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Great Golf Course Architects - H.L. 'Cargie Rymill

by Neil Crafter
courtesy of the Golf Architecture Magazine - click for more

H.L. “Cargie” Rymill (1870 – 1951)

No single man had more of an impact on the establishment of the golf courses of Adelaide than Herbert Lockett Rymill. In his day, Rymill was considered the font of golf course design knowledge in South Australia and was highly regarded throughout the country for his expertise.

This is the story of one man’s life and his legacy to golf.

Early Days

Herbert Rymill was born in Adelaide on 19th August 1870, to parents Henry and Lucy. He was the second youngest of their 7 children, who grew up in the family home called the “Firs” on East Terrace, Adelaide, a mansion now known as Rymill House. Their father Henry had emigrated from England in 1855 and was a wealthy estate and financial agent, eventually becoming Chairman of the Bank of Adelaide.

Little is known of young Herbert’s early days or his education, but it is known he was sent off in his later youth to work in a flour mill at Port Adelaide by his father but didn’t stick at this for long. He went to England in 1901 at the age of 31 – his family had relatives in Devon and he later recalled that on this visit he caddied for a clergyman, but was not impressed with his game and never asked to have a shot.

The unusual nickname of “Cargie” (pronounced Carjee), did not come about from his rifle shooting days as commonly thought. Rymill was a crack shot and won championships in South Australia and Victoria for pigeon shooting. In shooting for the Adelaide Gun Club he used the name “Teksum” (musket spelt backwards). In the early 1900’s there was a play showing in the Theatre Royal in Adelaide – in it a clown character named “Cargillo” was a pigeon slayer – and so this name seemed perfect for Rymill and was eventually shortened to “Cargie”. He also played a mean game of croquet, winning the Adelaide Croquet Club championship before taking up golf.

The Seaton Years

The Adelaide Golf Club had moved in 1896 from their rudimentary 9 hole course in the north parklands in North Adelaide, laid out in 1892 when the club re-established itself after a 17 year hiatus, to a course at Glenelg. It amalgamated with the then Glenelg Golf Club and its nine holer, laid out over Sandison’s paddocks along the Sturt Creek, was quite rustic in nature – by 1898 it had been extended to 18 holes. Rymill joined the club in 1903 and later described this old course at Glenelg:

“The course in those days was considered fit to play the championship on, but it was only cow-paddock golf; the fairways were not even cut and the greens were small with fences round to keep out the numerous cows and poddy calves.”

Earlier that year, Rymill had seen Dan Soutar win the Australian Amateur championship held in Adelaide over the Glenelg course, and Soutar’s recovery and short game skills certainly impressed “Cargie”, then aged 32, and “that day I got the golf bug.”

By 1904, Rymill had been appointed to the committee and placed in charge of the greens. The club was anxious to seek a property of its own and the decision was made that year to leave Glenelg. The club secretary Mr C.L. Gardiner had identified a large parcel of land further north at Seaton, and after some diversionary tactics, designed to disguise their interest in the land, a party of committee members, including Rymill, came upon the site from its south-west corner. They were less than impressed by the flat, swampy land they first saw, but by the time they reached the sand dunes near what is now the famous “Crater Hole” at the 11th, Rymill, in his own words, exclaimed, “I have never seen St. Andrews, but it is like this – so go and buy the 240 acres!”, which they duly did, for less than £10 an acre.

Gardiner and Rymill together laid out an 18 hole course on the land and by August 1905 it was ready for play. By this time “Cargie” had been appointed Honorary Secretary of the Club. The next year, the club decided to get a professional opinion on the layout for the definitive course and selected Dan Soutar of Sydney. The burly Carnoustie native was complimentary about the site and included a plan which was not even submitted to the members – the committee chose an alternative plan prepared by their captain Dr. Harry Swift, Mr W. J. Gunson and of course, Rymill.

