Fowler’s 1907–1908 alterations

Fowler’s 1907–1908 alterations

Herbert Fowler "God builds golf links and the less man meddles the better for all concerned".

Later in 1907, W Herbert Fowler, who was already a famous golf course architect, visited his friend Mr John Nicholl of Merthyr Mawr. In recognition of their friendship he offered some comments on the course and after a further visit in October his formal report was presented to the Committee. The minute dated 23rd October 1907 resolved to carry out improvements and Mr Fowler was elected an honorary Life Member of the Club.

There are no actual copies of Fowler’s report nor a plan of the proposed changes. However, by reading his letter to Mr Nicholl, looking at a newspaper cutting and making a study of the later report of Willie Park in 1913, one can deduce the actual changes made.


Fowler’s 1907–1908 alterations

“Dear Nicholl, I was greatly impressed by the possibilities of the course but much will depend upon how it is finished. The situation is grand and the turf all that can be desired.

There is one outstanding fault to my mind and that is the descent to the 7th hole and the consequent climb up to the 8th. To the young and athletic this may be of small importance but to a very large number of players it must be almost intolerable.

I know that I was so blown after playing them that I did not hit a shot for two holes. Now if the 7th was a very good hole I would say less about it, but I consider it a bad golfing hole. Any hole so far below one cannot be gauged as to distance and every player must be guided by advice or his own acquired knowledge. Then another bad feature is the flukiness of the bank behind the green. No doubt the safest way to play the hole is to fire at the bank and trickle back to the green, but one may always stop up and have a bad shot to play. But my main objection is that many shots which are quite misjudged as to distance may come back and go dead. At a hole of this length there should be no such aids or back walls.

Another reason why I should strongly advise cutting it out is the fact that at present the great blot on your course is the want of good short holes, in my opinion you have none at all. I think the 12th a poor hole but it could be improved. Now I think that good short holes are a great feature of a course and I can show you how to make two beauties at Ogmore.

First, I should make the green of the third hole just short of the guiding post. This is a grand green designed by nature and the length would be ideal. I could make you a splendid short hole to the left of the present 3rd green and you could play the present hole whilst it was making. Then you could have an extra good hole to the right of the present 8th and play from the 7th tee With proper bunkers this would be a fine short hole. The ball does not and I believe never will run at Ogmore as it does on many courses and therefore the shortening I have suggested will be all to the good.

At present I should call the course on the long side. You must remember that you will have to put in, say, 70 or 80 bunkers and that will make a great difference. You have many excellent holes. The first, second, fourth1, fifth2 (this nearly the best), sixth3, ninth4, thirteenth5 (very good) and seventeenth6 (perhaps the best).

Some of your holes are difficult for strangers to judge as though the flag is to be seen there is so much hidden ground that one is almost sure to be short. This can’t be helped but I mention the fact. I shall be pleased to come to you for a few days in October and shall be much interested in advising you.

W Herbert Fowler."

Fowler’s praise of just eight of Fernie’s holes politely masks his underlying criticism of his design. Fernie was a golf professional, not a professional course architect.

As well as shortening the 3rd hole and creating the 4th (our 10th), Fowler saw the potential of a short par 3 in the vicinity of what was later to be termed ‘Carter’s Folly’. He also approved of the shortening of Fernie’s triangle of the 12th and 13th, his 16th and 17th, and possibly his 9th. Since his report is lost we can only speculate on the detail.

Suggestions for Southerndown
by Mr W Herbert Fowler

During the past week I have spent two days studying the Southerndown course and I am about to write a report in which I shall suggest several radical alterations. The more I see of the ground the more certain I am that sooner or later the course will rank with the best greens in the kingdom. The situation is magnificent, the turf and subsoil perfect, and any golfers who want a perfect place to play in comfort and free from all the crowd should go there. I will shortly give an outline of my suggested alterations, but will first write and send in my report to the committee. I cannot help thinking that golfers at Bristol and Clifton should hurry up and join this club whilst the entrance fee and subscription are nominal. It is an ideal course for them to play on at weekends, and so short a distance that, with Burnham and Weston filling up, they should seriously consider its claim. I can assure them that in a year or two, it will be a far better course than any nearer Bristol than Westward Ho! And if Southerndown committee really make the best of it, it will run all the classic courses very hard."
(The Western Mail, 21st October 1907 )

On 4th September 1908, an exhibition match was held at Southerndown between Harry Vardon and James Braid. This was won by Vardon - 73 to 76 strokes. Both golfers were impressed with the condition and layout of the course and suggested that with a few slight alterations the course would be perfect. The alterations were mainly the resiting of tees, e.g. moving the 9th and 10th back. Interestingly their main recommendation was a new 8th green, beyond its 1908 position ( - not the first, nor the last attempt to fix the position of what is now the 5th green).

Vardon would have been wary about making too many comments about the Fowler design as Fowler was at that time his “mentor” at Walton Heath Golf Club where Vardon was the professional. Fowler had a recorded reputation as being somewhat of a tyrant with his staff.

The Club minutes of that era indicate other proposals. In February 1911 the Secretary had been requested to obtain a page boy and obtain buttons livery for him. However, the minutes for the meeting held on 21st May 1911 include the following entry -

“The Secretary reported that there was difficulty in providing accommodation for a Page Boy on account of the small sleeping room at the Club. The Secretary reported that he thought he could arrange for another Servant Girl to come on for £12 a year as long as she was entitled to do some other work and it was resolved that he should arrange this."


At a meeting held on 5th June 1912, following Mr Gottwaltz’s undertaking to collect £25 towards expenses, a sub committee was set up to consider the whole matter of constructing a croquet and bowling green at the course. The sub committee consulted with the Greens Committee and at the December meeting reported back that it was of the opinion that it was not possible to create such a facility without making considerable alterations to the course and this latter question was under consideration.




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