Herbert Fowler and The Bradford Golf Club

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This view from the clubhouse is across the eleventh hole and shows a gentleman on the eighteenth green.

Many were the fine golf courses designed by Fowler, both in Britain and the United States, the most notable in Britain being those at Walton Heath. In the United States he is most famous for the redesign of one hole, the 18th at Pebble Beach. He also altered or renovated several very famous courses.

Herbert Fowler worked with other architects from time to time. His most famous partnership came into being when Tom Simpson joined Fowler’s design team in 1910. They were still together in the early 1920s, though Fowler concentrated in Britain, Simpson on the Continent.

The Fowler Revision: General Issues

What happened at Hawksworth was that after the departure of Colt and Mackenzie was that none other than Herbert Fowler and Tom Simpson were called in to alter substantially the existing course. It would appear that the major, if not complete role as designer of the new course, was taken by Fowler (at a fee of £20 plus expenses!). The following guidelines were set down:

1.    Minimum length 6000 yards.
2.    Elimination of the climb to the 6th hole.
3.    Two loops.
4.    Good length holes including one good mashie shot.
5.    Utilisation of existing greens wherever possible.

The scheme was prepared and accepted, and Frank Harris Bros. Ltd. were instructed to carry out the work at a cost of £1977. The new course was ready for play in August 1923, and the old course was abandoned in September of that year. Below is a map of the whole course as it exists at present. This is almost the same as the 1922 version produced by Fowler, though there are some slight difference which are explained later.

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Here are the present measurements of the holes:

Hole        Yds        Par
1.        325       4
2.        417       4
3.        155       3
4.        280      4
5.        461       4
6.        360      4
7.        440      4
8.        346       4
9.        491        5
Out     3275    36
10.      396       4
11.       307      4
12.       142       3
13.       367      4
14.       167       3
15.       416       4
16.       420      4
17.       487      5
18.       322       4
In        3024    35
Total  6299    71

Before looking at the course in detail it will be useful to measure it generally by referring to the guideline laid down above and asking to what extent Herbert Fowler complied with them.

As to length the plan submitted by Fowler listed the proposed length of each hole. The total length came to 6045 yards. It is not known exactly what length the new course was when finally opened for play, but it is probable that the figures were very similar. However, allowance must be made for one quite significant change that was made to the original plan.

As to the climb to the sixth hole, Fowler certainly eliminated that as requested, since he took out that hole altogether. It was clearly unpopular and was probably not a hole of any merit.

As to the request for the course to consist of two loops, that also was complied with. The course now became one involving a loop of eight holes followed by one of ten. However, at a later date the loops were reversed. It is clear that in 1935 the original order was still being used. It is unclear when exactly the change was made, but it is reckoned to have been carried out in the early 1950s. It is clear from the 1953 handbook that by the time this was published the present order had been adopted. In what follows the references to individual holes is to the present layout, except where it is specifically stated to the contrary.

The requirement of good length holes including one good mashie shot is somewhat ambiguous. According to the norms of that time, the holes could be said to be of good length. The reference to on good mashie shot perhaps refers to a prospective par 3 hole. Perhaps the present 14th hole is the one that complies with this, even though that hole existed in the form of the 11th on the old course. A mashie was equivalent to about a five iron today. The shot up the hill to this hole would in those days have been a very good mashie shot indeed.

The requirement to utilise the existing greens wherever possible requires more detailed treatment. First the bare facts. Fowler was able to utilise nine of the greens from the old layout. This worked out as follows:

The 6th green became the present 1st green
The 7th green became the present 2nd green
The 8th green became the present 3rd green
The 12th green became the present 4th green
The 15th green became the present 5th green^
The 17th green became the present 8th green
The 3rd green became the present 9th green
The 18th green became the present 10th green*
The 10th green became the present 13th green
The 11th green became the present 14th green
The 16th green became the present 7th green
(^ At least the present green overlaps the left half of the old green)
(* To be exact, as stated above, the earlier green here was just short of the present one).

A number of things should be stated regarding the utilisation of many of the old greens. Firstly, the need to keep these greens made Fowler’s task in routing the course more difficult, since it put an artificial restraint on the choices that he could make. In hindsight, and remembering that there were hardly any trees on the original layout, much use might have been made of the space between the present 1st, 2nd, 17th and 18th holes. In addition, the present layout has the 9th hole crossing the 10th, never a satisfactory arrangement, despite the fact that there is a similar feature on the Old Course at St. Andrews. It must be pointed out, however, that this is not the work of Fowler and was done later.

