He was born on May 7, 1874 in Manorville, Long Island, N.Y. and attended Princeton University, studying civil engineering before leaving in 1898 without a degree.
He married Mary Hallock in 1903, and for the first years of his working life Raynor engineered drains, roads and waterworks. He became interested in golf course design and the building of golf courses after being hired by Charles Blair Macdonald during the construction of the National Golf Links of America in 1908. (The pair also worked on Sleepy Hollow, Piping Rock, Yale, and the St. Louis Country Club, among others).
Reportedly, he didn’t want his designs to deteriorate to his level of play – Raynor felt that “the golfer should learn to play the ideal links and that the ideal links should not come down to the playing ability of the lesser skilled player.” Seth Raynor
He lived too short a life, dying in 1926 at the age of 51 but left behind an impressive resume of designs including Lookout Mountain, Fishers Island, Fox Chapel, a revised Chicago Golf Club, Yale University, Camargo, Shoreacres, Yeamans Hall, and the long gone Lido Club.
In 1908, Long Island civil engineer Raynor was hired by the legendary Charles Blair Macdonald – known as the “father of American golf course design” — to survey the property that would become The National Golf Links of America. “When employing him to survey our Sebonac property (the site of NGLA), I was impressed with his dependability and seriousness…he scarcely knew the difference between a golf ball and a tennis ball when we first met,” Macdonald wrote in his book, Scotland’s Gift – Golf.
Macdonald was so impressed with Raynor’s engineering knowledge that he hired him to supervise construction of the course. Raynor would go on to be heavily involved in all the remaining courses designed by Macdonald.
While everyone from his mentor, Macdonald, to Harry Colt, AW Tillinghast talked and wrote about the world of golf course design, all Raynor left behind for us to judge him and understand his theories of architecture were the golf courses that he designed, expanded or renovated.
It was while working at Yale, viewed by Macdonald as Raynor’s crowning achievement that Raynor travelled some 60 miles north to the Hotchkiss School. The Hotchkiss School was closely aligned with Yale and they wanted Raynor to build a nine-hole layout. The school chose popular teacher Charles Banks, who had no golf design background, to act as Raynor’s contact person. Banks so fell in love with golf course design that he left Hotchkiss and joined Raynor’s firm.
As the Yale and Hotchkiss work progressed, Raynor was also building what are now judged as some of his finest works: Fishers Island, Camargo, Lookout Mountain and Yeamans Hall. When Raynor died, Banks was left to complete them and others, in the process establishing his own reputation as an architect.
Like Raynor, his career ended with a premature passing. He died in 1931, five years after Raynor, at age 47. Macdonald outlived both of them, dying in 1939 at age 83.
Macdonald fondly remembered Raynor in his book. “Sad to say he died ere his prime at Palm Beach in 1926 while building a course there for Paris Singer. Raynor was a great loss to the community, but still a greater loss to me. I admired him from every point of view.”
Raynor still has 13 courses ranked by many publications among the Top 100 Classical Courses in the United States and his work continues to inspire architects and delight golfers.
Excerpts from “Paradoxical Designer” by Anthony Pioppi, , Executive Director of the Seth Raynor Society and which appeared in Golf Course Architecture magazine, were used in this article..