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George Lowe

Year of Birth1856
Year of Death1934 (aged 78)
Place of BirthCarmyllie, Angus, Scotland

Son of George and Susan Low (without an “e” at the end of the surname), George Lowe was born in the rural parish of Carmyllie, between the Angus towns of Arbroath and Forfar, and he moved with his family when he was eight years old to Carnoustie, where he quickly fell in love with the game of golf through caddying.

As a teenager, he became an apprentice clubmaker with Frank Bell at the Barry Links and he was there when Old Tom Morris arrived to extend the 10-hole course at Carnoustie to an 18-hole layout, though it’s said he wasn’t overly impressed with the lack of length in a number of the holes that the old master laid out.

George and his brothers – like many Carnoustie men before and after them – moved away from the town to seek fame and fortune within the golf profession. He had a short spell at Leven in Fife before moving to Hoylake in 1876 to apprentice as a club maker and assistant professional to Jack Morris, nephew of Old Tom Morris in St. Andrews.

His brother David moved to West Lancashire where he was the professional for 40 years. Another brother, William, emigrated to Australia but he soon returned to become the professional at Buxton in Derbyshire.

When the three brothers settled in England they all changed their name to Lowe but the fourth brother, James, remained in Scotland and kept the original spelling of his surname.

George represented Scotland in the first international match against England and he played in four Open Championships, with a tie for 6th as his best finishing position. He is credited with developing a matched set of irons that he patented in Great Britain in 1896 and the USA in 1899.

It’s reckoned he produced more than 25,000 clubs during his career, each one sold in a wrapper that said: A genuine George Lowe Club, as used by their Royal Highnesses the Duchesses of Fife and Argyll, The Hon. AJ Balfour (Prime Minister) and others.

George remained in post at Royal Liverpool for twelve years, until moving on to Lytham & St Annes as ‘custodian of the links’ in 1888. He was paid 15/- a week for his services and given the free use of a workshop.

Two years after arriving, he organized the first professional competition at the club, with a prize pot of £55.00 attracting the likes of Old Tom Morris, Willie Fernie, Willie Park Jr. and Archie Simpson to the 36-hole event.

He was one of the founding members of St Annes Old Links in 1901 and five years after its inauguration he left Lytham & St. Annes to become the Old Links Club’s unpaid professional and greenkeeper, with use of a workshop for a peppercorn rent.

George left the club in 1911 and worked from another workshop that he had established in St Annes as an unattached golf club manufacturer, course designer and teacher.

He married his wife Annie Allen in 1885, a farmer’s daughter from Ireland, with whom he had six children – four boys and two girls. A year after Annie died in 1919, George and his daughter Annie decided to emigrate to Australia, where two of his sons were already professional golfers.

Lowe settled in Queenscliff, Victoria to be close to George Jr. who was at nearby Barwon Heads. He then took up the position of professional at Queenscliff Golf Club but resigned after only a year, though he still continued to teach on a level stretch of open ground in the town that became known as “Scotsman’s Flat”.

He eventually passed away on 15th October 1934, aged 78.

Edited extract from an article by Steve Pope, EIGCA Associate member, published in 2009:

Apprentice to Old Tom Morris, original designer of Royal Lytham, Royal Birkdale and numerous other courses on the coast and inland, innovative and successful club-maker, teacher and associate of Harry Vardon, George Lowe was a key agent of change in the transformation of golf into a global industry. The focus of this article is George Lowe’s golf course design work in England.

Firstly, some clarification: we’re not talking about the George Low Sr. born in Carnoustie in 1874, who moved to the US, was runner-up in the 1899 US Open, pro at Baltusrol and golf course architect. Nor the latter’s son, the acclaimed putter George Low Jr. Nor the George Lowe Jr. of Barwon Heads and Warrnambool fame in Australia (that’s our man’s son).

Our man is George Lowe born in 1856 near Carnoustie, one of the classic Scottish pro-greenkeeper-teacher-clubmakers of the late 1800s/early 1900s, who, to use Bernard Darwin’s 1952 phrase, “dared the great southern adventure” in England and Australia.

