which have miraculously survived for 60 years—a Sneezer, a Whiffensnoozer, and others from his fertile imagination. He would make popping noises to which he would ask “Where’s Gus?” and most amazingly, he would flip a lighted cigarette inside his mouth, smoke it, and then flip it back out, still lit. Not only can I not design golf courses, but I burned my mouth trying to do that cigarette trick in later years.

Yes, Dadgan had some of Seneca’s madness in him, but that made him all the more colorful and attractive to outsiders. Fortunately his creative genius outlived the madness, allowing us to enjoy his courses these many decades later. As golfers then, we are all richer for that genius. And I am grateful to Bob Trebus and Rick Wolffe for this remarkable exposition.