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’s Infinite Variety Golf Design firm.
“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.
Blackwell is a hidden gem in the Bromsgrove countryside. Sweeping and bending fairways are a highlight of what is a course steeped in history and tradition.
Well worth a day trip out and rates to play are more than reasonable
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.