Arts and Crafts Golf Part IV
by Thomas MacWood
Like so many successful Londoners of the 1890’s, Tom Roberts looked to the countryside as an escape from the dreariness of the city and in 1897 built a home called Ridgemount in the Surrey heathlands. Roberts had leased the land from St.John’s College, Cambridge ‘who had obtained Sunningdale Estate in 1524 from the Benedictine Nunnery of Broomhall which was suppressed by Henry VIII.’ As a member of a growing throng who had been bitten by the golf bug, Roberts came up with the bold idea of creating a golf course on this God forsaken land of heather, gorse and pine trees. Roberts approached St.John’s College with a plan of ‘making a golf course and the creation of leaseholds on the land roundabout for building a good class of house.’ Surprisingly they agreed and Roberts then turned to Willie Park-Jr. (1864 -1925) of Musselburgh to lay out a golf course on this agricultural wasteland.
Young Willie Park had won the Open Championship twice, in 1887 and 1889, but was relatively unknown outside of his native Scotland. Park was certainly an experienced golf-architect having tutored under his father, Old Willie. He had also broached the subject in his book The Game of Golf in 1896, but it was a minor note and his ideas were not fully evolved. Park’s selection probably had more to do with his agreement to design and construct the golf course for a fixed fee of Ã‚£3,800 — a major gamble considering the uncompromising nature of the site. Harold Hilton wrote that Park was ‘the first man to take on a contract for the laying out of a course on heath land, which to the casual observer seemed to be particularly unadapted to the project at hand.’
Work began in 1899. Park recalled, ‘When we started on Sunningdale it was nothing but a mess of rough heather and dry sandy soil. There was not a blade of grass to be seen, and well I remember Hugh Mclean, the Scotchman, who is the greenkeeper, saying to me, ‘It is like trying to cheat Providence attempting to grow grass here’ — and so it was. It was a fearful job at Sunningdale, and at the ninth hole the men said it was impossible to take the heavy manure up the steep hill. I told them it must be taken up, even if they carried it in teaspoonfuls. The ninth green is looking all right now I think, but we killed two horses in the undertaking.’
While the difficult work progressed at Sunningdale, Willie became involved in a second project — Huntercombe. Located on the western end of the Chiltern Hills near Oxford, Park had first discovered the property a few months after he began at Sunningdale. He invested Ã‚£5000 of his own money and organized a small group of eight investors who put up another Ã‚£1200. The site was more open and less rugged than Sunningdale, consisting of ‘grassy open spaces interspersed with heather, gorse and blackthorn.’ Construction commenced in the fall of 1900 with Hugh McLean now supervising construction of two courses, he ‘used to put his bicycle on to the train at Sunningdale from Reading and cycle up to supervise the work at Huntercombe.’ Thankfully for McLean, with more favorable terrain the construction at Huntercombe progressed fairly quickly.
After two years of construction the golf courses were ready for play in 1901, Huntercombe in May and Sunningdale in September. Willie Park had reversed a terrible trend and shown that it was possible to build an inland golf course comparable to the great seaside links. It was remarkable achievement producing not just one revolutionary design, but two. Horace Hutchinson wrote of Sunningdale, Park ‘had certainly produced the best thing in the way of an inland course that up to that time had been created.’ Walter Travis a great admirer of Park said of Huntercombe, ‘I consider that Huntercombe is easily the best laid course that I have ever played over anywhere.’ Harold Hilton agreed, ‘In links architecture his two great creations have been Sunningdale and Huntercombe and of the two I am distinctly inclined to look upon Huntercombe as the greater effort of the two.’ Although there wasn’t agreement on which course was superior, it was universally agreed that Willie Park had set a new standard in the way of inland golf.
In 1901 Willie Park-Jr. moved his home from Musselburgh to Huntercombe — his business affairs were now centered in London. A few years earlier he had moved his equipment enterprise, Willie Park & Son, south to take full advantage of the golf boom. Park was an extraordinary talent — a champion golfer, a talented craftsman, an inventor and innovator, an astute businessman, and a master self-promoter/advertiser. He was also universally well-liked. ‘He was a big man in every sense,’ not only big physically, but also in modesty, generosity and intellect. Hutchinson was an admirer, ‘few professional golfers are so universally liked as Willie Park and we may say with truth that he is a man without a single enemy.’ He had great respect for Park at time when professionals were considered second class citizens and hardly the social or intellectual equal to ‘the amateurs.’ ‘A distinctive magnetism sensed by the many kinds of people with whom he came into contact,’ Willie possessed a charm and charisma that endeared him to many, as Garden Smith editor of Golf Illustrated wrote at the opening of Huntercombe, ‘Those who know Willie Park will wish him all the success in his knew enterprise. There is probably no professional golfer who commands so much respect and even the affection of all classes. He is the embodiment of all that is thorough and upright and a venture of which he is the guiding spirit is assured from the start.’ For the next several years Park would devote all his energies and most of his considerable wealth into the development of Huntercombe.
