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.
The club has recently developed a 10-year
masterplan and is restoring Simpson’s original design strategies with the help
of Frank Pont’s Infinite Variety Golf Design firm.
I came here with perhaps unreasonable expectations having been told it was the best in the midlands, but both myself and my partner agreed that all in all it flattered to decieve. Considering it was late November you could tell the condition was generally excellent, with some classy bunkering, well kept fairways and carpet like (if frosty!) greens, but with a few too many so so holes, particuarly on the back nine, and an at times uninspiring layout.
The plot of land at times felt too small for a golf course - some of the holes felt shoehorned in to make up the 18, with tee boxes and greens regularly crossing over each other. The clubhouse, likewise, is a lovely old building but the interior was in pretty dire need of an update and the visitor changing rooms weren't great for a club as prestigious.
That said, it is still a good parkland course in excellent condition. Many holes are great, particularly (for me) the par 3 over water 9th, the heavily bunkered par 4 10th and the weaving par 5 12th, and with more good holes than average ones. If it were at its best all the way round id be a lot quicker to praise it, but with its inconsistency for a course rated as highly we couldn't help be a bit underwhelmed.
Back in September 2012 I was very scathing about Blackwell and how the club had allowed a unique Fowler/Simpson design to become completely disconnected with its design heritage by allowing excessive tree growth and narrowed grass lines. Five years on and the club has made significant headway into renovating, one of the best parkland courses in England. The bunkering is the obvious change, but the removal of trees and widened fairways (especially around greens) are the real story. There is still a long way to go in recapturing the magnificence of Blackwell, but the club is on sound rails...well done!
Blackwell is a lovely mature parkland course with undulating terrain, tricky greens and some fine holes that require much thought and intelligence.
The Club was founded in 1893 and is a very traditional English club with a timeless character. It is rightly regarded as one of the best in the West Midlands and is usually found in excellent condition due to a small playing membership, limited by constitution to 200.
The course, laid out on a smallish site, is tucked away down narrow country lanes yet is only a short drive away from the centre of Birmingham to the north.
It could be argued that the best holes on this picturesque course are the short ones. The second requires a very straight shot between two deep front bunkers, the sixth is a delightful downhill hole, the ninth is played over an intimidating pond, the 11th requires a long shot whilst the pick of the bunch comes at the 13th, possibly the inspiration for the 12th at Augusta following an exhibition match by Bobby Jones in 1930, where you play from an elevated tee to a narrow angled green over a stream.
The variety of clubs required at each one-shotter is noticeable and help make them a very good collection of par three’s. However, it is the greens that really set them apart; all have wonderful contouring that fit the type and length of hole perfectly.
Indeed it is the greens throughout the round that mostly elevate Blackwell from a run of the mill course to one of the leading inland courses in this part of the country.
Blackwell has hosted Regional Qualifying for The Open on a number of occasions and has produced many fine golfers during its long existence. It doesn’t quite have the same grandeur as its parkland neighbour across the city, Little Aston, nor are the greens quite as intricate as those at nearby Beau Desert but a round at Blackwell is certainly one to be savoured.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Playing Blackwell growing up was always one of those experiences to look forward to. The greens were the fastest by far in the area, the conditioning always top notch and the feeling of being at an Upper Crust club just added charm to the day.
One such day back in 1979 I was fortunate enough to win The Midland Boys Title there, back when Blackwell was the permanent home of he event and this was my first visit back since.
Inspired to return by a meeting with Frank Pont whose team is restoring the bunkering, I was not at all let down.
First of all the restoration work that is being carried out is quite superb, the Simpson look of those bunkers already completed quite spectacular and a significant contrast to those left behind as yet untouched.
There can be NO doubt to the membership that the project is one well selected and one that future generations will thank the insight being applied to what is a special place.
With one of the smallest memberships in the UK , this select course guarantees a refreshingly swift pace of play, but one that at times has to be slowed down to take in the simplicity of wonderful golf course design.
Simpson illustrates his characteristic three hole loops throughout the 18, ensuring that one is constantly wondering where the wind is coming from !!!
The routing really is superb with optimal use of the topography originally presented to Simpson, the mixture of uphill/downhill and flat par threes in particular is something to soak up, and what demanding par threes they are.
Varying in length from 160 up to 230 the variety of shots required to play them pulls out all the requirements of any cailbre player, my personal favourite is #13 which legend has it was used as the template for #12 at Augusta National after a visit here by Bobby Jones in 1930 after his British Open victory at Hoylake.
A truly GREAT par three with angled green, brook in front of the green and death long as the slope on the green drifts all balls into the brook.
This green like many at Blackwell is delightfully contoured with a multitude of pin placements to make these smallish greens all the more challenging, in fact the green complexes are to be marveled and with the speed of play something that one can easily not notice...so slow down and enjoy...
Blackwell also displays a marvelous set of short par fours with three coming in around 350 yards all played differently and my favourite number 5 a tight dogleg right with exquisite green complex, back left pin placement...brilliant.
A wonderful parkland golf course with the view up to the clubhouse at #18 a lasting memory to take home with you after a day of enjoying what is simply described as wonderful golf course architecture by a true Master in Mr Simpson.A true English treasure.
I played Blackwell a couple of weeks ago as I was lucky enough to be invited by a friend who is a member. I haven't played it since I was at school (unfortunately over 20 years ago) however I am pleased to say it was every bit as good as I remember! The first three holes are a challenge to any golfer but then the next 5 give you opportunity to make a score (I love the shot P4 5th hole - a real risk reward hole). The 9th is one of the best par 3's over water you could wish for and most will need to stop at the spike bar (which I am told is in play!) to recover. The back nine is a good as any I've played. The 13th is a brilliant short hole to a wide but narrow green and the 14th is a beautiful P4 winding its way through the trees. The greens were exceptional, very fast with great grass coverage considering the dry summer. The reception from the members was also top class, extremely friendly and welcoming. I couldn't have enjoyed it more - I am lucky to have played many courses here and in Europe and the US and I don't think I've had a days golf that was as much fun as this one. Couldn't recommend more highly!!