William Herbert Fowler was "perhaps the most daring and original of all golfing architects, and gifted with an inspired eye for the possibility of a golfing country," writer Bernard Darwin has said about the British architect who designed our course way back in 1924.
Fowler is not a household name, however, and his work is often not familiar to today's golfers. Born in 1856, he was actually one of the prime pioneers among golf course architects who believed that courses should have a natural design that follows the lay of the land. He is credited with making an important transition into the modern era from the rudimentary and formalistic designs of the past. He tried to use topography to test golfers, not manmade contrivances. He was also recognized in his time as one of the great designers of links courses.
After playing golf on courses that he felt were very mechanical and had a repetitive feel to them, he had his first chance to design the kind of course he wanted to create back in 1902 at an English Club called Walton Heath. In creating what is now known as the Old Course at Walton Heath, Fowler rode horseback over the 600-acre site for several months until he got a sense of where to place the holes. When the course opened in 1904, it became an instant success. Elsewhere in Great Britain, he designed 36 highly regarded seaside holes at Saunton and 36 inland holes at Berkshire. He also worked on Cruden Bay in Scotland and Royal Lytham & St. Anne's.
Fowler brought his talent to the United States and built exciting courses on both the East and West coasts. He designed what was then called Chatham Country Club on Cape Cod, but which has been renamed Eastward Ho. In California, in addition to Crystal Springs Golf Club, he also created Del Paso in Sacramento.
And next time you are looking at the 18th hole at Pebble Beach, remember to think of Mr. Fowler because in 1922 he transformed the hole from a 379-yard par-4 to a 548-yard par- 5 that is probably now the best finishing hole in golf.