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John Reitman

By John Reitman

Restoration salvages Ross design in Pennsylvania

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Image reflecting Donald Ross's original plans for Tumblebrook Golf Course.

During the past two decades, golf has shed more than 2,000 courses from its supply since the boom of the early 2000s. Many have been converted into farms, others have become the site of retail outlets, high-density housing or some form of mixed use property.

Among those losses was Tumblebrook Golf Course, a nine-hole municipal course that was designed by Donald Ross with construction overseen by design associate J.B. McGovern in 1931 in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley. Critics say that through the years, the course near Allentown had lost its Ross influence, leading writers and raters to opine that there was no hint of the acclaimed architect's work when it closed four years ago.

The course that closed "permanently" in late 2019 is set to make a comeback as a community-focused golf campus centered around a Ron Prichard-led restoration designed to bring the layout back to what Ross intended but was never fully realized when he designed it more than 90 years ago.
"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," Prichard said in a news release. "Effectively this will be the first time Ross's finishing touches have ever been built at Tumblebrook."

Tumblebrook was founded in 1931 by Harry Holscher, once the manager of nearby Lehigh Country Club. Holscher's family continued to own and operate the course until 1994. It began operation as a Upper Saucon Township-owned municipal facility in 2001 under the guidance of a handful of management companies, the last of which ceased operation after the 2019 season.

The rebirth at Tumblebrook is thanks to the vision of two golf enthusiasts and entrepreneurs who formed a new company with the sole purpose of operating the property.

Upon shuttering the golf course, township officials considered repurposing Tumblebrook into a collection of athletic fields. That's when local golfer Josh Woodward and filmmaker Vaughan Halyard teamed to form Tumblebrook Golf Campus LLC. 

At a May 8 meeting, the Upper Saucon Township board of supervisors voted to approve an agreement with the newly formed Tumblebrook Golf Campus LLC to operate the property as a golf course.

Halyard and Prichard have been working together on a master plan. 

"Ron will base the plan on Ross's original design of the Tumblebrook course," said Halyard. 

"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 is a partner in the new venture, has recruited golf course architects Jeff Mingay and Christine Fraser to help with the project that will include construction of a second nine, driving range and practice area to help promote the game.

"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," said 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."

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