Friday, June 08, 2007

Architect #17 – Herbert Fowler









Best Course: Walton Heath

Other notable work: Los Angeles CC (South), Berkshire (Red&Blue), Eastward Ho

Notable Renovations: Royal North Devon, Cruden Bay, Royal Aberdeen, Royal Lytham & St. Annes



(image courtesy of Geoff Shackelford's "the Golden Age of Architecture)

Overview: In an era where a new course was often planned in as little as a single day, Herbert Fowler spent two years planning and creating his new course at Walton Heath. Fowler spent numerous visits on horseback first finding the best natural green sites and then tracing them back to uncover natural holes. He repeated this process over and over until he had found his course. This was a process he continued on once again even borrowing a horse from Myopia Hunt when he was laying out Eastward Ho.

In the early 1920’s Fowler partnered with Tom Simpson, with Fowler concentrating mainly on the work in the British Isles while Simpson did a majority of work on the continent. Fowler spent a considerable time in the United States working on a series of projects in California and the great Eastward Ho near Cape Cod. One interesting note is that his firm for a short period of time also included both JF Abercromby and Arthur Croombe.

Praise for the work: Bernard Darwin said of Fowler, “I never knew anyone who could more swiftly take on the possibilities of the ground” Fowler had an interesting approach of finding natural par three locations and then trying to work the holes to and from those locations in order to create the most interesting routing. His architecture was not full of grand flourishes and would be best described as understated. He kept his tee sites simple with many being on native grade. He used his bunkers sparingly, concentrating on key strategic locations on a relatively flat site like Walton Heath. He let the land become the challenge when he had great natural terrain to work with and the rolls and undulations stood out more than the features that he created. His greens were often right on the natural grade and often simply extensions of the fairway. Others were carefully placed on small rises to add some additional difficulty. The one thing he never seemed to do was to add mounding or other backings to add definition, he chose instead to embrace what was always there.


Royal North Devon's 5th (from Golfclubatlas)






Criticisms:
The main one is that his work is dull. I think this comes from his choice to often let natural grasses or native plants supply the contrast on a wide open site rather than adding bunkers or features that would supply a little extra definition to a hole.
His work is very plain to some and wonderfully restrained to others.

Great Quotes: “God builds golf links and the less man meddles the better for all concerned.”

My favourite: Walton Heath was my favourite for how it plays. I enjoyed the opportunity to try and use the ground to gain advantage and also to try recovery shots. I found I had lots of options on how to attack the holes. I was also very interested in how much the playing experience to a front seat over the visuals – very similar to my feelings about St. Andrew’s. The par threes were all particularly compelling and interesting.


Eastward Ho's amazing setting and undulation (from Golfclubatlas)




What I take from him:
Take your time on the routing, and don’t be afraid to walk it through a few times to be sure you haven’t left a better on out on the ground. Restraint – there are times when the architect feels they are too smart and too important and simply get in the way of great natural golf. If the ground is good for golf – find the holes – and get out of the way. The course will bring joy for ever – even if it doesn’t produce postcards.

Next Architect: http://thecaddyshack.blogspot.com/2007/06/architect-16-george-crump.html

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

ian,

love the series, and fowler in particular. just to be nitpicky though, isn't RND and Westward Ho! the same course?

rpf.

Anonymous said...

Tremendous series. Learning more on each post. Much appreciated.

sean said...

Ian

I didn't have to wait long for the Fowler bit. I can see we need to sit down for a long talk. I have heard a few descriptions for Fowler courses, but this is the first time dull has come up. Still, at least you are giving the old boy some recognition.

Sean

BTW Add Beau Desert to your list of significant Fowler designs.

Ian Andrew said...

Sean,

Boring is certainly not my choice of words - finding criticism is tough already and getting tougher as I go.

Ian

Anonymous said...

And many more California courses including Presidio, Del Monte, Pebble Beach, Rancho, Los Angeles North, Victoria Club (Riverside) and many more.
I'm trying to figure out why the other "great" golf architects never mention him. What did he do to be left out of history? Many of these "great" designers worked on his courses in their early years and never mentioned Fowler. Many quote his philosophy of course design. Coincidence or conspiracy?

Anonymous said...

played the old course at Walton twice this summer. I had the same feelings about St.Andrews in the two days I walked these wonderful fairways. I dont know if I have ever played a course that made better use of the natural landscape. just stunning.
The first night after play as I sat in my hotel room I could vividly remember every hole. As I sit here today I can remember every fairway and every green. I cant think of many course where every hole comes back so quickly from memory.

Anonymous said...

played the old course at Walton twice this summer. I had the same feelings about St.Andrews in the two days I walked these wonderful fairways. I dont know if I have ever played a course that made better use of the natural landscape. just stunning.
The first night after play as I sat in my hotel room I could vividly remember every hole. As I sit here today I can remember every fairway and every green. I cant think of many course where every hole comes back so quickly from memory.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous,
Fowler had nothing to do with Victoria Club in Riverside. You're thinking of Max Behr.

Anonymous said...

I under stand that Fowler designed Sequoyah CC (1913) in Oakland, Ca. Can anyone verify this?

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john jones said...

There is no contemporary record of Max Behr working on the Victoria golf course in Riverside. I am still trying to find out where Mr Cornish got his information from. There are however multiple newspaper and magazine articles from early 1921 quoting club secretary Walter C. Davison as saying that the Victoria Golf Club has been greatly improved during the past two years under the direction of W. Herbert Fowler and the result is "18 grass greens in fine shape".

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Tom Schunn said...

Greetings! I can confirm that Herbert Fowler did some redesign at Sequoyah CC in Oakland but did not do the original routing. Several signficant architects were recruited to re-do particular holes. Fowler was just one of these individuals.
Tom Schunn, GM
Sequoyah CC

R Ball said...

Mr Jones,
There are multiple records of Max Behr laying out the current Victoria Club of Riverside. The Behr course opened on Oct 16, 1926. Prior to Behr, the Club retained the consulting services of Fowler to make improvements to Victoria's first 18 hole layout which was originally designed by Walter Forvarque. Some of Fowler's work is still visible (and in play) today.

muebles tarragona said...

Quite useful information, thanks for your post.

eric olson said...

I am the course manager at The Royal Automobile club in Epsom, Surrey. I have been doing much research into the original course which was believed to be a Fowler design. However facts are very difficult to find, can anybody help me?

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