The five-time Open champion and golf course architect Peter Thomson died today at his home in Melbourne, Australia, surrounded by family, following a four-year battle with Parkinson’s disease.
Born in 1929 in Brunswick, Australia, Thomson became a professional golfer in 1949 and soon began to dominate Australasian golf, winning the New Zealand Open in 1950 and both Australian and New Zealand Open titles in 1951.
He enrolled on the PGA Tour in 1953 and famously went on to win the Open Championship five times, including in three consecutive years from 1954 to 1957. His fifth Claret Jug, a two-shot victory over Brian Huggett and Christy O’Connor Sr. at Royal Birkdale in 1965, was contested against a stellar field including Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
On the Senior PGA Tour, he won 11 titles in the two years of 1984 and 1985.
Thomson went on to establish a very successful career in golf design, creating over 100 courses, including the Open and Legends layouts at Moonah Links and the Ocean course at National Golf Club in Victoria, Australia.
“I first met Peter in 2002 in Melbourne, Australia,” said golf course architect Tim Lobb. “I remember the meeting very well. I was very nervous to be in the same room as my boyhood hero. He was my role model and my inspiration for taking up the game. However, he immediately relaxed my nerves and we spoke about golf over a long lunch.”
Two years after that meeting, Lobb, Thomson and fellow Australian golf course architect Ross Perrett formed a design business. The three would regularly enjoy Open championships together.
“One my favourite times with Peter was when the Open returned to St Andrews,” said Lobb. “Ross and I would visit Peter and his wife, Mary, in their home in Hope Street for morning tea and a chat. It was always such a relaxed atmosphere and a special way to start the day. Sometimes we would walk the Old course together, but often we would simply be at his home, watching the action unfold on TV. I will always treasure these very special times with Peter and his family at the Home of Golf, somewhere he loved so much.”
On working with Thomson, Lobb said: “We enjoyed many trips together. Peter always travelled light, and always knew the fastest way through any airport! When on site at one of our many projects, Peter’s golfing brain would always take over, and his experience of playing golf around the world is wrapped into every one of our designs, and I’m proud this legacy will live on.
“Peter was a lover of natural looking golf courses, he always wanted to sit a course into the land and the environment with minimal change, and the core of his design philosophy was always to make the golfing experience enjoyable.
“I will dearly miss Peter’s insights, intelligence and company. He was a great man, a friend and an inspiration.
In an article on the Golf Australia website, Australian professional golfer and golf course architect Mike Clayton said: “Thomson was a world player, enjoying the stimulation of different cultures and countries. Britain especially stirred his golfing instincts as he found a form of the game more sophisticated and interesting than the one played in the United States. ‘When I would get to Sunningdale or one of the seaside links I would rediscover the joy of hitting off the most perfect turf in the world.’
“Peter Thomson was man who truly loved and understood the game, who dedicated his life to it and left it much better than he found it. As the great Scottish course designer Alister MacKenzie transformed our courses, the courses on which Thomson learned to play, so did Peter transform the game in Australia.”
Thomson was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his services to golf in 1979 and an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in 2001. He is survived by wife Mary, children Andrew, Deirdre, Pan and Fiona, their spouses, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.