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John Harris

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Notable Courses
Year of Birth1912
Year of Death1977 (aged 65)
Place of BirthChobham, Surrey, England
Biography

John Harris was educated at Pangbourne Nautical College, an independent boarding school in Berkshire where he gained civil engineering and surveying qualifications before joining the family construction company which was run by his father and uncle.

Established in the 1890s, Franks Harris Brothers was the first golf course construction firm in Britain, building courses for all the top architects at the time, such as J. F. Abercromby, Harry Colt and Herbert Fowler.

They constructed the course, clubhouse and residential estate at Moor Park in 1923 – one of the very first developments of that genre – then a short time later they built the East and West courses on the Wentworth Estate.

John’s main role in the firm was to translate into legible drawings for his foremen the sketches and pictures of putting greens, tees and bunkers that his firm received as working plans – some of which were described as “illegible and even childish”.

Harris was drafted into the Navy in 1939, eventually becoming a commander of minesweepers. While working for the Fifth Sea Lord, he was involved in the planning and construction of airfields in the Azores, Gibraltar and Malta. After World War II ended, he teamed up for a short time in a design partnership with C.K. Cotton.

Courses designed by John Harris in England are few and far between but he built or remodelled a number in Ireland, including Shannon (1966), Courtown (1971) and the Castle course at Lahinch (1971). He is also known to have carried out design work at Fermoy, Royal Tara and Tramore.

On the continent of Europe, Harris made his mark in a number of countries. He was involved in a couple of Danish commissions and another half a dozen assignments in both France and Spain but his most important golfing exploits were reserved for Italy.

Here, he designed or remodelled more than a dozen layouts and among the more well-regarded courses can be listed the likes of Biella, Venezia and Menaggio & Cadenabbia.

Additionally, his workload in Europe extended to Austria, The Netherlands, Portugal and Germany, where he completed one-off commissions in these four countries.

In Asia and the sub-continent, John helped build the Eden course at Royal Hong Kong (1968), Bali Handara in Indonesia (1975) and he also worked with Peter Thomson in remodelling the course at Royal Calcutta in 1972.

In the Caribbean, Commander Harris – as he’s often referred to – laid out courses in Jamaica (at Runaway Bay Golf Club in 1960), Tobago (Mount Irvine Bay in 1968) and Barbados (at Barbados Golf Club in 1974).

In Australasia, Harris was responsible for the new course at Royal Canberra in 1960, along with several original New Zealand designs, including Russley, Queenstown and Wairakei.

It’s been suggested that he was connected to other golf course projects in far-flung places such as Fiji, Mauritius, Singapore and Tunisia. One thing’s for sure, John Harris is better known for his overseas designs than for any golf projects carried out within his native land.

Extract:

Former professional Mike Wolveridge wrote about John Harris in this edited extract from edition 14 of Golf Architecture in 2012, reflecting on a week spent with the architect at his home in late July 1964:

“He had evolved a method of drawing, by no means as splendid as the lovely sketches which flowed from the pens of Hugh Alison or Tom Simpson, nor as sophisticated as working drawings were to become: the Harris drawings were practical and quantifiable, with scaled dimensions, easy to follow by contractors and clients alike!

Harris tended to be cynical when it came to practicing in the UK, warming to the lack of red tape and absence of shackles of local government which he encountered on the continent. Italy, Spain, Portugal and France were his preference and he loved the West Indies with its splendid climate and easy style… he happily left the UK to his partners and took his pencils and crayons abroad!

Such was his charm and presence, Commander Harris became a popular figure with entrepreneurs in the early 60s interested in resort development. Indeed, I believe it was John Harris who first termed the phrase ‘golf courses create valuable land’… he had found his element!

The time spent during that summer of 1964 when I stayed with the Harris family at their lovely house in Surrey has remained with me. I found John Harris to be pleasantly eccentric, not the least due to his possessing an enviable collection of motor cars: a ‘pair’ of Talbots, sundry Bentleys, a Daimler, an Aston Martin and his little BMW ‘shopping car’. Ever the sailor, he kept a 20-ton ketch on the South Coast to indulge his other passion.

Meanwhile, back on Tour, my interest in golf was shifting… a quite wonderful life of designing and making golf courses beckoned. Regular chats and correspondence with John Harris found that I had but to find a spectacular project to his liking somewhere in the warm sunshine and I would be ‘shown the ropes’.

And so by year’s end, during my end-of-season ‘swoop’ down to the Antipodes, playing in the New Zealand Open at Christchurch, the opportunity I had been seeking most happily presented itself. ‘Do you know of a really good golf architect to design 36 holes for me on a fairly flat, sandy site near here… something we could play a New Zealand Open on… start straight away?’ Well, there was never such a flurry of excitement and activity as Agent Wolveridge went into action that splendid Christmas of 1964.

In the New Year of 1965, Commander Harris arrived in Christchurch to much fanfare. He had a fine presence about him, charmed his new clients, liked the site and was most relived to be escaping another English winter. John Harris stayed for ‘as long as he could’ that first visit; six weeks was enough time to design the new courses in Christchurch and visit and advise a great number of golf clubs.

