A Round of Golf Courses: Bernard Darwin
as compiled by Thomas MacWood

The 19th hole

And so we have it, Darwin’s round of eighteen, perhaps not the eighteen greatest courses judged by a cold emotionless standard, but that wouldn’t be authentic BD. Darwin was a romantic. Certainly the golf was very important but so was the journey, the atmosphere, the food, and the friends. Thankfully he gave us direction on how to approach this process: “The game of choosing is an amusing one to play, and every golfer will play it differently. I am going to try, but I announce before hand that I do not propose to adhere too slavishly to sheer merit. All my courses will be good, but now and again I may cheat a little…in favour of one that I particularly love at the expense of another which, by the strictest canons, would generally be deemed better.”

On the distinction of ‘best’ versus ‘favourite’ Darwin wrote: “It is much the same problem as arises as to our favorite books. To give an egotistical example, I feel pretty sure that I am fondest of Pickwick and read it oftenest, but that does not mean that I am prepared to uphold it as a work of greater genius than Hamlet, which I seldom read, and Paradise Lost, which I am afraid I do not read at all.” A golfing example: “I am drawn to St. Andrews by means of personal ties, and I hold it to be the supreme golf course; I can say almost the same of Hoylake and Sandwich; but Aberdovey is my ‘favourite’ because it is nearest to my heart.” In keeping with this philosophy ours is a combination of Darwin’s best and his favorites with a touch of quirkiness thrown in. After all isn’t that what we look for in our great courses, a pleasing combination of challenge and fun.

Now a word for those courses that didn’t quite make it. You will not find Dornoch, Brora, Nairn, Machirhanish, Islay, Pennard, Lahinch and Ballybunion because BD never played or saw those courses.

Of the inland courses Ganton was very close-it made his Hutchinson 8 on two occasions-but in the final analysis he wrote more often and more affectionately of others. Darwin was very high on Walton Heath-Old, using words like big, bleak, cruel, and ruthless to describe this stern test. The long lost New Course at Addington was also on the brink; BD considered it JF Abercromby’s masterpiece and the epitome of modern course design. He liked Sunningdale but considered it over-valued as the unquestioned best inland design. And speaking of over-valued, Darwin was not enamored by Gleneagles. A few words on each course:

Ganton: “To praise the scenic beauties of a course is sometimes by implication to deny its golfing merits. I will take the risk in the case of Ganton, because everybody knows that it is a very good course indeed. I will go further than that; I rate it in the very highest and select class among inland courses, indeed I do not think there is a better.”

Walton Heath-Old: “There is a fine defiant quality about this heath. The weather had seemed almost balmy as one walked out into one’s own garden before starting; there was no more than a pleasant crispness in the glittering air; winter was really in full flight at last. ‘Ha ha,’ said the spirit of the heath when one got there. ‘You thought spring was coming back, did you? You wondered if you had too many clothes on. You are getting soft and pampered. I’ll show you.’ And the spirit of the Old Course seemed to take up the song. ‘Just because you can hit a decent shot or two,’ it exclaimed, ‘off soft turf in a sheltered glade you think yourself somebody. You fancy you can putt because you can get down in two on a nice flat, fat green. You’re not afraid of bunkers that are just sandy patches, beautifully raked with no banks to them. You’re fond of taking your spoon out of the heather. You won’t do quite so well here. I’ll knock the conceit out of you.’ That is what I imagined the heath was saying, and I enjoyed the coward’s satisfaction in the fact of only looking on. It is a great course, a frightfully great course.”

