Dave Thomas

Full Name
David Charles Thomas
Website:
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Year of Birth
1934
Year of Death
2013 (aged 79)
Place Born
Newcastle, Northumberland, England
Place Died
Marbella, Andalusia, Spain

"I think Dave would agree that the hundred or so golf courses he designed and left for generations to enjoy – to allow everyone to enjoy a game that has given so much to both of us – is a legacy that will likely be remembered far more than the golf we played.” Jack Nicklaus

Dave Thomas was the son of William Thomas, a mining engineer from Aberdare who also played full back for Wales at rugby. Bill was relocated to run mining operations in the northeast of England and that’s where Dave was born – though there was never any doubt about which country he would represent at sport, given the chance.

His father died in 1949, the same year that Dave watched Fred Daly, Max Faulkner and the legendary Sam Snead competing in The Ryder Cup at Ganton, and these golfing greats left a lasting impression on a young man leaving school to set out on a golfing career as an assistant professional at Gosforth Park.

Dave achieved his first tournament victory at the PGA Assistants’ Championship in 1955. He also won the Belgian Open that year and would win both the Dutch and French Opens before the 1950s had ended. Dave triumphed three times in the Esso Golden Tournament during the 1960s and he also came away victorious from Turnberry in 1963 after winning the prestigious News of the World Match Play Championship.

He twice came very close to winning the Open Championship, losing after a play-off to Peter Thomson at Lytham & St Annes in 1958 then finishing in joint second position to Jack Nicklaus eight years later at Muirfield. He also had a couple of very creditable top 10 finishes while participating in another thirteen Opens.

Dave proudly represented Wales in eleven editions of the Canada Cup/World Cup from 1957 to 1970 and he was a member of four Ryder Cup teams between 1959 and 1967, winning three and halving five matches out of eighteen. When arthritis ended his playing career prematurely, it was time to forge a new golfing career, as he recalled years later:

“I have very fond memories of my playing career but by 1969 my back had gone and it was time to do something else, and what do you do? Someone suggested some design and architecture. Peter Alliss was involved and we became designers. Who would have thought all these years on I would be close to designing 150 courses?”

During a design career that stretched from the early 1970s into the new millennium, Dave Thomas delivered dozens of courses for a wide variety of clients. Early on, he collaborated with Peter Alliss to produce an abundance of parkland pearls across the English countryside, with the golf complex at The Belfry considered as their crowning glory.

Thomas and Alliss had the vision, along with Colin Snape, the head of a professional golf body that was financially struggling at the time, to transform an old hotel and surrounding farmland outside Birmingham into a new 54-hole headquarters for the PGA in unfashionable North Warwickshire.

Four editions of the Ryder Cup matches followed on the Brabazon course between 1985 and 2002 and The Belfry’s status as a veritable golfing mecca for British golf was well and truly established. In many ways, this project demonstrated what Dave Thomas was best at – taking a relatively uninteresting tract and turning it into an exciting golf layout.

Not that he was always given uninspiring pieces of property to work with. In Scotland, he fashioned the Lansdowne course at Blairgowrie in Perthshire, two 18-hole layouts at Newmachar in Aberdeenshire, a couple of estate courses in The Borders and a big, expansive track at Spey Valley in the Carirngorms National Park.

Further afield, Dave designed more than twenty European courses. Much of his output was centred in Spain, and the Murcia region in particular – where he set out the West course at the 54-hole Real La Manga Club in Cartagena – though he also worked on substantial assignments in Cádiz, Catalunya and the Canary Islands.

His most highly regarded project in Europe is undoubtedly the 36-hole complex at the Terre Blanche resort in the south of France, located some forty kilometres inland from Cannes on the Côte d'Azur. The 18-hole Le Riou layout is highly ranked nationally but the Châteaux course is regarded as one of the finest on the continent.

Elsewhere in Europe, the Thomas architectural traits can also be found in Norway (at Atlungstad), Germany (with the St Leon course at St Leon-Rot), Russia (at Pestovo and Pine Creek) and Turkey (Robinson Nobilis).

