It’s position on the banks of the Delaware River
has been both a blessing and a curse to the Shawnee Inn & Golf Resort. While the beauty and recreational opportunities it provides are undeniable, the floods that sometimes occur are unavoidable. The last year has been particularly trying for this vertiable institution located just across the New Jersey border in Shawnee-on-Delaware, Pa. During a $2 million renovation that touched virtually every inch of the Inn, Mother Nature decided to make two unwelcomed visits.
A resort doesn’t age to 94 years by being derailed by setbacks, however, and the Kirkwoods, who owns it, are committed to making their family business one that befits its history. “Our catchphrase is ‘out with the old and in with the older,’” says John Kirkwood, project manager. “Shawnee is grand old dame of a resort and its original intention was for high-end golf and recreational use. There’s no reason not to embrace that and get back to that heritage.”
To that end, Spa Shawnee will be introduced this year. And, the Kirkwoods are engaging in a market study to decide just how upscale they want to make their historic inn. Whatever the level of elegance, one thing is certain: there will never be a shortage of things to see and do at Shawnee. Golf
As Kirkwood says, “lots of places have great golf courses, and lots of places have history, but very few places have both. And you can’t create history, you either have it, or you don’t.” Shawnee has it, and then some.
For starters, its golf course was the first design by celebrated architect A.W. Tillinghast of Baltusrol, Winged Foot and Bethpage Black fame. Think about that for a moment; that’s like having Picasso’s first painting hanging on the wall. The course, which has 24 of its 27 holes situated on an island in the Delaware River, also hosted the 1938 PGA Championship won by Paul Runyon over a rising star named Sam Snead. Plus, it has been the home of the Shawnee Open since 1912, once a regular stop on the professional circuit by the biggest names in golf. So far, the tournaent, which is still played today, has been won by six U.S Open Champions: Fred McLeod, John McDermott, Walter Hagen, James Barnes, Johnny Farrell, and Lawson Little.
You want bigger names? You got ’em. Shawnee is where Jackie Gleason learned to play golf. And, Arnold Palmer met his first wife, Winnie, here. Simply stated, Shawnee is an important part of the fabric of American golf history; it’s a shrine that every true golfer should experience. Tillinghast Golf Academy
One of the most exciting additions to the Tillinghast Golf Academy, which conducts its school, clinics and camps on a expansive driving range and short game area, is a nine-hole practice course designed by Tom Doak, the Pete Dye protégé responsible for standout courses such as Pacific Dunes and Bandon Trails in Bandon, Ore.
“As an expert on Tillinghast courses, we had Tom design nine short holes as an homage to Tillinghast,” says Kirkood. “They are not replica holes, but they are inspired by the designs of some of Tillinghast’s famous holes.” Only three holes were completed as of press time, but construction will continue as the weather permits. Activities and Events
One could spend their entire vacation at Shawnee and not have to leave the property. In addition to indoor and outdoor pools, a three-mile hiking/biking trail, tennis courts and rafting/canoeing/fishing trips, there are numerous events and festivals that take place throughout the year such as a rodeo, lumberjack exhibition and the Shawnee Fall Foliage Festival, now in its 21st year. During this eye-popping, three-day event, hot air ballons are available for tethered and untethered rides, live bands play and fireworks explode in the night sky. And, if you’re lucky enough to attend during a year when they’re available, there are exciting pig races to watch. Dining and Entertainment
Though Shawnee’s main dining room has largely been converted into event/meeting space, there are still several dining options on site. At the Inn, Charlie’s Place serves American fare in a casual atmoshpere overlooking the golf course and one of the oldest, and most beautiful, trees in Monroe County. Inside, the walls are ardorned with historic pictures of the Inn and the people—famous and otherwise—who have passed through its timeless halls throughout the years. Complementing Charlie’s Place is the Buckwood Bakery and Café, a cozy spot to enjoy a cup of coffee, a snack and browing the gift merchandise. Adjacent to Inn’s main entrance is Sam Snead’s Tavern, a pub/steakhouse adorned with fascinating memorabilia from the man and the game. Even the putter that Snead used in the 1938 PGA Championship is on the wall. Definitely allow extra time for browsing.
In addition to great food, Shawnee offers some of the best entertainment in the Pocono region in the form of The Shawnee Playhouse. C.C. Worthington, the hotel’s original owner, built the Shawnee Playhouse in 1904 as part of Worthington Hall, designed to provide social amusement and educational benefits for residents and visitors of Shawnee-on-Delaware. The Shawnee Players, consisting mainly of local amateur actors and actresses, preformed here to enthusiastic audiences from 1904 to World War II. In 1943 musician Fred Waring purchased the Inn and began to broadcast his famous radio programs from the Hall.
After a period of disrepair, the Kirkwood family purchased the Inn (which included the Hall) 1978, and the Hall was restored and placed on the National Registry of Historic places. In 1985, an arsonist burned the building down, but it was eventually rebuilt.