Much effort was put into establishing this “permanent” layout over the next 4 years and both Swift and Rymill were anxious to secure the 1910 Australian Championships (in those days both the Open and Amateur events were held on the same course in the same meeting). As a result of the official inspection, a flurry of bunker making activity took place, with Rymill adding some 90 new bunkers to the layout. Most of these were later roundly criticized by Dr Mackenzie when he viewed the course in 1926, especially the “steeplechase” bunkers which stretched across the fairways.

In September 1906, “Cargie” married Shylie Katharine Blue (at 22, she was 14 years younger than her husband), in a ceremony at the Montefiore home in North Adelaide of her stepfather, Sir Samuel Way, the Lt. Governor of South Australia and a noted legal identity.

In 1910, Rymill was honoured by life membership of the club. By 1911 however, “Cargie” had become a law unto himself as Club Secretary, and was strongly reprimanded for failing to take heed of the committee’s instructions regarding the work to prevent the 15th green from flooding - Rymill had decided instead to relocate the green to higher sandy ground. Following this rebuke he resigned from the committee, and shot off a 2000 word letter justifying his actions. However, it seems there was little residual bitterness and what followed was a period that saw little change to the course. Rymill did eventually return to the Committee and was elected Captain from 1918 to 1921. Even during his Kooyonga years, “Cargie” still remained a member at Seaton and as late as 1932 was still attending that club’s Annual General Meeting.

“Cargie” was apparently one of the few Australian men of that time who did not know how to drive a car and did not want to know. He rode his bicycle and walked, but mostly used public transport, especially trains. Apparently his reticence for motor vehicles was as a result of being taught to drive by his older brothers and running the car into a wall - he never drove again after this. He often rode his bike up into the Adelaide Hills and on one occasion rode to Mt. Gambier and back – a round trip of some 800km – and kept an interesting account of his trip.

Strings were pulled by the Adelaide Golf Club and a new station, appropriately named “Golf Links”, established on the line that bisects the Seaton course, right next to the Clubhouse. Rymill moved house to Kirkcaldy, near Henley Beach, and close to the Grange to City line, so that he could board the train virtually outside his front door and alight at the Clubhouse.

Playing Days

“Cargie” Rymill proved to be more than a handy golfer, even though he took up the game relatively late in life. He later wrote that, “When I was young and virile, I reckoned it was an old woman’s game to hit a ball over a hill and then go and look for it.” As a lad, he and his brother borrowed two of his sister’s clubs and “had a whack” on the family tennis court, but found it too tame – they played a game of hockey with his sister’s clubs instead!

He was runner up for the club championship at Seaton on two occasions and won a number of club events. His wife Shylie was even more successful, winning the South Australian Women’s Championship in September 1913, only 4 months after giving birth to daughter Katharine. Two of their four children, Bill and Kath, both went on to become State amateur champions, securing the title 6 times and 4 times respectively. Other sons Henry and E.G. (Tom) did not take up the game seriously. “Cargie’ showed his love for his course by christening his second son, born in 1909, William Seaton Rymill.

A Life at Kooyonga

In 1922, a train strike saw “Cargie” forced to return home from the city to Henley Beach by the tram. On the way, as the tram crossed the 1 kilometre viaduct that spanned the flood-prone land known as the Reedbeds, he was surprised to see a large tract of land on the southern side of Henley Beach Road at Lockleys. This land, known as “May’s Paddocks”, was for sale and “Cargie” was so intrigued by this he returned to May Terrace, hopped the fence and walked across the paddocks, which contained a few cattle and horses. He took note of the terrain, the prominent sand dunes and the excellent sandy soil. Rymill knew he had found the site for a wonderful golf course.

He immediately set about establishing a new club and purchasing the land. Rymill had a wide circle of influential friends and he approached many of these men to invest in his project, and along with his own significant contribution, the Kooyonga Golf Club was born. “Cargie” had named his seafront house on the Esplanade at Kirkcaldy “Kooyonga”, believing it to be an Aboriginal word meaning “plenty sand, plenty water”, but no record of such a word exists.