From golfing and social standpoint, the club and the course were a great success. Among its membership were Lord Arthur Balfour, Prime Minister 1903-05, the Earl of Chestefield and Lord Herbert Vance Tempest. Edward Hudson and George Riddell of Country Life were not only enthusiastic members, but were also among the original group investors, in fact Hudson had lined up several talented architects for the surrounding housing development. And the list of well-known amateurs that Park attracted was impressive — Robert Maxwell, J.S.Worthington, Stuart Paton, C.K.Hutchison, J.F.Abercromby and C.H.Alison. But despite the critical acclaim Huntercombe suffered from serious financial difficulties, the planned real-estate development never took off due to its awkward location — a little too far from London for cars and six miles form the nearest railway station. George Riddell arranged a temporary bailout, but unfortunately in 1908 Huntercombe went into default; Willie Park lost a small fortune. Near the end Horace Hutchinson wrote, ‘all golfers who know the attractive charms of the Huntercombe course will learn with regret that some difficulty have intervened lately to hinder the continued prosperity of the club. The course is so good, and the situation so picturesque for all city dwellers, that it would be a thousand pities were the efforts of Willie Park in creating the course, and of those members of the club who have for years fostered the game here, to go for naught.’
Despite the financial set back, the excitement generated by the heathland breakthroughs created a tremendous demand for Park’s design talents. He was involved with one major commission after another — Notts, La Boulie, Formby, Montrose, Mont Angel, West Hill and Knocke were all produced in the first decade of the century. And when Huntercombe member J.F.Abercromby, with no practical design experience, was asked by a wealthy financier to plan a championship golf course, he naturally turned to Park to design and build Worplesdon in1908. That success resulted in a second commission and collaborative effort the following year — Coombe Hill (1909). And Huntercombe and Sunningdale were not the only projects involving golf and the construction of country homes, there were several resort projects where Park had occasion to cross paths with Arts and Crafts architects, with Arnold Mitchell at Ostend (1903) for the King of Belgium, Edwin Lutyens at Knebworth (1908) for Lord Lytton, and with a number of architects, including C.F.A. Voysey, at the seaside resorts of Aldeburgh (1906) in Suffolk and Frinton-on-Sea (1904) in Essex.
Although Willie Park wrote two books, they were almost exclusively focused on playing the game. But he did briefly touch on the subject of design and through those books and a few rare articles, one can discover his philosophies. And his design principles reflect the Arts and Crafts ideals of simplicity, an appreciation for the past and a respect for nature, all echoed by Hutchinson:
The shape of the course must be decided by the nature of the ground.
The selection of putting-greens is a much more difficult matter. They may be on the level course, or in a natural hollow or basin, provided it be sufficiently large and shallow, or they may be placed on the tops of large ‘tables’. All of these are good positions, and the more variety that can be introduced the better.
A golf architect must approach each bit of country with an absolute open mind, with no preconceived ideas of what he is going to lay out, the holes have to be found, and the land in its natural state used to its best advantage. Nature can always beat the handiwork of man and to achieve the best and most satisfactory results in laying out a golf course, you must humour nature.
At a time when Victorian golf-architecture was suffering from mathematical precision, symmetry, artificiality and a total lack of imagination, Willie Park was able introduce the qualities which had been exclusive to golf by the sea — variety, strategic thought and use of natural features. By adopting the changing aesthetic tastes and introducing them into golf design, Park revolutionized golf-architecture. He would remain extremely busy designing new golf courses throughout his life, shouldering an enormous workload on his own, for unlike his contemporaries he never took a partner. With the economic slowdown following the First World War, Park brought his skills to North America, designing or redesigning over seventy courses in a period of only eight years — a bewildering number, so many, he was forced to end his golf equipment business. Sadly in 1923 Willie was showing signs of loosing touch, sometimes appearing with a gang at a job that he had already completed. Later that year he suffered a complete mental breakdown and was taken back to Musselburgh where he died in May of 1925. Willie Park had worked himself to death.
