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- Archie Simpson
Archie Simpson was born to brick masons and weavers in Earlsferry in Fife in 1866. “Though the world of golf in general may have been but a small one in 1870,” wrote Bernard Darwin in James Braid’s biography, “Earlsferry was a very busy little golfing world on its own account… There were doubtless some who were fine golfers though little known outside their own parish, but there were other’s who carried the fame of Earlsferry far and wide, in particular the Simpson family, six brothers, headed by Jack and Archie.”
Archie’s older brother, Robert Simpson (fifth eldest of the six boys), moved to Carnoustie in 1883 when Archie was seventeen and opened The Simpson's Golf Shop, which has been trading continuously ever since and is believed to be the second oldest golf shop in the world. Archie joined his brother in Angus, where he quickly became an expert player, club maker, teacher and golf course architect.
Jack Simpson (Archie’s other older brother) won The Open in 1884 at Prestwick, the only one of the six male golfing siblings to lift the Claret Jug. However, Archie Simpson’s record in The Open is remarkable. In sixteen consecutive Open appearances (1885 to 1900) he came runner-up twice and never finished outside the top twenty. “And then there was Archie Simpson…” continued Darwin, “he had one of the most graceful swings of all players of his day.”
Richard Goodale, writing in Golf Course Architecture, takes up the story: “As a teacher, Archie was the model for the famed ‘Carnoustie Swing.’ Youngsters would follow him like puppies around Carnoustie, trying to copy his swing. That swing was then exported around the world, including by a young professional named Stewart Maiden, who emigrated to the States, and eventually and famously passed on Archie’s swing to a young man named Bobby Jones. As a clubmaker, he was highly competent, although not as prolific or creative as his brother Bob. That being said, he custom-made the driver which Arnaud Massey used to win the Open in 1907, and his clubs are avidly sought by collectors today.”
Archie Simpson’s chronology as a golf course architect is not crystal clear, but in 1886 Archie and his brother Robert were commissioned to lay out the new Balgownie links for the club that was founded in 1780 and would later become the world-renowned Royal Aberdeen Golf Club. The Balgownie course opened for play in 1888 and was subsequently revised by a number of architects, including Tom Simpson. So the Balgownie is unique in that a trio of Simpsons helped to shape the course that’s in play today.
Some historians believe that Archie may also have assisted Old Tom Morris in his trailblazing work at Dornoch, but there is no doubt that Archie Simpson laid out the links at Nairn soon after the club’s formation in 1887.
“Then, in 1891, aged 25, Archie abruptly left Carnoustie, to become the pro at a relatively new club almost as far away as possible while remaining in Britain – Royal Isle of Wight, at Bembridge [NLE],” continues Richard Goodale. “One can only speculate why he moved there (possibly because there was no place for him in brother Bob’s business), or why he moved back to Scotland six months later (to be an assistant at Prestwick), under the legendary Charlie Hunter, or why he moved back 15 months later to work again with his brother Bob at Carnoustie in 1892. These were to be the first of many flits by our Archie. The next one was to become keeper of the green and professional at Balgownie in 1894.”
Archie joined forces with Old Tom Morris after being commissioned by the Great North of Scotland Railway Company to design the links at Cruden Bay, which opened for play in 1899. Old Tom usually receives the lion’s share of credit for the original Cruden Bay design, but the club’s centenary book, A Century of Golf at Cruden Bay, provides Archie with credit where it’s due.
In 1903, during Archie’s seventeen-year tenure at Balgownie, the club received royal patronage becoming the Royal Aberdeen Golf Club. In parallel to his job as professional Archie continued to design, including the little known but architecturally significant course at Stonehaven. In 1908 he added nine new holes to Willie Park Junior’s original nine at Peterhead and the following year fashioned the renowned links at Murcar, situated immediately next door to his pro shop at Royal Aberdeen.
Archie created further courses at Aboyne and Duff House Royal. The latter was formed in 1910 when the Duke of Fife, Alexander Duff, provided land from his estate and it opened when a match was played between two of the great golfing “triumvirate” – J.H. Taylor and James Braid.
In 1911 Simpson left Scotland to become the head professional at the Country Club of Detroit. The club was growing rapidly when Archie arrived and the following year it purchased new golfing land at Weir Farm. England’s Harry Colt was commissioned by the club to fashion the new Weir Farm course for the members. One may assume that Archie may well have had some input into the layout that Colt envisioned, which was subsequently remodeled by his partner C.H. Alison in 1927 and recently renovated by Tom Doak.
Richard Goodale should, quite rightly, conclude the story:
“Archie stayed at CCoD until 1921 and then came back to Carnoustie for a couple of years. Why? Nobody knows. He worked for brother Bob, shot a 72 in his last round on the course (aged 56) and then flitted back to America in 1922. From there the trail gets colder and warmer and colder and more poignant.
We think he was the head pro at Vincennes GC in Indiana from 1922-1926, but it is unclear whether or not that club still exists. His son Archie Jr became head pro at Clovernook CC, in Cincinnati, in 1924, while Archie moved around, staying a few years at Tam O’Shanter (as the club pro to Tommy Armour’s touring pro). When his son died early, in 1932, Archie took over at Clovernook for two years. After that, there is no information other than he died ‘of old age’ in Detroit in January 1955, aged 88...
How could the man who worked with Old Tom Morris, made Royal Aberdeen what it is today and designed Murcar fade away so completely and for so long? Somewhere out there, there is more of this story to be told…”