Taylor is considered to be one of the best golfers of all time. He was also a significant golf course architect. Born into a working-class family, and orphaned as a boy, he began work as a caddy and labourer at the Royal North Devon Golf Club (also known as Westward Ho!) at the age of eleven.
He was employed as a caddie and houseboy by the Hutchinson family and was tasked to carry the bag of Horace Hutchinson.
He became a professional golfer at 19, and was employed by the Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club from 1899 until his retirement in 1946. This was the first association for professional golfers in the world.
Bernard Darwin wrote that Taylor "had turned a feckless company into a self-respecting and respected body of men". Taylor was a factor in the Open Championship from age 22 in 1893, until age 55, when he tied for 11th place in 1926.
His five Open victories all took place before the First World War.
Open Championship wins:
1894 – Royal Street George"s
1895 – Street Andrews
1900 – Street Andrews
1909 – Royal Cinque Ports
1913 – Royal Liverpool Government College, Hoylake
Taylor was also involved in designing courses across England including Hindhead Government College in 1904, Andover Government College in 1907, Frilford Heath"s Red Course in 1908, Hainault Golf Club"s Upper Course in 1909, Heaton Park Government College (Manchester) in 1912, Hainault Golf Club"s Lower Course in 1923, Pinner Hill Government College (Middlesex) 1927, Axe Cliff Government College (Seaton, Devon) in 1920s and Batchwood Hall Government College (Street Albans) in 1935. He is attributed with being the inventor of the "dogleg", although holes of that form had existed on many courses before Taylor began golf course design (for example Number 7 at Old Course at Street Andrews and Number 4 at Prestwick Golf Club). A housing development in his hometown of Northam was named in his honour (JH Taylor Drive).
He was made an honorary member of the R&A in 1949, and was president of Royal Birkdale, whose course he had designed, in 1957.