Way before it became fashionable in recent times to work in China, Dave Thomas completed a course in that country at Guangzhou Luhu Golf and Country Club in 1996. He also worked in the Middle East, creating the 18-hole layout at Muscat Hills Golf & Country Club in Oman in 2007.

This Arabian commission, like many of those undertaken by the company in Dave’s later years, was actually carried out by his son Paul, who continues to operate the design business, working on a variety of golfing projects around the world, most recently in Russia and Brazil.

In 2013, when he passed away in Marbella, Dave left behind his partner Carol and sons Michael and Paul. His wife Robbie, and another son, Philip, predeceased him.

Snippets

On reaching the age of seventy in 2004, Dave was made a life member of the PGA, having been made Captain of that organization during its centenary year in 2001, when he said:

“Looking back over my career, I realise I’ve been extremely fortunate. As well as meeting James Braid, I met golf writer Bernard Darwin, and some of the great legends of the game, such as Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen and Walter Hagen. I also met Bobby Jones when he was President of the Augusta Golf Club and I was playing in the Masters.”

Dave was also honoured in 2013, just a few months before he passed away, with Honorary Life Membership of the European Tour. George O’Grady presented Dave with a silver membership card at a special luncheon at Shepherd’s Restaurant in London, attended by Board Member and life-long friend John O’Leary and representatives of the Association of Golf Writers.

The following tributes were paid to Dave when he died.

Peter Alliss, his close friend and early design partner, said: “The death of David Thomas saw the closing of a major chapter of my life, both on and off the golf course. We met in the mid-1950s and remained friends until his passing. We played hundreds of rounds together in exhibition matches and tournaments throughout the length and breadth of the world.

We travelled together. Dare I say, we knew each other’s innermost secrets. We designed over fifty golf courses together, though perhaps our partnership was rather forgotten over the latter years.

He was good company and over indulged, certainly on good food and good wine. How he lived to be 79 is a miracle of the human spirit. My thoughts are with Carol and boys at this sad time. He leaves behind a big footprint which I’ve always been delighted to walk alongside. Rest easy old friend.”

Jack Nicklaus, who beat Dave by a shot in The 1966 Open, said: “Unfortunately, Dave Thomas’ Ryder Cup era unfolded in the decade before my first appearance in 1969, but his legacy within the Ryder Cup and the game itself had been secured and followed him for many years.

Dave was also a major factor in championship golf. I remember in 1966 at Muirfield, as I was trying to win my first Open Championship, Dave was someone I was very much concerned about going into the final day. He was without question Europe’s longest and straightest driver of the golf ball.

In fact, I called him 'Big Dave.' Yet he was a gentle giant, whose warm and engaging personality made him enormously popular with the fans. So when Dave tied for the low final round with a 69, he gave fans reason to cheer and me reasons to be concerned again.

I had heard about his 69 as I walked to the 15th tee, and knew I had to par in just to force a playoff. Had I not been fortunate to reach the par five 17th in two and two-putt for birdie, Dave Thomas could have very well been the Open champion and a very deserving one.

Dave Thomas and I shared a unique kinship in that we were blessed to have parallel careers as golfers and then course designers. In many ways, Dave was an inspiration for me and many other players who followed in his footsteps.

I think Dave would agree that the hundred or so golf courses he designed and left for generations to enjoy – to allow everyone to enjoy a game that has given so much to both of us – is a legacy that will likely be remembered far more than the golf we played.”

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Courses designed by and courses remodelled and added to by Dave Thomas

Abama

2nd Canary Islands - Best in Area 33rd Spain Ranking

With Atlantic Ocean views across from Tenerife to the island of La Gomera and a thrilling collection of holes, Abama Golf is a Dave Thomas-designed course that opened for play in 2005.

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Average Reviewers Score:
Description: With Atlantic Ocean views across from Tenerife to the island of La Gomera and a thrilling collection of holes, Abama Golf is a Dave Thomas-designed course that opened for play in 2005. Rating: 4.3 out of 6
TaylorMade

Almenara (Pinos & Alcornoques)

61st Southern Spain - Best in Area

Dave Thomas laid out the 27-holes at Almenera in the late 1990s and he made a fine job of routing a series of tight fairways over hilly terrain...

