The Early Golf Architects:
Beyond Old Tom
CategoryTwo – The Professionals
Now we move on to the professionals. It was a very simple relationship, as the popularity for the game increased there became a demand for two things â€œ golf equipment and golf courses, and the early profesional architects could deliver both. In fact in most cases club-making was their primary profession. Creating golf courses was seen as a means of expanding their equipment market, and the quicker the better.
Tom Dunn â€œ Born in 1850 at Musselburgh Tom Dunn was the son Willie Dunn, who along with his twin brother Jamie Dunn played a series of historic matches with Allan Robertson and Old Tom Morris. Tom Dunn’s early life was spent at Blackheath in London were his father was custodian of the links. In 1864 Old Willie and family returned to Scotland taking a position at Leith. Tom remained at Leith until 1870 when he moved to North Berwick to start a club-making operation. Later that year he was appointed professional of the London Scottish Club at Wimbledon, and occupied that post for eleven years. In 1882 he returned to North Berwick taking charge of the links. This lasted until 1889 when he returned to London and the Tooting Bec Golf Club. It was during his tenure at Tooting Bec that the game’s popularity exploded in the south, as did the demand for new golf courses, and Tom Dunn was poised to meet that demand.
In 1902 Tom Dunn wrote, During the particular period I was at Tooting Bec I laid out a great number of golfing greens; a well-known golfer called it the “Dunn Era.” I cannot remember them all just now, but here are some: Furzedown Tooting [Tooting Bec], Mitcham, Sudbrooke Park, and the Old Deer Park at Richmond, Stanmore, Northwood, Enfield, Eltham, Woking, Rayne Park, Norbury, Balham, Bude, Fonthill, Buscot Park, Petworth, Staunton Harold, Steningford, Bedstone Court, Fan Court, Ganton reconstructed, Sheringham, Frinton-on-Sea, Skegness, Deal, Brighton extended, Hastings, Beckenham, Bromley, Welbeck Abbey, Dinard and Coubert in France, Shireoaks, Bulwell Forest, Surbiton, Hurlingham, Brooke, Ventnor, Taplow, Cork, Weston-super-Mare, Kingsdown, Landsdown at Bath, Ashley Park, Walton-on-Thames, Babraham, Hincksey Marsh at Oxford, Worlington, Soham at Newmarket, and the reconstruction of Littlestone and Seaford; and some in France, and Oratava in the Canary Islands, etc. In all I have laid out 137 golf links.” Others he did not recall include Felixstowe, Great Yarmouth, Chorleywood and Hayling.
In 1895 Dunn was approached by a group from Bournemouth who were interested in building a golf course and an adjoining resort. He was given three sites to evaluate and chose Meyrick Park. Tom Dunn wrote, “Nothing appeared on the surface of the land but heather, furze, and pine wood; but with 100 men, twenty horses, and a scarifier, short work was soon made of this wilderness, and the links was completed in three months. It cost £2500.” Dunn was appointed greenkeeper and professional, and remained for five years. During that time he designed nearby Broadstone on another heathery property. He considered Broadstone the best design of his career.
Near the end of his stay at Bournemouth Dunn’s health began falter, and in 1899 he went to America to recuperate. His son John Duncan Dunn, a noted golf architect himself, was working in Florida at the time. During his six month stay TD claimed to have laid out several golf courses including one near the Tampa Bay Hotel. When he returned to England he designed Hanger Hill, where he remained as professional and greenkeeper until a bout with consumption forced his retirement. He died at the Blagdon Sanitorium, near Bristol, in 1902. The Edinburgh newspaper The Scotsman had an interesting take on his mercurial career, “Tom’s career was rather much that of a rolling-stone, which was due to his own weakness, and not to the desire of any of the clubs which employed him to dispense with his services.”
Tom Dunn was the target of criticism after his death (the critics were mostly silent while he walked amongst them). After reading these later accounts one could easily conclude “Poor Tom Dunn” was his given name. Men like Colt, Campbell and Mackenzie when analyzing the 1890s singled him out as the symbol for Victorian golf architecture and all the evils it represented. And without question he was guilty of the formulaic use of cross-hazards and the hit and run method of staking out a course. Make no mistake, that was his modus operandi. On the other hand he was providing an important service at a time when no one really knew what they were doing. As Horace Hutchinson wrote, “It was a simple plan, nor is Tom Dunn to be censured because he could not evolve something more like a colourable imitation of the natural hazard. A man is not to be criticized because he is not in advance of his time.” One wonders if his formative years spent at Blackheath â€and not at Musselbourgh â€had a detrimental affect. Whatever the case he should at least be given partial credit for those courses that ultimately turned out well, like Woking. Certainly others were involved in polishing those courses but he did conceive their structure and should be credited at the very least for their initial routing, the foundation of all good architecture.
