The early morning mist at Royal Portrush
Royal Portrush

Some might say that the name Harry Colt is not thrown around nearly as much as it should be. Although he is a character that sits at the tip of many a tongue, much of the golfing world still tends to overlook his influence in favor of his contemporaries or other more modern designers. His name is not found in the Hall of Fame and his level of influence has been somewhat shadowed over time. On the other hand, the golfers that do know, know! With over 300 golf courses to his name (115 originals), and a staggering 11 tracks in the World Top 100, Henry Shapland Colt is truly in a league of his own.

Birth of an Era

Harry Colt
Colt at Royal Zoute,
Belgium

He was born in the year 1869 in Highgate, a small village on the outskirts of London. Harry Colt took a slightly unusual route into golf course architecture compared to most. He had no budding career as a young professional or prestigious championship titles to his name. And although he was a talented amateur golfer, he only ever played in one Open Championship all the way back in 1893. The youngest of six followed in his father’s footsteps by studying law at Clare College – a constituent of the University of Cambridge. Here, he became the captain of the University’s golf club. After graduation, Colt went on to establish the law firm, Sayer & Colt, in the early 1890s. However, this particular decade was to coincide with the beginning of Colt’s architectural tendencies.

Shortly after setting up shop, there were talks about establishing a new golf course close to Harry Colt’s firm. The layout was to be set over the Camber sand hills in the nearby village of Rye. The plans went ahead, Colt was chosen as the first Captain of the Rye Golf Club and subsequently co-designed the full 18 hole course in 1895 – the first of many.

A Rising Influence

Upon becoming a founding member with The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, he played an influential role in the organising of the rules of golf in 1897. Soon after, Colt left his post at Rye to become secretary of the newly formed Sunningdale Golf Club, where first explored the potential of heathland golf courses.

From his appointment there in 1901, he worked on the Willie Park Jr. layout, and in the proceeding years would make alterations to this course as well as designing a completely new one. This period was spent enhancing his eye for design while picking up young associates along the way. He met Charles Alison in 1906, while playing in The Amateur Championship (where Harry Colt ended up with a 2nd place finish). The two struck up a partnership and a year later, the two would be called to oversee a brand new Alister MacKenzie project at Alwoodley Golf Club in Yorkshire. The relationship between these three would later become legendary.

The bunkers at Sunningdale
The bunkers at Sunningdale (Credit to Leonard)

The Golden Age

Colt and Alison combined to open Stoke Park (1908) and Swinley Forest (1911) before travelling to the US and Canada where they worked with (and undoubtedly influenced) young designers such as Stanley Thompson and Donald Ross. Colt also made his way to mainland Europe, where he laid out the plans for courses like Royal Zoute in Belgium (1907), Golf Du Touquet – La Forêt (1908) and Golf De Saint Cloud (1913). He eventually stepped away from his position at Sunningdale having become a full-time (and quite famous) designer.

The First World War brought with it quiet times for Harry Colt and for golf itself. Work came to a halt, courses were destroyed and his partner Alison was even drafted. However, time was not wasted in returning to the course after the fighting, and the partnership of Colt, MacKenzie & Alison was soon formed in 1919.

The period that lasted roughly from 1910 to 1937 is often named as the Golden Age of golf course architecture. Harry Colt was instrumental in bringing this period about, and his work only got better from 1919 onwards. Over the following years, MacKenzie was replaced by John Morrison and the new trio went on to build, revise and redesign courses in Japan, Australia, the US and Canada. With an eye for strategy and his initial links experience (Rye Golf Club), Colt began to change the way inland tracks were built. He neglected the rectangular fairways and flat greens of the time, calling for a more natural and unforgiving layout.

The Toronto Golf Club
Choose your clubs wisely – The Toronto Golf Club (Credit to DaveFinn)

Every Club in the Bag

His idea to ‘plot into nature’, combined with the lack of machinery available at the time, is perhaps the reason why Colt courses have withstood the test of time. Working with a minimal amount of earth removal, he aimed to amalgamate the natural elements of an environment with a tactical approach. The result was a golf course that grew into its surroundings.

His signature was variety. The cunning hazard placement and diversity of hole distance, would often see golfers selecting every club in the bag. Colt’s meticulous walking of a course allowed him to get inside the mind of a golfer, forcing them to think around obstacles, while always allowing them a way out. His courses commonly make use of the ground game and provide the option for what’s known as the ‘easy bogey, difficult par’. In other words – the reserved (and possibly less skilled) player, generally stood a good chance of attaining a bogey by keeping it simple. While the aggressive and more ambitious golfer would often be forced to take a risk for their par.

It’s difficult to ignore the idea that this lawer from London was one of the primary influencers of the Golden Age of Architecture. With this said, we’ve provided you with the top 10 courses on the continent, designed by both Colt and his team! We’ve also gone and drawn up a list of Colt originals (not revisions), so you can put them on the to do list.

4th, Royal County Down - Although not a Colt original, his alterations at RCD resulted in one of the most photographed holes in golf
4th, Royal County Down – Although not a Colt original, his alterations at RCD resulted in one of the most photographed holes in golf (credit to Leonard)

Top 10 Continental Colt Courses

*Note: The courses listed here are based on the ratings/reviews of golfers on our website. They do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Leadingcourses.com. All courses on this list have received 25 or more reviews and are located on continental Europe.

The natural beauty at Valescure

Created in 1895 by British aristocrats, the Golf of Valescure, surrounded by parasol pines, is the oldest course of the Var. It has a length of 5,019 meters and is designed to offer several relatively short holes. At first glance, it might look easy to play the course however this impression is misleading. In fact, the narrowness of fairways, difficult rough, numerous water obstacles and rather small greens are all elements that force you to chose your clubs carefully. It is indeed necessary to know how to sacrifice length to precision.