I stayed as organiser and willing assistant for the whole time… our association proved a happy and successful one and I was left with a huge amount to get on with. I played very few tournaments that year, including the Open at Royal Birkdale, won by Peter Thomson.

In making the transition to the fascinating new world of golf course architecture, I managed to garner the significant interest of Peter Thomson who said after his win: ‘What a good idea, it’s time for another great interest and this has long been on my mind.’ John Harris was thrilled… to have the current Open Champion on his team was a coup indeed!

In 1968, Harris Thomson & Wolveridge was formed, with offices in Melbourne and Hong Kong.

John Harris’ European work and his projects in the West Indies continued to garner most of his time and he retained those projects under either his own banner or one of myriad associations he formulated in the various countries and states to which his wanderlust took him, setting aside a month or two to leave the cold European winters behind and join HTW in Australia and South East Asia.

John Harris loved to visit the warmth and exotic golf resorts in Indonesia and especially at Bali Handara, a very beautiful course located in the crater of a volcano at 4,000 feet which was completed for President Suharto in 1972, a golfing home for his ASEAN conferences. He marvelled at ‘impossible sites’ in Japan where a spectacular course at Fujioka was emerging.

South East Asia and Japan was our new theatre. Along with Robert Trent Jones Jr. and Arnold Palmer’s design company, HTW were prominent in the region.

The reputation and skills of John Harris brought major projects for the NZ Government Tourist Board at Wairakei and in Hong Kong to design a third course for the Royal Hong Kong Golf Club at Fanling. The great drawcard as a five-time Open Champion and contacts of Peter Thomson brought HTW to the very beginning of the great ‘golf boom’ in Japan and it took us into the next decade, designing more than 30 new courses.

John Harris was a grand partner, companion, mentor and ambassador for golf. A prolific architect of more than 250 golf courses, mostly outside of the UK, he was always personable, with an eye for discovering new horizons. His last years seemed to find him disillusioned and unhappy. He became distinctly uncomfortable with life under the many and various planning restrictions in UK which was starting to infect Europe.

After a short illness toward the end of 1976, he passed away in February 1977 at home, his brilliant career a matter of notable record and lasting memory.”

Thanks to Julia Green at the European Institute of Golf Course Architects for kindly providing a copy of Mike Wolveridge's article.

Quote:

Ron Fream, another former design partner of John Harris, kindly supplied this exclusive quote:

“John Harris was an early pioneer for British golf who came from the Franks Harris golf construction firm his father headed. The company worked with architects like Colt and Braid after World War I and John worked there up until World War II then followed on as a golf architect when hostilities ceased.

He was one of only a few people who were designing golf courses after the war in the UK – along with Fred Hawtree – and John was connected to the British Foreign Service in some way, probably through his military connections.

He was directed to inquiries from former colonies seeking to upgrade their infrastructure and perhaps create tourist attractions within their countries. John met Peter Thomson and they agreed to collaborate as Peter saw the potential of deriving income from golf design earlier than most other professionals.

Michael Wolveridge, a Brit who had gone to Australia, was in the mix too. I met Thomson and Wolveridge in 1972-73, helping them with drawing preparation on some Japanese projects. My earlier experience with Robert Trent Jones and Bob Graves had allowed me to gain an insight into technical aspects that others were lacking.

I met John at his very nice home in Puttingham. He had some things to do in Barbados, Trinidad, St Kitts – and later in Portugal and Tunisia – but didn’t feel like making the long-haul journeys anymore.

He was receiving site topography or boundary maps and completing the drawings at his office-lounge-salon at home. He got the information by mail, did the drawings, mailed them back then received his cheque; all with no site visits.

These other projects, I was keen to see and do. I had a small office, few commitments at home, and a desire to see new places. I didn’t mind economy-class travel, low fees or no payments at all for work carried out.

I also didn’t mind the discomfort of frequent new locations. By then, John was enjoying his pink gin at noon, very nice meals and lavish cheese board with dinner, which was becoming of a man who was every inch the country gentleman.

Thomson was still playing golf, mostly in Japan, and winning often. Wolveridge had some things going on in Australia, and Japan with Thomson and we collaborated on an assortment of projects.

John died in 1977 and we disbanded Thomson Wolveridge Fream. Golfplan was functioning then too with domestic assignments and projects in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. I was fortunate to have met John and gain access to work in Tunisia, Portugal and Trinidad as a springboard to other things.

It was a great learning experience as my partnership with Thomson and Wolveridge opened Indonesia for me with Bali Handra, which helped me secure Jagorawi and the Serapong course at Sentosa Island in Singapore.”

Notable Courses

02
Barbados

Barbados

Oistins, Christ Church

03
Barlassina

Barlassina

Casone, Lombardia

04
Biella

Biella

Magnano, Piemonte

05
Bologna

Bologna

Chiesa Nuova, Emilia-Romagna

06
Costa Teguise

Costa Teguise

Las Palmas, Canarias

07
Courtown

Courtown

Courtown, County Wexford

08
Enzesfeld

Enzesfeld

Enzesfeld-Lindabrunn, Niederösterreich

09
Fermoy

Fermoy

Fermoy, County Cork

10
Garlenda

Garlenda

Garlenda, Liguria

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