Addington-New: “I have already mentioned the new course at Addington, which is the one I know most familiarly, and it will long remain a witness to Mr. Abercromby’s skill. He had admirable material, the country of sand and heather and birch trees, and with what an artistic eye he used it! How imposing is the old yew tree, once a monarch of the surrounding forest and now standing in lonely grandeur, as a sentinel over the ninth green. How slender and pretty is the row of birches which divide the tenth fairway from the eleventh green! There are certain holes where with unenvious eyes I like to see the long drivers hit their way home in two, the fourth for instance up the slope with the big cross-bunker and the way of safety round by the right for those less gifted; the round-the-corner sixteenth. Here too is a seventeenth, not perhaps quite in accordance with classical tradition since it is a one-shotter, but hole to strike awe and terror, with its narrow green wholly beset with sand and heather. A penal hole rather than a strategic? Perhaps so, for the penalties for error are abounding and severe; but it takes a man and a golfer to play it at a crisis, and that is no bad test of a hole. I rate this second Addington as high as any of its contemporaries, but as regards pure affection, perhaps slightly unreasoning affection, I incline to put two before it, Liphook in Hampshire and Pulborough in Sussex.”

Sunningdale-Old: “Sunningdale is generally regarded as the premier inland course and it is both very good and charming; yet of interest I do not think it is quite the equal of Woking or Liphook, nor, for austerity and searchingness of Walton Heath.” When Sunningdale was ranked second only to St. Andrews: “Then it is interesting to find that out of the leading courses only three are inland. Sunningdale comes first of these and is indeed second in popularity only to St. Andrews. Here again I may respectfully say that prestige has something to do with it. Sunningdale was the first inland course to become really famous and it has ever since been unofficially regarded as the premier inland course. It is a charming place and a very good course, but that it so far excels some of its peers I cannot think.”

Gleneagles: “Americans generally think it the most wonderful place and the best golf course they have seen here. Britons sometimes take a willfully opposite and jaundiced view of it. It is something too hilly and spectacular for my personal taste as regards some of its holes, nor do I like the too-conscious Scotticisms of such names as ‘The Whaup’ Nest’ and ‘Denty Den.'” Regarding the steep third hole, “I have heard dynamite seriously proposed, and to blow it up would certainly be a noble gesture.” When Gleneagles was ranked the seventh best course in the British Isles, “How in the world anyone can rank Gleneagles above Hoylake or Westward Ho! – well, well. I will not pursue this invidious question.”

In regards to the links, Fowler’s Saunton-New and Colt’s redesigned St. Anne’s would have come next; St. Anne’s being somewhat of a surprise. Brancaster was also close, with Prince’s and Muirfield a little further back. He wrote kindly of Portrush, but really didn’t know the course all that well. BD had mixed reviews of Carnoustie, Troon, Birkdale and Deal:

Saunton-New: “We can actually see the sandhills of Saunton from Westward Ho! for they lie only a little beyond the lighthouse, but, unless we endanger our lives in a flying machine or a boat, we must go traipsing round by Bideford and Barnstaple to get there. Saunton, however, is worth a far longer journey than that, because-and I desire to measure my words-it is, potentially at any rate, one of the courses of the world, fit to hold up its head with St. Andrews or Prestwick, Hoylake or Prince’s, the National or Pine Valley….It is only during the last two or three years that we have heard of Saunton. There have been vague rumours that Mr. Fowler was at work upon a piece of wonderful, natural ground of which he thought unutterable things.”

St. Anne’s: “My goodness, what a fine testing course that St. Anne’s is! I do not wonder that the professionals found it rather overpowering in a gale of wind with the light American ball. It was quite hard enough for us in ordinary conditions. There are many courses on which one can deceive oneself into the belief that one is playing pretty well. That is scarcely possible at St. Anne’s, for the shot that would be ‘good as or better’ somewhere else is, at St. Anne’s, worse than a worse, or, at any rate, as bad. The bunkers quite ruthlessly and quite fairly punish any shot that is not accurately struck, and there is nearly always a full stroke’s penalty to pay. To play well there is to feel justly proud; to play ill is to admit that one has had a scrupulously fair trial and has no right to complain of the verdict.” On another occasion: “St. Anne’s has beautiful turf, but not much else of beauty; no one could fall in love with it at first sight, and no one could fail to be impressed by its difficulties. It sets the golfer just about as ruthless an examination as any course of my acquaintance. It is a ‘beast, but just a beast’; the examination paper is not merely fair, it is skillfully set; hit your ball to the right place and the way to the hole lies open to you, but hit your ball to the wrong place and every kind of punishment, whether immediate or ultimate, will ensue. There are one or two holes where the ground seems to be sown with bunkers like a mind-field. No doubt familiarity with the course would breed not contempt-that would be impossible-but a rational appreciation of its points. No course-not even Pine Valley-is as hard as it can appear at first sight, but St. Anne’s is unquestionably a fine, fierce, searching test of golf.”

