John Jacob “Frank” Pennink was born in the city of Delft, which lies between The Hague and Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
After moving to England, he was a pupil at Rose Hill School and Tonbridge School in Kent – playing cricket against Clifton College at Lord’s – before enrolling at Magdalene College, Oxford, where he played golf for the university from 1933 to 1935.
Once he’d completed his studies, his opted for employment within the insurance industry, which is what both Pete Dye and Jack Nicklaus did in their early years.
Away from work, Frank was one of the top amateur players in Great Britain, winning the English Amateur Championship at Saunton in 1937 then repeating this feat at Moortown the following year, when he also played in the victorious Walker Cup team at St Andrews.
Unfortunately, World War II then intervened, curtaining his golfing activities, and he enlisted in the Royal Air Force, serving as a Squadron Leader. After the war ended, he became a sports journalist, writing golf articles for the Sunday Express and the Daily Mail newspapers.
Lorne Smith on his website finegolf.com comments about this period in Frank’s life by saying: “he became well known for his informed comment of golf, his intimate knowledge of the game and its exponents being a great advantage.”
Authors Geoff Cornish and Ron Whitten then take up the story in their book The Golf Course: “In 1954 Pennink joined the established course design practice of C.K. Cotton. He eventually headed the firm that came to be known as Cotton (C.K.), Pennink, Lawrie and Partners Ltd.
He was the most active designer in the firm, handling courses in Britain, the Continent, Africa and even the Far East. He was a founding member of BAGCA (the British Association of Golf Course Architects) and served for a time as its president.”
Both Donald Steel and Cameron Sinclair joined the design company in the mid-1960s and Donald told us: “Because of his connections and availability, Frank undertook nearly all the overseas work, particularly in Holland and Portugal.
His father was Dutch and Frank was a Europhile who served the European Golf Association and should have been President but that is another story.”
Frank was also heavily involved in golf administration, becoming President of the English Golf Union in 1967. He was a Walker Cup Selector for many years and was part of the backroom team when the 1971 Great Britain team won the biennial event for the first time since he’d been a player in 1938.
In an architectural career lasting the best part of four decades, Frank Pennink designed literally dozens of courses in many far flung corners of the world; from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore in Asia to Morocco and Zambia in Africa.
In Europe, he laid out or renovated courses from Denmark and Sweden in the north to Italy and Portugal in the south. He also built or added to quite a few courses in the Netherlands, including extensions to the courses at Kennemer and Rosendaelsche, both of which currently reside within the Continental Europe Top 50.
His Portuguese designs at Vilamoura (Old) and Palmares in the Algarve, though modified in more recent times, also occupy similar lofty positions within our European rankings.
Frank was also active elsewhere in Europe and, according to Donald Steel, “he did much pioneering work in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.”
Within England, Pennink created or remodelled golfing layouts all the way from Seaton Carew at Hartlepool in the northeast to the West course at Saunton in the southwest.
He added nine holes to the Silverburn course at Royal Aberdeen, did the same at Castlerock in Northern Ireland (creating the much-loved 9-hole Bann layout), and fashioned the 18-hole Old course at St Pierre in Wales with Ken Cotton.
A number of “Royals” were also modified by Frank down the years, including Royal Lytham and St Annes in 1952, Royal Liverpool in 1966 and Royal St George’s in 1975.
In later life, Frank lived in Forest Row, East Sussex, close to Royal Ashdown Forest Golf Club, where he worked right up to within days of his passing away in 1984.
In The Evolution of Golf Course Design by Keith Cutten, the author has this to say about Frank:
“His design philosophy was aligned to that of the Golden Age architects, such as Colt and Simpson. Frequently, though, Pennink was called upon to perform when constrained by a tight project budget; heightening his sensitivity to saving his client’s money.
This reality made him focus on three aspects of design: creating simple yet effective greens, limiting the use of fairway bunkers; and creating relatively simple green surrounds.”
Home of Sport – Golf by Frank Pennink in 1952
Golfer’s Companion by Frank Pennink in 1962
Frank Pennink’s Choice of Golf Courses by Frank Pennink in 1976