Archie Simpson â€œ Born at Earlsferry, Scotland in 1866, Archie Simpson was the son of a linen weaver. There were six Simpson brothers who played the game well, three of which were well known in golfing circles. Jack Simpson won the Open championship in 1884, and became the pro/greenkeeper at Elie. Robert Simpson was in charge of Carnoustie and a respected club-maker. Robert was also involved in golf architecture, including the redesign of Carnoustie and the design of Panmure, both assisted by Old Tom Morris. But of all the brothers Archie was the most famous and the most gifted. He was twice runner-up in the Open; won the first golf tournament at Sandwich (defeating Douglas Rolland in extra holes); and won numerous money matches, including a thrashing of Willie Park-Jr over Musselburgh and Carnoustie.
Simpson began playing the game at an early age on the links of Elie – winning prizes in local competitions when little beyond school age. At age fifteen he had the remarkable accomplishment of coming in with the lowest score of the day in a club match at St. Andrews. Even at this early age he displayed the power and long driving that became his hallmark. Archie was just eighteen years of age when he became a professional, joining his brother Robert at Carnoustie. In March 1891 he went south, taking the head job at Bembridge, Royal Isle of Wight, but by the end of the summer he was back in Scotland working with Charlie Hunter at Prestwick. His stay at Prestwick was short lived as well. He returned to Carnoustie in late 1892, setting up the company Robert and Archie Simpson Clubmakers.
The reasons for Simpson’s sudden movements are not known, but one often finds a woman behind such erratic behavior. We do know Archie married around this time, his wife Isabella Low Simpson was from Carnoustie (sister of George Low of Baltusrol fame, and future architectural partner of AW Tillinghast and Herbert Strong) and they had their first child in 1893. Late in 1894 Archie was on the move again, becoming the professional at Aberdeen, Balgownie â€œ a course he and his brother Robert designed in 1888. Here he finally settled down, remaining at Royal Aberdeen for 16 years. This would be his most productive design period.
Regarding Simpson’s design career as mentioned his first project was Balgownie in ’88. In 1896 Simpson laid out Stonehaven and Dufftown. Then came Cruden Bay in 1899, arguably his greatest architectural achievement, although you wouldn’t know it today since the club recognizes Tom Morris and not Simpson as its original designer. Multiple contemporaneous reports gave credit to Simpson although in March of 1899 The Times, when announcing the course’s opening, wrote that it had been laid out under the advice of Old Tom. The Great North of Scotland Railway Company developed Cruden Bay as a major golfing destination, spending Ã‚£50,000 on the links, a hotel, and an electric tramway connecting the hotel and station. With that kind of an investment having a big name attached to the project would be well advised, and certainly Old Tom’s name brought a cache Simpson’s could not. It is also entirely possible Morris did give some limited advise at some point, nonetheless it seems clear based on the preponderance of reports the original design was Simpson’s. In 1902 Golf Illustrated wrote, “Since its inception three years ago, Cruden Bay has rapidly asserted itself as one of the finest greens in the kingdom. On the occasion of the inaugural tournament, the professional competitors were loud in its praises, and Archie Simpson, of Aberdeen, was congratulated on what is undoubtedly his masterpiece.”
In 1903 Simpson was back at Stonehaven for a redesign. In 1905 it appears he laid out Banchory, and the new course at Balgagask. In 1909 he collaborated with S.Mure Fergusson on the design of Duff House, constructed by Andrew Simpson his nephew and the pro at Cruden Bay. In 1909 he designed Murcar. Murcar originally was to be a joint effort with Harry Vardon but for whatever reason Vardon opted out. There have also been claims Archie designed Nairn in 1887 but I have yet to find any credible evidence. Presently the official position of the club is Archie Simpson of Royal Aberdeen laid out the course in 1887, although on occasion they substitute Andrew Simpson’s name. Royal Aberdeen was not founded until 1888, and Archie was not its pro until 1894, and Andrew Simpson was 13 years old in 1887. The evidence points to Tom Morris as Nairn’s original designer, so if Archie was involved it was likely some time after 1887.