Lowe’s entry in Nisbet’s Golf Year Book 1907 states that he was: “Engaged as professional to the Old Links G.C., St Anne's-on-Sea. Served apprenticeship at Carnoustie, Leven and St Andrews. Was 12 years at Hoylake and nearly 17 years with Lytham and St Anne's G.C.”

Research has identified 41 courses designed by Lowe between 1888 and 1911. And yet Nisbet’s Golf Year Book stated in 1907 that he had “laid out nearly 100 courses’. In 1911, the Manchester Golfer reported that he “seems to have been called in to all of Manchester’s golf courses at one time or another.”

The known 41 Lowe designs are concentrated in the North-West of England, focused on Lancashire, spreading north to Cumbria and the Isle of Man, east to Yorkshire and south to Cheshire and Derbyshire. The contrast with contemporaries, such as Willie Park Jr. who spread themselves successfully across the UK, the Continent and North America, is clear.

Perhaps Lowe had no need to travel? His 29 years of employment at Hoylake and Lytham from 1877 - 1905 coincided with the first great boom in British golf. The North-West of England, a region then of immense industrial growth and social change, was at the heart of the golf boom.

Royal Liverpool, the first new course to be built in England near a large and growing centre of population, gave the young Lowe his entry into golf course design, working alongside Hoylake’s Head Pro, Jack Morris, Old Tom’s nephew. Lytham placed Lowe firmly in the spotlight. Lowe had no need to go searching for new clients.

At Lytham, he was designer, professional, club-maker and Custodian of the Links at one of Britain’s most high profile new courses located in one of Victorian England’s most popular holiday regions.

From his Lytham base, Lowe went on to build a portfolio of golf course designs including some of the great names then and now in British golf: Lytham and Birkdale (before they became Royals), Hesketh, Southport & Ainsdale, St Anne’s Old Links and Seascale.

Yet his current profile in Britain seems higher as a club-maker than it is as a course designer (Nisbet’s noted his speciality “iron-faced clubs, especially niblicks”).

Why is he better known for his club-making than his course design? Partly, it’s the impact of the inevitable march of time on his courses. Much of his design work was done before the introduction of the Haskell ball, let alone the titanium face. Roads, housing, safety concerns: many factors have gnawed away at his work over the years.

Some critical golf literature also played its part, portraying the pro-greenkeepers of Lowe’s era as fortunate to be given the best natural linksland sites and unable to succeed on more demanding inland sites. Lowe was at his peak in what Tom Simpson termed the “Dark Ages” of British golf design. Alister MacKenzie was another vociferous Golden Age critic generally of Lowe’s era and specifically of Lowe’s work at Lytham.

Lowe’s contribution to inland golf in Britain is also perhaps understated. Many of his inland courses have passed their centenary and Harry Colt’s test (“Is it going to live?”). One that did not due to lease problems, Trafford Park, was the only inland course in Cheshire and Lancashire reviewed by Darwin in his 1910 book.

He describes Lowe’s work there as “good turf, good greens, good length holes”. Lowe was also probably one of the first designers to take golf successfully and sustainably into the English moorlands and uplands (e.g. Bakewell and Saddleworth).

One of Lowe’s other inland designs, Studley Royal in North Yorks, led to a significant Lowe contribution to the global golf industry. Here he obtained for Harry Vardon, golf’s first international celebrity, his first post in England as pro-greenkeeper in 1890, having earlier the same year taken on Harry’s younger brother Tom at Lytham.

Intriguingly, the Colne GC Centenary book states that George Lowe “was very good friends with Harry Vardon and they often played golf together and it has been said that courses designed by Vardon had much input from Lowe”.

Overall, I think there’s enough evidence to defend George Lowe from the excessive Dark Age criticisms. Time and the breadth of his contributions to the game should not allow us to forget the quality and importance of George Lowe’s golf course designs.

We need to find out more about and celebrate more the pro-greenkeeper-designers like George Lowe. They were key catalysts in the transformation of a Scottish pastime into a global industry.

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Preston, England

Royal Birkdale

Royal Birkdale

Southport, England

Royal Lytham & St Annes

Royal Lytham & St Annes

Lytham Saint Annes, England



Seascale, England

St Annes Old Links

St Annes Old Links

Lytham Saint Annes, England



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