Just who did coax the Black course from the stunning Bethpage State Park landscape? History tells us it was Golden Age designer A.W. Tillinghast, but retired ad man Joe Burbeck has come forward to demand that his father, Joseph H. Burbeck, be given the credit.
There's never been any doubt that Burbeck, as park superintendent from 1929 to '64, was instrumental in carrying out master builder Robert Moses's plan for a multicourse complex at Bethpage. That Burbeck conferred with Tillie and oversaw the construction, which was completed in '35, is a given. But his 71-year-old son wants him crowned with architectural laurels too.
Unfortunately there are no plans or papers to support the son's claim, only his boyhood memories. Still, he cites the following evidence: that Tillie's title at Bethpage was consultant, not architect; that a 1959 park history says the Black was "designed and constructed under [Burbeck's] direction"; and that Tillie himself said, in a PGA Magazine article published in '37, "it was Burbeck's idea" to develop the Black in the mold of a public Pine Valley.
All true, says architect Rees Jones, who oversaw the renovation of Bethpage Black and several other Tillinghast courses. Just not true enough.
"An untrained eye could not have created such a magnificent layout," says Jones, who maintains that Burbeck implemented Tillinghast's ideas—and probably even added to them—but that the design was Tillie's. Jones says it was not unusual for architects to be called consultants during the Depression. And, whatever Tillinghast's title, he made at least 15 visits to Bethpage, more than most architects of that era would have when designing a course. No blueprints? " Tillinghast was a field designer, doodling on sketch pads," says Jones. "That's why I don't think they can find formal plans."
David Catalano, the current park director, agrees with Jones. "A sad mistake is being made," he says, citing an earlier park history, from 1934, that credits Tillinghast as the planner and developer.
Finally, there's the non-smoking gun of Joseph H. Burbeck himself. "I know of no instance or of any written document in which he ever claimed to be the architect," says Catalano. "If he had designed the Black, wouldn't he have been asked to design other courses too?"