Sunningdale and Huntercombe awakened the world to the possibilities of inland golf, and among those inspired was Henry Cosmo Bonsor. Bonsor, director of the Bank of England, overcame legal restrictions on turning an open heath into a golf course by arguing successfully that he held the manorial rights of Walton Heath adjacent to his home at Kingswood Warren. Cosmo Bonsor then turned to his brother-in-law, W. Herbert Fowler (1856 -1941) a fine amateur golfer and a golf design enthusiast, to transform his dream into reality. And in 1902 Herbert Fowler relocated along with his family to Walton to take on the project. With a huge tract at his disposal, Fowler explored the site upon horseback for several months. ‘It was all covered with heather of the most robust nature, some two to three feet high, and where there was no heather there were masses of giant whins; but the drainage was good, and the glorious open space, with no trees or ditches, and the rolling ground is here broken up by chasms, which promised to make capital natural hazards . . . having thoroughly examined the whole of the heath, and eventually decided to make a golf course on it, the next thing to do was to settle where to go. We had 600 acres available, and most of the ground was very suitable, but eventually I came to the conclusion that I would go out by way of a spot which appealed to me as promising two extra short holes, and that, in view of making the upkeep of the green easy, I would keep the outgoing and incoming courses fairly near together.’ After settling upon and marking out a routing, the area was cleared of the heather and whins, followed by steam ploughs to break up the ground. Turf was sown and the course was playable by the end of the year — the bunkering would be added after the first season and the course was complete in the spring of 1904.
Walton Heath immediately drew praise from all corners. Hutchinson wrote, ‘Another point in the golfing history of the week was the opening of the new course on Walton Heath. The heath is a delightful place close to the Kingswood Station, only sixteen miles from London, and some 700 ft. high. It is covered with heather and gorse, and if there are no grouse and black game, there ought to be. There are rabbits and partridges, and now there are also golfers. The course has been very well laid out—all steam-ploughed and sown, and they have been at much pains, which has not failed in its effect, to get the right sort of grass.’ He would later write, ‘Sunningdale has always seemed to me just about the best of the inland ones. Then I was at Walton Heath, as a guest of Mr.Cosmo Bonsor’s kindly hospitality, when that great inland course was opened . . . Walton Heath was a monument to the skill of the other of our amateur course constructors, Herbert Fowler. He made a very good thing of it, as the wonderful success of that Club has testified since.’ As the club was clearly successful, George Riddell of Country Life — having already negotiated for the land around the clubhouse — bought out Bosnor and took over in November 1905. In 1906 Edward Hudson approached Edwin Lutyens to design the Dormie House, ‘with a Jekyll garden of roses, foxgloves and other homey summer flowers.’ In the plot next door Lutyens built Chussex for Herbert Fowler. Named for Chussex Plain, an area in the center of the course where Fowler had carefully left untouched the remains of a Roman Villa. Fowler wrote,’The Romans, I found, had been there some years ago, and they had designed some excellent bunkers, which I was first told by archaeologists were used as stables, but now higher authorities say that they were camp kitchens; anyway, they come in capitally in forming the best type of hazards.’
The great champion James Braid was brought on as professional and remained at the club his entire life, which included his own busy career in golf design. Darwin wrote, ‘It was a curious fate that he should live and play for so many years of his life on two of the best inland course, the Old and the New at Walton Heath, and yet have little or no hand in the designing of them. After Herbert Fowler’s death he would no doubt be consulted as to any changes, but as long as Mr.Fowler was there, I doubt if anybody else had much to say in the matter, for he was not only a most accomplished architect, with a touch of genius, but also an instinctive despot.’
The success of Walton Heath led to a string of important commissions for Fowler. In the next several years he would complete an impressive list of designs and redesigns, including Southerndown (1908), West Surrey (1909), Delamere Forest (1910), Ganton (1911), Cooden Beach (1912) and a second course at Walton Heath (1913) of which Darwin said ‘there is a heather . . . which would certainly withstand a charge of dynamite and possibly even the power of Braid.’ Like Willie Park before him, he too assisted J.F.Abercromby with a design — this time West Kent (1914). However Fowler’s most famous, or perhaps infamous commission was his complete redesign of Westward Ho! (1908), a project that garnered both enthusiastic praise (including from its native son Hutchinson) and severe criticism, most notably from a letter published in The Times from an ‘old golfer’ using a pseudonym. Fowler responded by writing a detailed article describing the numerous changes made to the course, their positive effect, while at the same time correcting much of the letter’s faulty information. In 1910 Fowler took on Tom Simpson as a partner, who would be involved with several prominent designs of his own, including the remodeling of Cruden Bay (1911).