Brancaster: “It was more than fifty years ago that I first saw Brancaster, when I was a Cambridge undergraduate, and my father took me for a winter holiday treat to stay at the Dormy House. The course then was comparatively new, but had already attained a fame because Horace Hutchinson had written ecstatically of it and had said, if I remember rightly, that it was more difficult than St. Andrews. I don’t think I had then ever seen St. Andrews, but Brancaster was certainly the most difficult course I ever had seen; nor do I think that anybody who has only known the later phases can have any notion how fierce it was when it was still relatively new, and with a gutty ball….In short, that splendid stretch of country was as ‘clearly designed by Providence for a golf course’ as ever it had been; but whereas its difficulties had once totally overcome one, now they made one feel what a fine fellow one was to overcome at least some of them….There is nothing like a tremendous bunker, into which it is not at all necessary to go, to give the golfer a good conceit of himself. And as I came to fear Brancaster a little less, so I loved it even more.”

Prince’s: “Prince’s is less mountainous [than Sandwich], more open, more scientifically designed, and more severely bunkered. It has more ‘dog-leg’ holes than any other course, and they are all good. The only thing to be said against them is that they are superficially rather too like one another; and the only thing to be said against Prince’s as a whole, is that, with back tees and a big wind, it is a little too difficult for human nature’s daily food. When it is in a tolerably relenting mood it is delightful, and the lark singing and the view of Pegwell Bay are as heavenly as at St. George’s.”

Muirfield: “Muirfield is the course to be seen in the Lothians. That it is a fine course and an austere test of golf every one agrees, but exactly how fine no two people agree. Mr.Joshua Crane of America, who gives marks to courses on an elaborate system, puts Muirfield at the top of the British tree. That I would never do…I admire it very much but I cannot find in it the supreme charm and the supreme thrill that belong to some other courses.”

Portrush: “On the Sunday before play began my kind host took me in a car, following the tracks made by Morton the greenkeeper and clambering up and down apparently breakneck places. It gave me, considering all things, a wonderful good notion of the course. It was the first time I had ever watched a championship on a course whereon I had never played. Still on the whole I feel I know enough about the course (especially as there are one or two places in it where one can see a great deal within a very small space) to say confidently that it is beyond question one of the great links. Many times I have admired Mr. Harry Colt’s work, but this I fancy is his greatest and most enduring monument.”

Carnoustie: “Carnoustie it seems to me is an essentially unspectacular course, and this is intended as a complement. There are sandhills, but some of the most imposing are off the course, and they do not, I think play any great part except at the charming second hole…There is nothing ostensibly ferocious, no terrific hazards, no impenetrable rough, no violent undulations.” He goes on, “If it seems to lack something of the inspiring atmosphere of some championship courses, it provides a thoroughly searching examination paper.”

Troon: “It has sandhills and a burn, and beautiful greens and good length holes. What does it lack? Something of atmosphere, perhaps something that Prestwick has got. I can only say that to me it is a good course, but not a memorable one.”

Birkdale: “JH Taylor was the architect and he has unquestionably made of Birkdale a ‘big’ course on which it is good fun to see the big men stretch themselves. There seemed to be rather too many holes of one type, with greens running up to a point at the base of a hill and having heathery banks on either hand. They have grown a little intermingled in my head which may be my heads fault, but so be it.”

