Tom Simpson and the sharing of secrets


Tom Simpson and the sharing of secrets
Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley

Scottish independent publisher Rhod McEwan is helping to provide a fascinating insight into the life and work of Tom Simpson, with the publication of a book written by the late Fred Hawtree. 

Born in 1877, Simpson left his mark on a number of highly regarded courses in his lifetime, including Fontainebleau, Morfontaine and Royal Antwerp. Unlike many architects of the time, Simpson was willing to elaborate extensively on his views and secrets to great golf course architecture, with this book containing many examples.

After Hawtree’s passing in 2000, his friend, golf journalist and architect Donald Steel, took up the mantle to help bring the book to publication, and has contributed a foreword and afterword.

“Fred Hawtree finished the book in 1998, but it’s been on the backburner since then,” Steel tells GCA. “Three or four years ago, Rhod McEwan mentioned it to me. I thought it was a pity for anybody to go to length of writing a book and it never see the light of day. I’d seen the text, which was very solid and accurate as you’d expect from Fred, and it really just needed to be finalised into book form.”

Steel was keen to help with the project, particularly as his partner at Cotton, Pennink, Lawrie, Steel & Partners, Ken Cotton, was a pupil of Simpson’s.

“We kept Fred’s text just about word for word, with only a few adjustments made,” he explains. “A lot of architects back then kept their secrets to themselves, but Tom Simpson was a very colourful character who said a lot and wrote a lot. The idea with the book was to make it appear as if it was his message, as well as Fred Hawtree’s message – hence the drawings Simpson did of the various holes and greens which feature in the book.”

A number of letters unearthed during the book’s creation are featured, as are excerpts from Simpson’s ‘Bible’ – a 272-page notebook in which he logged every piece of information he felt would be helpful to his work. The book also contains a section featuring various articles Simpson had written, with all design and presentation work carried out by Catherine Hollingworth.

“If you are a budding young architect, I think a book like this will tell you quite a lot,” Steel says. “Simpson was very much of the old, traditional style of architect, but a lot of his principles still apply today. The book makes people think but is enjoyable to read, so as well as being instructional, it’s also interesting and amusing. It’s a good innovation for golf architecture literature, which is a little thin on the ground. I think if a young architect were bought or given this book, I believe they would find it a worthwhile and interesting resource.”

Simpson & Co. Golf Architects by Fred Hawtree, edited and with a foreword and afterword by Donald Steel, is available from

This article first appeared in issue 47 of Golf Course Architecture