Bernard Darwin described Fowler’s designs in this way, ‘the work of Mr.Herbert Fowler, who is perhaps the most daring and original of all golfing architects, and gifted with an almost inspired eye for the possibility of a golfing country. He is essentially ferocious in his methods, and there is no one else quite so merciless in the punishing of shots that quite respectable, that are in fact so nearly good that the striker of them, in the irritation of the moment, calls them perfect.’ Horace Hutchinson had a similar perspective, ‘Of all the bunker-makers, Mr.Fowler is perhaps the most ferocious, since he will plant a difficulty just the least bit nearer to the hole than any other ‘architect’; for the shot that is nearly good he has little mercy.’
Following the Great War, Herbert Fowler expanded his firm to four, adding Abercromby and Arthur Croome. With a struggling economy slowing domestic design, Fowler made an extended tour of the United States in the early twenties. He was involved in such designs as Del Paso, Presidio, Seqouyah and LACC North & South (with George Thomas supervising construction), all in California, as well as the dramatic Eastward Ho! on Cape Cod. He was also responsible for transforming the 18th at Pebble Beach from a relatively benign par-4 to the world famous three shotter we know today. Although the home market for golf design would never reach the heights of before the war, he continued to produce a number of impressive works in Britain, the most famous being the two courses at Saunton (1919/1935) and the Red and Blue courses at Berkshire (1928). Darwin was particularly impressed with his design for the new course at Saunton and cited it as one the few modern seaside designs of note, ‘There is scarcely a piece of ground anywhere more ‘obviously designed by Providence for a golf course’ than is Saunton. I always remember with joy a sentence in an old book describing how the wind ‘doth play the tyrant in this tract’. In the course of its tyranny it covered up, I believe, an entire church and it certainly made noble hills and valleys. There is one hole on this new course where the player is bidden to drive at the last remnant of a submerged civilisation, an ancient fragment of a tree, I think a sycamore, still keeping its head above the mighty sea of sand.’ And of the Berkshire courses he said, ‘ The country is essentially undulating and interesting and full of natural beauty. These two courses were laid out by Mr.Herbert Fowler, who had as an architect an ‘eye for the country’ second to none. He made up his mind very quickly, for even as he looked at it a waste of trees and heather seemed to arrange itself in a pattern of holes and his original scheme, to the ordinary eye miraculous arrived at, wanted very little revision. The Berkshire courses have more of charm perhaps and less austere grandeur than Walton Heath. Walton and Saunton are the two best memorials to Herbert Fowler, but the Berkshire makes a worthy supplement to them.’ Herbert Fowler passed away quietly in 1941 near his crowning achievement Walton Heath.
Herbert Fowler was not a prolific writer, he never produced a book, and only contributed to one, Hutchinson’s Golf Greens and Green-Keeping. He did however write several articles and from these one can see that he too was influenced by both the Arts and Crafts movement and Hutchinson:
In making bunkers it is, of course, most important to avail oneself as far as possible of any help the natural formations of ground may give . . . For myself, I should always try to find a spot where the tendency of the run of the ball would be to lead to the bunker. This enables a smaller hazard to do the work of a much larger one, and it is only carrying out a principle which obtains on the older classic courses.
Only general advice can be given as to the placing of bunkers on a course, and certain principles should be observed. Much always depend upon the formation of the ground and natural features, and the arrangement of the bunkers should vary slightly at the different holes so as to avoid monotony.
Now that the ball-makers have successfully ruined most of our leading course, it remains for the golf architects to so design the greens that they shall be both difficult of access and that the putting shall demand care and skill in judging slopes and undulations.
Unless there is some natural feature which will form the entrance, sand bunkers should be constructed, slightly in advance of the green proper, on the right and left side of the entrance . . To my mind there should, if possible, be an entrance to all greens. By this I do not mean bunkers, placed with mathematical accuracy exactly opposite each other.
God builds golf links and the less man meddles the better for all concerned.
