Monday, 27 December 2010

#17 Herbert Fowler

(image courtesy of Geoff Shackelford's "the Golden Age of Architecture)

Best Course: Walton Heath

Other notable work: Los Angeles CC (South), Berkshire (Red&Blue), Eastward Ho

Notable Renovations: Royal North Devon, Cruden Bay, Royal Aberdeen, Royal Lytham & St. Annes

Overview: In an era where a new course was often planned in as little as a single day, Herbert Fowler spent two years planning and creating his new course at Walton Heath. Fowler spent numerous visits on horseback first finding the best natural green sites and then tracing them back to uncover natural holes. He repeated this process over and over until he had found his course. This was a process he continued on once again even borrowing a horse from Myopia Hunt when he was laying out Eastward Ho.

In the early 1920’s Fowler partnered with Tom Simpson, with Fowler concentrating mainly on the work in the British Isles while Simpson did a majority of work on the continent. Fowler spent a considerable time in the United States working on a series of projects in California and the great Eastward Ho near Cape Cod. One interesting note is that his firm for a short period of time also included both JF Abercromby and Arthur Croombe.

Praise for the work: Bernard Darwin said of Fowler, “I never knew anyone who could more swiftly take on the possibilities of the ground” Fowler had an interesting approach of finding natural par three locations and then trying to work the holes to and from those locations in order to create the most interesting routing. His architecture was not full of grand flourishes and would be best described as understated. He kept his tee sites simple with many being on native grade. He used his bunkers sparingly, concentrating on key strategic locations on a relatively flat site like Walton Heath. He let the land become the challenge when he had great natural terrain to work with and the rolls and undulations stood out more than the features that he created. His greens were often right on the natural grade and often simply extensions of the fairway. Others were carefully placed on small rises to add some additional difficulty. The one thing he never seemed to do was to add mounding or other backings to add definition, he chose instead to embrace what was always there.

Royal North Devon's 5th (from Golfclubatlas)

Criticisms: The main one is that his work is dull. I think this comes from his choice to often let natural grasses or native plants supply the contrast on a wide open site rather than adding bunkers or features that would supply a little extra definition to a hole.
His work is very plain to some and wonderfully restrained to others.

Great Quotes: “God builds golf links and the less man meddles the better for all concerned.”

My favourite: Walton Heath was my favourite for how it plays. I enjoyed the opportunity to try and use the ground to gain advantage and also to try recovery shots. I found I had lots of options on how to attack the holes. I was also very interested in how much the playing experience to a front seat over the visuals – very similar to my feelings about St. Andrew’s. The par threes were all particularly compelling and interesting.

Eastward Ho's incredible undulations

What I take from him: Take your time on the routing, and don’t be afraid to walk it through a few times to be sure you haven’t left a better on out on the ground. Restraint – there are times when the architect feels they are too smart and too important and simply get in the way of great natural golf. If the ground is good for golf – find the holes – and get out of the way. The course will bring joy for ever – even if it doesn’t produce postcards.

1 comment:

  1. I would like to add that Fowler had a number of real estate investments in California. And contrary to Shackelford's "light-weight" research, Fowler designed the North and South courses of Los Angeles Country Club in 1920. George Thomas and Billy Bell reworked about 50 percent of the North course in the late 20's. He also laid out the original Rancho Golf Course in Los Angeles and redesigned Victoria Golf Club in Riverside to grass.
    Fowler's more famous work has been forgotten, like Pebble Beach, where he did extensive redesigning, including creating the "best finishing hole in golf", the 18th, Del Monte, The Presidio in San Francisco, Crystal Springs, Del Paso, Sequoyah, Burlingame, Victoria in Riverside, and he had more than a hand in designing the Olympic Club's two courses as well as Harding Park and Lincoln Park of San Francisco.

    Fowler was on the R and A board and was a good player. He was also the judge who "discovered" Alister MacKenzie. In researching Fowler I have noticed that he is almost never mentioned in California. He certainly had a huge influence on George Thomas, yet it is only today that he is being recognized for his design of LACC North.