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The Tale of Two Towns

Posted On June 5, 2022

The Sandhills' Connections to Olmsted 200 and the 122nd U.S Open

By Crissy Neville  »  Photos by John Patota

In true A Tale of Two Cities fashion, Brookline, Massachusetts, and Pinehurst, North Carolina, are among the stars of another true story of an earlier time, one those in New England and the Sandhills love to live and tell.

While the Dickens' masterpiece weaves a fictional account of the French Revolution set in late 18th Century London and Paris, the key elements of this American narrative — different characters, settings and plots — combine to deliver not only a great read but an epic, one still playing out today.

With play being a keyword.

Golfers play the biggest game in American golf annually at the U.S. Open Championship. For 2022, the action, as selected by The United States Golf Association, is in the hopper for The Country Club in Brookline, June 16-19. While the golf event of the year carries much celebration and excitement, the returning of the Open to Brookline for the fourth time is big news for several additional reasons, particularly this year.

As famed radio talk show host Paul Harvey always said, here's "the rest of the story."

The Country Club (TCC), heralded as the first country club in the U.S., gained a famous member within a year of its opening in 1882, and the town of Brookline, a renowned citizen and business owner. This Renaissance man not only continued to make his mark in these new settings but also in the nation and world. He is one we remember today as The Father of American Landscape Architecture — Frederick Law Olmsted.

A leading man in the history script of nearly sister cities Brookline and Pinehurst, Olmsted and the 200th anniversary of his birth, April 26, 1822, are celebrated this year. He put his mark on the Sandhills through his landscape conception for Pinehurst, The Home of American Golf™, and stamp on the nation and beyond while in Brookline, his home and business headquarters, from 1883 until his death in 1903.

Olmsted worked various jobs before age 35 when he launched his career in landscape architecture, an unknown field at the time. In entering and winning the design competition for Central Park in New York City that year with business partner Calvert Vaux, Olmsted's path hit fast forward.

But when New York's politics and urban density grew tiresome, Olmsted moved to Massachusetts in 1883 to enjoy a rural setting and establish his home and The Olmsted Firm in Brookline on the grounds he named "Fairsted," now the restored Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site. He soon joined TCC, praised by Harper's Magazine in that day as having "beautiful land with easy access, for it is only 5 1/2 miles from the State House. Its rural effects are unmarred."

Olmsted's legacy includes more than 6,000 projects that he, his successors, John Charles Olmsted (nephew/stepson) and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (son) and other associates designed across North America. After Olmsted's retirement and death, his sons continued the work of their firm, doing business as the Olmsted Brothers. The company went through other name and partner changes, shuttering in 1980.

According to The National Association for Olmsted Parks, lead sponsor of Olmsted 200, a coordinated national effort to mark the bicentennial of Olmsted's birth with nationwide events, concerts, programs, celebrations and advocacy campaigns, Olmsted "most famously worked on New York's Central Park and Prospect Park; the U.S. Capitol Grounds; Boston's Emerald Necklace connected park system; Atlanta's Druid Hills; and numerous parks and landscapes in Chicago; Milwaukee; Buffalo, New York; Louisville, Kentucky; Connecticut; North Carolina; New Jersey and beyond."

Furthermore, his genius can be seen in America's national, state and local park systems, college campuses, private estates and residential communities across the nation.

Influenced by English landscape and gardening, Olmsted's designs reflect the full use of the naturally occurring features of a given space. Instead of taking from it, he took area topography to his advantage, incorporating green spaces and evergreens, planning for light and shade, drawing from both the pastoral and picturesque styles and seeking the effects of rest and relaxation for viewers.

Turning to the chapter on Olmsted's contributions closer to home, the narrative reaches a climax. In North Carolina, the master architect designed the landscape of George Vanderbilt's Biltmore Estate, America's largest home, unique in its fusion of French and English design influences and the European concept of scientific forestry, a first for America. Furthermore, he conceived the landscape plan of Pinehurst, an iconic illustration of a planned resort community and an acclaimed National Historic Landmark, a status given for its significance as a work of a master landscape architect, which the town shares with less than 60 other NHLs.

The story of Pinehurst also sheds light on Olmsted's contemporaries. James Walker Tufts of Boston, the soda fountain magnate, philanthropist and resort developer who founded Pinehurst, commissioned Olmsted and his firm, at the time titled Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot, in 1895 to bring his dreams for the community to fruition. Tufts' plan to convert his investment — a 5,800-acre parcel of cut-over timberland — into a health resort and Sandhills oasis was one with many naysayers, but it worked. The 1895 plan was conceived by Olmsted and carried out by the firm architect-in-charge Warren Manning, another talent who went on to work independently for the Tufts family at Pinehurst for 46 years.

Pinehurst's landscape notoriety flourished when Tufts' health retreat, a lush 100-acre campus with a centralized, preserved open-land parcel, premium accommodations and assorted recreational activities, opened with the Holly Inn receiving its first guests on December 31, 1895. Three short years later, the health focus shifted. Repurposed due to revelations in medical science concerning maladies of the day and the sighting of a little white ball curiously hit and chased by resort guests in a nearby pasture, American golf was born. In 1900, famed golf course architect Donald James Ross became the head of golf operations. By 1903, the Pinehurst Golf Club was established, with Pinehurst becoming a major hub for golf in the U.S. — as it remains today.

Named the first Anchor Site of the U.S. Open, Pinehurst's storied course No. 2 has hosted three U.S. Open Championships. The preeminent men's championship will return to Pinehurst five times over the next 25 years, coming next in 2024. The resort's golf resume includes incredible highlights and events in the sport's history, touted as having greeted and challenged the best golfers worldwide.

In the 1913 U.S. Open, the best turned out to be amateur player Francis Ouimet, a 20-year-old Brookline native who won that year in an amazing upset. A former TCC caddy who grew up across the street from the course, Ouimet defeated two strongly favored British players and ushered golf, then an exclusive game with limited access, into mainstream America. Propelling American golf to the forefront of a traditionally British-dominated game, the 1913 results brought a wave of new players and public courses to the sport. The legendary victory has been hailed as the most important moment in golf — another proud connection to Brookline.

Ouimet brought golf to more people; Olmsted designed Parks for all People, the theme of Olmsted 200. Places like Pinehurst are the beneficiaries of both.

With connections to landscape-legend Olmsted and golf-great Ouimet, The Town of Brookline, the location of a pioneer course in the world of golf and of the 122nd U.S. Open Championship, has much in common with its Sandhills counterparts.

TCC Historian Frederick Waterman described American golf's biggest event occurring at TCC this year and coinciding with the Olmsted bicentennial as an "extraordinarily fortuitous confluence." Though truly by chance, the conjoined events bring parallel structure to this storyline.

Olmsted, a visionary man and creative genius, wore many hats, including journalist, social reformer, conservationist, public official and most of all, landscape architect. His vision is still relevant today, 200 years later.

Jen Mergel, the director of experience and cultural partnerships of Boston's Emerald Necklace Conservancy and Brianne Cassetta, supervisory park ranger at the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site, concur, stating, "We believe Olmsted's enduring legacy lies not only in the places he designed and preserved for us and generations to come but importantly in his ideas of shared use, shared health and shared power in parks and public space."

This summer we turn our attention to the U.S. Open and its historically significant setting; this year we commemorate the birth of an American history great. Interwoven in the story is the Sandhills. What a read!