While Young Willie Park’s work was progressing in the summer of 1901, the Sunningdale Committee advertised for a Club secretary. They received 435 applications, whittling those down to five candidates, before finally selecting a most qualified individual — a former member and captain of the Cambridge golf team, R & A member, winner of two Jubilee Vases, member of the Rules of Golf Committee, qualified solicitor, past secretary of another new club, with a knowledge of golf course design and greenkeeping — his name, H.S. Colt (1869-1951). Colt, the son of a London Barrister, had been practicing law for the past seven years in Hastings, a small coastal town in Essex. And although the law was his chosen profession, golf dominated his life. He was a nationally renowned and active amateur competitor; a founding member and the designer of the golf course at Rye; the secretary of that same club for three years, overseeing the improvements to the course throughout the 90’s. The move Sunningdale was a natural.
Following Sunningdale’s opening in the Autumn of 1901 Willie Park-Jr. severed all formal ties, understandably wanting to concentrate his efforts at Huntercombe. This provided Harry Colt with a relatively free hand in refining the golf course. His first taste of golf design had come in 1894, when he designed Rye with the assistance of Douglas Rolland, a wonderful course that sat in relative obscurity for many years. He also served as the clubs first secretary and captain, supervising on going improvements to the links. But his design activity was limited to his home club and possibly the nearby Hastings & St.Leonards, but he was certainly not an active golf architect.
It is not known exactly when Colt’s formal design career began. His last improvements to Rye were in 1901 — supervising the construction of several new tees reinforced with sleepers — the same year of his Sunningdale move. At Sunningdale he and the greenkeeper Hugh MacLean implemented minor improvements almost from the start. It appears his design of the new course at Hendon outside London in 1903 may have been his first as a golf-architect, it is known in 1904 he requested permission from Sunningdale ‘to take up other work if offered.’ In 1905 he thanked the committee for granting him a leave of absence, most likely for the design of the Prenton course near Liverpool. The following year was extremely busy, a semifinalist in the Amateur Championship, becoming an agent for Shanks Mowing Machine and contributing an essay to Hutchinson’s Golf Greens and Green-keeping — the oft mentioned landmark book devoted to golf-course design and maintenance. Colt’s chapter was entitled ‘Treatment and Upkeep of a Golf Course on Light Inland Soil’ and included practical advice on acquiring land, analyzing soil, mapping, routing and design, construction, drainage, establishing turf and maintenance. His involvement in this book, which included chapters written by Fowler, Braid, Hilton, Mure-Fergusson, Hutchison and Hutchinson, not only provided Colt with exposure and legitimacy but also confidence, eventually leading him to concentrate all his energies on golf-architecture.
Unlike Park and Fowler who started with a splash, Colt’s start was more modest, his rise steady and consistent, not unlike his personality and the quality of his work throughout his career. But starting in 1907 his design career began to accelerate. Colt’s first noteworthy project was a major alteration of Sunningdale. Horace Hutchinson wrote, ‘Many critics of golf course, the writer among them, have always had three serious objections to the Sunningdale course, as originally laid out. In the first place its short holes seemed poor; in the second place the seventh and eleventh holes seemed too blind and flucky; and in third place, the last two, especially the seventeenth, seemed feeble. It appears probable that in a year or two no golfing critic will be able to raise any of these objections, for alterations and improvements have been made, or in the course of being made, in the direction named.’ The process perfected Park’s revolutionary design, it was now not only a golf-course that had turned the tide of design, but it was now, thanks to Colt, a model of enduring excellence. And in his typically selfless manner, when given credit for improving Sunningdale, Colt wrote letter to Willie which was eventually published:
From a letter appearing in this week’s issue of ‘Golf Illustrated’ it seems that a statement has been made to the press, taking away from you the credit for laying out the Sunningdale golf course. I write to tell you that, if this be so, it was done without my knowledge in any shape or form. The above mentioned letter gives you every credit for laying out the course, which is your due without a shadow of a doubt. And, if I may be allowed to say so, no one appreciates your work at Sunningdale more than myself, nor the difficulty of forming a framework of really good course. Please make any use which you like of this letter.
