Harry Shapland Colt, Course Architect
James Braid and Harry Shapland Colt are arguably the greatest golf course designers to have lived. Braid, a five times open championship winner, was responsible for the King’s and Queen’s courses at Gleneagles as well as over 200 other golf courses whilst the prodigious Colt, was the architect of some of the greatest golf courses in the world including Wentworth, Sunningdale, Royal Lytham & St Annes, Royal St George’s, Royal Melbourne and over 300 others.
The course as we see it today was designed during the early 1920s by Harry Shapland Colt. When designing the course, Colt chose to incorporate some of the original holes laid out by James Braid, which gives this course one of the finest pedigrees possible in golf course design.
“Harry Colt is the true father of golf course architecture. His knowledge of the game, his vision and love of the land allowed him to create courses of great distinction that have stood the test of time as well as any in the world. His list of creations is a roll of honour.”
– Donald Steel, International Golf Course Architect
Although christened Henry Shapland, Colt was known throughout his life as “Harry”. Born at Highgate in 1869, he was educated at Monkton Combe School where he excelled at cricket, rugby and as an oarsman. He was admitted to Clare College, Cambridge to read Law. It was whilst at university that his interest and talent as a golfer blossomed and he gained a “Blue” and then became Captain of golf.
After being called to the Bar he practiced as a solicitor in Hastings, but his first love was, by now, golf. He was elected a member of the R & A and was twice winner of the Jubilee Vase on the Old Course at St. Andrews. His first exposure to course design came in 1894 when he assisted with the layout of a new course at Rye, subsequently becoming Honorary Secretary.
In 1899 he applied for the post of Secretary of the R & A at St Andrews. Although his application was supported by a number of eminent men including Arthur James Balfour, the then Prime Minister, and leading amateur golfers Horace Hutchinson and S. Mure Fergusson, it was not successful. The R & A Committee were not to know it at the time but their decision did the world of golf an enormous favour!
If the R & A did not want Colt, the newly opened Sunningdale most certainly did and he was appointed Secretary in 1901. The post was initially full-time but it became part-time as he progressively became more involved in golf course design, collaborating on a number of projects with Dr Alister MacKenzie. He left Sunningdale in 1913 in order to exploit his skills as a golf course architect and never looked back.
A number of his designs were completed in the period immediately before the Great War but it was not until the early 1920s that golf course construction resumed. With the explosion in the growth of the game, Colt’s services were in great demand for the next fifteen years or so, either on his own or in conjunction with his partners, C. H. Alison, J. S. F. Morrison and, briefly, MacKenzie. His output was prolific and, in addition to many British courses, Colt’s influence can be seen in the U.S.A., France, Germany, Holland, Spain and Sweden. The demand for new courses fell away from the mid 1930’s, coming to a complete halt at the outbreak of the Second World War. Colt’s work was at an end. He died at East Hendred in Oxfordshire in 1952, aged 82. A memorial tablet in the Parish Church records that he bequeathed his house to become the Rectory; Harry Colt’s real legacy, however, was his influence on the game of golf.
The quality and imagination of Colt’s designs have stood the test of time; the recent technological advances which have led to the present-day performance of clubs and balls have not diminished the courage nor the skill to score on his courses.
-Foreword to “Colt & Co” by Fred Hawtree.