The British architect Tom Simpson is the designer of two of my favorites courses in the world: the full course at Morfontaine outside Paris and the best nine-hole course in the world at the same location, the Valliere course at Morfontaine. While he didn’t design them from scratch, Simpson also had his hand in some other truly world-class courses including Cruden Bay, Carnoustie, Ballybunion, Muirfield and Rye. His body of work also includes The New Zealand Club in England, Chantilly in France and Royal Antwerp in Belgium. Given the quality and lasting nature of Simpson’s work it is fitting that he has been honored with a book about his work.
Simpson & Co, Golf Architects was written by the late Fred Hawtree and published by Rhod McEwan in 2016. The book was limited to a standard trade edition of 700 and a limited edition of 50 bound in leather (known as the Quinces Edition, named after Simpson’s estate in Hampshire).
I had always known that Simpson was an iconoclast, but never knew that he was a wealthy man. As Donald Steel writes in the foreword in typical understated British style – he was “a man of considerable private means,” or as we would say in our crasser American style, he was rich. In 1917 he inherited the equivalent of three million pounds in today’s money. Simpson attended Cambridge and read the law. An accomplished golfer, he was a plus three handicap. He had impeccable style and taste and his preferred means of transport was a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce.
Simpson also designed private courses for Europe’s elite including Lord Louis Mountbatten and Mr. James de Rothschild. He had a distinctive design style and felt that, “The less interference with Nature the better, for Nature is, for the most part, the better architect.” He also had a strong dislike of fairway bunkers, “The architect who relies on bunkers for his effects is a bad architect.”
As proof of his skill as an architect consider some of the holes Simpson redesigned. The devilish uphill par-3 thirteenth at Muirfield is a Simpson creation, with its tricky plateau green and strategically placed bunkers. Or, the par-5 sixth at Carnoustie with out of bounds down the entire left side of the hole. He was pleased with the redesign and commented afterwards, “To play this hole well, the thinking caps of all classes of golfers must be firmly on when standing on the tee with the flag fluttering on the green 521 yards distant.” Ben Hogan certainly had his thinking cap on during the 1953 Open when he played it to near perfection.
Simpson as pictured (right) on the rear of the dust jacket with his typical beret, cloak and cane, looking like the iconoclast that he was
Simpson & Co. is a thoughtfully researched and well written book that gives insights into the man, his business partnerships over the years, and his psyche. The book also reveals a new one-of-a-kind leather-bound book that Simpson created for himself, pictured below, which he called the Golf Architect’s Bible. It was a repository where he pasted in newspaper clippings and articles relevant to golf architecture. He also used the 272-page book as a notebook and kept hand written notes, useful quotations and other information about construction, green keeping, equipment and more.
Simpson’s one-of-a-kind Golf Architect’s Bible
Simpson describes the purpose of the book on the first page: “The really wise lawyer is not the one who knows and memorises the law but rather knows where to find it. Hence this book.”
Simpson & Co. is a valued addition to the library for any fan of golf architecture or Tom Simpson and takes its place alongside those of other renowned architects.
— John Sabino