Golf Course Architect Herbert Fowler was born in North London in 1856. A gifted natural athlete, Herbert Fowler excelled at most sports but particularly cricket. At the tender age of 22, he was made a partner of a banking firm.

Herbert Fowler & His Introduction to Golf

During a business trip to Devon in 1879, Fowler first experienced golf at Westward Ho! Almost a decade later, after a successful cricket career, he would turn his attention to golf. After a visit to St Andrew's, he became a member at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and later the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Muirfield.

Herbert Fowler's Financial Reversal - Golf's Gain?

Held by many to be an inept businessman, Herbert Fowler was on the verge of bankruptcy in the late 1890s. In 1899, Sir Cosmo Bonsor (Herbert Fowler's brother in law) presented the idea of building a golf course in Surrey which would become known as Walton Heath Old. Following this rousing success, more remodeling and design projects followed.

Herbert Fowler's Early Solo Career

Work began on Walton Heath Old in 1899 and the golf course was under construction in early 1902. GA Franks & Co were contracted to oversee the construction work. It is reported the last green was sown by James Carter & Co. on April 1, 1902. Walton Heath (Old) opened for play on May 14, 1904. Willie Park Jr's Sunningdale now had competition for the best inland golf course in the country. In the same year, James Braid arrived at Walton Heath to serve the club on a  seven year contract. His tenure laster a total of 46 years!

Walton Heath benefitted from an additional 9 holes in 1907. (Now holes five to 13 on the New Course.) This would be the genesis of the New Course. From the beginning, the two courses would often play as a composite course. In fact, the Autumn Medal was played on 8 holes from the 'New' nine and 10 from the 'Old'. Eventually, 9 more holes were added and Walton Heath would sport two 18-hole courses, the Old and New, from 1913. Walton Heath would become the first 36 hole golf club in England.

The success of Walton Heath lead to more work for Herbert Fowler. Ganton Golf Club was one of the first to reach out with much of his advice in play from August 1908. His work at Ganton proved his work at Walton Heath was more than sheer fluke. The world of golf had a new hot hand in the golf architecture world... a challenger to Harry Colt and possible successor to Willie Park Jr.

Royal North Devon, or Westward Ho!, seemed to be a constant muse for Herbert Fowler. He lobbied hard for the club and course to host the Open. In 1908, he would lengthen several holes, add three one-shot holes and re-bunker six more. About the same time, Burnham and Berrow Golf Club, called in Herbert Fowler to lengthen the course, reduced blindness, and made use of some of the flatter land. The changes were short lived as just a few years later, in 1913, Harry Colt made recommendations ultimately implemented in 1923.

Huddersfield received some attention from Fowler and the 7th and 8th holes are of his vintage. Southerndown enlisted Fowler's help in 1907 and 10 holes were altered. Lindrick Golf Club followed closely and applied Fowler's advice and altered 5 holes. A collaboration of sorts with Willie Park Jr, the updated course was opened for play in October of 1909.

Halifax Golf Club implemented Fowler changes in 1908 with the work done in house. About the same time, he visited Alwoodley Golf Club, (which he gave credit to Harry Colt for) and crossed paths with the then secretary, Dr. Alister MacKenzie.

In 1910, Abbeydale improved the existing 9 hole layout and added 9 more. Plans were approved in 1911 and the course opened for play in November of 1912. The First World War saw the course turned over to agriculture but Fowler would return following the war to reinstate the course.

Solo designs were also embarked upon. West Surrey was a collaboration with JH Taylor. Taylor routed the course with bunkering and greens left to Herbert Fowler. Interestingly, Herbert Fowler paid homage to John Low (of Concerning Golf fame) and Paton's 4th at Woking on the 13th hole. This hole would inspire Tom Simpson to take up the trade and eventually become Fowler's partner. West Dorset Golf Club was moved in 1911 and Fowler laid out 9 holes. After WW1, the club pro extended the number to 18 and it became known as Bridport & West Dorset.

Delamere Forest was finished and opened for play in 1911. Cooden Beach opened in 1912. 18 holes still exist but the private 9 hole course built for the client, the 8th Earl De La Warr, at his Buckhurst seat in Kent reverted to farmland during the war. Beau Desert and Bull Bay were commissioned by the 6th Marquess of Anglesey. Bull Bay opened in August 1913 by a foursomes match of Herbert Fowler and James Braid vs Tom Simpson and JH Taylor.

East Devon also employed the services of Fowler, which opened for play in December of 1914. Prior to 1914, Broadstone too felt the hand of Herbert Fowler but later turned to Harry Colt.

Golf Courses Solo Designed by Herbert Fowler

  • Beau Desert
  • Bull Bay
  • Delamere Forest
  • Walton Heath Old & New

Herbert Fowler & Tom Simpson

Despite it being reported in the press that Fowler was entering retirement in 1911, he had been consulted with on the New course at St Andrews which was eventually built by Harry Colt. He had also begun working with Tom Simpson at some point by 1913.