In 1911 Archie Simpson immigrated to America accepting a position as professional of the CC of Detroit. Its not known why he moved to the States but there are several possibilities. Financial considerations could have certainly been one – following the success of his brother-in-law and a number of other Carnoustie men in America. Another possibility was his relationship with Carter’s Seed Company. Carter’s was heavily involved in golf course construction. Murcar had been one of their projects, as was the new course at Detroit, designed by HS Colt. When Simpson arrived in the States his first responsibility was to oversee construction in conjunction with Carters’ foreman Leonard Macomber.*
After a decade at Detroit Archie Simpson returned to Carnoustie in 1921 and stayed for a year. His wife and children came over before him, as did George Low’s wife. Apparently there was a family issue or illness. Late in 1922 Simpson returned to America to oversee the construction of Vincennes CC in Indiana, designed by William Langford. He remained there as pro for a couple of years and then moved to Tam O’Shanter in Detroit, designed by CH Alison and finally Clovernook in Cincinnati, again by Langford. Its not known if he was involved in the construction of those last two courses. He eventually retired to Detroit where he died in 1955, age 88.
* The American arm of Carter’s was Patterson, Wylde & Co. based in Boston
Charles Gibson â€œ Born in 1860 at Musselburgh Charles Gibson was the son of a tavern-keeper with no direct connection to golf. Growing up in the Mill Hill section of Musselburgh it was impossible for Gibson not be exposed to the game, and eventually, like many other Musselburghers, he found himself employed in its bustling club-making industry. Initially Gibson apprenticed under Old Willie Dunn but in 1882 he moved to North Berwick to work with Willie’s son Tom. Tom Dunn was keeper of the green at North Berwick and a club-maker. While at North Berwick Gibson met Helen Ramage, and they married in 1883. In 1886 Old Willie Dunn’s other son Willie Jr. became the professional at Royal North Devon, and the next year Gibson joined him as a club-maker. When Dunn left for Biarritz in 1888 Gibson was appointed professional.
Charles Gibson was not an accomplished golfer â€he competed in a few Opens but never finished in contention. Reportedly he didn’t play much golf and had little interest in teaching the game. His fame and prestige came as a master club-maker. Some considered him the premier craftsmen of his era, known for his hand-made work. In 1924 he was given the Royal patronage after making a miniature set of golf clubs for Queen Mary’s dollhouse at Windsor Castle. His standing as a club-maker was demonstrated at the 1911 Golf Exhibition, where he was chosen senior judge with Willie Park, Jr. and Willie Fernie his assistants.
When the game’s popularity took off in the 1890s Gibson was uniquely qualified to provide both golf clubs and golf courses. A quick glance at his list of designs shows he rarely went outside Devon, Cornwall, Somerset and South Wales. Gibson designed the nine-hole golf courses at Sidmouth and Lelant (West Cornwall) in 1889. He added the second nine at Lelant in 1894. In 1890 he designed the first nine at Burnham & Berrow, and extended it to 18 in 1896. In 1892 he laid out the first nine at Porthcawl, and designed nearby Ashburnham in 1894. This was followed by South Devon (1895), Wollacombe (1895), Churston (1896) and Thurlestone (1897).
Without doubt Gibson was the premier man in that part of England, and the totality of his involvement is likely understated. There are several courses in that neighborhood, formed in the 1890s, with uncertain antecedents – among this group are Tenby, Pennard, Newquay, and St. Enodoc. Gibson is the logical candidate, not only because of his preeminence in the region but also because they exhibit his typical quirkiness. One also wonders – based on his long service – what affect he may have had upon Westward Ho!
Gibson continued to design courses after 1900, including Lahinch in 1906 (his one known excursion outside the region) and Tourquay in 1909. At Lahinch he pushed the course closer to the sea and into the dunes. Charles Gibson died in 1932 at Westward Ho! where he had resided as professional for 44 years.