Deal: “To my thinking, Deal is the least engaging of the three [Sandwich, Princes & Deal], though it has many of the same qualities, and is certainly a most searching course. It is not so pretty as the other two because it is less private. There are some fine holes there, and some exciting ones, notably the last four, which, whether intrinsically good or bad, make for bloodcurdling finishes. There is also a glorious opportunity for the long hitter: there is no course on which he profits more. The ground is so good that one wishes that it had not been discovered until golfing architecture had come to its present standard. There would have been no blots such as the Sandy Parlour, which is, take it for all in all, the worst short hole in the world.”

Overseas the most surprising near miss was Myopia Hunt near Boston. Darwin played there in 1913, and at the time thought it was among the best inland courses in the world. Garden City did not fare as well. Brookline would probably come next in the pecking order followed by Wheaton. Onwentsia, on the other hand, was in league by itself-Darwin’s critique was so harsh the club immediately summoned William Watson from California for a complete overhaul. In Europe Chiberta was a very serious candidate for the round of eighteen:

Myopia Hunt: “Myopia is purely inland, and is quite worthy of the compliment Mr. Hilton paid it when he said it was the best inland course in the world. Personally, I should like to bracket one or two English ones with it, but I would put none ahead of it.”

Garden City: “I should describe Garden City, with due humility, as a good sound course, but certainly not a great one. One has, in estimating its qualities, to begin by clearing one’s mind of the British notion that a course of ‘championship’ class must be a seaside one. That is, of course not so in America, but, after making due allowance for this fact, Garden City hardly seems ideal. The holes are thoroughly fair and good: they want accurate play: there is plenty of rough to catch any erring balls: the greens are well and closely ‘trapped’ in the American manner, so that the player must have real control over the approach shot up to the hole. But it does seem to me that a certain bigness and thrill and splendour are lacking. Unless it has been much altered-and I believe this is not the case-it is not quite in the grand manner which is to-day to be found on many American courses.” On another occasion he wrote, “Generally speaking the course is kept in wonderful order; the greens are perfect, the bunkering skillful, accuracy at a premium, and so on. Yet the fact remains the course just lacks something that thrills one in recollection. Garden City, in fact, gives me the feeling that is a silk purse made with the greatest skill, but still made out of a sow’s ear.”

Brookline: “Brookline is not to my mind as good as Myopia. It lacks something indefinable-that differentiation between the good and the great-but it is a truly excellent course, and a very charming place.”

Chicago: “This feeling of the silk purse and sow’s ear will obtrude itself on the mind when one visits the Chicago courses. I have never seen such tremendous enthusiasm of golf as I saw in Chicago, and this is the more remarkable as in natural advantage they are emphatically poor. The course of the Chicago Golf Club at Wheaton is, I suppose, the best in the district at present…this course is laid out on meadowy country having, if truth be told, no particular natural advantage over innumerable acres of other meadowy country all over the world. I have seen many courses on similar country in England and they are nearly all bad courses, but as far as its originally pedestrian qualities will allow, Wheaton is undoubtedly a good course.”

Onwentsia: “The golf at Glen View [another nearby course]-though pretty and amusing, with much pitching over a ubiquitous stream-has no very tremendous attributes. Glen View is far better golf than Onwentsia. I had known the name of Onwentsia so well and so long that I confess the course came as rather a shock to me. It is a charming club and, as I am told, the Country Club of the West. Then words will make its best epitaph, for assuredly it will never get to heaven on its golfing qualities.”

Chiberta: “Take, let us say, Le Touquet, Swinley Forest, and St. George’s Hill, ‘mix them all up in a pipkin or crucible,’ throw in the lake from Wentworth, add more than a touch of Pine Valley, set the whole down by the seashore where the Atlantic breezes blow, and you have some idea of Chiberta.” He continued, “I was prepared, by what I had heard, for a fine course, but I confess I was not prepared for anything on quite so grand a scale as what which Mr. Simpson has created among the sandhills and pine trees that look out over the sea.”