The reason for the restriction on the making of new greens was presumably based on economics and finance, but it was unfortunate. As a result of these factors the routing of the present course does not flow as naturally as it might have done, and as it did on many of Fowler’s other courses.

This having been said, Fowler’s design does use certain topographical features of the site, notably the two knolls referred to earlier, known as Birkin Hill and Greenhouse Hill. The former supports the present 3rd and 14th greens and the 4th and 15th tees. The latter, which is in the shape of a ridge, forms a platform or backdrop for the present 5th, 9th, 12th, 15th and 17th greens. It also elevates the tees on the 6th, 13th, 16th, and supports the 18th tee. The 1953 course handbook quotes “a well-known golfing authority” as stating that these features with their irregular contours “provide a whole series of fascinating approach shots to greens in delightfully varied situations on the sides and the tops of the ridges, guarded by tricky and incalculable slopes.” These features alone give the course a distinctive character.

It is interesting, from a historical perspective in relation to golf architecture to note the difference in style between the remaining old 1899 greens and the ones created by Fowler in 1922. The Fowler greens have a more attractive roll with more gentle surrounding moundwork, whilst the older greens are less attractively contoured and more abrupt in style.

This leads on to the bunkering, where again there was a difference in style between the old and the new. The older ones have flat surfaces and abrupt faces, whereas the Fowler bunkers, even allowing for wear and tear, leading to repair and development over time tend to be more rounded in surface and fairer in respect of their faces.

Before examining the individual holes of the present course, it is proposed to look at the general routing adopted by Fowler. Again we must bear in mind that as originally presented, Fowler’s course started with the present 11th hole and proceeded as now to the present 18th hole, which was then the 8th. So what we had there was an inner loop of eight holes, based mainly in the northern part of the course. This was followed by another loop beginning with the present 1st hole, which ran along the northern and then western boundaries of the course, finally taking in most of the southern part of the course before finally heading north east to the clubhouse. Both loops involve playing holes in a variety of directions, and give variety in the context of wind direction. These two loops have now been reversed in the sense that they both exist as before but are played in reverse order.

One other general point needs to be made. It was seen that at the time of the old course the general terrain consisted partly of moorland, with all that implies, and partly meadowland. In his plan of the proposed routing of the course Fowler indicates where there were trees. There are hardly any references to them. The only examples given are the following: there were two trees not far from the tee on the future 5th hole on the left hand side of this hole. The same hole shared a few trees on its right with the 6th hole. There were also a few trees between what were to become the 11th and the 18th. In addition, there were some bushes between the 5th and 6th, and some other bushes on the right of the 8th just before the green. That was just about it. The lack of trees remained the case for many years afterwards during the life of the present course. However, in later years a major programme of tree planting took place, which has radically changed the character of the course. Many holes are now lined with trees of several varieties. These have been subject to some alterations themselves, for example so as not to be in perfectly straight lines. In addition, it is felt that some renovation of the course to bring back the older moorland features in places would be valuable and this is a task for the future. But, in essence this is very much today a tree lined course to the extent of trees acting as bunkers in the strategy of the course. There are hundreds of trees. The great extent of the change over the years can be gleaned from an article in a magazine issued for members. In this, written in 2001, an older member writes about what the course used to be like in the early days, basing his statements on his own experiences and those of his parents. Here is what he says:

“We now have trees in abundance but before most of them were planted there were three times as many bunkers as now. There were two trees on the left of the 5th fairway where the greenkeepers’ huts were, and two more trees on the right beyond the path. There were three or four trees on the left of the 9th fairway, a few between the 11th and 18th fairways, and single trees on the 13th and 15th. There was one tree between the 16th and 17th”.

The examination of the individual holes, which follows, refers to the present order of play. The length given in brackets after the number of the hole is the present length as at 2012. Within the description of each hole an account will be given of any changes between its first construction and its present nature.

