Six times an Open Championship Regional Qualifying course, Blackwell Golf Club is the quintessential English gem and has a proud history dating back to 1893. The club’s original 9-hole course occupied part of Viscount Windsor’s Hewell Grange estate, a couple of miles south of where today’s 18-hole layout is located. In 1923, Herbert Fowler and Tom Simpson were hired to set out the club’s new course within a compact 102-acre tract of land just outside the village of Blackwell.
Today, this course extends to a moderate 6,260 yards, playing to a par of 70, with only three par fives on the card: the 490-yard 4th has a green that’s heavily protected by deep bunkers to the front, the 486-yard 8th doglegs downhill to the left from the tee and the 512-yard 12th features a very long narrow bunker that runs along the right side of the fairway – we suspect this is a modern hazard that’s been added to deal with a drainage problem or a similar conditioning issue.
It’s known for a fact that Bobby Jones played the course immediately after he won the Open at Hoylake in 1930. What’s not so certain is the story that he allegedly based the design of the famous 12th hole at Augusta National on the 181-yard 13th at Blackwell. Now that might just be taking the realms of speculation a bit too far but, if it’s true, then it’s some accolade for a heavily-bunkered little beauty in Worcestershire.
Tom Doak made a point of playing Blackwell in 2016 and awarded the course a rating of six out of ten. He commented as follows in his Christmas 2017 Confidential Guide update:
“My late friend Woody Millen, a member at Piping Rock and Palmetto, was also an overseas member of Blackwell, which I’d never heard of. He always played it off as being more about the club than the golf course, but I knew him well enough to know the golf must be pretty good, too. The course is tightly packed into a small parcel between suburban Birmingham and open farmland – it’s a par 70 and the longest of the three par-fives is 512 yards. As a consequence, they’ve planted a few too many trees to try and keep up the level of difficulty, as if the difficult set of short holes were not up to the task. The camaraderie of the club is no doubt enhanced by having the 10th tee and 18th green play up to within a few feet of the clubhouse, and the 1st tee right up against the building, so that all your friends are out to watch you finish [and possibly gamble on your approach to the last].”
The club has recently developed a 10-year masterplan and is restoring Simpson’s original design strategies with the help of Frank Pont from the Clayton, DeVries and Pont design firm.
Enjoyed Blackwell. Was in the area on a work trip, so made the most of a free evening.
This parkland course is is very undulating, has holes all unique to themselves, and each hole requires thought, positioning and care. Lovely place to play, and well worth a visit if you're in the area.
I doubt it will be in many people's top 10 (maybe that's just me because I prefer Heathland or Links courses), however it has exquisite bunkering, strategically placed to punish, and boy does it do that.
An old and great course and club. The layout is stunning and the bunkering is special.
It is clear to see that the current committee are trying to find some extra class by looking at how the course most likely once was. There are a lot of trees, some have been taken out and others were marked to go. This for me is a must, as the turf quality was well out of sink with the layout and bunkering etc. The greens are good, fun and big, but they are too wet and need much more light and air. I would guess there are some pretty high thatch levels.
Overall I liked the round, but the greens let it down badly. I am sure they will improve as the team continue to manage woodland etc.
Some of the new bunkers look smashing and fit well, there was also some architects lines drawn to expand and reshape others. These looks super and I look forward to playing again in 4-5 years time once it has all bedded in.
At £100/day, but really for most people that's £100/round, it is a lot for the quality of the putting surface.
Last niggle, knee length socks, just a bit silly really in 2021.
Interesting remark about knee-length socks and implying it’s an anachronism. Another course you’ve just reviewed, Ganton, recently held a survey on their own requirement for long socks. It was the majority of their young members who voted to retain it.
Ganton do allow sports/ankle socks with shorts, whereas Blackwell do not.
A visit to Blackwell is a step back in time. The clubhouse has old-school class and this is complimented with friendly service and welcoming members who were keen to chat over a post round drink about our thoughts on the course and were it sits in comparison to its contemporaries. They are proud of their club and rightly so for the course itself is fully of character and charm.
Blackwell is a short and testing rolling Parkland course that seems a push over at 6260 yards but is anything but. In fact our tee time fell just before a Masters Pro Tour event and only 3 of the field broke Par. The course opens up with a lovely uphill Par 4, where the tee box sits right outside the clubhouse bar window. You can feel the eyes on you as you send one on it’s way. Luckily the fairway is generous and most tee shots should sail over the brow and on it’s way.
The two standout features of course are the greens and the superb bunkering. I struggle to think of a Parkland course that’s standard is so elevated by the quality of its bunkering than Blackwell. They haven’t just been thrown in for visual effect, but add to the strategic element of the course. The greens are one of Blackwell’s main defences and finding the right part with your approach is the key to scoring well, as there are not many where you will find a flat lie.
