Herbert Fowler and The Bradford Golf Club, Hawksworth:
The Creation of a Little Known Jewel
The county of Yorkshire in England, the “White Rose” county, is the home of many fine golf courses. Most famous amongst them is perhaps Ganton, host at different times of the Ryder Cup, the Walker Cup, and the Curtis Cup, several professional tournaments, and many national amateur competitions. Then there is Moortown, site of the very first Ryder Cup, plus again professional tournaments and leading amateur contests. Thirdly, there is Alwoodley, venue itself for several national amateur championships over the years. There are many other courses noted in the history of the game and dealt with specifically, even if in less detail, in books on the architectural side of golf.
Intriguingly, some well known courses in Yorkshire are not exactly in the places described by their names. Moor Allerton has moved away from its original home; and Headingley was from the first never exactly in that particular part of Leeds, as it is usually thought of.
This phenomenon relating to site and place name applies to another golf course in this area, one that has in a certain way been neglected by writers on golf architecture, golf course design, and the history of golf. This is The Bradford Golf Club, Hawksworth, Yorkshire, which is not in Bradford really, but rather in Leeds. The club is now 121 years old, and founded in the same year as Ganton. But, what The Bradford Golf Club has is a particular history that is almost certainly unique in one respect. This is that those charged with running the club had the temerity to turn down proposals made to it by no lesser figures in golf architecture than Harry Colt and Alistair Mackenzie. Well, more fool them is the likely response to this fact! However, the club did accept proposals for an almost completely new arrangement of the existing course made by none other than Herbert Fowler and Tom Simpson. The following article relates the story so far as it is known. I should preface this account by stating my gratitude to the present manager of the club in question, James Washington (what better name for an American audience!). Recent alterations and refurbishment of the club house have involved an examination of the old records and several resulting discoveries have been made, which are relevant to the history of the club.
On 16th April 1891 nine members of the St. Andrews Society met at the Victoria Hotel, Bradford. They agreed to found a new golf club to be known as “The Bradford St. Andrews Golf Club. In due course a seven hole course was laid out on Baildon Moor by Mr. R. Hutchison (sometimes referred to as Hutchinson) on land rented from Colonel Maude (rent was £10 per annum!). In 1892 a further two holes were added and in 1893 the famous Tom Morris of St. Andrews laid out an additional nine holes, thereby forming an eighteen hole course (fee for this one guinea a day plus travelling expenses). In 1894 the name of the club was changed to “The Bradford Golf Club.”
The First Course at Hawksworth
On 10th October 1898, at an Extraordinary General Meeting of the members, a detailed scheme was approved for the foundation of a new course and clubhouse at Hawksworth. The new course was ready for play on 1st May 1899 and the clubhouse was formally opened on 9th November 1900. This new course was laid out on the site of the present course, a southern facing slope, about 600 feet above sea level, the highest part being 650 feet. Thirteen of the holes (the 4th to the 16th inclusive, apart from the approach to and green of the 16th) were placed in what was known as the “Hall Croft,” a 72 acre piece of old park land. The other five holes (the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, apart from its green), 17th and 18th) lay in meadow land to the east of Hall Croft. Here is the general plan of the course, as shown in the course handbook for 1914.
The question has arisen as to who laid out the holes. This is easily answered by reference to the course handbook of the time. The holes were laid out by the Committee with the cooperation of W. C. Gaudin, the professional at that time. The work of making the greens and bunkers, was superintended by an esteemed member of the club, Mr. W. J. Leeming.
By the time of the First World War, the layout of the course remained substantially the same as that laid out in 1899, though many specific alterations had been made. Much drainage work was done. The sites of several greens had either to be extensively drained or entirely changed. The 1st, 2nd, 5th and 15th greens were moved. Despite this the overall length of each hole, according to the documentary records, did not change during this period.
The essential characteristic of the course was that of moor land with gorse and heather, but very few trees. This has to be borne in mind when considering the previous course, since it is in such contrast to the course as it is today.
