The Midlands is not necessarily considered a hot spot for golf courses but Beau Desert Golf Club is one of the few exceptions.
This is the Marquess of Anglesey’s golf course. He commissioned Herbert Fowler to design it and in 1913, Fowler completed the job. The golf club was formed seven years later, affording the poor Marquess some tax benefits and some income from the lease.
“About twenty-five miles away from Birmingham, near Hednesford, is Beaudesert, which Mr. Herbert Fowler originally laid out for Lord Anglesey. Here might be one of the very best courses,” wrote Bernard Darwin in The Golf Courses of Great Britain, “for the turf is excellent and there is a flavour of Gleneagles about it. It stands high and is pleasanter in hot weather than cold, for the wind can blow there with penetrating shrewdness.”
Beau Desert, or “Beautiful Wilderness”, is an unusual name for a golf course, especially for a course located in such a manicured landscape. The land once formed part of the Marquess’s Beaudesert Estate. Once upon a time, the area may well have been wild and woolly, but it isn’t anymore. These days acres of woodland frame this heathland course.
It’s certainly not a long course, measuring 6,485 yards from the tips, but it’s narrow, requiring accuracy from the tee. The greens are quite large, especially the 18th, and they are full of wicked borrows, so expect a few three putts. Additionally, the holes are varied and memorable. Beau Desert is no pushover; on numerous occasions it has hosted Open Championship qualifying rounds.
One of the treats at Beau Desert is that you play most holes in splendid isolation; you can lose yourself in the trees here. If you take Beau Desert alongside Whittington Heath and Little Aston, you will experience three of middle England's best inland courses.
There are a lot of positives that can be said about the course at Beau Desert as it makes a rise and fall through the outskirts of Cannock Chase, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The location is very pretty and the routing is excellent where few consecutive holes are played in the same direction.
Making your score on the greens is key to a successful round as they’re beautifully undulating. Sadly, they had been top-dressed in the weeks leading up to when we played, but I think they’d be a real health hazard come mid-Summer. The opening few holes are good holes, but I felt that the course really came to life in the stretch from 4 through 7, an area that takes you through some beautiful fir and pine woodland. On several tee shots across the course, you have to thread your ball through tree lined alleyways with the risk and reward 260-yard par four 9th being one of the best short par fours I’ve played. You must be careful not to fall foul of the sharp drop-off to the rear and side of the green or what looks like a birdie opportunity could end up being costly.
As good as the course is, it does have the potential to get better and climb the rankings. They have recently added some new teeing areas which create these tunnel-like tee shots, but the course could still be improved with some rework to the bunkers.
Oddly you must wait until the 15th for the first par five, which along with the other long hole at 18, are two of the best designed holes that incorporate a need for thought and strategy to make the best score. The ridge that crosses 17 also forces decision making and the wonderfully quirky last hole, where you have to negotiate with groupings of heather along the fairway and a gigantic green complex brings the round to an end on a high.
My third trip to Beau Desert and once again I really enjoyed the course. In good condition with very tricky greens which would seem to hold the key to a good score. Previously I had played off the white tees, but this time we were off the yellows and to be honest they did detract a bit from the course design; in particular the 18th yellow tee makes it a bit of a nonsense of a drive (not my favourite hole anyway). Par 3's are ok and there are only two par 5's, so the par 4's are the real heart of the course. The 2nd, downhill dog-leg 4th, dog-leg 5th, 6th, 13th and 17th are all fine par 4's. However the stand-out/feature hole has to be the 12th, a double dog-leg par 4, the like of which I can't recall playing anywhere else; driver over the trees on the right of the fairway followed by long iron or rescue over the trees front left of the green makes for a testing and exciting hole. The course itself has quite a few elevational changes, good views over Cannock Chase, and quite a few dog-legs which gives the course a pleasing variety of holes. Beau desert is a delightful heathland course (equal to many in the Surrey area) and should be on more peoples radar.
Beau Desert is like a good book, a real page turner. After finishing each hole you just can't wait to play the next.
The course has 18 fantastic chapters. The first few set the scene, you are then taken on a wondrous journey, with a few twists along the way, before the closing stretch crescendos to a suspenseful finale and a very satisfying conclusion.
What Herbert Fowler has created here at Cannock Chase is sublime. Beau Desert borders on greatness. And whilst it doesn't quite reach the dizzy heights of a Sunningdale or St. George's Hill it comes extremely close and is much more than a very fine example of heathland golf.
Perhaps it is the par three's that hold it back slightly. Aside from the truly excellent seventh the others (3rd, 10th & 16th) are all good holes but lack the complexity that the rest of the course possesses. However, on my most recent visit here I played the 10th from the yellow tees and although much shorter the change of angle and increased visibility made a refreshing change.
Although new tees have recently been added at half a dozen holes, still only stretching the course to less than 6,500 yards, it is not length that is the main defence at this Staffordshire masterpiece. The greens are among the best, most challenging and enjoyable to putt on that I have ever encountered. Blessed with sneaky borrows putting really does become a game within a game at Beau Desert.
The intricacy of not only the putting surfaces, but the green surrounds too, is a fabulous test of your short game. Many of the greens feature drop-offs and gullies towards the back and sides requiring delicate recovery shots. On occasion you may find yourself chipping to avoid double-bogey rather than to save par.
The photogenic course is now played through spectacular woodland providing tranquillity throughout the round. The scenery is also outstanding making this one of the most enchanting places to play golf.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Just wonderful, great variety of holes, most isolated , firm, fast greens. On a par with any Surrey/Berkshire course a must play if you are in the Birmingham area.
Best course in The Midlands by a long way, including Little Aston.