30 May 13
Born in 1869 and a lawyer by training, Harry Shapland Colt is one of the finest architects the game has ever known; practicing during a time when golf was experiencing a huge increase in popularity. While attending Clare College, Cambridge, Colt’s fondness for golf grew stronger with each passing year. In his final year, Colt was Captain of the Cambridge University Golf Club. Not long afterwards he was elected a member of the Royal & Ancient and in 1891 claimed the first place prize in the Jubilee Vase (he was to win it again in 1893). His game was sharp enough to enter the Open later that year (the only time he ever played in the Open) at The Old Course, but he finished well down with two scores in the 90s. While his design style very much looked to the future, Colt kept one eye on the past. The Old Course’s encouragement to require golfers to think was an influence evident throughout Colt’s career.
Colt went down from Cambridge with a degree in law and as many Oxbridge lawyers do, found himself in London gaining practical experience. Although Colt had made the leap into the profession proper, he kept his poker in the fire of golf. It is thought that in 1894 Colt may have mapped out the original links at Rye, but there can be no doubt that Colt was instrumental in the development of the club and course. After failing to land the job as Secretary of the R&A, in 1901 Colt was appointed Secretary to the newly formed Sunningdale Golf Club. It was at Sunningdale that Colt was to get his first opportunities in the field of design and within five years Colt was a fully fledged architect. Retaining amateur status in the very professional world of golf design, Colt continued to regularly enter the Amateur Championship and in 1906 made it to the semi-final at Hoylake. Colt was never again to reach such lofty heights in competitive golf.
Ingeniously, Colt organized a golf construction division for Frank Harris Bros and hired the man to lead the crew, Mr Willie Murray. Before this, Colt became an agent for Shanks Mowing Machine Company and became an advisor for Suttons, a seed company. With design, construction, seeding and maintenance covered, all was in place for Colt to revolutionize the profession of architecture. The final piece of the puzzle was to discover suitable inland terrain near the booming cities of England. Mure Fergusson had already demonstrated what was possible at New Zealand with immense tree clearing and other amateur golfer architects such as Herbert Fowler (Walton Heath Old), Willie Park Jr (Sunningdale Old, Notts & Huntercombe – 1901), Paton & Low (Woking – 1901) and Alister MacKenzie (Alwoodley – 1907) created groundbreaking designs on heathland. Through his contacts at Sunningdale, Colt became the driving force behind the creation of Swinley Forest, a masterpiece which combined the elements of strategic design demonstrated earlier with a beautiful naturalist approach in incorporating bunkers, rough and heather. Since its inception in 1909/10, Swinley has remained an iconic design which continues to influence architects and delight golfers.
After a break in business due to WWI, Colt resumed activity as a designer in 1919 as a partnership of Colt, MacKenzie and Alison. It isn’t clear if Colt and MacKenzie actually collaborated on designs. Indeed, it has been suggested the two formed a marriage of convenience to reduce competition between them. It is uncertain when the partnership dissolved, but in the fall of 1926 MacKenzie sailed for Australia to embark on what was to become an incredibly productive eight years before his death in 1934. A few years earlier, the all round sportsman, John Morrison joined the firm. By 1928 a new partnership of Colt, Alison and Morrison was formed. Hugh Alison came to golf design much the way Colt did. As Secretary of Stoke Poges Golf Club, Alison assisted Colt in the design of several high profile courses; Northamptonshire Co (1909), Denham (1910), St Georges Hill (1912) and Camberley Heath (1913). Much like MacKenzie, Alison was to gain great fame with his work outside of Europe in the 1930s. Tokyo, Fuji, Hirono and Kawana (all in Japan) are the four courses cited most often in serving Alison’s cause as a great architect.
Colt continued to help mould wonderful designs for championship play and humble golfers alike until his retirement in 1945. There are far too many to list, but a short sample makes it abundantly clear that Colt was an extraordinary architect. Swinley Forest, St Georges Hill, Toronto, Hamilton, Co Sligo, Wentworth, Sunningdale New, Kennemer, Utrecht, Royal Portrush, Muirfield, Lytham & St Annes, Ganton, Formby, Royal Liverpool, Southerndown, Porthcawl, Aberdovey, Burnham & Berrow, Royal Worlington & Newmarket, Royal Co Down and on and on and on.