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- J. H. Taylor
J. H. Taylor
John Henry Taylor is rightly regarded as a golfing pioneer. He was one of the best golfers of his era then played a significant role in shaping the way that the game is now played. Born into an ordinary, working class family in Devon, his father passed away when he was only eleven years of age, forcing him to leave school in favour of paid employment.
He worked as a mason’s labourer and as a gardening assistant to Horace Hutchinson, who won a couple of Amateur Championships and was one of the earliest writers on golf architecture and golf instruction. He also caddied at nearby Westward Ho! which was where he learned to play the game.
Taylor turned professional in 1890 and served a number of clubs – Burnham & Berrow, Royal Winchester and Royal Wimbledon – over the following decade before moving to Royal Mid-Surrey in Richmond, where he served the club for almost half a century, from 1899 until he retired in 1946.
It was while he was at Royal Mid-Surrey that he experimented (along with greenkeeper Peter Lees who had worked at Royal Burgess) in ‘alpinization’ of the property, using horses and hundreds of men to dig out mountains of earth in order to fashion some creative contouring on a landscape that was pancake-flat.
He became the first Englishman to win the Open at Royal St George’s in 1894 and he would go on to become the Champion Golfer at this event another four times. He also triumphed in the French Open a couple of times (1908 and 1909) and the German Open in 1912.
Taylor travelled to the United States with Harry Vardon in 1900 to compete in the US Open at Chicago Golf Club, playing a series of exhibition matches around the country before the competition got under way. Vardon then sailed back to Britain with the winner’s cheque in his pocket after winning the event by two strokes from Taylor.
The following year, he co-founded the British Professional Golfers’ Association, becoming its first chairman. He was also instrumental in the formation of the Artisan Golfers’ Association through his membership of Northam, which is still one of more than sixty clubs affiliated to that national organization.
Taylor was still competing at the top level up until the start of the Great War – his last Open Championship win came in 1913 – so his early design work wasn’t exactly prolific. He did make regular trips to Dornoch and it’s said he consulted there free of charge on the course alterations made by the club secretary John Sutherland.
Taylor visited another Scottish course in 1914, making another long journey down the Kintyre peninsula to Machrihanish to make modifications to the Championship course. He also designed several courses in England before the onset of World War I and one of these layouts, the Upper course at Hainault Golf Club in Essex, is regarded as the first municipal course in England.
Fred G. Hawtree teamed up formally with J.H. Taylor in 1922 – though they had worked on several projects before the war – and they were soon busy all over the British Isles. They remodelled Royal Porthcawl in Wales (adding four new holes in 1925), built new courses at Arklow and Rosslare in Ireland (in 1927 and 1928), and redesigned the layout at Royal Birkdale in 1932.
Both Taylor and Hawtree were strong proponents of public golf – jointly founding the National Association of Public Courses in 1927 – and they put their philosophy of “golf for all” into practice by constructing well-regarded public layouts such as Norwich Municipal, Marston Green Municipal and White Webbs Municipal.
“Spanning in excess of thirty-five years, Taylor’s design career was extensive,” writes Keith Cutten in his book The Evolution of Golf Course Design. The author continues: “Over this period, his views on design changed, including an evolving philosophy on bunkers and hazard features. It led to the eventual introduction of the feature now commonly referred to as ‘Mid-Surrey mounding’.
Taylor lamented the loss of the cross-bunker. His argument, which was endorsed by his long-time friend Horace Hutchison, was that no feature is entirely good or bad; but that it can be simply overused. Eliminating a feature entirely from one’s ‘toolbox’ limits the variety available in the final design.”
From The Golf Course by Geoff Cornish and Ron Whitten: “J. H. Taylor, one of British golf’s ‘Great Trimuvirate,’ originally trained as a gardener at the boyhood home of Horace Hutchinson.
Taylor had little formal education, having left school by age eleven, but he was an avid reader and insisted on writing his memoirs Golf, My Life’s Work, without the assistance of a ghost writer.”
From the World Golf Hall of Fame: “It was the legendary Scotsman, Andrew Kirkcaldy, who first saw the greatness in John Henry Taylor. After losing a challenge match to Taylor in 1891, Kirkcaldy went back to St. Andrews and predicted that the young Englishman who just defeated him would win many Open Championships. ‘You’ll see more of Taylor,” he said. “And then you’ll know why he beat me, and why he will beat all the best of the day.’
Kirkcaldy proved to be right, of course. Three years after defeating Kirkcaldy, he became the first Englishman to win the Open. Taylor captured five British Opens, joining Harry Vardon and James Braid to form the Great Triumvirate. ‘The mon’s a machine,’ Kirkcaldy said. ‘He can dae naething wrang.’
Taylor took the game seriously, and once wrote: ‘To try to play golf really well is far from being a joke, and lightheartedness of endeavor is a sure sign of eventual failure.’ Bernard Darwin, who was a close friend, recalled that nobody, not even Bobby Jones, suffered more over championships than Taylor did. ‘Like Bobby,’ said Darwin, ‘(Taylor) had great control and might appear outwardly cool, but the flames leaped up from within.’
Taylor’s final years were spent in his native village of Northam overlooking Westward Ho! enjoying the view he called “the finest in Christendom.” His death in 1963 just short of his 92nd birthday marked the passing of the last of the great golfers from the 19th century.”
From “Carry Your Bag, Sir?” The Story of Golf’s Caddies by David Stirk: “John Henry Taylor, a caddie golfer if ever there was one, also came from a poor family. When he became a famous professional, he championed the cause of the golfer who was not rich. He was a great supporter of artisan clubs and public courses. He, in particular, encouraged a proper standard of dress and behaviour both on and off the course and set standards which many of today’s professionals could adopt with advantage.”
From Bunkers, Pits and other Hazards by Forrest Richardson and Mark Fine: “In the span of just a few years, the concept of alpinization went from being admired to being shunned. Taylor’s abrupt mounds and their artificial look were thought of as hideous and revolting. Taylor, who had been quoted during his Mid-Surrey effort as saying ‘it should be made to look as close to nature as the hand of man admits,’ is still shunned today.
Many critics continue to describe his work as a failure – unnatural and unnecessary. But Taylor’s laboratory at Mid-Surrey forever gave golf a major breakthrough. The notion that Taylor failed is without merit. Although the result of alpinization at first was too abrupt and overdone, it opened the door to thinking beyond the use of bunkers as hazards. Taylor taught us to think outside the box when it comes to mixing golf with inland sites.”
From Divine Fury of James Braid: Professional Golf Standard Bearer by George E. Payne: “Taylor was instrumental in the creation of the PGA. Being outspoken and a competent public speaker, many believed he would have made an excellent politician. Braid, never at ease when it came to public speaking, played a major role behind the scenes and when the organisation was formed in 1901 Taylor became Chairman and Braid the first Captain. Both men served the organisation for the rest of their lives.
Similarities between the two continued: five (Open) Championships each, neither owned nor drove a car, neither was a heavy drinker and eventually neither smoked although they both liked a pinch of snuff. Both of them served their final club as professional for 47 years. Both of them, at different times, had a relationship with Hawtree as the constructor of the courses which they had designed. The R&A bestowed Honorary memberships on both at the same time.”
Taylor on Golf (1902)
Golf Faults Illustrated with George W. Beldam (1905)
Golf: My Life’s Work (1943)