In the Hall Croft were two particular features or “eminences”, perhaps best referred to as knolls, considered in the Ordnance Survey map to be worthy of names, mentioned here because they continue to be notable features of the existing course. These are Greenhouse Hill and Birkin Hill, both of which are said to be lateral moraines of the ancient glacier that once occupied the Aire Valley. Both of these hills were utilised in the construction of the course. Greenhouse Hill was capped by the 3rd green (the present 9th green). Birkin Hill was the site of the 8th and 11th greens (the present 3rd and 14th greens respectively). Birkin Hill still shows the humps and hollows caused by delving efforts in the past to secure the limestone boulders that existed in these moraines, the only limestone to be found for miles around.
So what was this course like? Well, the first nine holes were for the most part concentrated on the northern part of the land and with the exception of the 7th and 9th ran according to the north-south direction or its opposite. Two of the first nine holes made frontal attacks on hills (not recommended in most architectural texts and condemned in some), the 4th, which ran up towards Hawksworth Lane and had Willow Lane to its right, and, more noticeably, the 6th, which was some way to the west of this. The second nine holes, by contrast, were mainly, though not exclusively, to the south, and, with the exception of the 11th, 12th and 18th ran along the east-west axis or its opposite. Virtually all of the holes had cross bunkers of some kind, as seems to have been the fashion then.
The length of the holes (measured from the middle of the back tees to the middle of the greens) and their bogey figure (the equivalent then of par today) was as follows:
Hole Yds Bogey
1. 250 4
2. 273 4
3 370 4
4 384 5
5 400 5
6 347 5
7 367 5
8 160 3
9 263 4
Out 2814 39
10 310 4
11 150 3
12 257 4
13 500 5
14 433 5
15 340 4
16 400 5
17 366 4
18 380 5
In 3136 39
Total 5950 78
What is clear from the above figures is the fact that with the clubs and balls then in use, distances achieved by players were relatively short. However, it is amusing (for us today, though probably not for the players of that era) that the longest hole on the course then (the 13th) was longer than any of the holes on the present course.
An indication of the nature of the test posed by the course can be gleaned from the course handbooks of that time. A review of each hole is informative. The 1st hole (250 yards) was played downhill from a point fairly close to the ladies tee on the present first hole to a point well short of, and to the right of, the present 11th green. The green itself was situated quite close to Willow Lane on its right and was guarded by bunkers on both sides of the green. The handbook comments that under favourable circumstances the hole was not a difficult three if one’s drive was straight, indicating the downhill nature of the hole. However, a sliced drive might place the ball in Willow Lane and trouble might ensue. On the left of the present 11th hole, at about 150 yards from the men’s tee, the traces of bunkers on the left of this hole can be found.
The 2nd hole (273 yards) went from a tee behind the 1st green and close up against Willow Lane. It was quite close to the site of the present 12th tee. The green, the remains of which in the form of some humps and hollows, can still be seen. This is in the rough to the right of the present 9th fairway at the end of the first continuous line of trees running from the tee. This was seen then as a drive and a pitch hole, the second shot being made more difficult by the fact that there were bunkers placed right across the front of the green and also two trees at either end of the bunkers.
The 3rd hole (370 yards) started just behind the 2nd green and went to the present 9th green. At this time there was a ditch (also referred to as a “water bunker”), which ran across the fairway and seemingly required a long carry to clear it from the back tee. The green was, of course, then, as now, on a plateau (part of Greenhouse Hill) with a steep slope up to the green. The handbook advises a run up second, but intriguingly refers to a complication given to this shot by a wall about thirty yards short of the green. The wall is presumably the boundary wall of the Croft. If so, then it was somewhat further from the green than thirty yards. A low bank at the back of the green prevented some balls from finding the rough beyond. The left bunker on the present 9th green may be a remnant of the early layout.
The 4th hole (384 yards), referred to earlier, ran due north with Willow Lane on its right to a green just short of Hawksworth Lane. The tee was almost certainly on what is now the 12th green of the present course. The second shot was uphill to a blind green and a cross bunker provided a significant challenge. The fairway sloped to the right, so the shot had to be brought in from the left.
The 5th hole (400 yards), which ran to the south-west had a blind tee shot from a back tee backing onto Hawksworth Lane down a steep hill. The green was guarded on all sides. The drive needed to be placed a little to the right of the straight line to give a somewhat easier approach. There was a ditch to the left of the green. This ditch is the one that crosses the present 15th fairway some way short of the green of that hole.