Tom Simpson brought continental new build pedigree (by 1913 he had no less than 8 new builds in France alone) to the partnership coupled with his work at Cruden Bay from roughly 1908. Both men had a keen interest in the Old Course at St Andrews.

An early collaboration was North Foreland in Kent. A nine hole course added a second nine but the 18 hole short course of particular note was added in 1920.

Cowdray Park, a Jack White original design, was rethought by the partnership in 1913, with Tom Simpson as the lead associate.

Additional projects early on were Shirley Park and RAC at Woodcote Park. Shirley Park opened in July 1914 and Royal Automobile Club opening in July of 1915.

In 1919, Yelverton reached out for help to improve their 18 holes from 1904 and 1912. The updated design was opened for playing 1923. it would appear Herbert Fowler did the lion's share of the work. Saunton was also keen to update its links following the war with Fowler's changes in play by 1921.

Fowler was also busy in North Wales at Aberdovey. Fowler built two new holes, the current 12th considered to be one of golf's great one shot holes. Half the holes were altered and remained intact until James Braid was called upon in 1931 to make further changes.

Simpson and Fowler also undertook a 9-hole project at Marlborough in 1921. Eight of the nine holes laid out by the partnership still exist on the 18 hole layout.

In 1922, Herbert Fowler pipped Colt & MacKenzie at the post for the work at Bradford Golf Club which would open in 1923. About the same time, Fowler would get his second chance at Abbeydale.

Perhaps one of the partnerships best courses in England is Blackwell. Again, Fowler and Simpson competed against Mr Harry Colt and won the contract. Here it would appear Tom Simpson was the preferred partner as he would return to deal with a few matters alone in 1926.

Herbert Fowler though had some of his own work for a previous client at Bull Bay. Fowler's original nine holes were supplemented with another nine by July 1922.

Herbert Fowler's Contribution to Golf in America

When one thinks of Golden Age golf course architecture in America, and in particular California, one tends towards Alister MacKenzie and perhaps George C Thomas. John Jones, of the Golf Historical Society, called Herbert Fowler, California's Donald Ross. (A Matter of Course - p. 146)

An early trip in 1913 laid the foundation for a further trip post WW1. At 64, Herbert Fowler traveled to California in 1920 to stake his claim. Fowler travelled alone withTom Simpson staying behind to oversee the projects in Europe. With most of the opportunities sewn up in the continental north east, Fowler looked west for his opportunities.

His legacy was cemented in 1920 when he proposed the North and South courses at Los Angeles Country Club. George C Thomas would assist Herbert Fowler in carrying out his plans. In 1927, Thomas would return and leave his mark on LACC. Its is estimated that Thomas made at least six new holes and used Fowler's routing on the rest. Bunkers and greens were completely 'blown up.' (Read the complete article written in advance of the 2024/ 123rd US Open.) Of note, both Gil Hanse and Geoff Shackelford reinstated Fowler's original 17th hole on the North Course. It plays as a bonus hole between the current 17th and 18th. It was known as "The Terror" but is referred to by Hanse as the 'Little 17th Hole'.

Whilst George C Thomas was happy to work alongside Herbert Fowler, Robert Hunter seen the Englishman as direct competition. It would appear he went out of his way to scupper Fowler's plans of conquest in California. (See: A Matter of Course Chapter 14) Both Donald Ross and CB MacDonald were condemnatory in their remarks of Herbert Fowler's foray into American golf course architecture.

On his way back East in the autumn of 1920, Fowler would visit Cape Cod and survey a site that had been previous scoped by Willie Park Jr in October 1916. The club was then known as Great Point Golf Club or Chatham Country Club. It is now known as Eastward Ho!, counterpart to Fowler's muse, Westward Ho!. It was opened for play in 1922.

In 1921, Fowler was appointed to remodel the existing course at the Olympic Club, build a new Course and add a 9 hole second course. Done in the manner of North Foreland's 18 hole short course, Fowler used five acres for nine holes ranging in length from 100 to 200 yards. Another interesting appointment was at Lake Merced, announced the same year.

Fowler's other contribution to golf in America are 15 current holes at Pebble Beach's Del Monte Course. The 6th, 7th and 8th are not Fowler but the remaining holes are.

Perhaps Fowler's most enduring legacy is the 18th at Pebble Beach. The closing hole was changed from an insipid par 4 to perhaps golf's greatest closing hole. The back tee on the peninsula, centre-line tree and bunker along the coast line has cemented Fowler's legacy as a world class architect.

