Golf Course Architecture - Issue 71, January 2023

44 Mike Clayton explains why he believes Britain has been relatively slow to share in the fruits of the current age of great golf design The Dark Ages of British golf M I KE CL AY TON The United States has more good golf than anywhere else in the world for the obvious reasons. There is more wealth and more land. Charles Blair Macdonald built the National Golf Links, the first of his and Seth Raynor’s great courses, by importing the principles of the great links holes found on the British coast and for the two decades leading to the Great Depression so much incredible golf was built ‘over there’. But English golf is, for me, the greatest concentration of beautiful golf in the world. The variety of the heathlands – courses like Alwoodley, Ganton, Woodhall Spa, Notts, New Zealand or the wild Minchinhampton – and the great seaside links makes for the greatest condensed education for anyone wanting to learn about how great architecture is the most important nurturer of the game and its future. Alister MacKenzie, Tom Simpson, JF Abercromby, Harry Colt and their contemporaries made extraordinary courses and it was MacKenzie who wrote that the standards of the profession and the courses yet to be built would be even further advanced. Instead, the Second World War and their passing changed the trajectory of architecture, not only in Britain but all over the world. We can box the two periods into a ‘Golden Age’ and a ‘Dark Age’ and be accused of being simplistic but with the benefit of hindsight it’s hard to argue the former wasn’t wildly more productive. Certainly, this was true in Australia where nothing much of any worldwide significance was built post the MacKenzie-inspired era of the late 1920s and very early 1930s until the turn of the new century. In fairness, there were more important things to deal with after the Second World War. The prosperity and optimism of the Golden Age was gone. There wasn’t money to spend on great golf – indeed on almost any golf – as the country recovered from the ravages of the war. We all understand professional golfers would happily play down the proverbial motorway if the money was right. Nowhere is it better illustrated than the Ryder Cup. Golf ’s greatest event moved from Birkdale, Muirfield, Lytham and I NS I GHT