George Lowe – George Lowe was born in 1856 at Carmyllie, Scotland â€œ just seven miles from Carnoustie. Carmyllie was known for its flagstone exported worldwide for roads and buildings. His father was a stone quarrier in the Carmyllie Quarry. The Lowe family moved to Carnoustie in 1864, and it was there George was indoctrinated to the game, eventually becoming an apprentice to club-maker Frank Bell. He was working for Bell in 1873 when Old Tom Morris extended Carnoustie to eighteen holes. Morris’s version featured 13 hole of between 200 and 300 yards, and according to an article Lowe later authored he was not overly impressed by the results especially the large number of holes he described as Ëœa drive and a kick.’ Ironically he would later collaborate with the Old Tom.
After a short stint working at Leven Lowe took a position assisting Jack Morris at Hoylake in 1877. He remained at Hoylake for a decade, and although his primary responsibility was clubmaking he must have observed Morris’s renovation of the links, and perhaps even assisted. While at Hoylake he married Annie Allen, an Irish girl working as a cook for a local family. The Lowes would eventually produce six children.
Lowe was a good golfer but never a great one; his best finish in the Open Championship was sixth. He was however an accomplished teacher and club-maker. AJ Balfour reportedly used a set of Lowe’s clubs. Lowe claimed he was the first to introduce the golf bag while at Carnoustie.
In 1887 Lowe designed and built Lytham & St.Annes, and then became its custodian. It was during the Lytham years that Lowe began laying out golf courses, and like many successful golf architects of that period his influence was regional, working mostly in Lancashire, Chesire, Yorkshire and the Isle of Man. In all he claimed to have designed and redesigned 100 golf courses. The most prominent among them were (Royal) Lytham & St. Annes, (Royal) Birkdale, the second nine at Seascale, and St. Annes Old Links. This is a list of his known designs:
1887: Lytham & St.Annes, Hesketh
1889: Wilmslow, Birkdale
1891: Pleasington Lodge, Knutson, Maccelsfield, Windemere, Penrith, Studley Royal
1894: Worsley, Walney Island, Howstrake (w/Tom Morris), Burnley
1895: Halifax, Rowany, Horwich, Preston (new course)
1897: Seascale, Lytham & St.Annes (new course)
1901: St. Annes Old Links, Colne
1902: Nelson, Didsbury, Wigam
1904: Blackpool North Shore, Saddleworth
1905: Lancaster, Morecambe
1909: Knutson (redesign)
1911: Peel (redesign)
In 1905 Lowe left Lytham-St.Annes and set up shop at St.Annes Old Links. Six years later he left that club and opened a storefront in the city of St.Annes. His wife Annie died in 1919, and the following year he moved to Australia with his daughter Annie, joining four sons already living down under. He settled in Queenscliff, Victoria, close to Barwon Heads GC where his son George was the professional. He remarried, took up vegetable gardening and dabbled in design, advising Queenscliff GC on their bunkering. George Lowe died in Australia in 1934.
Willie Fernie â€œ Born in 1858 at St. Andrews Willie Fernie was the son of a caddie. One of five golfing brothers, he won his first professional competition at age 15. In the 1882 Open Championship he finished second to Bob Ferguson. The following year he finished in a tie with Ferguson at Musselburgh, eventually winning a play-off by a stroke and preventing Ferguson from equaling Tommy Morris’s record of four consecutive championships. This was his only Championship though he did finish second five times. Fernie was known for his graceful and easy swing, and was in great demand as a teacher. He gave a series of successful lectures in London and elsewhere on the ËœPerfect Swing’ â€œ thought to be the first example of indoor instruction.
Fernie’s first job was at Dumfries in 1880 as greenkeeper. In 1884 he took the professional position at Felixstowe Ferry, and immediately redesigned its nine-hole course. Bernard Darwin played his earliest golf at Felixstowe and idolized Willie. “By the tee, and close to Martello tower, stood the professional’s little shop, with its beautiful smell of pitch. Out of it would come Willie Fernie, an heroic figure in short sleeves, an apron, and sort of yachting cap with a shining peak, waggling a newly-made club in his vigorous wrists.” Darwin told the story of nearly being killed by a half-topped hook off the club of Fernie while exiting a boarded-bunker known as Morley’s Grave, “that,” he said “would have been a glorious death.”
From Felixstowe Fernie moved to Troon, replacing George Strath in 1887. He would remain at that club for 37 years, retiring in 1924. It was during those Troon years that Fernie became one of the most sought after and active designers of his era.