The Fowler Revision: The Specifics (Then and Now)

1st hole (325 yards, par 4)

1

This hole, originally marked by Fowler at 318 yards, has remained much the same since its creation. It runs directly west and so is against the prevailing wind. It is played along a ridge parallel with Hawksworth Lane on the right. Out of bounds is the whole way down the right side of the hole, but this is reasonably well away from the straight line. The same is true of the line of mature trees running down the left side of the hole. The green is just visible from the tee. Willow Lane, which is in a dip must be carried from the tee, but it is only 170 yards away. There are two bunkers, one left and one right to catch an errant tee shot. From Willow Lane the fairway runs slightly up until it reaches a brow at which it levels out to the green. A short second follows to the now unsighted green. The green is long, slopes to the left (as does the ground forming the approach to it) and is guarded by two shallow bunkers, one on each side and to the front. There is a line of trees at the back of the green. The hole is essentially a penal one and provides a relatively easy start to the course, something proposed as desirable by many architects, notably Harry Colt, referred to earlier.

2nd hole (417 yards, par 4)

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Fowler marks this as 420 yards. Again there has been little change since 1922. This is played in the same direction as the 1st, but on a bigger scale. Again there is out of bounds all the way down the right, but not particularly close in. There are also trees periodically on the left, especially for the drive. The tee is on a ridge and the drive is across a valley. Again there are two bunkers threatening the drive, the one on the left being slightly further away. Anything short off the tee leaves a long blind second shot. From the tee it is essential to keep to the right side of the fairway as everything slopes to the left. The drive, then, is relatively demanding. The upslope levels out shortly after the bunkers and it is a great advantage to the player to reach this level ground for the sake of a good stance for the second shot. Even from the first part of the level ground, however, the green cannot be seen. A low ridge has to be cleared with the second shot in order to get onto the green which is in a dip beyond. Past the end of the level ground there is a slope down to the fairly long green. Both the slope and the green fall away quite sharply to the left. The green is open on the right, although the rough grows well in, and the large bunker on the left of the green catches anything not on target. This is the one hole on the course with a completely blind approach shot (though a number are semi-blind). It is both challenging and entertaining for that reason alone.

3rd hole (155 yards, par 3)

3

Fowler 150 yards. As stated earlier, this is the old 8th hole. It runs south and requires a tee shot across a dip to a green on the crest of Birkin Hill. The green is most difficult to approach, the entry being through a narrow saddle in a ridge running across the front, though the last few yards to the green are slightly downhill. There are two bunkers on each side of the green and towards the front. At one time there was a cross bunker before the green, but this has gone. Depending on the conditions it can be difficult to judge the length, particularly with the prevailing wind that blows from the right. The pond, referred to earlier, is in front of the tee and slightly to the right, but this should not cause any real problems. If the tee shot is long a steep bank falls very sharply away to the left and rear of the green. One particular difficulty on this hole is that the greenside bunkers are raised up somewhat in the style often adopted at the time it was constructed, and which is referred to earlier. Recovery shots over these bunkers can be very difficult to what is a narrow green, though this is dependent, of course, on the flag position. There is one slight change to the green since the 1922 revision and this is that the green itself has been raised slightly since then. However, as stated earlier, this hole is a real link with the past and is to be valued for that reason alone. One final point. The present back tee means that the shot is played over part of the second green. The back tee would be better in the very corner, in other words further over to the right. That bring the right hand front bunker much more into play and requiring a fade shot when the flag is on the right of the green.

4th hole (280 yards, par 4)

4

Fowler 264 yards. This is the old 12th hole. It also runs south. The tee is a very elevated one. The slope is in the player’s favor and increases through a couple of terraces as the green is neared. A wall on the right, marking the boundary of the course, runs the full length of the hole and is quite close in. There are trees adjacent to the wall on the course side the whole way. The first two bunkers, again one on the left and one on the right are no threat at all, but there are three hidden bunkers further on to the left, one of which is next to the green. The tee shot should either be aimed over the right bunker or hit further left with fade. With a good drive the green is within reach. In any case the second shot is only a short pitch downwards to the large sloping green, but judgment of distance is difficult due to the variable slopes and terraces and the fact that the green slopes down towards the rear. This hole might be lengthened by putting in a new back tee closer to the boundary of the course, but as it presently stands it is an invitation to player to open his shoulders and drive the green and so have a putt for an eagle, balanced against the real threat posed by the out of bounds to the right. In addition, recovery shots from the two bunkers situated about thirty yards short of the green can be very awkward indeed. So there is an element of strategy and even “risk and reward” involved. However, a new tee, some 70 yards back to the edge of the pond would certainly provide a really significant challenge to the player. One problem that would have to be overcome then is the situation of the ladies tee at the 14th hole, which would be vulnerable to a wild hook. This might be moved slightly and also protected by a clump of trees.

