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.
Commissioned by the Marquess of Anglesey whose family was gifted the land by Henry VIII shortly after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1551, it is thought the course cost some £18,000 to construct. For sure this was a huge sum of money, but not beyond the means of Charles Henry Alexander Paget who was one of the wealthiest men in Britain. Evidently, the Marquess was satisfied with the course for once Beau Desert was completed in 1913 Fowler was commissioned to design Bull Bay in Anglesey, not far from Plas Newydd, the main family residence of the Pagets.
Beau Desert sits at over 700 feet on Cannock Chase, land that at one time was a royal hunting forest then used as a hunting ground for the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. The Bishop created a deer park and hunting lodge named Beaudesert, Norman French meaning beautiful and lonely place. The course was eventually bought at auction by the club in 1932 for £4000 despite there being a mandate to bid up to £2500. It is rumoured the two agents were in their cups after a luxurious lunch and bid against each other! A heavy tax burden led the Marquess to eventually knock the price down to £2400 and the completion of the sale of the land was finalized in 1936.
Despite original representations to the Forestry Commission insisting that trees should not come within 30 yards of the fairways, Beau Desert is today a heavily treed course. The lower reaches of the Chase were extensively mined and the trees served to block the views of industry. Unwittingly, this program of tree planting destroyed several thousand acres of heathland which the Forestry Commission is now partially re-establishing. Due to the mining, subsidence has been a continual worry of the club. “Unruly" greens and the occasional hollow appearing uninvited prompted the club to call in golf architect FW Hawtree. His plan to tame some greens was never fully carried out because the members feared continued subsidence would negate their efforts.
A glance at the card reveals how the relative shortness of the course is balanced by a par of 70. This sort of configuration was common for courses built 75 or 100 years ago in the UK and many of today’s flat bellies believe that a course of just over 6300 yards as not much more than a pitch and a putt. However, the long game is tested with three par 4s that are drivable, four par 4s which often require a long club approach and the two par 5s which are reachable in two shots. The R&A appreciate the merits of Beau Desert for competition and used the course for regional Open qualifying seventeen years on the trot.
Among an assortment of fine essays in design, one in particular, the fifth, should surely be considered among the great holes in England. The downhill drive swings hard left and back up a distant hill. There is a distinct advantage to hugging the inside of the dogleg for it helps in avoiding the sentinel in the form of a rough clad mound short and right of the green. For those failing to find the fairway off the tee, a large sand pit awaits some fifty yards below the narrow green which is low on the ends and high in the middle. Some days this hole can befuddle and even enrage golfers, but it never fails to engage us.
There can be little doubt that Beau Desert is one of the very finest courses in the Midlands. Bernard Darwin heaped praise on the course; "Here might be one of the very best of courses 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." If one is intrigued enough to visit Beau Desert, be sure to look at the many photos in the clubhouse which highlight what the course looked like when Darwin wrote the above words - absolutely magnificent.