Today, Shawnee puts on four musicals per season, with actors and actresses hired from Broadway and off-Broadway shows in New York City. This year, the lineup was Phantom of the Opera, Pirates of Penzance, Noises Off (until October 30th), and Miracle on 34th street (from Novermber 25th to December 31st). Taggart Tagged as Director of Golf
Talk about a trial by fire. Or, in this case, by flood. After successfully negotiating three inundations to Shawnee’s 27-hole golf course, former greenskeeper Steve Taggart has been promoted to director of golf for the entire resort. In this somewhat unusual move, Taggart was put in charge of all aspects of golf, including the golf professionals, the golf shop, the Tillinghast Golf Academy and Shawnee’s Nike Golf Camps.
In 2004, flood-related ice floes as big as school buses gouged the fairways and silt covered all of the greens. Worse yet, the damage occurred in January when it was very difficult to do any restoration. With the help of agronomist Pete Landschoot, from Penn State University, Taggart and his crew had the golf course open by May. This year, a flood that covered 24 of the 27 greens and more than 80 sand traps, was an even greater concern because it came just prior to opening day. Miraculously, 18 holes were opened on May 14th and the full 27 holes were opened on June 3rd.
Taggart, 35, who lives with his wife, Beth, and two boys in Pohatcong, New Jersey, has an Associates Degree in Applied Science and a Degree in Turf Management from Rutgers University. He joined Shawnee on October 2, 1995 just in time for—you guessed it—a huge flood that devastated the course and closed the Inn for 10 weeks. The experience he gained restoring the golf course came in handy for the subsequent 2004 and 2005 floods. These two floods were both “50-year floods”, Taggart jokes, “We should be good for the next 100 years now.” History in the Making: The Story of Shawnee
Originally called The Buckwood Inn, the seasonal resort was designed and constructed by C.C. Worthington, a wealthy New York engineer and business owner, in 1910 and 1911. As a testament to Worthington’s engineering savvy, he chose to build the Inn out of an innovative substance-concrete-and craftsmen constructed floors and walls of 12-inch thick cement.
When the Inn opened its doors in May 1911, it stood solid, elegant and fireproof, unlike wooden structures so common in the era. Worthington built numerous state-of-the-art amenities into the resort, but perhaps the most remarkable attraction, and his most cherished, was the meticulously planned golf course. Designed by famous turn-of-the-last-century golf architect A.W. Tillinghast, the Inn’s golf course-built on an island in the Delaware River - quickly became known as the “Gem of the East.” The Inn is rumored to have hosted one of the first meetings of the PGA, and in 1938 the Inn hosted the historic PGA Championship where Paul Runyan defeated the Inn’s resident golf pro, Sam Snead.
A year before his death at age 91, Worthington sold the Inn to famous entertainer Fred Waring in 1943. Waring renamed the resort The Shawnee Inn and upheld the Inn’s status as a seasonal, expensive and exclusive retreat. He made the Inn the center of his musical activities, and he and his well-known group, The Pennsylvanians, rehearsed and broadcast his famous radio programs from the stage in Worthington Hall, which would later become the Shawnee Playhouse.
Many of Waring’s friends who were celebrities in golf and entertainment came to Shawnee as guests. Jackie Gleason learned to play golf at Shawnee and Arnold Palmer met his wife here. Other famous guests included Lucille Ball, Art Carney, Perry Como, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Eddie Fisher, George Gobel and Ed Sullivan.
Fred Waring sold Shawnee to Karl Hope, a successful Philadelphia real estate developer, in 1974. Hope opened Shawnee Village, the first timesharing development in Pennsylvania, and one of the first in the U.S. Hope also transformed the Inn into a year-round resort and conference center; he upgraded buildings, added DePuy and Fairway Villages to the grounds, and built a ski area on Shawnee Mountain. To ensure the success of the new ski area, Hope hired three-time Olympic Gold Medallist Jean-Claude Killy to head ski operations at the Mountain.
Current owners Charles and Virginia Kirkwood purchased The Shawnee Inn from Karl Hope in 1977 and have made numerous improvements to the Inn and its facilities over the course of more than 20 years. In 1991, Shawnee divided into three separate companies: Shawnee Properties, responsible for managing and marketing the timesharing; Shawnee Mountain, responsible for managing the ski area; and the Inn. In 1994, the Kirkwoods renamed it The Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort.
In December of 1995, extensive upgrades and renovations began on the hotel, but, on the morning of January 20, 1996, the banks of the Delaware River overflowed the Inn, damaging the Inn and many holes of the golf course, forcing their closure.
Since then, the Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort has begun a complete renovation. The golf course was repaired and the Inn was updated with new windows and shutters, a modern keycard entry system, beds, TVs, carpet, wallpaper, guest furniture and in-room amenities such as hair dryers, irons/ironing boards, and coffee makers. It has also embarked on an historic picture project that will adorn the walls of the Inn’s guest rooms and public areas.
In addition, 2003 saw the opening of The Tillinghast Golf Academy. In 2004, the state-of-the-art practice facility was completed with the The Red Brick House, built in 1782, restored and serving as its headquarters along with the golf academy and Tillinghast Golf Association. In the summer of 2004, Sam Snead’s Tavern opened directly beside the academy, an amenity for the guests and a tribute to the legend who played at Shawnee for many years.