There are a number of quality holes across the course, the 3rd being a cracking uphill Par 4 with a tight driving line, but it’s the run of holes from 8-13 which offers one good hole after another, with my personal favourite being the downhill Par 3 13th played over a creek and a bastion of bunkers into another tricky green. In fact, all the Par 3s are excellent with the signature 9th being on view from arrival, playing over a pretty pond and whetting the appetite for the round ahead.
I left with a real fondness for Blackwell. It’s got charm in abundance, keeps your attention through 18 holes and spreads out its quality holes. Whilst at its essence it’s a good Parkland track, it’s features have elevated Blackwell to one of the country’s finest Parkland courses.
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I visited Blackwell in mid June for the first time. Goodness me, it almost makes Swinley appear modern ! I mean this in a nice way because it is a lovely place with quintessential old world charm and understated appeal. It is situated in a secluded part of North Worcestershire about 5 minutes into the hills from the junction of the M42/M5 motorways. It is built on just over 100 acres of land so they do not have much space to expand. It limits the course to about 6300 yards (with its latest improvements ) with slopey Woking like greens. It is parkland and set on acid soil so it is blessed with all the usual flora one would expect - rhododendron , azaleas, bluebells, heather etc.
You are greeted by a welcoming and attentive staff who, as I was to discover, pride themselves with delivering old world service with above average traditional food and VERY above average wine. In fact, a six ball wine cellar awaits the lucky visitor if that be your bent. The Club apparently only has 190 members which explains its ethos ( long socks only) and ethics. A real time machine- old school .
The Course- It starts with an uphill drive to a 400 yard par 4. Testing but well bunkered although the rough could do with some scarification as it is too thick at the base. The second is a long uphill par 3 to a redan like green which slopes back towards you protected by front bunkers . It’s not an easy start.
The third was, to our way of thinking, one of the best holes on the layout. You drive out of pine trees down to a fairway guarded to the right by two bunkers at about 240-260 from the tee . A small burn bisects the fairway at 290 and the green sits high to a slight dog leg left , slopey and heavily bunkered .
The first three holes in total constitute a solid 5 ball start. However, the next four holes ( 3 4’s, a 5 and a 3) while visually attractive and multi- directional do not quite maintain that standard. The front nine is then redeemed by holes 8 and 9. The eighth is a tricky cross crossing par 5 across two burns while the 9th ( apparently the signature hole) is a long par 3 over water by the club house.
One then “ must” visit the half way “ spike bar” ( a theme is developing here!)! before dragging one’s self away to two testing holes- the heavily bunkered par 4 tenth and the recently lengthened par 3 11th which measures 235 yards from the back tee to a green almost surrounded by bunkers.
The course continues in an attractive manner when one reaches the 13th. This is allegedly the hole on which Bobby Jones modelled the famed 12th at Augusta and he did indeed play here the day after he won the 1930 Open Championship, so who knows? It’s a good tale. You can picture the hole and it is a beauty requiring anything from a 9 iron to a 5 iron.
The rest of the back nine does not quite match this standard although the long par 4 ‘s 14 and 15 were excellent holes. Your round visits to an uphill pretty green next to the old Victorian clubhouse guarded by an oak tree which rival’s Sunningdale’s.
Verdict- A solid and charming 4.5 balls. A delightful trip into the past when golf was a gentleman’s game with courtesies observed.
I don’t think I can recall playing at a more intimate and characterful golf club as at Blackwell. The clubhouse oozes timeless class and this is a not a place for the boot slamming golfer who tears up the drive as soon as the last putt is sunk. A game of golf and the socialising afterwards are of equal importance here.
That intimate community feeling is engendered further by the proximity of the 1st and 10th tees and the 18th green to clubhouse patio. The good shots will result in raucous approval while there will be nowhere to hide if you happen to play a shot not as intended; ask me how I know. The roof of the clubhouse, I can report, appears cheeringly resilient…
The club is located on the outskirts of Bromsgrove and dates back to 1893. The clubhouse is adorned with memorabilia demonstrating this clubs rich history. Originally 9 holes, the 18 hole offering came to fruition in 1923 designed by William Herbert Fowler and Tom Simpson.
It is refreshing to play a course that bucks the modern trend of needing to be long to be classed as difficult. The 6250 yard par 70 layout may look a soft touch when browsing the scorecard, but don’t be deceived; this is as severe a test of your short game and missing in the right place that I have seen in the U.K. In fact, it reminded me of a recent round at the similarly treacherous Palmetto GC in the United States, a course likened around the greens to that severest of short game tests, Augusta National. Park your Herculean game and instead try and channel your inner Dalai Lama. Calm and clear thought will serve you well here.
