Francis (Frank) James Golf Architect/Builder biography.


Born: May 8th, 1878 (1879) in Birmingham, Warwickshire, England

Died: April 10th, 1952 Moscow, Idaho


In May 1997, I communicated by letter and telephone with Henry C. Towne in Kent, WA. He shared his experiences working with his Dad and Francis James during the initial construction period from 1928 – 1929 at the Peace Portal Golf Course at the border. I have quoted many of his conversations regarding the construction process and Francis James directly from my notes and his letters. After the 1929 Crash, Francis James never returned to the site. Charley Wadey’s account for the Peace Portal’s 50th Anniversary publication described who completed the greens and the bunkers. “Bill Finch, with his gang seeded and hand rolled the course. Bill Moore was in charge of building and shaping the greens and under bunkers under the direction of Mr. Vernon Macan.”

“I read about golf, don’t play, interested mostly in configurations of courses. My special interest is semi-am-moo near the peace arch on the Canadian side. When Sam Hill millionaire, investor, and founder of the Pacific Road Association (Pacific Coast Automobile Association) were in its embryo stages, my father worked on the project as land surveyor. At that time, Washington was a bone-dry state and Canada had open liquor sales. Hill planned to entice drinkers and golfers across the border. He acquired a 120-acre tract by 1927 to construct a hotel, restaurant, and golf course complex.  About half was nearly cleared farmland. The south half was a low-level plain, deeply cut by several ravines and covered by about 40 years of second growth of conifers and very thick scrub timber and brush.

At this time, Francis L James had a world reputation – this is why Hill engaged him to design the course.

Hill wanted the best so he got the services of Francis James a renowned golf course artist from Scotland. Early in 1928, he started his design. He was charged to produce a tournament quality course with much thick rough preserved. He admitted he could get lost in a lovely city lot. He wanted a quick contour map of the timbered area. Meanwhile he scouted the open fields and meadow bottom lands on the north end where the tide affected the Campbell River. He specified that he wanted his map created by a “timber beast”, not an engineer or surveyor. My dad filled the bill by his experience as a logger and timber cruiser. First dad and I, age 13, established marking points on blazed scrub trees or painted fence posts along highway and trails in the tract. Dad would walk north or south along a ravine and accurately pace the distance, while I would go to a specific “mark point”. When ready, Dad would shout to me. We did this only on calm days, I would start with frequent shouts and Dad would blaze a straight line on brush, scrub and stumps. When he arrived at the final point, he’d mark terrain, levels, and distances on a cardboard chart. This method gave a close approximate location of ravines, special big trees, and stumps.

The golf artist Francis L James would take all this data to an office in Seattle to work feverishly for long hours until he had a rough design. This James was a typical eccentric artist. After he collected data, he’d go on a “booze feast”. When sobered up, he claimed he did his best designs. Then he had my dad and I blaze footpaths at approximately the center of the proposed fairways so he could walk and study the terrain. Back to drawing board for corrections until he had a working map with fairways marked at one half final width.

This was the tentative land-clearing map to avoid sacrificing good trees. We then blazed out the temporary sidelines and made work for the scrubbing out crews and the stump blaster. When fairways were cleared, James could walk them and make adjustments to the sidelines for best use of terrain. I never even thought of asking for pay; but during summer vacation I was known as “water-boy” at 25 cents per hour. Standard wage was 40 cents. He liked my assistance; so he gave me the first preliminary blueprint of the Peace Portal Course.

In 1940 on a sole trip to friends at Blaine, I was allowed to hike the golf course.  I hardly recognized it. To accommodate the local “duffers”, the fairways were widened and the “rough” accessible.”

My search of the Internet revealed little has been published about Francis James.  No website contained a photograph. Various sites described him as a short Scotsman or Welshman. My interest first arose during the research for my biography on Arthur Vernon Macan – the golf architect. “Just Call Me Mac”. This article expands the initial research.


Small in stature, he spoke with a strong accent, usually described as Scottish. Actually, born in Birmingham, Warwickshire, England, Francis L. James was the third of six sons born to William and Jane James. During his childhood, Francis’ father worked as an engine driver and later as a gardener. The 1891 British Censuses shows all the boys began work around age twelve. Francis started as a cycle repairman at age thirteen. In the 1901 Scottish census, Francis stated he worked as a gardener like his father. He married May King around 1902 and the couple had their first child, Amy, born in Edinburgh, Scotland June 2nd, 1902.