While the improvements progressed at Sunningdale, Colt was hired to advise on the new course at Alwoodley and it was here that he met Alister MacKenzie in 1907. From this point until the outbreak of the War, Colt was the busiest golf architect in the world — designing, redesigning and building over 50 courses. In 1908 his prominent designs were Stoke Poges near London, Sandy Lodge with Harry Vardon and the Forest course at Le Touquet, his first continental design. He also took on an assistant, C.H.Alison, who was the secretary of Stoke Poges and like Colt a prominent amateur golfer. 1909/1910 saw Northamptonshire, Denham and perhaps Colt’s favorite design — his ‘least bad golf course’ Swinley Forest. With so much of his time devoted to golf-architecture, in January of 1911 Colt resigned his position at Sunningdale and free from responsibility, traveled to North America to design Toronto and the CC of Detroit, as well as revising Ganton back at home in England.
The Book of the Links was published in 1912 edited by the seed merchant Martin H.F. Sutton. Colt had been put on retainer by Sutton and Sons in 1909, so it was natural that he would be involved with this book devoted to design, construction and maintenance. In fact Colt was the most important contributor, writing two thoughtful chapters — ‘The Construction of New Courses’ and ‘Golf Architecture’. The remaining chapters were written by Sutton, Bernard Darwin and the ubiquitous George Riddell, but it was Colt who carried the day. That same year was also by far his most productive design year to date, new designs at St.Georges Hill, Berkhampsted, Copt Heath, Blackmoor and the third course at St. Andrews — the Eden (a tremendous honor), as well as revisions at Hoylake and Woodhall Spa. 1913 was equally busy, with Camberly Heath, Burhill, Brokenhurst Manor, Porthcawl and St.Cloud, and another trip abroad. This time to design Hamilton near Toronto and Old Elm in Chicago, where he worked in conjunction with Donald Ross. The Old Elm project was significant, in that it was the only time Ross supervised construction of another man’s design, an indication of the respect he had for Colt, who he most likely met while touring the UK in 1910. Colt concluded his trip in Philadelphia collaborating with George Crump on the unworldly Pine Valley, another man he likely met in 1910. (There is also information to indicate he may have advised the third 1910 student of British golf, Hugh Wilson and Merion) The following year Colt designed Beaconsfield, Nevill and Robin Hood and assisted J.F. Abercromby in the design of The Addington, he also revised Royal St.Georges in preparation for the Open, an Open that unfortunately never took place due to the outbreak of war. Over a period of six to seven years Harry Colt had become without a doubt the most prominent and well-respected golf architect in the world.
Following the war Colt added the experienced Alister MacKenzie to the fold to form Colt, MacKenzie and Alison. MacKenzie concentration would be to the north near his home base of Leeds, Alison would be sent to all corners outside Britain — the Continent, America, and eventually the Middle East, Far East and Africa, and Colt would cultivate London and the South. One of their first moves was to hurriedly put together a book, Some Essays on Golf-Architecture. Although somewhat of a hodgepodge collection, the book contains interesting chapters written by all three men, in addition to letters written by the respected Horace Hutchinson and Colt’s good friend, John Low. Hutchinson clearly subdued by struggling health wrote, ‘I am very glad to hear from your letter that you are resuming your beneficial pre-war activities . . . and are forming yourself, as I understand into a company, with Captain Alison and Dr.MacKenzie for your co-directors. It out to make a useful firm.’ Low was more philosophical, ‘Strange to say, very few people have this trick of giving character to a hole, though every golfer is willing enough to offer advice. It is largely a matter of experience: success comes through the real cause of previous failures. Mr.Colt and few others who have devoted themselves to this important part of the game have developed a special sense which enables them at once to see the weak point in a hole and how to strengthen it. It is not a matter of rules, it is a gift.’ The trio remained together for only three to four years, before MacKenzie left to pursue greener pastures. Though course construction was well below its pre-war pace, Colt continued to dominate at home producing an impressive list of works. From 1919 to his death in 1951, despite lagging economics and war, Colt was able to produce St.Andrews-New, Lytham&St.Annes, Muirfield, Moor Park-High/West, Sunningdale-New, County Sligo, Royal Zoute, Haagsche, Kennemer, Worlington&Newmarket, Falkenstein, Wentworth-East/West, County Down and Royal Portrush’s two courses. Colt died in 1951 in East Hendred in relative obscurity having outlived nearly all his contemporaries.