Rymill submitted his report on the establishment of the course to a director’s meeting in June 1922. In part this said:

“…I propose to lay out 9 holes for golf, taking into consideration the extension to 18 holes next year, that is to say the first 9 holes of the eventual 18 hole course. It has been found more advantageous in England to lay out only 9 holes and thereby getting them into playing order in quicker time rather than the whole 18 holes….. also there is one important matter that I wish the Directors to decide at their first meeting and that is that I be appointed sole architect for the course and general supervisor. This is necessary as in England the leading golf architects will not undertake the job unless they have an entirely free hand.”

 Survey plan of the Kooyonga links from 1926

Rymill made it clear what he wanted and he got the support of his fellow directors. The Kooyonga course was his to design and he threw himself into the task, which was to become a labour of love.

Construction of the first nine commenced and with two staff, two horses of uncertain age and occasional day labourers, the holes were brought into shape by July 1923, when the first competition was played. By June 1924, the full 18 hole course was in play.

By this time, “Cargie” had sold his home in Henley Beach and moved to a house he named “Kenton” (after his ancestral family home in Devon) on Henley Beach Road at Lockleys, just to the north-west of the course, so that he could maximise his time on the links. He even had a small sickle attached to the end of his walking stick which he used to dispatch offending weeds on his walks around the course.

The club continued to acquire land to lengthen the course – the last piece of Rymill’s jigsaw fell into place with the purchase of a 35 acre strip along the southern boundary of the course, known as “Kidman’s Paddocks” - owned by wealthy pastoralist and the club’s first President Sir Sidney Kidman (known as the Cattle King). Daughter Kath recalls sitting down with her father and Sir Sidney while negotiations for the land took place – and the land was eventually purchased by the club. Here Rymill was able to fit a fine three shotter through the sandhills and a testing one shotter, which ultimately became the 2nd and 3rd holes, once the current par 5 first hole was created by the amalgamation in 1926 of a short two shot opener and a one shotter.
An interesting quirk of the layout was a small round pot bunker sited in the crest of the hill at the 17th hole, right in the middle of the fairway where many a drive was trapped. Known as “Cargie’s Navel”, this worrisome feature was later filled in once Rymill’s control over the course waned.

Rymill's bunkering at the two shot 13th hole at Kooyonga, c. 1930

Trip to Britain

Late in 1923, “Cargie” Rymill made a trip to Britain, with the view of inspecting as many links in England and Scotland as he could. The Committee had empowered him to consult with a golf architect while he was there, provided the cost did not exceed 10 guineas.

Although no official record exists as to whom he consulted, it is believed that he spent some time in the company of Mr. W. Herbert Fowler, the talented British architect responsible for Walton Heath, Westward Ho! and Saunton. A later advertisement that Rymill placed for his course design services in October 1926 included quoted extracts from a letter of recommendation from Fowler to Rymill.

In England he purchased 2 hwt (100 kg) of putting green seed mix from Sutton and Sons of Reading, the leading English seed merchants - renowned for their famous “Sutton’s Mix” green seed that formed the original greens turf at Royal Melbourne and has recently been reintroduced there. This seed proved of great benefit to Kooyonga’s greens. By 1926, Rymill was acting as Sutton’s agent in Australia.

Rymill spent a good deal of time at St. Andrews during this trip and on 16th February 1924, he was entertained at dinner by Colonel W. D. Playfair of the Royal and Ancient. The Colonel was apparently fascinated by Rymill’s story of his new club in far off South Australia and presented him with a long nose wooden putter made by renowned clubmaker Hugh Philp of St. Andrews in 1832, originally belonging to his grandfather, Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair, a Captain of the R & A in 1856. Charles Lees’ famous 1847 painting, “The Golfers”, shows Sir Hugh wielding this putter in a match at St. Andrews. This putter was brought back to Adelaide by Rymill on his return in early 1924 and the Playfair Putter remains the trophy for the annual stroke play championship at Kooyonga.

