Monday, 27 December 2010

#14 Tom Simpson

Best Course: Morfontaine

Other notable work: County Louth, Chantilly, Royal Antwerp, Cruden Bay (w/Fowler)

Notable Renovation: Ballybunion

Overview: Tom Simpson, the eccentric, was never short of opinion or style. When he showed up to visit a new commission he would often arrive in a Rolls Royce to show the members that he did not need them and thereby was one up in an argument. He was very fond of the saying - being critical is far easier than being correct – of course he was always correct in his own mind. He certainly cut quite a presence showing up to a site wearing a beret and occasionally a cape. It makes you immediately think of Frank Lloyd Wright – only working with golf holes rather than buildings. The personalities and talent are very comparable.
Tom Simpson was particularly prolific in the mainland of Europe designing and renovating a number of very high profile courses. Simpson also had a hand in many major changes to famous links courses including some important changes to Ballybunion. His partnership with Fowler provided him with a great mentor and a string of terrific courses to illustrate his skills.

Praise for the work: Simpson has often been pointed at as a key figure in the development of strategic golf course design. In his book, The Architectural Side of Golf (written with Wethered) he talked about the ideal course and the strategies of golf hole design. He was highly critical of the penal school, calling it the dark ages. His courses were full of options from the tee often with the opportunity to try and take shorter routes or play for ideal position. While many of his hazards required strategic decisions, often it was his green sites that really dictated play. His love of sharp slopes, often combined with some really wild undulations, made the position of the approach paramount. The addition of many short grass slopes around green sites often made the need for accuracy even greater and also added wonderful recovery options around greens.

His routings were magnificent and seemed to flow through the site with ease. He always managed to place a hole or two in a magnificent natural setting that left the player breathless from tee to green. Often these were the holes full of intrigue that required a little more thought - coming at a time when you wanted to soak in the surroundings.

Criticisms: Tom Simpson was not shy and he certainly was not subtle. He often pushed his architecture right to the limits often eliciting complaint from the players that his designs were unfair or two difficult. He often left in natural features or added quirky little knobs or rolls around greens that would infuriate the player who seemingly had hit a perfect shot and then watched it bound into trouble. There are many who have dismissed his architecture as too quirky.

Baltray's 5th from behind
(Courtesy of Aiden Bradley)
Great Quotes: The point, however, which we have to consider, is that although golf architecture may be a curious and irregular form of architecture, it is architecture none the less. It has to do with building, planning, constructing in as true sense as the most ambitious works of genius with which the art is usually associated. Cathedrals, bungalows, gardens and golf courses may appear to be conflicting examples of constructive ability, yet the principles governing them follow precisely on the same lines.

Favourite Course: Cruden Bay
Cruden Bay is one of the more odd and interesting layouts in golf. It has everything from blinds shots, hazards in the centre of play, punchbowl greens, spectacular carry angles, natural links holes, back to back par threes, a key burn, transition holes through to plateau greens. The variety from start to finish is stunning, from the settings changes through to the mixture of strategies. There are many average holes but often they are important transitions to the next series of spectacular holes – and some are unbelievably good.
What I take from him: I’m going to buy my cape next week. It is the green sites that stand out to me. I love the incredible amount of contour on the surfaces, the use of short grass as a primary defense particularly on green sites on natural plateaus. I find it fascinating how short grass can be a primary defense and the bunkers being a secondary defense. Finally the knolls and rolls around the green (often in front) that really have an impact on play and recovery.

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