Course architect’s legacy guaranteed to live on

The world of golf lost one of its finest gentlemen and most accomplished architects in February when Geoffrey S. Cornish, 97, died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Amherst, Mass.

A man of extraordinary energy, vision, generosity and kindness, Cornish designed over 200 golf courses in his lifetime, a majority of them in New England. His name will live forever on the golf playing fields he most artfully created.

Cornish and his longtime associates – Bill Robinson, Brian Silva and Mark Mungeam – were responsible for New Hampshire courses such as Grantham Country Club, Bretwood Golf Club and Sunningdale. He added holes to or renovated Abenaqui C.C., Hanover C.C., Wentworth by the Sea C.C., Beaver Meadow G.C. and Province Lake C.C.

In Massachusetts his most popular layouts include The Pines Course at The International Golf Club, Cranberry Valley G.C., Captains G.C. on Cape Cod, Stow Acres G.C., Nashawtuc C.C. and Trull Brook G.C. in Tewksbury.

Born in 1914 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Cornish began his golf career in 1935, with famed Canadian golf course architect Stanley Thompson, as a construction supervisor, and worked on many of Canada’s greatest golf courses.

Cornish’s work with Thompson was interrupted in 1940 when he joined the Canadian Army and took part in the Allied Invasion at Normandy. He served for five years in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, attaining the rank of Major.

After returning to Canada after the war, Cornish emigrated to the United States to attend graduate school at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, where he received a masters degree in Agronomy. He made Amherst his home for the rest of his life.

It was in Amherst that Cornish met and married the love of his life, the former Carol Burr Gawthrop. Their loving partnership endured for 52 years until her passing in 2003.

A past president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, Cornish was also an honorary member of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects. In 1987, he was awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Science from UMass.

In 1996, Cornish was inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. In the same year, he received the silver medal at the Silver Jubilee Conference of the British Institute of Golf Course Architects and the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Alumni Association at UMass.

In 2004. Cornish was the recipient of many national awards for his service, including the GCSAA Distinguished Service Award in 1981.

In the 1980’s, Cornish wrote “The Architects of Golf” with Ron Whitten of Golf Digest. It has been considered the bible on golf course design history,

Cornish was the last living connection to what has become known as the “Golden Age” of Golf Course Architecture, and his knowledge of the history of golf course design was encyclopedic. He knew all the greats including Donald Ross, A. W. Tillinghast, William Flynn on up to Robert Trent Jones, Sr, Pete Dye and Tom Fazio.

I had the distinct honor and privilege of working with Mr. Cornish on a book a couple years ago, which was one of the greatest experiences of my life. Most golf course architects are self-promoting egomaniacs, but Cornish was a man of great dignity and humility who made a profound impression on anyone who had the privilege of knowing him.

Per Cornish’s wishes there was no funeral or memorial services. However, a group of his friends and former associates– including myself, Brian Silva, Mark Mungeam and Tim Gerrish– have organized a golf tournament in his honor, the Geoffrey Cornish Invitational, to be held on Aug. 15 at The International Golf Club in Bolton, Mass.

The tournament will be played on The Pines Course, which was Cornish’s first solo 18-hole design done in 1959. Today the course is private but the ownership and management of The International were kind enough to host the event for us on this historic course.

The event is a 1 p.m. shotgun start and the player fee is $200 which includes a box lunch, golf on The Pines, cart and banquet dinner. Sponsorships are also available. For more information log onto or call 802-380-4945.

Wayne Mills can be reached at