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Average Reviewers Score:
Description: Dave Thomas laid out the 27-holes at Almenera in the late 1990s and he made a fine job of routing a series of tight fairways over hilly terrain... Rating: 3.2 out of 6
TaylorMade

Batchworth Park

19th Hertfordshire - Best in Area

Batchworth Park Golf Club opened for play in 1996 and is a classical Dave Thomas design. The bunkers are big, bold and plentiful, all doing their best to protect the massive greens.

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Average Reviewers Score:
Description: Batchworth Park Golf Club opened for play in 1996 and is a classical Dave Thomas design. The bunkers are big, bold and plentiful, all doing their best to protect the massive greens. Rating: 4 out of 6
TaylorMade

Belfry (Brabazon)

1st Warwickshire - Best in Area 68th England Ranking

The Brabazon course at The Belfry doesn’t need introducing. This course has played host to more Ryder Cups than any other course on the planet – four in total.

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Average Reviewers Score:
Description: The Brabazon course at The Belfry doesn’t need introducing. This course has played host to more Ryder Cups than any other course on the planet – four in total. Rating: 4.2 out of 6
TaylorMade

Belfry (PGA National)

14th Warwickshire - Best in Area

The PGA National has a distinctly American feel...it's a tough tournament course, which sits nicely alongside the Brabazon golf course at the Belfry.

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Average Reviewers Score:
Description: The PGA National has a distinctly American feel...it's a tough tournament course, which sits nicely alongside the Brabazon golf course at the Belfry. Rating: 3.2 out of 6
TaylorMade

Blairgowrie (Lansdowne)

5th Perth & Kinross - Best in Area 75th Scotland Ranking

The Lansdowne course at Blairgowrie Golf Club is routed through swathes of pine and silver birch trees which put a premium on accuracy off the tee.

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Average Reviewers Score:
Description: The Lansdowne course at Blairgowrie Golf Club is routed through swathes of pine and silver birch trees which put a premium on accuracy off the tee. Rating: 4.1 out of 6
TaylorMade

Bowood

1st Wiltshire - Best in Area

Few approaches to golf clubs are as grand as the entrance to the 2,000-acre Bowood Estate and there is a lovely feeling of peace and spaciousness here at Bowood Golf & Country Club.

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Average Reviewers Score:
Description: Few approaches to golf clubs are as grand as the entrance to the 2,000-acre Bowood Estate and there is a lovely feeling of peace and spaciousness here at Bowood Golf & Country Club. Rating: 4.4 out of 6
TaylorMade

Cannes-Mougins

7th South East France - Best in Area 35th France Ranking

Located just a few miles inland from the famous Promenande de la Croisette in Cannes, the fairways of the Cannes Mougins Golf & Country Club nestle in the foothills of the Southern Alps...

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Average Reviewers Score:
Description: Located just a few miles inland from the famous Promenande de la Croisette in Cannes, the fairways of the Cannes Mougins Golf & Country Club nestle in the foothills of the Southern Alps... Rating: 6 out of 6
TaylorMade

Cardrona

2nd Borders - Best in Area

The Cardrona golf course is a combination of mature parkland and woodland, with spectacular views of the Tweed Valley... everything is in harmony with its surroundings.

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Average Reviewers Score:
Description: The Cardrona golf course is a combination of mature parkland and woodland, with spectacular views of the Tweed Valley... everything is in harmony with its surroundings. Rating: 3.2 out of 6
TaylorMade

Clandeboye (Dufferin)

4th Down - Best in Area 10th Northern Ireland Ranking

The Dufferin course at Clandeboye Golf Club offers compelling coastal views, a sea of dazzling yellow gorse and a wonderfully strategic challenge.

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Average Reviewers Score:
Description: The Dufferin course at Clandeboye Golf Club offers compelling coastal views, a sea of dazzling yellow gorse and a wonderfully strategic challenge. Rating: 4.2 out of 6
TaylorMade