I recently purchased England’s Finest Links, a comprehensive history of the club and links of Royal Cinque Ports GC. Most readers will know that golf club histories can be dry reading even for members and I wondered if the author, David Dobby, could produce a good read for the interested non-member. Written in much the same format as Heather and Heaven, Phil Pilley’s award winning history of Walton Heath GC; Mr Dobby’s distinguished effort managed to engage me while still providing detailed information.
At 288 pages including appendices, this 9.5” by 6.5” book is replete with well chosen photos, both colour and black & white. Combined with the intimate anecdotes of the club’s major characters, the pace of the book hums.
The first six chapters outline the founding of the club and course design developments up to the Bridgland era starting in 1950. Very much up and down times these were. While Deal (the name Cinque Ports is often known by) hosted The Open in 1909 and 1920, the 1923 Amateur and the 1936 English Amateur in the early years, yet there was heartbreak with the loss of several Opens due to the outbreak of WWI (1915), flooding (‘38 & ‘49) and WWII (1942). It is quite possible that had Deal hosted a few of the later Opens then it may well have continued in the rota.
For those inclined toward learning of the course evolution, there is no better person than Mr Dobby to relay that information for he is the club historian. A great many pages, including maps and published descriptions by well known figures of the time are provided and what a thought- provoking account they provide.
Deal went through an extended period in the doldrums. Royal Cinque Ports wouldn’t be blessed with a major event until the 1964 Brabazon Trophy won by Michael Bonallack, that consummate English amateur who went on to win five Amateurs and represent GB&I nine times in the Walker Cup. Bonallack stayed in golf’s limelight as Secretary to the R&A for 15 years and Captain of the club in 2000.
Mr. Dobby does a very good job of chronicling the second half of the history by focusing on club characters such as Gordon Taylor and the flooding issues which precipitated the construction of the sea wall defences. It isn’t until the early ‘80s when the club begins to emerge from its long slumber by once again being recognized by the R&A and other golf bodies as a worthy ground for major amateur events. The resilience in overcoming wars, many floods and financial hardship is marked by the pillbox on the 16th fairway and may it never be removed. If one has any interest in club histories, England’s Finest Links is one of the finest of its type and undoubtedly one of the most deserving of subject matters.
Information on the book and how it can be ordered is available via the link below
In recent weeks I have embarked on several trips taking me from Aberdeen to Cornwall to Herefordshire and Kent. I played many distinguished and exceptional courses, including two of my favourites, Kington and St Enodoc. I rediscovered Perranporth, a gem if there ever was one, stumbled across Carnoustie’s wonderful Burnside links and teed it up at three Royals. The weather was (and continues to be) outstanding, generally providing for biscuit brown, fast and firm conditions. The line-up was as follows:
Trump Aberdeen: Touted by many as a top 100 World course.
Carnoustie Burnside: One of the biggest surprises this summer. A lot of subtle shots mixed with interesting greens.
Royal Aberdeen: A very classy and difficult out n’ back links. The city doesn’t have much of a reputation, but e enjoyed ourselves and dined very well.
Cruden Bay: This trip confirmed for me its greatness, much in the same vein as North Berwick.
Montrose Medal: An ancient links with a handful of lovely holes.
Kington: The best bunkerless course with which I am acquainted; not to be missed.
Bearwood Lakes: A newish parkland/heathland hybrid on beautifully rolling land not far from Reading.
Perranporth: A rollicking links with an outstanding set of short tw0-shotters.
St Enodoc: Beauty and brains!
Royal Ashdown Forest: A highly reputable bunker-free design which is like stepping back to 1900.
Royal Cinque Ports: A sleeper which gets better and better with each visit.
There you have it, eleven courses, all of which are worth playing for one reason or another. However, it is Perranporth which tugs at me for a quick return visit. Maybe it will come off next summer. In the meantime I will have to remain content with visiting a course I have yet to see; Hesketh. When I do hear talk of Hesketh it is in hushed tones extolling its subtle excellence. We shall see!
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.
Southerndown is a delightful course located high above the British Channel with an excellent architectural pedigree. Nothing less than the sterling trio of HS Colt, H Fowler & T Simpson had a hand in creating course. The club is perhaps best known as the host of The Duncan Putter, named in honour of one the most esteemed golfing families in Wales. The Putter is the opening 72 hole tournament of the Great Britain and Ireland amateur schedule. Competitors will hope to get an early jump on impressing Walker Cup selectors by playing well.
The Duncan’s family background was in journalism. Lt Colonel Tony Duncan would likely have become a journalist, but his father, John Duncan, sold the business. After moving to Southerndown John would win the club championship on three occasions well after being crowned Welsh Amateur Champion twice. But it is to Tony Duncan with which we can trace the Putter. Inaugurated in 1959, the Duncan Putter has always enjoyed great support perhaps because of the Colonel’s impeccable reputation as an excellent golfer and meticulous organizer. Tony Duncan won four Welsh Amateur Championships, finished runner-up in the 1939 British Amateur and captained the 1953 Walker Cup side.
Past winners of the Duncan Putter include a bevy of wins by Peter McEvoy, himself a tw0-time winner of the Amateur Championship, Walker Cup player on five occasions and the winning captain of the 1999 and 2001 Walker Cups. Long time stalwart of British amateur golf, Gary Wolstenholme won the Putter three times during the 1990s. He bookended these victories with two British Amateur titles (1991 & 1999) and six appearances in the Walker Cup. Perhaps we are witnessing the beginnings of another legendary amateur career. This year’s champion was not only a surprise, but the victory marks the youngest winner of the event. 15 year old Welsh golfer from the Vale Resort, Tim Harry, claimed the prize after stellar golf over nearly four rounds. Tim Harry led after each day’s play and despite losing the lead midway through the final round, this product of the Welsh Golfing Union’s elite programme fought back to nip Ireland’s Shane McGlynn and English player Freddie Sheridan-Mills who closed with an impressive 64. Harry’s two rounds in the 60s might seem impressive, but it was round two’s 57 which peaks interest. A long delay with a ruling made it impossible for the field to finish the round, consequently only 15 holes counted!
Ted’s mother, Justine was on the bag during the weekend and is a steadying influence; reminding him that GCSE’s are just around the corner and these take precedent over Ted’s playing schedule. However, with a +1 handicap and sitting atop the Pinnacle Order of Merit (the top 7 are invited to represent Wales in the Home International Series held at Ganton), Ted may have dreams of stealing a spot on the Walker Cup team which come September will travel to Long Island to play the fabled National Golf Links against a formidable American squad – and indeed, why not?