To highlight the difficulty point, it was the 8th green before I enjoyed the first flat putt of the round. 6 of the first 7 holes, I was above the hole, either on the greens or in close proximity to the surface. There is no longevity in that way of playing at Blackwell. This is not a course where the old adage of hitting fairways and greens will suffice, you need to be much more accurate than that.
Architecturally, the two main takeaways for me were the impressive scalloped bunkering, which is a real feature of the visually pleasing nature of the course. Secondly, the sheer difficulty and quality of the par 3’s shines through. In fact, I’d say they are up with the best selection of short holes I have played. Further evidence of this is that I can’t even pick my favourite, with the 9th, 11th and 13th all vying for memorable affection.
The course is a parkland gem of a layout, demonstrating immense quality and deceptive difficultly. It is true that in the U.K. with regard to ratings, that parkland layouts can be at a disadvantage when compared to links and heathland courses. This is mainly down to the courses suffering with inconsistent playing conditions throughout the colder months of the year. I haven’t played Blackwell in the winter months, but reports suggest it holds up well. In its summer livery, it is certainly resplendent and up there with the best parkland courses I have played.
“Another new course of exceptionally good material is Blackwell, the work of Mr. Fowler and Mr. Simpson,” wrote Darwin in 1925.
Having played Blackwell for the first time last month, I concur. The ground is ideal for golf with just enough ups and downs. Blackwell could be England’s best Golden Age parkland course, but it’s routed across sandy terrain where a heath-like course could emerge if the custodians so desired. Many stately pines are hidden behind ubiquitous deciduous trees.
Frank Pont’s bunker renovation (or is it a restoration?) is progressing and is certainly upping the visuals on the completed holes. The sharp, irregular bunker shaping is at times rather too lary for my taste and the vast nest of traps on the 10th caught my eye, but seemed too bold and out of character with the rest of the bunkering. Hopefully when the refurbishment is complete, there will be softer consistency across the entire bunkering.
Luke, the knowledgeable greenkeeper, told us there was once a ditch on the par five 12th where the incongruous line of straight bunkering flanks the right side of the fairway for around 200 yards. It’s quite peculiar, and I can only imagine that this linear hazard will be revised as part of the bunker upgrade plan. I don’t know why the club would care to proudly claim in their course guide that this bunker is the longest in golf. There are many other positive things the club should be proud of.
Despite the bunkering and tree quibbles, Blackwell has excellent bones. There’s so much to like… a few short and quirky par fours combine with five compelling (and difficult) par threes along with a couple of enjoyable (and reachable in two) par fives.
At the moment Blackwell is punching below its weight, even though it exceeded my expectations. At times I felt as though I was playing through an arboretum rather than through traditional parkland, and yet the ground felt exactly like heathland. I’m not sure I’ve seen a more impressive and diverse collection of specimen trees, except in a botanical setting.
For the last few weeks I’ve been pondering what I might do if I happened to be custodian of this magnificent property. I think I’d try and emphasise the site’s heath-like characteristics (by removing weedy tree and scrub clutter) while maintaining the site’s arboreal magnificence. I’d also try and complete the bunkering work ASAP. I’d leave everything else well alone.
Very much enjoyed a recent visit to Blackwell, a real traditional 'old school' type of golf club, with a bit of a rambling Club House - the type I like at least! - and a great golf test on the course. It is very much a discreet members club, hence signposting around the course is not that evident, and local knowledge about the greens (often sloping in unexpected directions) and the many, cleverly located bunkers would make your second and third rounds much easier! A very warm welcome was extended to us by Peter Lowery, and a happy crowd of golfers are very close at hand as you attempt to power off the first tee and up the hill! I shall return - what more can I say?
Blackwell is one of those courses that demonstrates the quality of strength in-depth that we have across England. Parkland courses aren’t usually places that stimulate me, but the sense of fun, creativity and enjoyment that often seems to be absent in parkland courses is often at the fore at this quaint and traditional club.
The aspect of the course that struck me most is the layout around the clubhouse. Whilst the routing does seem a little contrived to bring each loop of nine back to the clubhouse, those holes and their close proximity to the clubhouse are a real unique feature about Blackwell. The first tee, playing over a marker post on the crest of a hill plays blind, but take a couple of steps back and your playing partners can watch you teeing off whilst leaning against one of the clubhouse walls. The 9th, a classic par three playing over the lake is adjacent to the opening hole and no doubt brings a little Sawgrass drama to those watching on from the balcony. As we switch around to the reverse side of the clubhouse, we have the practice green and 10th tee, a hole that kicks off the stronger of the two nines, and a hole that presents a test of driving length and accuracy due to two snaking jagged bunkers 200+ yards down the fairway. Whilst 18, returning you back home is a beautiful closing hole playing to a raised green that’s backed up against the clubhouse under the shadow of a tall oak. I can’t think of any other club that I’ve played that has such a wonderful arrangement of holes around the clubhouse and it must make a splendid day for the 300 or so members here to watch their Club Championships played out under their noses whist watching on from the bar, it really is a great place to watch golfers come and go.
