Golf Architect Tom Simpson was a wealthy Cambridge-educated Lawyer. He was on hand at Woking Golf Club to witness John Low and Stuart Paton make successive alterations to the course. Inspired, Tom Simpson penned a series of letters, appearing in Golf Illustrated in 1908 and 1909, describing the merits of golf course architecture and the placement and design of features.

Tom Simpson's Partnerships & Collaborations

In 1910, Tom Simpson began to focus on design by joining Herbert Fowler's architectural firm.  In 1923, the partnership expanded to include J.F. Abercromby and Arthur Croome. Although they collaborated on several projects in the UK, Tom Simpson's work focused on continental Europe.

Between 1919 and 1931, Tom Simpson laid out Chiberta (1925), Morfontaine Grand Parcours (1928), Chantilly New (1929), Chantilly du Lys (1929), Deauville (Biarritz) (NLE) (18 Holes & 9 Holes in 1929), Hardelot (with P.M. Ross 1931). He also revised Morfontaine Valliere (1913), Fontainbleau (1919) and Chantilly Old (1927).

Simpson & Co was established in 1931. Molly Gourlay became a partner in 1936. Ken (C.K.) Cotton and Javier Arana would later become apprentices and associates.

Colourful Persona

Golf Architect Tom Simpson was thought to be eccentric with an artistic flair. He was a consummate writer, drew with pen and ink, painted with watercolour, and had a passion for needlework. Perceived to be opinionated and self-promoting his outward appearance was balanced by admiration for others' work and contribution to the craft of golf course design. The evidence of such a conclusion? He was a mentor to others, sharing his wealth of wisdom and vision. Besides, he favourably mentions Colt, Abercromby, and Fowler with saving golf from the Dark Ages.

A Closer Look at Tom Simpson

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

Golf Architect Tom Simpson is perhaps best known for his book, The Architectural Side of Golf. Also, the book Simpson & Co provides an excellent overview of Tom Simpson's life and work.

Read More About Tom Simpson

The Tom Simpson Society was founded to further the knowledge of his life and work.

Architectural Hallmarks

Tom Simpson's Design Hallmarks:

  • Routings often contain sets of triangles. In fact, when routing a golf course he would divide the parcel of land into three triangles. Every natural green site would be explored and identified as suited for a Par 3, 4, or 5.
  • Strategic placement & minimal amounts of lace-edged bunkers.
  • Depressions in the manner of the Valley of Sin in the front and around the greens.
  • Teeing grounds should never be raised. Nor should they be square or oblong.
  • Green orientation is extremely important with a proper line of approach quite obvious.
  • There should be no more than 3 bunkers around a putting green. They should eat into the green and not be placed symmetrically.
  • Greens should be irregular and elongated. Neither square, rectangular, nor oblong. The green size was limited and not very large.
  • Greens were created by finding natural sites & choosing the proper line of approach. The centre of the green was chosen and then he pegged out the points of the wing bunkers.
  • A poor green would be easily accessed from multiple sides. Greens should allow only one easy approach from one given line or one given zone.
  • Visibility was very important to Simpson. He believed you should see your target. On a short shot, you should see the hole if that was the target. On longer shots, the green as a whole may be the target and therefore the pin and hole could well be obscured.
  • Tom Simpson felt flat greens were unnatural and boring. However, there was a limit to slope and undulations. He felt tiered greens had merit or even a depression in the middle, so long as they were in keeping with the natural surrounds and contours.
  • Fairways should always be irregular and devoid of straight lines.
  • Tom Simpson felt strongly about the merits of dogleg holes. Many holes at St Andrews are to be laid as doglegs despite having the look of a straightforward hole. The 14th was an example of a seemingly straight hole that needs to be played as a dogleg due to strategic bunkering and approach to the green.

Tom Simpson's 9 Vital Characteristics

In the book, The Game of Golf, Tom Simpson suggested every good golf course should possess the following characteristics:

1 - A course must have variety, so as to stimulate the imagination and encourage clever play as far as possible.

2 - Good visibility is indispensable if the holes are to present a problem that needs to be thought out... in the matter of attack. Blindness can be a virtue.

3 - There must always be an alternative route to the green at the two-shot holes, the dangers of which will tempt the tiger to try to get home in two. This is not to say the course should not be easy. No one has any affection for an easy golf course.

4 - The course should not measure less than 6000 yards or more than 6500; it should provide the utmost variety of shots for every class of player.

5 - There should be as much triangulation as possible so that no two consecutive holes are played with or against the same wind.

6 - Every advantage should be taken of the most striking features of the ground.

7 - There should be at least two, or preferably three, starting points in the neighbourhood of the clubhouse.

8 - Avoid parallel fairways and out-of-bounds on the slice side.

9 - Avoid artificial construction work as much as possible, and when resort must be had to it see that it harmonises with the surrounding ground.

Tom Simpson's 4 Essential Qualities

In the Preface to The Architectural Side of Golf, Tom Simpson listed four essential qualities of good golf:

1 - Classicism - design should not depart from the Scottish model, intention, and spirit of the game.

2 - Cerebral - the golfer must use his head as much as his hands. Mental agility must match his physical ability.

3 - Artistic - a golf course should decorate a landscape not disfigure it with the strictest economy of means.

4 - Vitality - the course should feel alive, not dead and insipid, lacking the energy of expression.