Monday, July 16, 2007

Architect #2 Harry Shapland Colt

Best Course: Royal Portrush

Other notable work: Hamilton, Toronto, Sunningdale (New), Swinley Forrest, St. George’s Hill, Rye, (advising Crump) Pine Valley

Remodelling Work: Sunningdale Old, Muirfield

Overview: Colt was originally a lawyer by training but was far more interested in the pursuit of golf. He was one of the founders of Rye and remained as the honorary secretary for many years after. He became the first secretary at Sunningdale, which turned out to be a position that would help him make important contacts for future work. Colt also made continual improvements to Sunningdale throughout the years.

Just before the First World War, Colt became a full time golf architect and one of the first (if not the first) architects who was not a golf professional first. Colt concentrated his efforts in the UK, with a mixture of new commissions and a great deal of renovation to older layouts. As his reputation quickly grew many more inquiries came from further afar - at first the British Isles, then the mainland of Europe, eventually North America, much later Australia and the Far East.

Sunningdale Old #12

While Colt made a series of trips to North America from 1911 to 1915, he would choose to stay closer to home and mainly work throughout the United Kingdom and the European mainland. He would instead trust a series of partners with much of the foreign work. With Charles Alison taking on most of the work leading to his long and storied career representing Colt in many parts of the world. Alison’s impact in the Far East was the watershed moment for all future Japanese architecture. Likewise, Alister Mackenzie’s trip to Australia was the trip that shaped Australian golf architecture. Colt himself was the key influence to Belgium and Holland.

I feel comfortable to argue that Colt was the most important influence in early architecture. While Park and others represent key moments in architectural development, it was Colt who was able to put together a style and technique that quite simply shaped all future generations of golf course architecture. Almost all the great architects profiled were influenced through his writings and by visiting the courses that he had designed. Harry Colt made golf course architecture a profession, from the way he attacked the projects he had to the way he conducted a business. He became the standard that we all have worked from since.

Toronto Golf Club #6

Praise for the work: Colt felt his courses must be part of the countryside, residing in, rather than imposing upon the land. He suggested they should also be given a chance to grow into their surroundings and become part of the countryside itself. That is quite likely why Colt was one of the first to suggest planting with his courses. It also explains why his holes feel like they were found rather than produced, even when he was required to make change to the landscape. His early holes usually lead you in gently and he was one of the first to openly suggest the use of all clubs be an important requirement in design. He concentrated on the course as a whole trying to balance out the lengths of holes, although given the opportunity he would often select particularly appealing points for par threes and route holes to accommodate those outstanding opportunities.

Rye Golf Club

He did not set out his bunkers to penalize an errant shot, but rather to challenge the skills of a better player. He was one of the first to set up and defend angles of attack perfecting the idea of the carry angle in the process. He was one of the earliest architects to see the intellectual side of design and would lay out his courses to test a players decision making as much as his conviction. While some of his bunkers have scale and character, much of his work featured smaller pot style traps that were often deep and tough to extricate yourself from. He certainly felt that a player taking a risk was justified to lose a shot when they failed to achieve the task. At the same time he would provide plenty more opportunities for them to run the same risk, so that if they could achieve the task, they could make a shot up later in the round.

Criticisms: There is a criticism that Colt has designed a collection of great courses, but it has been suggested that he lacks that one standout course that makes you say nobody else could have done better. Some point to Muirfield as the one, but others find it lacking. Some suggest Royal Portrush is the course, but others think it reputation comes more from difficulty than it does from architectural merit. A few even point to his role at Pine Valley, but the early drawings seem to indicate that Crump was still the key figure. Colt may lack that one seminal project, but his body of work is so strong that he earns the respect of all architects none the less.

St. George's Hill

Great Quotes: Immediately when we attempt to standardize sizes, shapes, and distances we lose more than half the pleasure of the game.

Favourite Course: Royal Portrush
I will say up front that I do struggle with the level of difficulty currently presented off the tee by the nasty fescue that borders the fairways, but strategically the course is brilliant. The course features wonderful angles of opportunity from the tee through to the green. The bunkering challenges you to flirt for a better approach but sharply penalizes a miss. Colt managed to the mix the lengths on all the threes, fours and fives so that the variety is stunning and the hole types are just as varied. The greens feature wonderful rolling contours full of delicate pin positions and feeding slopes that make for entertaining putting throughout. There is not a weak hole, just a lack of dunes land at the end.

Sunningdale New #5

What I take from him: I’ve always felt that Colt’s use of bunkers in the fairway is without peer. He has the ability to defend a line with one, or introduce a series of bunkers that force decisions. He used every technique from flanking to diagonal through to interior – his strength was placing no limitations on what he would do.Colt represents a style of architecture that is both challenging and comfortable, where depending on the game the player has that day, they can either add or reduce risk accordingly. I’ve always felt the writings of Max Behr explain the ideal game, and that the architecture of Harry Colt show you examples of it in the ground.


Anonymous said...

You wrote: "A few even point to his role at Pine Valley, but the early drawings prove conclusively that Crump was the key figure."

Concusively? Please explain.

Ian Andrew said...

In my opinion - and I do have a copy of all three plans - Crump routed most of the course without Colt. Crump had the opening four holes on his initial plan and the closing four came after Colt and were not the same as his suggested routing. Colt had a great deal of influence on the middle stretch of holes, but so did other architects like Tillinghast if we believe the 7th is his idea.