Rymill and Dr. Mackenzie

When “Cargie” learned that British golf architect Dr. Alister Mackenzie, would be visiting Australia to consult with many clubs, he immediately dispatched a letter to the golf columnist at “The Herald” newspaper in Melbourne, which was published on October 1st 1926. Rymill wanted the paper and its readers to know, in no uncertain terms, that not all Australian clubs would be consulting with the Doctor:

“…with the exception of Kooyonga where I am the golf architect and sole supervisor. The course is still only in the making both as regards lay-out and bunkering, but in a few years, when the work is completed, I have no hesitation in saying it will be equal to anything I have seen in other parts of the world.”

Interestingly, although over 2 years on from the opening of the course, Rymill still saw Kooyonga very much as a work in progress. Rymill claimed this was as a result of trying to save money in construction, by using grounds staff for the work rather than a contractor as was the norm in England or America. But Rymill was also changing his layout as the new parcel of land along the southern boundary of the course became available, as did land between the current 5th and 6th holes, adding and deleting holes until he was satisfied with his routing.

He went on to say that one of the chief charms in golf was variety, not only in the courses, but in the holes themselves. And he clearly felt that if the one architect designed all the courses, this variety would be lost.

“The one fault that I found with the latest courses laid out in England and Scotland was the great sameness in the holes on the different courses, and as soon as I looked out the window of the train I could tell if Colt, Mackenzie or Fowler laid them out.”

Rymill suggested the greatest difficulty Mackenzie would face in Australia would be “the finding of men to carry out the work”, unless he brought a partner out with him, as he knew that Mackenzie was most unlikely to remain out here while the work was completed. Rymill certainly did not reckon with Mackenzie finding an Australian partner in the form of young Alex Russell. One gets the impression from this letter that “Cargie” had met and discussed golf architecture with the Doctor when in Britain in 1923-1924, however this cannot be confirmed. Later events would suggest that this meeting may well have taken place.

Cheekily, Rymill’s advertisement of October 1926 also indicated that he was willing to supervise the work for any club that had Dr. Mackenzie redesign their course. It is not believed he had any takers.

Following Mackenzie’s arrival in Australia, late in October 1926, and his subsequent return to Adelaide in early November to undertake his redesign planning at Seaton, “Cargie” surprisingly managed to have himself attached to the official inspection party that accompanied the Doctor on his tours of the course. Given that Rymill had no official role at Royal Adelaide – indeed he was the Captain of a rival club, one can speculate that his participation in these inspections was perhaps at the Doctor’s insistence, given a likely previous meeting of the two men.

We know from Rymill’s advice to “The Australasian” newspaper, related in an article on 20th November 1926, that he indeed accompanied Mackenzie and club officials on the inspection of the planned alterations and “he says that these are much as he has been advocating for years past.” Of great interest is the report that:

“….he got Dr. Mackenzie to have a hurried look at Kooyong(a), and that he was charmed (as well he might be) with the naturalness of the country and of some of the bunkers.

It was a pity that our visitor had no time to make an inspection of the truly great third hole (current 2nd). This is 460 yards long, yet so splendid are its natural features that there is neither bunker nor pot from tee to green, for nature has supplied fine hazards of her own with a lavish hand – water, sand, rushes, hillocks, and billowy fairways have been there from the beginning.”

Kooyonga is fortunate to have Rymill’s personal copy of Dr. Mackenzie’s little green book “Golf Architecture”. Rymill must have had the book since just after its publication in 1920 as it is endorsed by its owner as “H.L. Rymill – Adelaide Golf Club, Seaton”, inside both front and rear covers, clearly predating its ownership prior to the Kooyonga era. Inside is a treasure trove of his later pencil sketches of proposed holes for Kooyonga, along with many annotations and underlinings of Mackenzie’s text. These show that the Doctor’s philosophy certainly influenced Rymill’s design concepts. Another of his books was given to the club by his grandson William Lockett Rymill, also a Kooyonga member – a rare copy of “Golf Architecture in America” by George Thomas. It was clear that “Cargie” was well read on the subject.

Aerial view of Kooyonga's renowned 2nd hole, c.1930. The 13th tee is at lower right and immediately above it lies the 12th green. Beyond the 2nd green can be seen the one shot 3rd hole. Nary a tree in sight!