There was a large contingent of highly regarded courses on Bernardo’s doorstep-golf rich Greater London. This group of courses demanded serious consideration, though some more serious than others. At the end of the day they were a step below those already mentioned, with one notable exception – Sunningdale-New. Colt originally designed the New course in 1922 and at the time Darwin considered it in many ways superior to the preeminent Old. It was not without flaws however, and in the mid-thirties Simpson implemented a bold redesign. BD leaves the impression the new New might revolutionize golf architecture. It didn’t, two years later JSF Morrison was removing its most radical aspects while restoring what he could of his mentor’s original work. Was it too severe or too advanced for its time, whatever the case, it was a remarkably short period to reject a design.

Addington-Old: “A stands for Addington, and also for Mr. Abercromby, who was the ‘only begetter’ of it. So let us start there. It is very near London and can be reached in half-an-hour’s drive by a motor driver who knows the shortest and most ingenious road which avoids as if my miracle all the tramlines on Norwood and Croydon. It is wonderfully peaceful and quiet and pretty with it heather and fir-trees and ferns and rhododendrons. Addington possesses two courses, and there is great contrast between them, so that you can adapt your golf to your mood. The old course is by comparison short and has no less than six holes that can be reached from the tee. Playing the course beforehand in your mind’s eye you are apt to suffer from certain heady intoxication, and a 69 seems easily within reach. Yet it takes a good deal of doing, for there is very little margin for inaccuracy, and there are some terrible and deep ravines which can be walked across by kindly brides, but which must be played across by a ball lofted and not topped. The new course, which is on rather lower ground just across the road from the club-house, is laid out deliberately on a fiercer and grander scale.” Regarding the Old’s short 11th, “one of the best short holes on either course and the late Mr. Abercromby’s favourite.”

St. George’s Hill: “From Addington I will jump to another part of Surrey and look at St. George’s Hill near Weybridge, which is a creation of Mr. Colt’s, and, I believe, his favourite among all the courses he made. It is a wonderfully pretty place. There is nowhere where the green glades of fairway radiate quite so picturesquely among the fir-woods, nowhere where the club-house is quite so ideally perched on a hill-top. The one justifiable criticism seems to me that there are too may hill-tops. If only the hand of Nature could have flattened it out a little, this might have been the inland course of the world. There are rather too many holes, such as the first and the ninth and the eighteenth, where the second shot is played from below to a not very perfectly seen flag above. On the other hand, there are many fine holes. Two of the short holes, the third and the fourteenth, are most exciting, and third particularly ingenious.”

Moor Park: “Moor Park is golf on an almost American scale of grandeur, for the club-house is the stately house that was once Lord Ebury’s, and from it radiate three courses, laid out by Mr. Colt, to suit all tastes. The two shorter ones though quite attractive, must remain unsung, but the course is a fine one, although the ground can be a little heavy at times. It is park golf with a dash of something else, for in the middle of the round, close to a fine clump of beeches, there is a strip of bracken country. It is here that the best and most amusing holes are to be found, and Mr. Colt has used every available inch of it.”

Sandy Lodge: “Sandy Lodge is course of quite a different type. It deserves its name in that it is wonderfully sandy. Hence it is very dry and can produce bunkers on any scale of grandeur demanded. Nature having provided the sand, did not provide very many other natural features, so that, until we come to know the course well, it looks to us a little too open, as if we were playing on one big plain. In places the holes are a little crowded together, so that we appear to be traversing the same ground, and if we are lucky with our crooked shots we can find very good lies on fairways where we have no business to be.”

