“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.
Date: October 11, 2020