Departure to Canada & Arrival in the US

Like many young couples in the early 1900’s, the James family departed for Canada on November 12th, 1903 arriving in Halifax aboard the SS Parisian, seeking a prosperous lot in life.  Their travel documents indicate they planned to reside in Toronto, Ontario with relatives. Francis sought employment as a gardener. After five years, the family moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Crossing the border on August 25th, 1908, their travel documents indicate James had secured the construction foreman position with William H. Tucker, the builder of the LuLu Temple Golf Course in Philadelphia. At this time, it is unclear if he worked at golf courses in the Toronto area before departing for the US to work for Tucker. It is important to note James returned to England for his father’s funeral in 1910. He still declared himself as a golf  course foreman on his travel documents. But, when the family applied for natural citizenship in 1915, James declared himself a golf architect. The family lived in various locals in Pennsylvania from 1908 – 1923.

Prior to his departure to the northwest, research indicates James worked as an architect, builder, or construction foreman at several golf course projects in the northeast. See list at the conclusion of this article.

Permanent Home in the Pacific Northwest

In 1923 William Tucker contracted to construct the newest Vernon Macan designed course in Tacoma, WA. Naturally, Tucker transferred his number one construction foreman, Francis James, to oversee the project. Shortly after his arrival, James announced to the Seattle Daily Times newspaper, “this would be our home forever.” Perhaps he very quickly identified a niche in the NW where he could flourish as a golf course architect and builder In the early 1920’s golf boomed in the NW.  Groups of local businessmen in small towns throughout the area foresaw the advantages to having a nine or eighteen hole golf course in their area. The most prominent golf architect, Vernon Macan, announced to these small groups that he would not design and or supervise the construction of their course. “I am a golf architect like HS Colt, C Allison, and Donald Ross. I am not a builder. I do not oversee the day to day construction or the costs.” James began his golf course design and construction business to fulfill this void. For a set price, he provided the golf course developers with a “turn key price”. Macan also limited his business by having a set time frame for the construction of the course.  Usually his development process took one – two years before the players could play their course. James would undertake a project according to the owner’s wishes. For example, William M. Bolcom, the owner of the Olympic G&CC, in Seattle promised his shareholders the golf course would be available for play within six months of the starting construction date. James fulfilled this promise by developing the course from May 1 – October 1. The Olympic course officially opened for play on October 26th, 1924. Macan would never undertake such a project.

Design philosophy

To date only three articles written by Francis James have been found. Because James worked for Willie Park, William Tucker, Alex Findlay, and Vernon Macan we can likely assume he followed the principles for designing an ideal course used by these strategic designers. For example, at Fircrest Macan outlined his philosophy in an article in the Tacoma Daily Ledger newspaper.“ My idea is to design a course that while being a fine test of the game and calling for all the skills of Hagens, Sarazens, and Barnes, would at the same time provide a satisfactory test and full measure of enjoyment for the less skilled; yes even the dubs. While the course is going to be easy for the ordinary player, it will take a good golfer to score low figures due to the fact the greens are so well trapped. The crack players are forced to play for the greens in order to make a low score; where as the ordinary player can place his ball without getting into trouble.” While supervising the construction of Fircrest, Macan recommended Francis James to construct the nine-hole Glen Acres golf course in Seattle.

In the March 1932 Northwest Golfer & Country Club Magazine James, the article “Let Experience Be Your Salvation” outlined James’ green design and construction philosophy.

“Beautiful Greens! Magic words, bringing to our vision and our thoughts those beautiful gems of wonderful contour and fine turf we play on. Here and there is a particularly unique hole, which has fascinated you, but in the final analysis it is the putting green, which claims your attention. A golf course may be great otherwise, but with poor greens it is soon forgotten.

The greens are usually the result of a harmonious combination of many factors – the setting, the beauty of the design and contour, drainage, and soil conditions all play their part in producing a beautiful green, which as we approach it seems to invite and inspire us to valiant deeds.

The care of the putting greens and the development of the turf on the on the salient parts of the course should, from now on, be our first consideration. Good putting greens can be obtained under almost any condition where grass will grow, if you have the right man to build them up and take proper care of them”.

In the October 1932 Pacific Coast Golfer Magazine article “Hidden Gold in the Rough” James outlined the advantages of improving the rough on most golf courses as a source of topsoil and to reduce lost golf ball complaints from players.

“It very often happens in the construction of a golf course that in the selection of golf holes, advantage is taken of the higher and better-drained parts of the property, which by their character and contour, lend themselves to this purpose. This means that in the average much of the so-called rough spots are in places where the soil conditions are better than most fairways. We may find ourselves without enough soil to carry on our maintenance work. Yet there may be plenty of material lying in the rough for the taking  once the area has been cleaned up. In many cases where this clean up method has been used the results have proven very satisfactory.

Another angle is the fact when these rough areas are robbed of part of the topsoil, the ground is thus thinned out to the extent that its future use will be easier to maintain. Almost any thin layer of any kind of soil is sufficient for a growth in the rough. Players will find it easier to locate and play their ball from the new rough areas.