Golf Courses Solo Designed by Herbert Fowler in America

  • Eastward Ho!
  • Los Angeles Country Club North
  • Olympic Club x 3
  • Lake Merced Golf & Country Club
  • Del Monte (Pebble Beach)
  • Del Monte (Pebble Beach 18th)
  • Victoria Club
  • Presidio Golf Club
  • Crystal Springs Country Club
  • Lincoln Park
  • Sequoyah Country Club
  • Burlingame Country Club
  • Menlo Park Golf & Country Club
  • Del Paso Country Club
  • Monterey Bay Golf & Country Club (No Longer Exists)
  • Rancho Golf Club (No Longer Exists)
  • Los Angeles Country Club South (No Longer Exists)

Fowler & Simpson Add JF Abercromby & Croome

In 1923, Fowler & Simpson became Fowler, Abercromby, Simpson & Croome. JF Abercromby had laid out Worplesdon, Coombe Hill, The Addington and Bleakdown (now known as West Byfleet) prior to the merger.

One of the early projects undertaken by the conglomerate was Knole Park. Generally attributed to JF Abercromby, Tom Simpson also appears to have played an integral role. Lord Sackville's comments on opening day attribute the course to JF Abercromby.

Fowler took the lead at both Lindrick and Hallamshire in 1923. Huddersfield provided more work in 1925 along with a revamped 18 holes at Taunton and Pickeridge.

Fowler's work during the 1920's following his American sojourn fell off considerably. He had suffered a heart attack and was nearing 70. For a man who reportedly considered retirement as early as 1911, he accomplished a surprising amount of work in the golden years of his career.

Herbert Fowler's Late Solo Career

In 1928, the partnership of Fowler, Abercromby, Simpson & Croome was dissolved. Further, Tom Simpson and Herbert Fowler also parted ways. Tom Simpson and Philip MacKenzie Ross had worked together since 1921 and forged their own partnership.

Fowler received one of his final commissions at The Berkshire. Two courses, the Red and Blue were laid out and opened for play in December of 1928.

Fowler would become the Secretary at Ranelagh in the late 1920's after a highly speculative investment bankrupted Fowler.

Herbert Fowler was approaching 80 but had one more project in him. Fowler had redesigned the first course in 1921 at Stanton and was called upon to construct the second course. Unfortunately, both courses were lost to the war effort in WW2.

Fowler would die aged 85 and be buried a few miles from Walton Heath.

Golf Courses Solo Designed by Herbert Fowler

  • The Berkshire Red & Blue
  • Saunton x 2

A Closer Look at Herbert Fowler

We wish to thank friend of Evalu18 and collaborator, Keith Cutten, for the material for this short biography. For a more detailed account, you can find his book, The Evolution of Golf Course Design

Derek Markham and Philip Truett's book, 'A Matter of Course', is the final word on the great man. It is encyclopaedic in its approach and gives the Alister MacKenzie Society a run for its money with regards to definitive research.

Herbert Fowler's Design Portfolio

In addition to the courses which have a biography page on Evalu18, Herbert Fowler also designed:

  • Abbeydale Golf Club
  • The Bradford Golf Club
  • Cooden Beach
  • East Devon Golf Club
  • Marlborough
  • Mindhead & West Somerset
  • Shirley Park
  • Vivary Golf Club
  • West Kent
  • West Surrey

Herbert Fowler's Biography: A Matter of Course

Visit the link for an honest review of the Herbert Fowler biography: A Matter of Course. Much of the information contained in this biography was obtained from the book or was used to verify previous research I had already concluded.

If you are willing to put in the effort, the book will acquaint you with the man behind some of the greatest golf to ever exist on the planet. The book is well worth the purchase price and is a small sum to part with to have access to what must have been decades of research from ardent and dedicated admirers.

Architectural Hallmarks

Herbert Fowler was known for establishing natural-looking green sites and working backwards to the tee.

Bernard Darwin described Herbert Fowler as “perhaps the most daring and original of all golfing architects..."

Topography used to test with his courses following the contours of the land. Much of the golf is built 'at grade'.

Bunkers were deep and hazards were concentrated around the greens as opposed to the fairway to test the tee shot.

Fowler believed accuracy and straight hitting should be rewarded more than length.

Understated, simple and sparing with the use of hazards. Seldom were bunkers used in front of greens and if they were, they tightly guarded the entrance. Of interest, he was partial to bunkers behind greens but felt they were secondary to those flanking the green. Grassed fairway hollows are considered to be a trademark his designs.

Herbert Fowler & His Ideal Golf Course

In 1913, he wrote the ideal golf course would contain the following:

  1. The course must be by the seaside amongst dunes with fine turf.
  2. The clubhouse should allow two starting points.
  3. There should be no crossing and routing intuitive.
  4. There should be at least 4 one-shot holes of varying length.
  5. No two holes should play consecutively in the same direction.

Fowler admits his ideal course is at odds with the Old Course on 4 of the 5 points listed.