Harry Colt was born Henry Shapland Colt in Highgate, Camden Town, London on August 4th, 1869. Growing up inland, Colt became a proficient player whilst at Cambridge. His discovery of links courses may only have come about by travelling to matches on the coast as an undergraduate.
Originally trained in Law, Colt was more interested in the pursuit of golf. Whilst appointed a partner in the Hastings Law Firm of Sayer & Colt in 1894, he helped design the Rye Golf Course and became its Honorary Secretary in 1895. His first attempt at course creation was on the Camber sands to the east of Rye, near the Sussex/Kent border. He became one of the founders of Rye, where he continued as honorary secretary for many years after.
Colt moved to Sunningdale in 1901, where he became first secretary. It was there that he discovered for the first time that conditions did exist inland that were ideal for golf, even though inland parkland lacked the characteristics of the bumpy and uneven dunes found on so many sites around Britain's shores. The Old Course at Sunningdale was originally laid out by Willie Park Jnr, a twice a winner of the Open Championship in the late 1890's, but Colt made several improvements to the course through the years.
Prior to the first World War, Colt had made the transition from management to recognised and respected architect, making him one of the first architects that was not a golf professional previously. He worked with Charles Alison, John Morrison and Dr Alister MacKenzie in a partnership to promote the design and construction of Golf Courses in the United Kingdom and Europe. Initially, the partnership contisted of Colt and MacKenzie in 1905, but the duo were joined by Alison in 1906 and Morrison in 1923, the same year that MacKenzie withdrew from the partnership.
During these transitional years, Colt’s services were engaged at Beaconsfield golf club in In 1913 to design a new prestigious 18 hole course on a different part of the estate. By this time, Colt had already designed some twenty courses including those at Stoke Poges, The Eden and Moor Park, but the majority of his work involved upgrading existing layouts.
In 1928, Colt formed the firm of Colt, Alison and Morrison Ltd. As his reputation grew, inquiries increased from further afield - at first the British Isles, then the mainland of Europe, eventually North America, much later Australia and the Far East. Colt’s designs became widely known, having designed over three hundred courses in some sixteen countries including Pine Valley, N. J., USA and Puerta de Hierro in Madrid.
Colt made several overseas trips, but his focus was more concentrated on UK courses, the most notable being St Andrews, The New Course at Sunningdale, Wentworth, Royal Worlington, Sherwood and Royal Lytham & St Annes.
Colt and his colleagues had only a few simple rules. Firstly, that early holes should not be demanding. Secondly, that using every club in the bag throughout a round is ideal, and that thirdly, the routing of the course should be determined by the land. The number of pars determined for a course fell apon the layout of the land and not any solid rule.
Colt’s design principles were based on the natural aesthetics of the land. Any alterations had to blend in with the environment and not impose on it. Anything added to the natural landscape would grow to be a part of it. Colt would draw on the natural landscapes of the links and apply them to his inland courses so that they too would become a living and lasting record of his work.
Courses that favour the deep 'pot' bunker are most likely to be designed by Colt. He was keen on the small but deep hazards as getting out of them required both technique and plenty of skill. Where possible, his courses followed the flow of the land, in much the same way as links courses. However, many of Colts inland layouts included the dogleg. That said, although there was usually trouble in front of most tees. Colt’s punishments were delivered to poor hitters – those that would top or miss hit, or strike a crooked shot. Layouts would also test the better player that would try to play distance in their aim to gain a shot, only to fall short and bunker giving a shot away to the lesser man.
This modest and unobtrusive man made a greater contribution to the game than any other, altering the landscape of Britain and other countries around the world. Colt died aged 82 on 21st November 1951.