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- S. V. Hotchkin
S. V. Hotchkin
Colonel Stafford Vere Hotchkin was born in 1876, the only son of Thomas John Stafford Hotchkin and Mary Charlotte Edith Lucas, elder daughter of George Vere Braithwaite. He served in the 21st Lancers and Leicestershire Yeomanry and was attached to the Royal Horse Artillery during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in World War I.
After returning to England from The Great War, he purchased his home course at Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire. The original layout had been a 9-holer, designed by Harry Vardon then later extended to eighteen holes by Harry Colt and Hotchkin spent several years remodelling it alongside C.K. Hutchison, retaining only one of Colt’s greens.
Hotchkin’s interest in golf as a business started by accident in 1924 when he was an investor in a railway company running the Sleaford to Kirkstead line. He noticed that grasses grew stronger where joints in the rails had been cut. This developed through a company called Ferigna, which was initially set up to promote iron-based fertilisers.
In 1926, Hotchkin officially joined forces with Hutchison and Guy Campbell with the “Three Majors” becoming partners in a new company called Links and Courses, which operated from The Manor House, Woodhall Spa.
Hotchkin travelled to South Africa in the winter of 1927 at the invitation of Dr. Charles M. Murray, who had previously studied in Great Britain. Port Elizabeth Golf Club wanted a second course built on the Eastern Cape and they wanted somebody who knew what they were doing as golf design in the country was decades behind the times, with straight holes, bland bunkering and flat, square greens offering little strategic interest.
As Stuart McLean remarks in the book South Africa’s greatest golf destinations: “Fortunately, Hotchkin was heavily influenced by the work of Harry Colt, regarded as the father of British golf course design. He applied the Colt design philosophy of natural symmetry with the land to his new project, so creating an enduring masterpiece at Humewood.
News spread of what Hotchkin had achieved on the shores of Algoa Bay, and he went on to make substantial improvements at Maccauveli and East London, other classic designs from that era.”
In actual fact, during the few months he spent in South Africa, he also made changes to the course at nearby Royal Port Alfred, along with modifications to the layouts at Durban Country Club in Kwazula-Natal and King David Mowbray in the Western Cape.
Hotchkin’s ground breaking trip to South Africa had a similar effect on golf course architecture in that part of the world as Alister MacKenzie’s excursion to Australia the year before. According to one commentator, “Hotchkin, more so than any other person before or after, helped South Africa realize its golfing potential”.
When he came back from a short spell in South Africa, the newly founded Links and Courses company was taking on projects in the south of the country at places such as Ashridge, Leeds Castle and West Sussex. But the "Three Majors" partnership didn’t last for long, Links and Courses dissolved in 1931, perhaps due to disagreement over certain aspects of the designs or maybe just a clash of personalities.
West Sussex was certainly Hotchkin’s crowning glory, though Woodhall Spa must have had a major effect on its design. They are both set in heathland, though the latter is laid out on relatively flat ground, as opposed to the rolling terrain at Pulborough.
The courses are designed as nine out and nine back, instead of two returning nines, and even though West Sussex is much shorter, it’s just as challenging, with bunker design and placement having a significant impact on the playability of either course.
With his extensive knowledge of the technical aspects of golf course construction and his experience of designing links layouts in South Africa, Hotchkin was undoubtedly the leading man in the design partnership, fashioning a course that has just in recent years come to be regarded as one of the very best in the British Isles.
From West Sussex Golf Club’s history files: His son Neil records that his father’s interest in businesses based on golf first started quite by accident in 1924 at which time he had noticed that on railways (he was an investor in a business running the Sleaford-Kirkstead line) grasses grew stronger where joints in the rails had been cut. This developed through a company called Ferigna set up initially to promote iron-bearing fertilisers. His work with Hutchison and Campbell eventually led to them incorporating a new company called Links and Courses set up in 1926 and which operated out of The Manor House, Woodhall Spa, from where the accounts and books and secretarial support was maintained until 1931 when it dissolved.
The Golf Course by Geoff Cornish and Ron Whitten: “Hotchkin’s first golf design experience was the remodelling of his home course Wooodhall Spa, which he purchased in 1920. In the mid-1920s, he made an extended tour of South Africa, designing or remodelling a number of the nation’s top courses, and many considered him the best architect to have worked there.”
Golf Course Architecture article by Jonathan Gaunt: “In his book, The Principles of Golf Architecture , he described the modern golf course architect as someone who possesses a large and varied knowledge of golf course construction, which embraces an understanding of green keeping, landscape gardening, the management and knowledge of labour conditions, all about clubhouses, the laying of water and an insight into ‘how to save expenditure and reduce waste’. Above all, the best element is good practical knowledge combined with common sense.
Hotchkin was a great admirer of links courses and he looked upon their construction as being merely a matter of making the best use of what was already provided. However, as in the case of some links courses, he disliked the layout to reach a point furthest from the clubhouse, and then to return.
This was because he felt the golfer would not be sufficiently tested by the change in the direction of the wind. He believed the course should be designed in such a way as to allow the wind to influence the golfer in as many different ways as possible.
Regarding the layout of a golf course he felt the landscape determined the type of course which could be built. If any sand dunes, sandy hollows, gravel pits, ponds or gorse exist on site, then they should be incorporated into the design of the course. On hilly land, the course should be made shorter, whereas on flat land, additional length could be planned for.
He identified that a larger proportion of golfers preferred a shorter course of reasonable length. Although he felt that it was quite impossible to design a course which would satisfy the requirements of the pure rabbit, the architect should endeavour to provide enjoyment for all types of golfer.
The carry from tees should be fair and not over difficult so as to keep congestion on the course to a minimum; the par fours should be designed to allow the longer handicapper a relatively easy five; the par threes should be played from the same tees by all standards of golfer, yet the club selected to play the shot will differ accordingly.
Hotchkin regarded the proper balance of the holes on the course as a major aspect, and he suggests there should be four par threes, two of which should be at even holes, the other two at odd, and that the remainder should consist of eleven or twelve par fours and two or three par fives.
Hotchkin suggests that the fairways of par four and five holes should be set at an angle from the tee, and the greater the angle, the greater the variety of shots and interest in playing the hole. Consequently, the golfer who places his drive in the most advantageous position should get the fullest benefit for his second shot.
The entrances to the greens of par three and par five holes should be narrow, whereas, to par four holes the entrance should become wider as the approach shot increases in length. Bunkering on a course is totally dependent on the characteristics of the particular site and on each hole.
For example, in parkland the bunkers should be kept to a minimum and be feature bunkers only. In addition, grass bunkers could be used with good effect. He recommends that if a bunker is to be constructed, then it should be bold without any obviously artificial surrounds.
Hotchkin believed that the setting of the green was of paramount importance and that it must blend with its surroundings in order to obtain the proper atmosphere. The way to accomplish this was to avoid cutting into the side of a hill and creating over steep banks at the back of greens. The best results could be achieved by appreciating what existed and working with it or enhancing it.”