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.
Date: July 10, 2020