Sunday, 2 January 2011

Finding Harry Colt

Colt Plan for Toronto
In the early 1960's, Toronto Golf Club was in the process of replacing their pro shop. John Hunt, the long time head professional and an avid golf collector, was rooting through the old pro shop to see if there was anything left to salvage or keep before the building was demolished. He found, hidden in a cubby hole on an old wooden roller, the original parchment plan drawn by Harry Shapland Colt. Toronto Golf Club had selected H.S. Colt because at the time, he was widely recognized to be the finest architect in golf. John had found one of his rare drawings. In hindsight we recognize that John rescued one of golf’s great historical documents. He took the document home to keep it with the rest of his collection. Upon his retirement, John had the plan restored by the Royal Ontario Museum and professionally framed. He then presented the plan to the club. John’s motives for returning it were simple: “That is where it should be. With the club.” The club is currently in the middle of a historically based restoration, and the Colt plan will help inform key decisions in this process.

It seems incredible to think that important documents such as this would not be prudently cared for. But it is important to take perspective on what was occurring in golf at the time. Modernization was the vogue – not only for golf, but for society. Think about how many historical buildings were knocked down to make way for modern structures of glass and steel and cement. The idea of preserving or restoring anything – let alone golf courses – was not a consideration. “New” was in fashion and history had little or no value at this time. Rob McDannold, the respected pro of Hamilton Golf & Country Club put it best “In those days a typical club would not be aware of the history they possessed, because to them it was not yet history.”

Hamilton Golf and Country Club, the site of the 2006 Canadian Open, received a call in 2003 from the recent widow of a former club president. She had found the original Colt hole by hole drawings as well as the course layout. They were in her basement and she wanted to know whether the club would be interested in them or should she put them in the trash.

Rob McDannold strongly feels that the former president saved the plans and that, “If the club had them, they would have been destroyed.” Between the 1950’s and the 1970’s many amateur historians or collectors removed artifacts from clubs, particularly when the club showed no interest in preserving and keeping the documents. Sometimes they had the club’s blessing, sometimes they did not. Often they would take it home before it got tossed away. Unfortunately, many of these same people are now left in an awkward position – how do they return these historically relevant items? They may choose to hold on to them rather than face questions about how they acquired them.

Colt Plan for Pine Valley
The latest example of this occurred recently when a Pine Valley plan became available on eBay. A gentleman found a fascinating old golf course plan drawn on vellum while visiting a flea market in Berlin, New Jersey. He doesn’t recognize the plan since he knows little about golf. Since it is dated 1913, he decides to spend the flea market price of $54 and take his chances. He keeps it for three years and then decides to put the plan up for sale on eBay. He expects to get between $500 and $1000 because he has figured out that the plan is of a highly regarded golf courses. But this is no ordinary plan. This is the missing H.S. Colt plan for Pine Valley, for which many research historians have been looking for decades. It is the plan that will help solve the endless debate over who designed Pine Valley.

A historian named Wayne Morrison made arrangements with the gentlemen to verify the plan. Upon authenticating the plan, he then assembled a group of historians to privately purchase the plan for $15,000, with the intention of returning the plan to the club. To the credit of the seller, once he realized the significance of the document, he also wanted it to find its way back to the club. The club decided to reimburse the purchasers for the amount they had spent to return the plan. Only a well-heeled club like Pine Valley, or a wealthy collector, could afford to acquire a document as important as this. The club was fortunate in this instance, because this was a collector’s dream.

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