5th hole (461 yards, par 4)

5

Fowler 450 yards. This hole runs east and so the prevailing wind is behind the player. The hole is a dog leg to the right and tall trees obscure the green if the tee shot is only slightly to the right. The rough encroaches further in on the right and there is also a bunker on that side about fifty yards short of the green at one point and threatening the second shot from that side. The safe line from the tee is to the left side of the fairway. This leaves a longer second, but opens up the green. There are also trees on the left menacing the tee shot. The second shot is slightly uphill to ground that slopes against the player. The green is well guarded by bunkers left and right. Again the approach has a tendency to run the ball down to the right. The green is a very tricky one with a distinct slope down from the left and also from the rear. This hole is a demanding “no-nonsense” par 4 even bearing in mind the prevailing wind and the green is frequently the scene of three putts.

6th hole (360 yards, par 4)

6

Fowler 365 yards. This hole turns the player back to the west and so into the prevailing wind, but length is not the main criterion. The original length was, as can be seen, very close to the present one. However, at one period the tee was on the shoulder of a ridge and fairly elevated. This made the hole a straight one. This is now the ladies tee. The present back tee is off to the left and is relatively low down. This makes the hole a slight dog leg to the left in shape. The fairway is undulating and quite narrow, but a well hit drive will catch a downslope and shorten the approach shot. The tee shot needs to be middle to left, which opens up the green. This is especially if the flag is on the right of the green, because of the bunker at its right front and the slope of the ground which runs away to the left. However there is a copse of trees that intrudes on the left at drive distance and this must be avoided. There are many more trees down the right, but these are further away. Anything right off the tee brings the green bunker into play and as the green itself slopes right to left makes the second shot that much harder. There is a dip before the green and then a slight upslope and ridge runs across the entry, making the second shot more difficult. This is compounded further by a piece of rough ground at the front left of the green, which was a bunker at one time. There is out of bounds to the left of the green and slightly to its rear, though it is not close in. Before the latter is reached the ground slopes sharply away. This hole has always been well thought of. It has a considerable degree of subtlety and the first thing for the player to do on reaching the tee is to check where the flag is on the green. The hole is made by the bunker guarding the right front of the green, plus the fact that the land approaching the green runs the ball of to the left. A possible change in the future might be to put in a new back tee just over the other side of Willow Lane, which would add about twenty yards to the hole.

7th hole (440 yards, par 4)

7

Fowler 468 yards. The original measurement is quite curious since the tee is right in the south west corner of the course and cannot be taken back any further. Perhaps the plan was for the green to be a bit further on than its present position, but this is not known. The green is essentially what was the old 16th green. The hole runs east and so is favored by the prevailing wind, but the second half of it is slightly uphill. The hole is a dog leg to the left. Willow Lane, which has to be crossed at some point, is 302 yards out from the tee. Out of bounds is to the right for more than the first half of the hole, but it is not unduly close. On the left are two clumps of tall pine trees. The planting of these trees in the early to mid 1950s changed the whole character of this hole, since they were on the correct line of the tee shot at that time. The planting of these trees resulted then in a good tee shot sometimes finishing in one of the two existing bunkers short of Willow Lane. These two bunkers have since been removed. The fairway before Willow Lane slopes down to the right and runs many drives down into the right rough. The best position after the tee shot is in the middle of the fairway, since to be on the left is to be blocked out from the green on the second shot owing to these trees, but it is not easy to gain this position in view of the slope. The second shot, across Willow Lane to the green, must carry a cross bunker some ** yards from the green. There used to be another bunker immediately to the right of this one (still indicated on the plan above), but this served little purpose, being off the true line, and was filled in. The ground approaching the green also slopes down to the right, so the approach must favour the left side of the green, which also slopes right. The green, which is quite tricky, is guarded by a bunker on the left and two on the right. This is a long and difficult par four, and another “no-nonsense” hole. At present there is a nondescript area between the green and the 8th tee. The planting of gorse or other bushes would give this some focus. If extra length were wanted the hole might be turned into a par five by pushing the tee back to a point behind the 6th green and next to the boundary wall. This could make the hole longer by as much as eighty five yards. If this were done then the second clump of pines would pose a problem. From a reasonably good drive to the middle of the present fairway, they would form a barrier to the green. If however the fairway was pushed to the right and closer to the boundary wall on that side, it would open up the approach to the green. Then the cross bunker would be much more of a hazard and many players would have to lay up short of it with their second shot. The alternative to moving the fairway right would be to remove the pines referred to.

 

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