More Committee Run-ins

“Cargie” was appointed Kooyonga’s first Captain and held the post for 5 years. He continued to be sole supervisor of the course but by 1931 the Committee became restless about their lack of control and attempted to wrest it back. The latest incident to upset the Committee was Rymill obtaining fill to build up the low lying 16th fairway and carrying out this work without advising them. After a bitter round of correspondence, a meeting of the members was called and this confirmed Rymill’s role. However, it only caused the Committee to embark on a slow and steady program that eventually saw “Cargie” ousted from any position of authority within the club by 1933.

After ten years of daily attendance at Kooyonga, attending to every detail of the course construction and upkeep, as well as the general activities of the club, Rymill’s involvement was over. He did, however, remain a supporter of the Club and continued to suggest practical improvements for its benefit.

Other Design Commissions

H.L. Rymill was regarded interstate as one of the most knowledgeable men in matters of golf course design. “The Sporting Globe” of Melbourne, in an article in its December 8th, 1926 edition that described Alex Russell’s new career in golf course architecture, stated that:

“Herbert L. Rymill, of South Australia, has for some time been concentrating on this department of golf, and he has made a respected name for himself as a result of fine work done at Seaton and Kooyonga.”

In April 1925, Rymill was engaged to lay out a 9 hole course for the Mt Lofty Golf Estate Ltd on a site in Stirling East in the Adelaide Hills. The company had been established by a group of Royal Adelaide members who were looking for a cooler location to play summer golf to complement their winter season at Seaton. Rymill’s fee for design and supervision of construction was 30 guineas. For this he not only routed the course, sited on quite hilly and difficult land for construction, and designed its tees and greens, but also gave detailed advice on grasses, soils and fertilizers. £3500 was eventually spent on constructing the 9 holes, which were opened in December 1926. Rymill later offered his services for free in 1928 to try and lengthen the course but little practical improvement could be achieved. The course was eventually lengthened to 18 holes over the period of 1959-63 by Vern Morcom, son of Royal Melbourne’s Mick Morcom.

“Cargie” was approached by the fledgling Grange Golf Club in 1926 to lay out an 18 hole course for them on land just to the north west of Royal Adelaide. In 1927 it was reported that:

“The designs of Mr. H.L. Rymill (course architect) are being followed and the remaining holes will be cleared in the summer. The links, which are on a sandy soil, are in great condition…”

By April 1929, the full 18 hole course that had been constructed under Rymill’s guiding hand at a cost of £1800, was opened for play. The layout of this course, now known as the West Course, was modified by Vern Morcom in the late 1950’s but most of the holes today follow Rymill’s routing.

“Cargie” was certainly in demand to lay out new courses in and around Adelaide. In 1926 he was appointed by the Glenelg Golf Links Limited to design their new links on sandy land to the south of Kooyonga. Rymill produced a report and proposed plan in early September of that year, that stated in part:

“The total length will be slightly over 6,000 yards, and the area is such that this can be easily lengthened in a few year’s time if found desirable….There are only two holes on the flat portion of the land, and these can, if desired, be shifted into more undulating country when the large drift sand hill is captured with marram grass.”

By May 1927 though, “Cargie” had been dismissed from the project as a result of alleged lack of attention and supervision of the development of the course. This seems to indicate that construction of Rymill’s layout was underway, which is borne out by the fact that later that month the first nine holes were opened. Almost certainly this was another case of “Cargie” not seeing eye to eye with a golf club committee! An examination of Rymill’s plan for the course and early aerial photographs reveal that the first nine holes as built have similarities with his initial routing, making him for all intents and purposes the likely architect of the first nine. The implementation of the second nine saw a number of changes to his suggested routing and was undertaken by the club itself.

Another course claimed by Rymill in his 1926 advertisement is Mt. Gambier, in the south-east of South Australia. This claim is confirmed by other sources, however the club itself have no record of Rymill’s involvement – instead they credit the original course layout to Rufus Stewart, Kooyonga’s professional at the time. It is believed that Stewart may have designed the club’s second course after moving from the initial layout designed by Rymill.


