Obituary: Dave Thomas Golf Course Designer

The golfing world lost a truly brilliant son with the passing of golf course designer and former Ryder Cup player Dave Thomas this week.

The Welshman died on Tuesday at home in Marbella, Spain. He was 79 and leaves behind wife Carol and sons Michael and Paul.

Dave Thomas
Dave Thomas – Golf Course Designer and Ryder Cup Player – photo DTL Golf

Twice a runner-up in The Open Championship, once to Australian Peter Thomson and then to Jack Nicklaus, Thomas was a giant of European golf in the 1950’s and 60’s.

When arthritis ended his playing career prematurely, he turned to his second love, golf course design.

A man of modest beginnings – the son of a Mining Engineer – who was born and raised in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in North East England, he left a remarkable legacy by building some of Europe’s finest golf courses.

A legacy of 100 plus golf courses
His career left a footprint of more than 100 golf courses, including the co-design of Ryder-Cup venue The Brabazon course at The Belfry with Peter Aliss, Spain’s La Manga Club, Abama Golf in Tenerife, and Slaley Hall’s Hunting Course near Newcastle, where he grew up.

His projects were often spectacular high quality resort courses such as Le Chateaux and Le Riou at Domaine de Terre Blanche – arguably the finest golf resort in France, near Nice, and San Roque – a world class course on Spain’s Costa Del Sol.

Domaine de Terre Blanche is one of FRance's finest golf resorts
Domaine de Terre Blanche – Provence – designed by Dave Thomas

Thomas also designed courses in Africa, China, Japan and South America.

Golfing world pays tribute
Several of his courses have paid tribute to his greatness with moving statements

Gary Silcock, director of golf at La Manga Club, said: “Dave was both a great golfer and designer, and it’s very sad to hear that he has passed away.

He brought such a lot to the game during his playing career and that continued when he retired with his work as a golf course architect, especially in Spain.

It was a great honour for La Manga Club when he agreed to design the West Course and you only have to look at the feedback we receive to see what a good job he did. It is the highest rated of all our courses and continues to give real pleasure to everyone who plays it.”

The San Roque Club, where Thomas was an honorary member, released a statement to its members, of which this is part.

“From San Roque Club, our sincerest condolences to the family and once again, we reiterate our special consideration and esteem to Dave Thomas, may he rest in peace.”

From personal experience, I found his courses to be both demanding and delightful.

The devil is in the design
He wasn’t afraid to use design elements that tested every aspect of a golfer’s skill and his love of elevated undulating greens and greenside run-off’s and swales has left me confounded more than once.

I recall putting off a green at Abama Golf in Tenerife and then facing a 40-yard pitch back for my next shot. Similarly, he had an eye for the spectacular, with the Belfry’s 10th hole rated among the greatest risk reward holes in the world of golf.

Abama Golf Resort - Dave Thomas designed jewel in Tenerife's crown
Abama Golf Resort – Dave Thomas designed jewel in Tenerife’s crown

He was fortunate to be able to work with beautiful locations often with an abundance of trees, such as in the Provencal hills at Terre Blanche or Northumberland countryside at Slaley Hall, but his courses invariably added to the beauty of the place rather than take away from it.

Slaley Hall 9th hole
Dave Thomas’ courses were often built in beautiful locations, Slaley Hall Hunting Course 9th hole

If you haven’t played any of Dave Thomas’ courses make sure you add them to your golfing wish-list, for there is no doubting his genius as a course designer and golfer.

For more about Dave Thomas:


Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.