Walton Heath-New: “The new course at Walton Heath is next door to the old one and on the same wide heathery expanse. Yet it is different. It seems to me to show Mr. Fowler in, if I may say so, rather a lighter vein. On the old course he makes more direct frontal attacks on us with his big cross-bunkers. He shakes his fist at us more openly. Especially when the wind is against us on that long flog outward we are more directly conscious of his hostility. The new course is just as difficult: in some ways it is more difficult, since there is no series of comparatively easy holes as there is coming home on the old course. But there is more variety, more tacking this way and that, and in a way more fun.”

Worplesdon: “Worplesdon has acquired merit as the home course of Miss Joyce Wethered and her brother. It is also home of one of the pleasantest and most interesting tournaments of the golfing year in the Mixed Foursomes, which are played there every autumn. It is quite one of the most varied and agreeable of inland courses and has only this one fault, that there are only fifteen holes of it. Lest someone should ‘have the law of me,’ I hasten to explain. There are eighteen holes, but the first three are on dull, heavy soil. It is only when we come back to the club-house with that short fourth up on to a plateau that we are in the proper country of sand and fir-trees. After that it is all most engaging.”

West Hill: “West Hill is close to Brookwood Station, but will induce no one to seek cremation, being in fact a particularly charming spot that should make you in love with life. It is not quite so open as Woking, not quite so full of fir-trees as Worplesdon. Perhaps I may call it a cross between the two and it is as good as either.”

Huntercombe: “If the Oxford golfer wants to go still farther afield he can and often does go to Huntercombe, once the home of Willie Park, and the pet child among his golf courses. It is a lovely place, perched high on the hills above Henley, and has a peaceful breeziness which is its own.” On another occasion: “Although Huntercombe is still a comparatively young course, there is an agreeable quality about the golf that, for want of better word, may be called, very respectfully, old-fashioned. Exactly how this impression is produced upon the mind is hard to say. Perhaps it is that some of the approach shots have to played over cross-hazards, although those are not constructed after the old rampart pattern; perhaps it is that there are no deep and desperate pot-bunkers dug very close to the holes, or it may be the abundance of the whins, which somehow remind one of the unsophisticated golf upon the common. At any rate, the golf of Huntercombe has a very engaging character of its own; it is good without being too strenuous for the reasonably light-hearted player. Yet this cheerful person must not imagine the disaster cannot overtake him.”

Royal Ashdown Forest: “There is no golf more charming, more exciting, and once I should have said more natural; but I do think it rather sad to see some of the natural slopes have been flattened out and the edges of the greens guarded with artificial hummocks. There is also at the 12th a series of lumps and humps resembling a cemetery for old ladies’ pet dogs, as to which I feel very strongly. However, these criticisms are ungracious when everything was so pleasant, and the greens were at once so fiendish and so good, and Jack Rowe was there as of old to start us from the first tee.” These observations came while his mentor HG Hutchinson was gravely ill and dying. Hutchinson’s home looked out over Ashdown Forest. “There was only one regret and that came as one was playing the eighth hole and looked at Shepherds’ Gate. If only Mr. Horace Hutchinson could have come across the valley to us and witched the ball away out of the heather with devilish skill and aluminum spoon!”

Swinley Forest: “I am getting too far away from London, and so I will get back to the Sunningdale country where lies Swinley Forest, restful and pretty, and cut off from the outer world by a great curtain of trees. If there is one fact that gives a clue to the peculiar charm of Swinley, it is that at luncheon you wander about at your own sweet will and help yourself. If this gives a picture of delight and privacy, of the home of the private game with no Bogeys or monthly medals, or crowds or fuss, or handicaps, then it gives the right picture of Swinley. It must not be thought, however, that the golf is therefore easy-going. It is anything but that, and when the tees are put back at full stretch it is eminently long and testing. The first and the last holes, being on soil rather heavy and commonplace, are not quite worthy, but the other sixteen are all ‘the real thing’ and, taken as a whole, they seem to me to have this seductive quality-that they are not quite so difficult as they look.”