I can’t provide a balanced review of the course without offering some minor criticism. The routing, at times feels a little squeezed into the land upon which it sits, particularly through the front nine and lacks genuine flow at times, particularly the transitions from green to tee from 3 to 4 and 7 to 8. But a positive aspect of that rapid zig-zagging change of direction is that the golfer is never allowed to feel settled, particularly if it’s a day where the wind is whistling. My other minor critique is that whilst the Frank Pont bunker renovations are a real improvement on what was there before, I’m failing to warm to the style. I’ve seen some old pictures of the original raggidy edge bunkering that the course had when it was first built, and this appears something they’ve tried to replicate, but this modern version looks too manufactured. Allowing the rough to grow out on the tops of the bunkers may help create some slightly smoother lines and a more natural flow to the bunker face.
It would however be careless of me to only mention the holes around the clubhouse as there is much to enjoy about the course as you step further away. For example, the 6th is a delightful short par three with bunkers that bury themselves into folds in front of the green whilst the sequence of holes from 15-18 is a really great closing stretch, I particularly enjoyed 15’s benched green and 17’s uphill fairway which is wonderfully rippled like someone just dropped a coin into a small pond. Throughout the rest of the course there is also an array of blind and semi blind shots as the course traverses some elevation changes and the eccentricities continue on some holes where various tee shots play back and over the previous green. I’m happy to also report that the greens are excellent. During my round they were rolling beautifully and smooth, albeit some of which have tricky undulations, fall-away areas and tiering so your putting game does needs to be sharp.
To offer some transparency, I’m a heathland and links purest by heart, but Blackwell immediately enters the list of one of the best parkland courses I’ve played, competing favourably with the best in the Midlands and unquestionably somewhere that would be a great place to be a member, and a club that they can be proud of. I’d return another time and pay a full green fee again quite happily.
Our wedding anniversary was spent taking advantage of a COVID lockdown visitor rate at Blackwell - a target of ours because it is in England's Top 100 courses. The clubhouse (which apparently is part of the course for errant approach shots to the 18th) was closed and the huge number of bunkers were unraked because of England Golf guidance. Nevertheless, our day was not spoiled by either the Covid-linked restrictions or the fierce wind blowing across the Worcestershire countryside. Blackwell is impressively maintained - its fairways are in super condition and its greens with their steep banks and swirls were pretty damn sharp. I managed to go a whole round without finding sand but Mrs W was not so lucky - with three cavernous traps to blame for her not tasting victory. We very much enjoyed our round but we did have slight misgivings about the holes being so tightly packed that some cross over and the total lack of sign-posting. If visitors are welcome, it would be wise to point them in the right direction.
A classic golf course by Simpson & Fowler, this course goes slightly under the radar in English golf. I’ve been lucky enough to play here on multiple occasions, and always find a new feature or experience something different that I haven’t seen before- which to me is always the mark of a great course.
The green sites are interesting, and it is a real thinking players course. It gets off to an interesting start, with a semi blind 1st tee shot, and the 3rd gets players to make a decision off the tee by having a burn like feature across the fairway. The 5th is the first of the great short par 4s here, and it does not pay to be on the wrong side of the hole. In fact 5-8 is a brilliant stretch, the 6th is an extremely well bunkered par 3 with a small green, the 7th a short par 4 that becomes blind if players try and drive the green, and the 8th a par 5 that can be reached in 2, but has OB if you go long.
The 10th is strongly bunkered- cross bunkers force players to go right if they can’t carry them, and the green is also well protected. I believe the 11th is one of the holes to recently go through a renovation by Frank Pont and his IVGD team, and it will be interesting to see the changes they have made. The 12th has unique bunkers, with most of the right side of the fairway having a set of extremely narrow in width but long in length sand traps.
The 13th is a par 3 that is rumoured to be Bobby Jones inspiration for the 12th at Augusta (though I don’t see it myself!). 14 is a strong, tough, but fun par 4, and 17 and 18 are two great finishing holes. The 18th green is set just in front of the clubhouse, which means the main focus for a player is not thinning a wedge through a window!
Overall a great golf club, and for me I’d have it right up there as one of the best courses in the Midlands.