The 6th hole (347 yards) ran parallel to the 5th and climbed up to the high land again to the present 1st green. The tee was to the west of the then 5th green. A straight tee shot or one placed slightly to the left was needed to avoid bunkers. The green, though visible from the tee, was blind for the second shot, but was not guarded by bunkers. It is interesting to note that the guidelines put forward at the time of the 1922 revision included the proposed elimination of the climb to the 6th hole. As stated earlier, climbs of this kind are frowned upon by architects and are never popular with members.
The 7th hole (367 yards), a shorter version of the present 2nd hole, ran westward to the present 2nd green. The tee shot had to carry the wide dip in the ground. The approach to the green was blind. The green itself sloped down to the left and was a difficult one on which to get down in two putts.
The 8th hole (160 yards), as will be seen, is in essence the present 3rd hole and so slightly downhill. Originally this hole was called the “Pond” hole because of that feature. It was also a blind short hole. By 1914 the pond had been drained. Furthermore, in 1912 the hole was considerably altered, a great quantity of earth was cut away from the front enabling the flag to be seen, and several bunkers were constructed, including two cross bunkers before the green. The two bunkers to the left of the present 3rd green can be found on the original layout.
The 9th hole (263 yards) turned to the east. The tee was very close to the back tee of the present 15th hole. The soil from the excavations at the 8th formed a range of bunkers for the tee shot. Bunkers also ran down the right hand side of the hole. However, the course handbook stated that a long drive slightly to the left would under favourable circumstances (this probably refers to the prevailing wind being in the player’s favour) reach the green. The site of this green can still be seen on the left side of the present 17th hole at the bend in the dog-leg.
The 10th hole (310 yards) ran in a south-westerly direction to the present 13th green. There were no bunkers for the tee shot, but the green, one of the largest on the course, was carefully guarded, especially on the right. A drive placed to the left opened out the green. To the right of the green was “Birkin Well” where a spout of clear water flowed into a stone trough. It was related that the water had been analyzed and pronounced excellent for drinking purposes. A cup was kept by the well, which was said to have been much patronised in hot weather. In fact the well is still there, but although it is to the right of the then 10th green (now 13th) it is in fact closer to the old 9th (just to the right of the fairway on the present 15th hole.
The 11th hole (150 yards), basically the present 14th hole, was thought to be the best hole on the course. A straight shot to this uphill hole would secure a three, but a ball that deviated from the straight course is kicked away to the left or right and found trouble. The bunker to the right of the green was the finishing place of many tee shots. There was also a large and rather ugly cross bunker quite close to the tee. As the handbook put it, a topped tee shot met immediate retribution! That bunker has gone, but the front and left bunkers on the present 14th green may be remnants of the early layout.
The 12th hole (257 yards) is in essence the present 4th hole and so slightly downhill. It was thought of as a simple four but a difficult three. This was because of the trouble on both sides of the course to say nothing of the “out of bounds” all the way down the right and relatively close in, which exercised on some players a fatal fascination. The first two fairway bunkers on the present 4th hole are shown on the earlier layout.
The 13th hole (500 yards), the longest hole on the course, began at the present 5th tee, but ran along the southern boundary of the Hall Croft to a green situated just before Willow Lane. For the tee shot there were bunkers on the right. There was a cross bunker for the second shot. A bunker at the right hand corner of the green gave much interest to the third shot. There was a ridge on the left of the green.
The 14th hole (433 yards) went back westward from a back tee just to the east side of Willow Lane, and was thought of as the best two shot hole on the course, though most players were satisfied with a five. There was no bunker for the tee shot. There were cross bunkers well short of the green and only liable to catch a topped second shot. The green was undulating and carefully guarded all around. A long high second shot was required to carry a bunker in front of the green and yet remain on the green. The site of this green was between the left of the present 13th green and the left of the present 5th fairway.
The 15th hole (340 yards) turned the player to the east again. Its tee was very close to that of the present 14th hole, and its green was very slightly to the left of the present 5th hole. With a following wind (the prevailing one, of course) and dry ground the long hitter was advised to take an iron club from the tee, otherwise he might reach a ditch that ran across the course. The green was well guarded on the right, but a tee shot placed to the left opened it out. The green bunkers on the present 5th hole may be original.