Of the three heathland greats, Colt was by far the most productive writer. He was involved in no less than five books on the subject, and wrote numerous magazine articles dedicated to golf design. Many of those articles graced the pages of Country Life, but surprisingly not all were focused on golf design. In 1910 Colt wrote an article on club-house architecture. In the article he describes the qualities desired in the model club-house and provides Knebworth, West Surrey, Alwoodley, Woking, Princes and New Zealand as examples — ‘the excellent house for the Alwoodley Golf Club . . . it is of a homey character, without ornate details . . . all that can be desired, a special room for chauffeurs, with a good fireplace . . . In working a club it is always difficult to hide the empty bottles, mineral-water cases and other ’empties’ that have to be returned to their owners, and steward will certainly be glad to se the large covered shed provided for this purpose.’ One wonders if Dr.MacKenzie, an Alwoodley member, might have created a need for such a contraption. The article went on to promote simple structures exhibiting vernacular tastes, and specifically the designs of Arts and Crafts architects Edwin Lutyens, Thomas Collcutt, Stanley Hamp and Herbert Norman. ‘Occasionally, there is an opportunity of using an old farmhouse for the headquarters of the club. The illustration of the club-house of the New Zealand Golf Club gives good idea of what can be advantageously done in this respect. The interior arrangement is good, and the exterior is certainly pleasing to the eye and simple in treatment.’
But it is in Colt’s golf-architectural writing that his Arts and Crafts influences, and the influences of Hutchinson, are clearly evident. Like Park and Fowler, he admired the ancient precedents — the naturally evolved links. As Darwin described,’ Colt was a great lover of all that was old in golf. His architectural views were largely founded, I think, as have been those of his contemporaries and successors, on the Old Course at St. Andrews and its great holes.’ Each of heathland trio clearly understood the importance of nature, but Colt’s appreciation seems to be very deep. Some examples of his early views:
It will be generally agreed that the intense importance should be attached to utilising every feature of the ground . . . to depend to the maximum extent upon nature and to minimum upon art, makes for interesting golf and moderate expenditure.
Players are beginning to see how it is to place bunkers at correct distances, but few perhaps realise how difficult it is to arrange for the natural features to provide to the fullest possible extent the necessary excitement for the course, and to supplement these features without destroying the natural beauty of the site.
As regards to construction of artificial hollows, mounds, and bunkers, the model should be the natural sand-dune country which is found near the sea. If the sand-dunes be taken as the natural and perfect model, it follows that their characteristics should be reproduced. Sand bunkers should be therefore be cut in irregular shapes, and should be places in the face of natural hillocks if they exist in the desired position.
If no banks or hillocks are provided by nature they should be constructed artificially . . . to make them irregular in outline. Their skyline should be broken and rolling, and hard, straight lines should be avoided. But this side of construction more than any other demands in the construction a natural talent which is very rare, and the majority of courses therefore fall shot of the ideal standards of nature.
The old custom of squaring off the course and greens in rectangular fashion is departing, and instead we find an irregular course, with a bay of turf here and there and a promontory of heather to slightly turn the line of play to right or left as the case may be, and the result is desirable in every way. And if the heather be never leveled off, but allowed to encroach a little even on the margins, it will appear as if it were naturally growing into the turf, and the artificiality be further reduced. Everyone knows how pretty a border of flowers looks when the plants are allowed to grow over the edge and on to the paths, and the gardener’s trimming instincts are checked with a firm hand. The same thing applies to heather golf courses.
What we want to have is variety, gained by utilizing all the best natural features of the land, and alternating the holes of various lengths.
The shape and nature of bunkers can be varies with immense advantage. How often do we see a delightful landscape spoilt by the creation of a number of symmetrical pots, or banks, or humps, made apparently at so much a dozen! And this landscape might have been improved and made still pleasing to the eye by planting judiciously off the course irregular clumps of whins, or broom, or rough grasses, or possibly small birch trees and Scotch firs.
I firmly believe that the only means whereby and an attractive piece of ground can be turned into a satisfying golf course is to work the natural features of the site in question. Develop them if necessary, but not too much; and if there are many nice features, leave them alone as far as possible, but utilise them to the their fullest extent, and eventually there will be a chance of obtaining a course with individual character of an impressive nature.
Again a reflection of the Arts and Crafts ideals of simplicity, variety, harmony of man-made and environment, reverence for the past and the inherent virtue of nature — the very same ideals promoted by Hutchinson. Colt, Park and Fowler understood these ideals, and they shared another common characteristic with their Arts and Crafts brethren within the related arts — individualism. They may have shared common influences, but they also had very different experiences, tastes and backgrounds, and the result was work that reflected common ideals, but was stylistically individualistic and unique — achieving Hutchinson’s variety.