Ron Prichard develops Donald Ross-inspired plan for Tumblebrook

  • Tumblebrook
    Tumblebrook Golf Campus

    Donald Ross’s 1931 routing for Tumblebrook, drawn by his associate J. B. McGovern, will guide Ron Prichard’s renovation work

Alice Chambers
By Alice Chambers

The nine-hole Tumblebrook Golf Course, in the Coopersburg suburb of Allentown, Pennsylvania, which has been closed for three years, is set to be revitalised by a Ron Prichard-led renovation.

The layout was founded in 1931 by Harry Holscher, the former manager of nearby Lehigh Country Club. He commissioned Donald Ross to design the course, and it is believed that Ross’s associate J. B. McGovern oversaw construction. The Holscher family owned and operated the course until the death of Harry’s son, Harry Jr., in 1994. Ownership passed onto the township in 2001, which ran Tumblebrook as a municipal until it closed in February 2020, when the last management company terminated its lease agreement.

Since then, local golfer Josh Woodwood has led efforts to revive the facility and, following an introduction from Prichard, created a new company with Donald Ross Society board member Vaughn Halyard – who was greens chair of Cedar Rapids in Iowa when Prichard restored its Ross course – to operate the course. That company, Tumblebrook Golf Campus, has now been issued with a ‘Letter of Intent’ from Upper Saucon Township to operate Tumblebrook, with Prichard to lead a renovation.

“Ron will base the plan on Ross’s original design of the Tumblebrook course,” said Halyard. “The golf writer Michael Bamberger played and wrote about the course in 2019 and said he didn’t see a lot of Ross there. The reason for that appears to be that Ross’s design was never properly built. 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 has developed a masterplan, with help from Halyard and fellow architects Jeff Mingay and Christine Fraser. “Christine’s work on the early concept was invaluable, and helped to make it digestible during initial presentations,” said Woodward. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without her and Jeff’s contributions.”

“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,” said Prichard. “Effectively this will be the first time Ross’s finishing touches have ever been built at Tumblebrook.”

Halyard said: “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. 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 in the early days in our project as our current plans are dependent on a number of factors such as zoning and other approvals.”

Brad Becken, president of the Donald Ross Society, said: “There have been more than 120 Ross restorations over the last thirty years, and most of them have been excellent. What’s really exciting about this project is that it will see the realisation of Ross’s vision for the golf course. Ross built a lot of courses in the Philadelphia area, but very few of them are open to the public. Saving Tumblebrook will be an important contribution to his legacy.”

Work on the course will begin at the same time as the driving range, with construction of the second nine to start once Tumblebrook reopens.

“Our golf campus concept – to use golf as an educational and recreational tool – will provide programming in scholastic, youth caddie, community and township parks and recreation areas,” said Woodward. “It will be part school and playground for golfers, part teaching facility about the business of golf, and part STEM and STEAM lab. All parties involved are very excited, and we cannot wait to get started!”