Monday, 27 December 2010

#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.

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