A partial list of Willie Fernie’s designs and redesigns: Aldebrugh, Outney Common, Berwick-upon-Tweed (Goswick), Skinburness, Wemyss Bay, Lamlash, Abington, Anstruther, Thronhill, Shandon Hydropathic, Landside, Troon Portland, Shiskine (Blackwaterfoot), Douglas Park, Strathaven, Dunaghadee, Chateau Royal d’Ardenne (Belgium), Turnberry-Old, Turnberry-New, Seacroft (Skegness), Strathkendrick, Appelby, Caldwell House, Gairloch, Troon Municipal, Golf du Touquet (France), Maybole, Colwell, Usk, Whitsand Bay, Cardross, Bathgate, Pitlochry and Callander.
Certainly an impressive collection but his most acclaimed project has to be Royal Troon. Originally laid out by Strath, Fernie transformed Troon over his long tenure – among his additions was the world famous Postage Stamp.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Fernie was not a regional designer; his scope was more expansive, not only throughout the UK but also on the Continent. Fernie also created important designs before and after 1900, for that reason is considered a transitional architect. Willie Fernie died in a nursing home at Glasgow in 1924 just months after his retirement.
Willie Campbell â€œ Born in 1862, Willie Campbell like his father before him was a caddie at the nine-hole links at Musselburgh. He learned the game from the great Bob Ferguson, who in the early eighties was the premier player in the world, having won the Open Championship in 1880, 1881, and 1882. In those days nearly all the caddies were professional players, and Willie was no different, competing for money at an early age. Among his contemporaries at Musselburgh were David Brown, Peter Paxton, and Willie Park-Jr.
Campbell was a tall strapping man with a demeanor admirably adapted to the difficulties of a match â€fearless and courageous. Willie was regarded as one of the finest match players of his time. Garden Smith of Golf Illustrated described him as a golfing genius. During the 1880s Campbell never backed down from a match â€anywhere, anytime, with anyone. In 1882 an admirer offered to back him, and the following year Campbell issued a challenge to the world. From 1883 to 1890 he played every player who would meet him for money. Some reports claim he never lost a match during those years, although I have been unable to substantiate that claim. What is certain Campbell delivered some incredible beatings to the world’s best players.
Despite all his success his most famous golfing moment was a failure. In the 1887 Open Championship at Prestwick, where Campbell was an assistant professional, Willie was coming home the sure winner when he healed his drive at the 16th and found a deep bunker (later dubbed Campbell’s grave). The gallery tried to convince him to play backward, unfortunately he ignored their advice and took eight instead of four. Willie Park-Jr won the title by a stroke. Horace Hutchinson told the sad story of coming into Charlie Hunter’s shop after Willie had thrown away the Championship. On either side of the shop were upturned buckets â€œ on one sat Willie Campbell and on the other his caddie, both weeping bitterly.
After the disappointment Campbell challenged the champion to a match over 72 holes. He defeated Park 18 up with 17 to play. The year before he had finished second in the Open to Davie Brown at Musselburgh. Again he issued a challenge; ultimately defeating Brown 13 and 12. He had similar one-sided victories over Bob Martin and Willie Fernie. His match against Archie Simpson may have been the most publicized, it was held over Carnoustie, St.Andrews, Prestick and Musselburgh in front huge crowds. The battle ended at Musselburgh with Willie up 16.
Campbell was engaged as professional at Prestwick (1887-88), Ranfurly Castle (1889-91) and North Berwick (1892-94). His first architectural involvement appears to be at Ranfurly Castle in 1889, where he designed their nine-hole course. In 1891 he laid out the wild links at Machirie on Islay, considered a cult classic today. That same year he designed Cowal, Rothesay and Kilmacolm in western Scotland, and in 1893 the first nine at Seascale.
Campbell suffered from a rheumatic condition and immigrated to America in 1894 – setting up shop in Boston. 1894 was a critical year for golf in Boston, and the United States. There were four major projects that year â€œ the expansion of Brookline, the laying out of the first nines at Essex County, Quincy (Wollaston) and Myopia Hunt. Campbell was responsible for all four. Considering the importance of those courses, particularly Brookline and Myopia, its surprising he hasn’t received more recognition.