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John Abercromby

Notable Courses
Year of Birth1861
Year of Death1935 (aged 73)
Place of BirthCape Town, South Africa

John Abercromby was the son of a medical doctor, James Abercromby, who died very young at the age of 40 in Cape Town, South Africa, when John was only ten years old. His widowed mother Johanna moved the family to Britain soon after her husband passed away, settling in Felixstowe on the coast of Suffolk.

Abercromby worked as a clerk in a stockbroker’s firm before going on to operate within London’s Stock Exchange. Around the turn of the century, he was employed as a private secretary to a financier at Bridley Manor in Surrey who had visions of building a golf course to compete against the likes of nearby Walton Heath and Woking.

Authors Geoff Cornish and Ron Whitten take up the story in their book The Golf Course: “Somewhat audaciously, ‘Aber’ decided to lay out the course himself. He consulted Willie Park Jr. and Jack White during the initial stages, but the final product, Worplesdon GC, was basically Abercromby’s design.”

He was then offered a commission to create a new course for Coombe Hill Golf Club and he again called in Willie Park Jr. for advice. Unfortunately, The Great War was about to intervene, but not before he had fashioned perhaps his most notable layout at The Addington in Croydon, where it’s been suggested that he also consulted Harry Colt during its design.

Abercromby lived at The Addington, carrying out his chairman’s duties in the style of a “benevolent dictator” until he passed away in 1935 at the age of 73. He made constant changes to the course and actually created a second 18-hole layout in 1923 which many regarded as at least the equal of the original.

Unfortunately, this additional layout was given up to the local authority for housing after World War II.

He joined the design practice of Fowler, Abercromby, Simpson and Croome in 1920 and nearly all of his assignments with the company were collaborations with Fowler around London at places such as Cowdray Park (1921) and Knole Park (1924).

Abercromby was a founding member of the International Society of Golf Architects, along with architects such as C.H. Alison, 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.

Despite a relatively low level of productivity compared to other golf architects, Abercromby is understandably regarded as one of the most important design figures from the Golden Age, with his work significantly influencing the style adopted by others that followed him.


The Golf Courses of Great Britain by Bernard Darwin: “A stands for Addington, and also for Mr. Abercromby, who was the ‘only begetter’ of it. So let us start there.”

Golf Between Two Wars by Bernard Darwin: “When we turn inland we find several truly excellent English courses which belong wholly to the period between wars. I have already mentioned the New course at Addington, which is the one I know most familiarly, and it will long remain a witness to Mr. Abercromby’s skill. He had admirable material, the country of sand and heather and birch trees, and with what an artistic eye he used it!” “What makes The Addington unique? Ultimately, of course, it is the course’s collection of golf holes. More in general though, the property itself is truly one-of-a-kind… The man who picked the property was the founder of the club and its architect as well, John Frederick Abercromby. In picking this site, Abercromby left no doubt that his intent from the start was to build a challenging course.

The second reason the course reminds the golfer of none other is that Abercromby himself designed only a few other courses. Just as the singular visions of the driving forces of Pine Valley, Oakmont and Royal St George’s help make those courses feel unique, the same can be said of The Addington.

The course that was considered Abercromby’s second best – the New course at The Addington which was across the street from this one – no longer exists. Only Knole Park, Coombe Hill and his first design at Worplesdon give the golf architecture student much insight into Abercromby.

As at Pine Valley Golf Club, the great Harry Colt was a consultant but, unlike at Pine valley, the founder of The Addington stayed alive and Abercromby ran the club and the course as a benevolent dictator for more than twenty years after it opened. Continually tinkering with it, there is no doubt that the lion’s share of the design credit belongs to Abercromby.

The most ready conclusion that one can draw from his his work is that he thrived on building hazards that were natural in appearance. Though Willie Park had started doing the same several years prior, many architects in the UK were still building simplistic, geometric designs when Abercromby first built Worplesdon in 1908 and Coombe Hill in 1909.”

The Evolution of Golf Course Design by Keith Cutten: “Abercromby was a totally free-hand artist, who shunned the practice of working from measured distances or drawings. Instead, he preferred to place his trust on feel and intuition.

His conviction was that design work was completed on-site, and he was always present to supervise the construction of his projects.

Abercromby is now recognised as one of the finest designers of the pre-World War One era: an artist who created some of the most natural-looking bunkers of the period.”

Notable Courses

Bovey Castle

Bovey Castle

Newton Abbot, England

Coombe Hill

Coombe Hill

Kingston upon Thames, England

Gog Magog (Old)

Gog Magog (Old)

Cambridge, England

Knole Park

Knole Park

Sevenoaks, England

Mill Hill

Mill Hill

London, England

The Addington

The Addington

Croydon, England

West Kent

West Kent

Orpington, England

Explore More Architects

Harry Colt

Harry Colt

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