“Cargie” enjoyed writing as an outlet for his creativity (The Letters to the Editor page of The Advertiser was a favoured destination for his epistles), especially writing about golf courses. In 1929 he wrote a series of course reviews for “The Sporting Globe” newspaper in Melbourne, including one on Alex Russell’s newly opened design at Yarra Yarra. Rymill was not afraid to praise, but also not afraid to criticize in equal measures, and managed even to mention his Kooyonga course twice! He noted that Russell’s green formations and bunkering were “particularly good”, but that the fairway bunkering failed to impress, “I was disappointed with the manner in which the through the green bunkers had been placed. This work would have been much better if it had been done along the lines followed by Mr. C. Lane, of Commonwealth, with more variety, and dictating that every shot should be placed for the obtaining of the easiest line to the hole.”

Later Years

After his removal from authority at Kooyonga in 1933, “Cargie” took a step back from golf and course design. From 1936, Rymill lived on Kangaroo Island, off South Australia’s southern coast, where he farmed a sheep property called “Karinga” in the McGillivray district, just south of Kingscote, with his son Tom. Daughter Kath lived there for a number of years and ran the farm when Tom went off to the war, until his return in 1945. She moved to Tasmania in 1960 and built a house at Falmouth on the east coast which she named “Kooyonga”.

The farm was sold in 1947 and “Cargie” and his wife returned to Adelaide, living briefly at the “Firs” until it too was sold, then moving to the inner northern suburb of Medindie. He passed away on 27th May 1951 at Ru Rua Private Hospital in North Adelaide, aged 80.

Rymill’s Legacy

“Cargie” was certainly a man who had confidence in his own ability and did not suffer fools gladly. He was autocratic in nature and enjoyed the responsibility of getting on and doing things, preferably his way. So it is not surprising that his life was punctuated by periods of calamitous discord with committees and boards, first at Seaton, but perhaps most painfully at Kooyonga, the course and club that was essentially his creation.

His daughter describes him as a visionary with a wonderful memory and a quick wit, and also as a man who enjoyed a drink or two, especially with friends in a club atmosphere – but he didn’t drink at home. “Smith’s Weekly”, in November 1926 also described him thus:

“H.L. Rymill specialises in being a specialist. As a conversationalist he’s in a class by himself. And again, he’s the only person in Australia who specialises solely in golf course architecture.”

“Cargie” was recorded in biographical and company listings as having the occupations of “gentleman, golf course architect”, so clearly as a wealthy man he had no need of making a living wage from his design services. Alex Russell was another Australian architect from this time that could be included in this same category.

Herbert Lockett Rymill’s legacy to golf in South Australia and indeed the country, is significant but not widely appreciated. As an architect, he had a guiding hand in all four of the major metropolitan courses in Adelaide - Royal Adelaide, Kooyonga, Grange and Glenelg – a remarkable achievement. This legacy, coupled with his early commitment to study golf course design in earnest and adopt it as his profession, earns “Cargie” Rymill a place in the vanguard of Australia’s early golf course architects.

The course at Kooyonga is perhaps his ultimate legacy. The professionals who will tackle the testing Kooyonga course in March for the Jacobs Creek Open will know they have been through a searching examination of their skills by the end of the tournament. Although it has been rewritten somewhat over the years, the Kooyonga exam paper still bears the signature of H.L. Rymill as its undisputed author.

(left) Caricature of 'Cargie' by F Fowler, 1935

References and Sources

The Rymill family, with special thanks to daughter Katharine and grandson Bill Rymill. Kath, now aged 89, lives in Launceston, Tasmania and still takes a keen interest in golf and all who play it

Club histories and minutes, with thanks to Kooyonga, Royal Adelaide, Glenelg, Grange and Mt. Lofty

Various period newspaper and magazine articles, with special thanks to Hedley Ham of Yarra Yarra.

by Neil Crafter
courtesy of the Golf Architecture Magazine - click for more