I feel Crump employed a series of editors to help with the text, but remained the author of Pine valley through and through. Again, my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Closing 4 holes 15-18 at PVGC are similar to Colt's plan. Holes 13 and 14 are the different ones for the back 9.

Ian Andrew said...

My take on what I see from the two plans

1-4 are the same as Crump’s earlier plan
5 is Colt
6 is on Crump’s old plan
7 is a shorter version on Colt’s plan and looks extended out
8-9-10-11 follow the Colt plan – nothing on Crump’s plan indicates this view
12 &13 are different holes
14 is a drop shot beside the lake, not a shot over the edge - Crump
15 is not as long and begins on the hill in the landing – the hole was extended back
17 and 18 appear on the original routing by Crump

Crump tinkered and tinkered and tinkered until he was happy, I can’t believe that he would turn it all over to Colt by the very nature that he approached this project. I think you can’t underestimate Crump and at the same time there is enough evidence to credit Colt for assisting him. That’s the way I see it. I have corrected the work “conclusive” since that would be an overstatement on part.

Ian Andrew said...

Even the red/blue plan does not match the final layoutwhen you look at the change at 14 and 15

Anonymous said...

It appears you believe the stick plan is Crump's. To my knowledge the author of that plan is unknown and the date it was made is not known either. The line between what is reality and what is legend is often blurred when it comes to the history of this course.

There was a good deal written about the project in the years between Colt's first visit in 1913 and Crump's tragic death in 1918. Walter Travis, Grantland Rice, Simon Carr, AW Tillinghast, Jerome Travers and Colt himself all reported the same thing: HS Colt designed the course. Crump was quoted in many of these articles, so one can assume he was on board with their reports. That is a pretty impressive collection of experts, do you think they were confused?

There was one report written in early 1914 by an unknown author (unknown to me at least), in the Philadelphia Enquirer, who claimed that Colt only made one minor contribution, the 5th. That one report has been the foundation of the architectural history for the last ninety years.


henrye said...

Hard to argue with Tom, but in the end (unless someone finds evidence to suggest otherwise) it looks like Crump & Colt will continue to share the honours.

Good that I can get a short fix of TM here, as he is sorely missed elsewhere.

henrye said...

Oh, BTW Ian. If there had been a pole, I'd have put Colt at #1.

Ian Andrew said...


Why wouldn't I - it has his signature on the plan.

Who else would leave an incomplete plan - surely not Colt or any other architect?

Yes I believe the stick plan is Colt.


Ian Andrew said...


Even if Pine Valley is entirely Colt - I still would choose macKenzie as number one.


Anonymous said...

"Why wouldn't I - it has his signature on the plan."

Thats a little misleading isn't it? Its not as if he signed and dated the map like an artist signs a work of art or an architect signs a formal plan. He hand-wrote an informal note near the top and signed it GAC. No date.

We don't know when he wrote the note or who it was addressed to. We don't know what was on the map when he wrote the note. We don't know who the author/authors of the map was/were or when it was made. Again the lines between reality and speculation are often blurred.

Again back to my original question: Were Walter Travis, Grantland Rice, Simon Carr, AW Tillinghast, Jerome Travers and Colt all confused when they reported Colt designed the course?


Ian Andrew said...


"Were Walter Travis, Grantland Rice, Simon Carr, AW Tillinghast, Jerome Travers and Colt all confused when they reported Colt designed the course?"

I haven't read enough of their comments, but I will trust you on this. It does suggest Colt deserves much credit - but one week a full credit versus 4 years on site making alterations as you go - it's hard to argue that Crump wasn't the key figure.

Initials, signature - all the same to me - since he is the only person named on the plan. Colt is clearly listed on his own drawing.

Anonymous said...

That map is clearly a rough working drawing. There are lines everywhere, hard lines, erased lines, greens here and there, crossed off greens scattered about. No one would sign a working field plan. Writing a casual note on an informal field plan and signing a finished product are two different things in my opinion.

Crump without doubt should be credited for his dogged tenacity, but was he on site for five years because he was perfecting, perfecting, perfecting? There is no evidence of that. In fact the plan was to have the course ready a little over a year after Colt.

Crump was on site for five years (and likely took his own life) because they could not grow grass. Being the expert and the hired professional, Colt deserves as much blame for that situation as anybody.

Again, the myth that Crump was taking years to perfect his course has over come the reality that the delays were the result of an agronomic disaster.


henrye said...

TM. Your theory is interesting, but without any substantiating proof, I'm affraid that's all it will remain.

The theory of Crump staying on site "perfecting, perfecting, perfecting" might sound unusual, but so does sitting around for 5 years watching grass grow.

TM. You have done some excellent research pieces. I truly hope that the emotional outbursts by one challenger have not deterred you from sharing your research and opinions in some forum in the future. In the end, those challenges added legitamacy to your essays and I hope you took away the positives, personal attacks aside.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kind words. I would not refer to the grass fiasco as theory - that is what was reported. Nor is it a theory that those men all referred to Colt as the designer.

What was not reported was that the delay was due to Crump's constant tweeking. That is a theory that is now the commonly told tale. The course was to be completed in early 1916, that is what was reported. Unfortunately mother nature did not cooperate, and things got so bad - several years into it - that they ripped out all the turf and started all over.

I can only imagine the frustration Crump suffered, seeing his dream die right before his eyes, and his fortune being exhausted. I don't think he was standing around watching the grass grow. He was working hard to keep the grass alive, hosting the biggest names in the game, playing a lot of golf and no doubt improving the course or at least making note of how to improve the design.