Harry Colt might be described as the founder of golf course architecture in the British Isles. Golf obviously existed before he came along, but it was largely a game of straight lines and sharp angles. He softened those lines, introduced curves, and long before the art of pacing courses came into being, created visual challenges to tease and intrigue the golfer. Above all, he was the first to appreciate how golf could be a delightful walk through beautiful vistas.
Colt was a lawyer by training, but during his time at Cambridge enjoyed success at this relatively new game – he was Captain of the University side in 1889, then his first chambers were in Hastings. However he soon left chambers behind to pursue a life in the game of golf and was one of the founders of Rye Golf Club in East Sussex. It was he who laid the course out there through the Camber sandhills and this sparked a fascination for turning rugged landscapes into golfing treasures.
After being honorary secretary at Rye for a few years, Harry Colt became the first secretary at the new Sunningdale Golf Club which had opened at the turn of the century with a Willie Park Jnr course. But design had become his love and passion and he finally set forth on a life as a full time architect.
His two experiences as a golf club Secretary doubtless led Colt to appreciate the advantages of a golf course having two convenient starting places but up to that time few courses had this feature, only having the 1st and the 18th holes near the clubhouse. The first of his courses after Rye to incorporate this benefit was Stoke Poges (now Stoke Park), designed in 1908 and the next was Denham which opened for play on the 29th of May 1911. The direction of the holes at Denham is also varied to avoid the monotony of the wind and the course is designed to be enjoyed by golfers of all abilities.
Colt principally concentrated his efforts in the UK, his time almost equally divided between new commissions and revising existing layouts. By the time he had finished, he had left his mark in part or in whole on some 300 of Britain’s most cherished courses. At the seaside in addition to Rye, he gave us Royal Lytham & St Annes, Royal Portrush, Co Sligo and much of the character and current layout of the Honourable Company’s pride and joy at Muirfield. Inland there are those jewels of the Surrey and Berkshire sand belt, the New Course at Sunningdale, Swinley Forest and Wentworth, plus many others throughout the Home Counties such as Denham, Stoke Park, Beaconsfield and Camberley Heath.
Colt’s influence can also be seen in the USA, Australia, France, Germany, Holland, Spain and Sweden at courses such as St Germain just outside Paris, Pedrena in Northern Spain and Kennemer in Holland where he either worked on his own or in conjunction with his partners C.H.Alison, J.S.F. Morrison and Alastair Mackenzie.