The 16th hole (400 yards), continuing east, was from a tee which was a long walk back and to the right of the previous green, was until 1914 very plain and featureless. Imposing bunkers were then constructed and they awaited a sliced shot while the boundary wall of the Croft caught a topped one. There was also a ridge of bunkers on the left.
The 17th hole (366 yards), continuing in the same general direction, is essentially the present 8th hole and was therefore uphill. There was quite a long walk to the tee from the green of the preceding hole. From the tee there was a ditch with a mound to its right and trees to the left. The green was entirely re-made in 1912 so as to be undulating with raised edges round the back and sides. The approach was closely guarded with numerous bunkers. The right green bunker on the present 8th hole may be the original bunker. To the right of the green ran the old pack-horse road from Bingley to Otley.
The 18th hole (380 yards), beginning from the left of the previous green and running in a north-westerly direction, had its green just short of the present 10th green. A turfed wall with a ditch at its base had to be carried by the tee shot. A cross bunker had to be negotiated for the uphill second shot and there were bunkers to the left and right on the top of the hill. The green was not easy to find.
As to the evaluation of the course in general terms at this time, it is referred to in Nisbet’s Golf Year Book (1911) as follows:
“Peat soil; undulating. This is the best of several courses round Bradford. It is laid out on old pasture land. The lies and greens are very good, the latter being much larger then those usually found on inland courses”.
Enter and Exit Colt and Mackenzie
In 1919 Harry Colt was paid a fee of £21 plus expenses of £5 to inspect the course and suggest improvements. His business partner Alistair Mackenzie was also consulted at this time and drew up plans for the bunkering of the course. However, for whatever reason Colt and Mackenzie failed to impress. It appears that the drainage work was carried out, but it is unclear what happened about the other proposals. It is not known whether some of their suggestions were implemented, but certainly the company was not engaged any further. Events took a very different turn.
Fowler was one of the most renowned golf architects of the “Golden Era” immediately prior to World War I when many of the world’s great golf courses were built. By this time Fowler had already become recognized as a great golf architect for his work on many of the best courses in Britain.
Fowler believed strongly that courses should follow the contours of the land, and have a natural feeling, shunning the use of “man-made contrivances,” believing that topography could test the world’s best golfers just as adequately. As he put it, “God builds golf links and the less man meddles the better for all concerned.” In his description of Fowler’s work, the doyen of writers on golf, Bernard Darwin, said “I never knew anyone who could more swiftly take on the possibilities of the ground.”
Fowler felt that only side hazards should be put in during construction and that any cross bunkers should be left until he could see how the ball would run. In any case he believed that bunkers on the sides and especially near greens were the prime requisite, that players sliced and pulled more than they topped and that as a slice was the greater fault more bunkers should be placed on the right. He was noted for using bunkers relatively sparingly. Bunkers, he thought, should be shaped like an old hip bath, not with a steep bank and flat base as at many inland clubs but having a gradual curve from top to bottom so that balls did not lie hard against the face but ran down towards the centre. However they should be deeper than on most courses. Indeed, they became known as “Fowler’s graves”. So long as a green was well guarded and the approach shot difficult the hole would always be considered a good one, far more so than if its main difficulty lay in the tee shot. As for tee sites, themselves, these were usually simple. His greens were often right on the natural grade and often simply extensions of the fairway. Others were carefully placed on small rises to add some additional difficulty. The one thing he never seemed to do was to add mounding or other backings to add definition, he chose instead to embrace what was always there. Overall his style was not full of grand flourishes and would be best described as understated.
Fowler liked to start designing the course by finding natural par 3 locations and then trying to work the holes to and from those locations in order to create the most interesting layout. Bradford is a fine example of this the third and fourteenth holes, use the natural rise in topography. His style would be best described as understated. He kept his tee sites simple; he used his bunkers sparingly, concentrating on key strategic locations. He worked with the rolls and undulations of the natural land he never seemed to add mounds or other features to add definition, instead he used what was already there. He was described in a book by Bernard Darwin as “perhaps the most daring and original of all golfing architects, and gifted with an inspired eye for the possibility of a golfing country.