The Links at Granville could easily be mistaken for the coast of Scotland

Granville is a true links course situated in Normandy – perhaps the only one in France to have retained a pure duneland track. It stands alongside the great links courses of Scotland and Ireland providing a golf course true to the origins of the game. In recent years, the club has made a concerted effort to restore the natural links quality of the course by reseeding with carefully chosen grass varieties and by refurbishing the bunkers. The course celebrates its centenary in 2012 but the original design of Harry Colt and Charles Allison still provides a stern test – especially when the wind blows!

Natural looking bunkers at Golf Du Touquet

Touquet Golf Resort is an exceptional site located in the Hauts-de-France region in the heart of the Opal coast (only 2 hours from Paris). Set within superb natural surroundings – between the Forest and the Dunes – Le Touquet Golf Club is one of the most beautiful of European sites. The resort offers 3 golf courses (including Colt’s La Mer – the first links in France) an elegant Manoir Hotel and its new contemporary clubhouse offering all the services to make it a unique experience.

One of the best balanced 18-hole courses in the Netherlands.

Colt introduced important architectural basic principles and none can be seen better than in the heathland course at Eindhovensche. Designed in 1928, the course still has the reputation as one of the best balanced 18-hole courses in the Netherlands. The doglegs, natural hazards and contours provide evidence of the architect and often force the player to think strategically. The track weaves its way through its surroundings, with the variety of trees and shrubs culminating in a scenically beautiful experience. It is one of the eight Colt, Alison & Morrison courses in The Netherlands.

The tall grasses & wild rough epitomise the links layout

The Kennemer Golf & Country Club is the oldest links course in the Netherlands (founded in 1910) and often named amongst the most beautiful courses in the world. The course is located just beside the sea in undulating dunes and consists of three sets of nine holes. These include the A-holes (Van Hengel course), the B-holes (the Pennink course) and the C-holes (the Colt course). The courses are named after former executive and honorary member Mr. SJH van Hengel as well as architects Frank Pennink and Colt. The various combinations are all pretty tough and require accuracy.

Wild heather and majestic beech outline the historic course

The Hilversumsche Golf Club is located on the Soestdijkerstraatweg 172 in Hilversum, where a road lined with majestic beech trees welcomes you to the beautiful, 100 year old forest course. In recent years, the course, located in the Kievitsdal, has been renovated by architect Kyle Philips, with the original landscape and aspects of Harry Colt being retained wherever possible. In 2010, all renovations were completed for the Hilversumsche Golf Club to host the KLM Dutch Open for the 25th time.

The phenomenal natural surroundings at ‘De Pan’

The Utrecht Golf Club or ‘De Pan’, was founded in 1894 and serves up a traditional Colt classic. The fairways stretch across undulating terrain amidst a majestic forest. The golfer can enjoy nature here, with deer and foxes a common sight. The frequent heaths often produce natural obstacles in the fairways and several teeing areas are raised or lowered due to the hilly nature of the course. This beautiful challenging forest track, which is built on sandy soil and is widely considered as one of the most beautiful courses in the Netherlands.

The classic colours of a Colt course on show at Falkenstein

The diversity of the landscape at Falkenstein gives the course its own distinctive character. Embedded in a protected environment, the club features an attractive park landscape with many heath areas, in which playing becomes a special pleasure. Thanks to the highest quality standards, Falkenstein has developed into a golf course of the highest level recognised beyond the borders of Europe. National and international championships have been held at the Hamburger Golfclub since as far back as 1931.

Iconic view (Credit to YvesCh.)
Beautiful fairways at the Royal Hague

The Royal Haagsche Golf & Country Club was founded in 1893, making it the oldest golf club in The Netherlands. The 18-hole course is located in the dunes at Wassenaar about 3.5 km from the sea. This highly acclaimed links course is considered one of the finest championship courses in the Netherlands. During the construction of the course, Colt maintained the dune landscape, leaving a very natural environment. Each hole offers a completely different view and is always a new surprising challenge.

The Ultimate List

The list of courses below has been assembled with the help of information from the Harry Colt Association. We have done our best to include all original designs by Harry Colt and his associates (Colt must have been involved in the original design to appear). Colt and his team also made many alterations and revisions of well known courses such as Royal Lytham and St Anne’s, Burnham and Berrow and Royal Porthcawl. However, only original layouts have been listed here!

This checklist is for your curiosity and can be used to help you on your way to becoming a part of the Colt Cult (like us)! If you feel we may have missed any, please let us know and we’ll add or reconsider. Happy Golfing!

Royal Porthcawl - Colt Courses in Europe
Royal Porthcawl – Designed by Charles Gibson (1891). Colt (1913) and Tom Simpson (1933) completed wide-range modifications.

Belgium

Canada

England

France

Germany

Ireland

Netherlands

Northern Ireland

Check out our blog on the Harry Colt courses in Northern Ireland here.

Scotland

Spain

Switzerland

Sweden

USA

  • Country Club of Detroit – MI
  • Pine Valley Golf Club (Colt was part of a large team headed by George Crump for the original layout.) – NJ
  • Timber Point Country Club – NY
  • Lakeville Golf & Country Club – NY
  • Century Country Club – NY
  • Old Elm Club – IL
  • Onwentsia Club – IL
  • Highland Park Golf Course – IL
  • Knollwood Club IL
  • Briergate Golf Club – IL
  • North Shore GC – IL
  • Kirkland Country Club – OH
  • Westland Country Club – OH
  • Chevy Chase Club – Washington DC
  • Burning Tree Golf Club – Washington DC

Wales

Information gathered from:

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