Coombe Hill: “This another astoundingly quiet and lovely place to find so near London. Birch-trees, rhododendrons and heather and fairways that find their way among them, first uphill and then downhill-such is a stranger’s general impression. People who have never seen it will probably think of it as the place where Sandy Herd was always doing holes in one, till they grew positively tired of reading the newspaper…Where Mr. Abercromby lays out a course, he always makes plenty of short holes. There are, therefore, several threes to be got a Coombe, but they are not easy ones, nor are the two-shot holes easy fours, unless perhaps when the ground is hard. A fair criticism is, I think, that there are a good many holes which have rather too strong a family likeness in the shape of a second shot to a green at the top of a slope. The lie of the land makes this difficult to avoid, and each of the uphill holes is a good hole in itself.”

Berkshire: “Mr. Herbert Fowler has never done anything better than Walton Heath; it is a course for which I have a passionate respect, and if I want to see two big players have a big match anywhere near London, it is there that I shall take them. I do think, however, that, in certain respects, Mr. Fowler’s art has mellowed with experience since then; he may not lay out better holes, but he lays out rather more diversified and picturesque ones, and he really has been at his best on these Berkshire courses. There seems to me every kind of hole there-the short, the long, the subtle, the bold, the hole that, so to speak, hits you between the eyes by its spectacular qualities, and the hole that looks plain and simple, yet gradually grows and grows on you. They are all there, and they seem to me all good.”

Sunningdale-New (Colt): “The first hole and the last two are rather squeezed and crowded in between the old course and some houses and are not very alluring, but when we get out on to the open heath it is ‘all wery capital.’ There are bigger stretches of heather here than on the old course and bigger views and fewer trees. On a hot day the air is something fresher and cooler perhaps. And it is fine golf too, fine spectacular golf with big bold outlines, steep drops and alarming precipices. It is inevitable to make some comparisons between the old and the new, and in one respect the new must certainly take the palm. It has the better short holes-a good deal the better, since the short holes are the weak spot in the old course (Mr. Colt has made five of these short holes which my soul particularly loved). On the other hand, I do not think that the two-shot holes are quite so good.”

Sunningdale-New (Simpson): “Many golfers have probably heard exciting and rather sinister rumours about the New Course at Sunningdale and the daredevil things that Mr. Simpson has been doing to it. I had been hearing them for some time past and so, when I went to Sunningdale about a fortnight ago, I was prepared for almost anything in the way of the alarming and fantastic…Well, I did see for myself and came away with feelings of very great admiration mingled with awe. These changes involve not only four brand-new holes in new country, but at least 10 new greens. Very briefly then, leaving on one side for the moment all lesser alterations, the old seventh, eighth, ninth, and the 10th holes disappear altogether. They were, to my taste at least, far too mountainous, and I am still of that opinion. The interesting thing, both about these new holes, and the older ones that have been modified, is this: they are supposed to represent and, I think, do represent a distinct advance in the demand for accurate placing of the tee shot. There is one hole-an altered and not a new one-as to which the architect admits that he has ‘never been so mischievous.’ The epithet, in which he takes some impish delight, may do him an injustice. What he seems to me to have done is to insist, with great and varied ingenuity, on the player hitting his drive on the precise line indicated to him. If the player does that-and this remark applies to all the changes-he will get a straightforward and not in the least diabolical second short to the green. It is when he does not do it that the fun begins. Then his problem will beyond doubt be extremely difficult. The full beauty of his situation will not perhaps dawn on him at once; he may even play the shot quite hopefully, but he will end by being disappointed because the green has been so tilted as to defeat him; his ball may pitch on the green but it will finish its career somewhere else.”

The sixth and ninth holes at Sunnigdale New during Simpson’s day –
no wonder Darwin was such a huge fan.

