Harry Colt was called in to completely redesign the course at Harborne in 1922. Frank Harris Bros, a firm used often by Colt and probably deserving of more credit for Colt's success, completed the construction and in 1924 the course opened.
The dean of golf writers, Bernard Darwin, thought enough of Harborne's framework to declare the course as good as any in the Midlands. At the time Harborne was a growing district of Birmingham and the course stretched over fields with endless views to the south and west. Like all the old line clubs in Birmingham, Harborne is now very much part of the metropolitan area with the various visual and audible aspects of city life readily abundant.
The course covers surprisingly hilly terrain with all manner of side hill, uphill and downhill shots required. A standout aspect of the design is the many built-up greens. The soil around the Midlands is famously clay based so perhaps Colt wanted to keep the greens as well drained as possible. Additionally, unlike many classic era courses overgrown with trees, Harborne is generously wide. By and large the club has done well in keeping Colt's original playing angles available. Finally, while the bunkering scheme has been altered somewhat over the years, the style and placement are not wildly different from the 1924 design.
Harborne is blessed to have several excellent holes that stand out as among some of the best in the Midlands. Among these is short sixth. This should be no surprise as Colt designed some of the most enduring par 3s in the world. There are several tees to choose from, but one is likely to be facing a 195-yard uphill shot to a wide, but shallow green which slopes deceptively hard to the left. After nearly 90 years and endless equipment improvements this hole proves to be demanding as ever.
After a succession of holes taking the player to and from the house a country lane is crossed where five holes of a more secluded nature are located. One is never quite sure what he will find when entering secret gardens of this sort. Will it be as good as the 11-14 stretch across the A322 at Worplesdon? Well, in this instance, these marooned holes don't quite measure up to Worplesdon, but there are two very worthwhile efforts, one of which is the thirteenth. On the only sand free hole at Harborne, the drive heads blindly over the crest of a hill and often into the prevailing breeze. Once over the top of the modest rise anyone who has played Colt's famous Calamity hole at Royal Portrush will be immediately struck by the similarity. The putting surface is tucked in the corner of the property over a steep fall-off on the left leading to the fourteenth tee. Nothing but sound judgment and unerring execution will see the golfer through to a par.
After re-crossing the lane, Harborne's most challenging two-shotter, the penultimate hole, requires that the golfer play over the creek yet again. On the far side are two bunkers squeezing play right with a worsening angle the more we drift. Now the golfer faces a steep, often blind and slightly left turning approach up the hill to a fairly flat green protected on the right by bunkers. Many days this 438 yarder will feel more like a par 5 than a par 4.
Harborne has an open feel to it which allows the player to swing away. This admirable quality makes the course very playable and fun while posing a challenge for all but the very best players. Most importantly, Colt set holes which never fail to hold our attention. The club is very accommodating to visitor play and doesn't charge an enormous amount for the privilege. If one is travelling to the Birmingham area and in need of golfing sustenance, Harborne should be on the short list of clubs to call.
Article and photographs by Sean Arble.