Your compensation will come of knowing that a good job has been done. One that makes your future work easier adds to your business because players are not complaining about lost balls in the rough, and finally you have a reserve of usable topsoil.”

In the north end of Seattle, James along with Robert Johnstone, the head professional at the Seattle Golf Club designed and constructed the Olympic G&CC. Over the next three decades James designed, renovated, or constructed forty golf courses in Washington, plus single developments in California and British Columbia and California.

The period 1926 thru 1928 represented the busiest years for James. The Seattle Daily Times newspaper article May 30th, 1926 titled James Plays Seven-Up Six Courses Are New” illustrates the extent of his work.

“It is almost necessary to rope and hog-tie Francis L, James, Seattle busy little golf course architect in order to get a word out of him as he jumps into town and out again these days. Hid old bus is getting to look quit disreputable. He hasn’t time to clean it.

Seven golf course jobs, six of them new ones, just started well under way or just about finished is what appears on the James log. Cowiltz, Willipa Harbour, Yakima (six new greens), Longview, Sunnyside (Yakima), Overlake, and Sand Point.”

Tribute to Francis James

In 1934 with the golf design and construction business waning, Francis James returned to the Palouse area to work on the University of Idaho golf course. “What I like about this country is the way things grow. I am never going to leave it. I want to die here”. The university administration fulfilled his desire by hiring him as manager of the golf course. He died with his boots on at his beloved golf course. To honor him, the university named the clubhouse after him. Today a plaque in the clubhouse reads:“ He loved golf, and was loved by all those who played the game.”

Francis had the unique talent like his contemporaries to walk a piece of ground, foresee the possibilities that nature provided, and to transform the earth into a playing field for all levels of players to enjoy. He like his fellow early architects were artists in the true sense of the word. They were creators.

In my original interview with Henry C. Towne he described Francis James as a “golf course artist”.  Towne, a non-golfer, definitely aptly described Francis (Frank) James.


The Seattle Times, March 9th, 1930 declared: “Frank James, golf course architect, who is now completing his 80th course declared the site of the Evergreen links as one of the best he has ever seen.”  Strangely research has not found any courses in Oregon where he plied his trade. In his obituary the author claimed Francis James worked on over 100 golf courses.

Further research is required to find the true number of courses Francis L. James actually worked on.

Philmont CC Philadelphia PA

Chevy Chase Club Washington

1914   Lu Lu Temple CC Philadelphia PA Architect Donald Ross

Builder Francis L. James

1919   Pottsville CC Postville PA

1919   Green Valley CC Roxborough PA Architect Willie Park Jr.

Builder Francis L. James

1920   Transit Valley CC Buffalo NY

1920   Aronimink GC Philadelphia PA Architect Alex Findlay

Builder Francis L. James

1920   Travistock CC Haddenfield NJ

1920   Beaver Dam GC Washington DC

Brookline Square Philadelphia PA

1921   Center Hills CC State College Philadelphia PA

1922   Wildwood GC Wildwood NJ Architect Wayne E. Stiles,

Builder Francis L. James

1924   Women’s National CC Long Island NY

1924 Peninsula GC OR

1923   Firecrest GC Tacoma construction foreman

1924   Olympic G&CC Seattle WA

Port Angeles G&CC WA

Kitsap G&CC WA

Rainier GC Seattle WA remolded #7 and #9 green

Port Madison Seattle WA

Washington G&CC (Glen Acres) Macan design builder James

Earlington G&CC

1925   Longview CC WA

Overlake G&CC Medina WA

Cowlitz G&CC WA

1926   Los Gatos GC CA

Willapa Harbour WA

Yakima CC WA

Sunnyside GC Yakima WA

Lewiston CC ID

1927   Linden GC WA

Jackson Park GC Seattle WA

University of Idaho Moscow ID

Esmeralda GC Spokane

1928   Lakeway GC Bellingham WA

1929   Peace Portal GC White Rock BC

Everett CC remolded holes 4,5,8,9,11, and 15.

1930   Evergreen GC Richfield WA

Tom Thumb Putting Course Seattle WA

Highlands GC Tacoma WA

Lake Garrett GC White Centre WA

Fort Lewis WA

1931   Lakewood GC near Hicks Lake White Centre WA

1932   Vashon Island GC WA

1933   University of Idaho, Mapleview WA

1934   Washington State University GC Pullman WA remodel

1936   Clarkston GC ID, Seminary Hill WA

1946   Weiser GC Weiser-Payette ID

1947   Yakima Valley Golf  & Country

1948   Veteran’s Memorial Everett

1949   Blue Lakes Twin Falls ID Walla Walla WA

1957   Pendleton CC (Died in 1952????

The BC Golf Museum is interested in expanding this list. If you have a course to add please contact us.

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