George C. Thomas Jr.
Whitemarsh Valley Country Club owes its design to George C. Thomas Jr., who created only three golf courses in the East before building a reputation as a golf architect and botanist in California.
Thomas grew up on the property that eventually became the Whitemarsh Valley course. He was educated at Episcopal Academy and the University of Pennsylvania before working with his father at Drexel and Co., a banking company.
His first design was a nine-hole layout at Marion, Mass. He produced Whitemarsh Valley in 1908 and Spring Lake in New Jersey in 1910 before serving in World War I. As captain of a unit that was reportedly funded by Thomas, he survived three plane crashes. He enjoyed being called “The Captain.”
Thomas had a passion for gardening, especially rose breeding, and he moved to California in 1919 to take advantage of the favorable climate for growing roses. He became an expert botanist but continued his interest in golf.
In California, Thomas designed and built a collection of respected courses, many with the assistance of William Bell. They include Bel Air, Ojai Valley, the Los Angeles Country Club North Course and Riviera. Thomas did not charge for his designs and even helped pay to complete 36 holes he designed for the city of Los Angeles.
Critics and Thomas himself considered Riviera his masterpiece. It is his only California design that has not been altered. Thomas said of golf design, “When you play a course and remember each hole, it has individuality and change. If your mind cannot recall the exact sequence of the holes, that course lacks the great assets of originality and diversity.”
At Whitemarsh Valley and elsewhere, those assets are quite visible in the work of George C. Thomas Jr.