Keen golfers who travel for their sport are sure to have their favourite courses, whether it’s the intimate layout of Wentworth’s East Course, the moorland setting of Clyne Golf Club or the ruthless difficulty of Royal Lytham & St Annes. All three of these courses – plus plenty more – have one thing in common: the influence and ingenuity of golf course architect, Harry Colt.
Born in 1869, Colt started playing golf at his boarding school near Bath and went on to become captain of the Cambridge University Golf Team during his university years. In 1891, he won the Jubilee Vase and became a scratch golfer by 1893 – and in 1901, he was appointed secretary of the Sunningdale Golf Club. Transforming both the Old Course and the New Course at the club, it was here that his career in golf course design began.
In 1913, he resigned from his position as secretary to focus his entire attention on golf course design – a career that saw him participate in the design of over 300 courses, 115 of which were solo efforts. As well as UK courses, his work took him to North and South America, Asia, Australia, Europe and Africa – his accomplishments include Pine Valley Golf Club, which is ranked the top golf course in the US.
Each course that Colt designed was created with similar principles in mind. They were built to be played by golfers of all standards, with a comfortable first hole to avoid congestion at the start of the course. These practicalities extended to the positioning of the starting points: where possible, he incorporated two close to the clubhouse to ensure that those who were busy could play a round within a reasonable timeframe.
Harry Colt worked without the benefit of the earth-moving machinery that we have today, instead relying on horse-drawn power to build his designs. With the labour in mind, he incorporated natural features such as ditches, trees, hills and valleys into the design of his courses and was of the mindset that “a good shot should be rewarded, and a poor shot punished.”
The serene setting of the Royal Wimbledon Golf Club is one great place to appreciate Colt’s work. The course, which he radically redesigned in 1924, is still almost exactly the same today. Its woodland setting reveals greens that will seriously test any golfer’s putting skills, and an undulating landscape caused by an ancient rampart that runs throughout the course, particularly at the 6th, 7th, 10th and 11th holes. It’s a tough course to play but it’s entertaining too, with Colt’s design ensuring that every single hole is as enjoyable as the one before.
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