On the quirky side-and I will repeat, every round should have a minimum of one quirky entry-Burnham was a prime candidate (Darwin had an appetite for big dunes), as were Silloth, North Berwick, Hayling, Goswick, and the mysterious Archerfield:

Burnham & Berrow: “It is the modern fashion to despise sandhills, but if you come to Burnham to scoff at them you will remain to pray-pray that the wind will not plow so strongly in your teeth that you cannot get over. These hills revive some of the ancient joys and sorrows of the gutty era, when you were quite simply and naturally pleased with yourself for having hit the ball far enough and high enough. I really do not think that there is any other course which one a windy day gives so much zest to life by its tee shots.”

Silloth: “It would be idle to say that the little town itself is beautiful because it is not, and speaking from a strictly Pickwickian point of view, there are some things I should like to blow up, but the views are beautiful, and yet I had no eye for them when I saw the first hole. For here was a bit of natural golfing country that one might hope to see in dreams of golf in Heaven. Take some of those fascinating valleys from Birkdale or Formby or Blundell Sands; take the best hummocky country of Prestwick, old Prestwick inside the wall, with its dell-like, nesting greens among the hills; take something of that air of secrecy, that feeling of being hidden from all the world at Sandwich. Add a flavour of many heathery Surrey courses and a touch of the blind, amusing, holidaymaking holes from Cruden Bay or Hayling Island. ‘Take of these elements all that is fusible’ and mix them up in a course that is about 6,000 yards long, and you have the best picture I can give of Silloth.”

North Berwick: “If one was to describe to any golfer a course having the first eight holes straight away into the wind, then one across, and nine holes back again with the wind behind (or vice versa, as the case may be), and add that this course is so crowded between a high road, with villas on it, and the sea, that it is dreadfully easy at half the holes to find oneself on the wrong fairway-that at one place there is, moreover, an undistinguished crossing, and, finally, that the most conspicuous hazards or obstacles are straight stone walls-on such a description no golfer would have any choice but to say that is was a thoroughly bad course. Yet this all true of North Berwick Old Course; and its place among the best links in the world has never been seriously disputed. Which shows the futility of applying mathematical analyses to spiritual things. A woman may have a tip-tilted nose, too large a mouth, indifferent eyebrows, and too many freckles, and yet be universally pronounced adorable. So North Berwick Old Course, though possessing half the faults considered unpardonable in golf architecture, is the most fascinating links: a fascination of temperament, of figure, and complexion, of infinite variety and caprice.”

Hayling Island: “I have no notion who laid out the Hayling links, but I fancy him rather a simple-minded creature, by no means without talent, who knew the kind of shots that amused him, and was not ashamed of enjoying them. He went out to survey the country and said, in the manner of Mr. Wemmick, ‘Hello, here’s a big hill; lets drive over it.’ I think he took a ball out of his pocket there and then and walloped it over the hill and, as it soared into the blue beyond the sandy crest, he exclaimed in ecstasy, ‘That’s the stuff to give them’-or rather some corresponding expression of that now remote epoch. He achieved the circuit of the links pursuing this delightful amusement, and at the end there was the course, and he saw that it was good. And so it was, and so, although the architects may rage furiously together, it still is.”

Goswick: “When I did see it I fell deeply in love with it. It seemed to me almost the best natural golf I had ever seen, and all the better because it had remained natural: people had not tried to turn it into a ‘test of golf’; they had just rejoiced in big, splendid bunkers and the walloping of the ball over them.”

Archerfield: “There is another course in this rich neighborhood which is not intended to test long drivers, but only to give unalloyed pleasure. This is Archerfield, the private course of Archerfield House, and anybody who can get the chance of doing so, should gratefully play there, for there is no more enchanting short course in the world. It might easily be made much more severe: with such admirable material anything might be done: but it is better and more entrancing as it is.”

And finally there was the 16-hole course BD laid out on the Vardar marshes in Macedonia. To my knowledge it was the only golf course the great man ever designed. I’d originally thought of including it as our 19th hole, but I’ve already gone on too long-perhaps another day. Besides, invariably there would be deserving courses left off, nonetheless I think ours is a good collection. One in which I hope Darwin would approve, or at least not think me a chump.

The End