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- C. H. Alison
C. H. Alison
Hugh Alison, as he was known to his friends, was educated in Worcestershire at Malvern College before going on to study history, law and divinity at New College, Oxford. He represented the university in the 1903 and 1904 Varsity matches and in the second of these contests, he famously pitched onto the 18th green at Woking from the clubhouse verandah roof.
Alison’s sporting prowess also extended to the cricket pitch, where he played first class matches for Somerset. With all this extracurricular activity away from the cloisters, it’s perhaps no great surprise that he never completed his studies. In fact, after being sent home several times, he was eventually expelled from the college.
He could play a bit (reaching the fourth round of The Amateur Championship in 1906) and a career in golf soon opened up for him after leaving Oxford when he became the secretary of Foxrock Golf Club in Dublin. He was there for only a short time before returning to England to become the first secretary of Stoke Poges Golf Club (with its new course designed by Harry Colt) in 1908, earning £13.6s.8d a month plus a small accommodation allowance.
Whilst there, he assisted Colt with the design of several courses in the Greater London area before The Great War intervened, which saw him become an Army captain working in ciphers. When hostilities ceased, Alison was assigned to North America to drum up business, designing more than twenty new courses during a nine-year tenure on the other side of the Atlantic.
Regarding his time spent in the United States and Canada during the 1920s, Henry Lord and Peter Pugh in Masters of Design – Great Courses of Colt, MacKenzie, Alison & Morrison wrote: “His eye-catching bunkering, often severely large and deep in equal measure, can call for courageous shots,” with one commentator “likening his elevated, built-up greens to those of the Americans C. B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor”.
Alison was a founding member of the International Society of Golf Architects, along with architects such as John Abercromby, Guy Campbell, Harry Colt, Herbert Fowler, Cecil Hutchison, Alister MacKenzie, Philip Mackenzie Ross and Tom Simpson. Formed in 1929, the society operated from secretary Tom Simpson’s office at his home in England.
A high point in Alison’s design career came during a short trip to Japan at the end of 1930, accompanied by his construction foreman George Penglase, when he built several new layouts – such as Tokyo, Hirono and Kawana – and revised others, like Nauro and the East course at Kasumigaseki. To this day, large, steep-faced bunkers in the land of the Rising Sun are referred to as ‘Alisons’.
During the 1930s, Alison worked on projects in places as far apart as Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and South Africa. He also collaborated with design partner John Morrison on several course designs in the Netherlands before World War II interrupted proceedings, causing him to re-enlist for the Army’s decoding department.
Alison moved to South Africa with his wife in 1947, revising a number of courses in that country before he passed away five years later, less than twelve months after the demise of his great friend and mentor, Harry Colt. John Morrison was then left to run the company for another decade until he too died in 1962.
It’s true to say that C. H. Alison is one of the most overlooked Golden Age architects, largely because his work was carried out on behalf of Colt Alison & Morrison Ltd, with Harry Colt given the architectural credit for projects that should really be attributed to his much-travelled design associate.
From The Golf Course by Cornish & Whitten: “Alison was co-author (with Colt) of Some Essays on Golf Course Architecture (1920) and contributed to Golf Courses: Design, Construction and Upkeep, edited by M. A. F. Sutton (1933, revised 1950)”.
From Keith Cutten’s book The Evolution of Golf Course Design: “The architect’s many influences contributed to his distinctive style. He followed strategic design principles, believing that risky shots should be justly rewarded with improved angles. However, when considering the era he operated in, his courses were often long and difficult; which, again, was a legacy of his experience at Pine Valley (where he had previously worked). Alison’s bunkering was highly personalised, being usually grand in scale, frequently deep and often downright intimidating.”
From The Golf Courses of Vern Morcom by Toby Cumming: “In the decade after WWI, Alison spent much of his time in North America. When George Crump died in 1918 with several holes of Pine Valley still unfinished, the club formed an advisory committee to oversee completion of construction. Alison joined the committee in place of his boss and mentor Colt, and his report saw significant changes made to the course.
The course appears to have made significant changes to Alison too, with his appreciation of the fiendishly difficult Pine Valley showing through in his later design work. Alison maintained an office in Detroit in the 1920s on behalf of Colt, and he designed standout courses at the Country Clubs of Detroit and Milwaukee. He also laid out a course over a very different landscape at Sea Island in Georgia.
Alison’s travels continued throughout the 1930s, and he worked in Malaysia, Morocco, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. His most influential course from this time, however, was at Royal Hague (1936).”