TOM SIMPSON (1877 – 1964)
A Short Biography
By Tom Mackenzie

The story of Tom Simpson’s obituary says as much about this intriguing and controversial man as anything, especially as the writing of Henry Longhurst can be used to tell so much about the richness of the man’s life.

Simpson was always a man with a lively mind and, towards the end of his life, he mentioned in conversation with a friend that he was intrigued about how his obituary would read. His friend then contacted Henry Longhurst and, in 1959, five years before Simpson’s death, one appeared. As would be expected of Longhurst, it gave a superb insight into a man who was so much more than a brilliant golf course architect. The whole article is included below. It would be wrong to edit the great man's work:

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Simpson was one of the great amateur golf course architects. He was independently wealthy and did not need the money to exist and this, undoubtedly, influenced his approach to design and especially dealing with committees, which was unambiguous and frequently controversial. He said it as he saw it and, in Longhurst’s words, “his life has been one of unwavering hostility towards government by committees in any shape or form and of ceaseless endeavour to get ‘one up’ on them.”

Harry Colt, Dr Alister MacKenzie and many others wrote well about golf course architecture and the likes of Mackenzie’s “Golf Architecture” are acknowledged classic, but Simpson and Wethered’s “Design For Golf” published in 1929 remains one of the most under-rated texts on golf course architecture. It is remarkable because so much of Simpson’s remaining work proves that he put it into practice, unlike some of the other better known authors and architects. For those interested, reading this book followed by some visits to his untouched work is highly enlightening. Any aspiring golf course architect could do far worse than to read and absorb what he wrote. It is a blue print for intelligent golf where, as he frequently wrote, “the Tiger, poor brute, deserves no mercy”. His “low profile” style, now more commonly known as “minimalist”, is as relevant now as it has ever been.

On reading his work, it becomes very clear that he was always happy to promote his own work quite cynically. Whether this was because he was utterly convinced that his own work was the best, a perfectly possible explanation, or he was insecure about the success of his business rivals, Colt and Company, is impossible to know. It is clear, though, that he missed few opportunities to condemn Colt’s work when he could. In 1933, he reported on Muirfield and he certainly left little open to doubt as to his opinions on what had to be done. Some of his recommendations were implemented, but most were not and his illustration of penal architecture and everything he hated about course design in his book looks uncannily like the 10th at Muirfield.

He was not a prolific golf course architect. Much of his work was done in Ireland and on the continent and his fees were often substantially more than his competitors, a ploy, perhaps, to scare off those who were not totally convinced to use him. Many of his finest works were actually redesigns of old layouts, such as County Louth in Ireland and Ashridge in England. Two world wars also ate into his productive years. His early years were spent working alongside Herbert Fowler and, although not all that much is known of their respective input, there must a fair chance that he was involved in some of Fowler’s greatest works, such as Saunton, Walton Heath and The Berkshire. Perhaps, there is someone who will know more about this.

There was so much more to the man than all of this though. He was a barrister who never saw or has the need to practice. He was a superb artist and art critic and his hobbies included needlework. He was also a collector of cigars, Persian rugs, walking sticks and wines. The latter must have been fairly impressive as he built two courses for the Rothschild family.


Herbert Fowler Born: 1855
John Abercromby Born: 1860
Simpson Born: 1877
Started at Cambridge University: 1895
Graduated with MA: 1902
Married: 1902
Called To The Bar: 1903
Wrote Letter To Golf Illustrated about golf course architecture: 1908
Joined Herbert Fowler’s company: 1910
Exhibited Water colours in London: 1911
Fowler goes out to USA: 1919
Fowler, Abercrombie, Simpson and Croome formed: 1923
Exhibited Water colours in London: 1926
Simpson and Company fromed: 1928
“The Architectural Side of Golf” published: 1928
Contributed four chapters to Roger and Joyce Wethered’s “Game of Golf” book: 1931
Contributed a chapter in Martin Sutton’s Golf Course Design, Construction and Upkeep: 1933 and again in 1950
Advise on Royal Porthcawl and Muirfield: 1933
Sunningdale New Course re-opened: 1934
Ashridge reconstruction commences: 1936
Took part in a BBC Radio Interview: 1936
Sunningdale New Course being changes by John Morrison: 1937
Visited and advised Carlow, County Louth and Ballybunion in Ireland: 1937
County Louth re-opened after major work: 1938
Eleven of the Ashridge holes ready for play: 1939
Died: 1964