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2 miles SE of Lichfield
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Harry Colt, Jonathan Gaunt
Whittington Heath Golf Club is tucked away on an elevated heathland plateau in middle England where there are delightful views across to nearby Lichfield Cathedral. The course has never appeared in a Top 100 list but we think it's well worth seeking out if in the Staffordshire area.
It's one of the oldest clubs in England, originally founded in 1886 when a rudimentary nine-hole course was laid out on a former horse racing circuit. Whittington Heath really came of age between the Wars when Harry Colt was commissioned by the military club owners to extend the course to 18 holes. The military connection remains strong and the club was known for many years as Whittington Barracks.
The result of Colt's work was a challenging 6,490-yard par 70 course, which provided a real test for golfers of all levels. The club has hosted a number of top amateur events, including the 1986 Women's Home Internationals, which saw the Irish team emerge victorious.
Sandy, springy ground is ideal for golf and there's plenty of it here at Whittington Heath. The course wends its way through tangly heather and gorse: you'll need to keep on the straight and narrow to score well.
Whittington Heath has consistently flown under the radar and remains a relatively unknown heathland course. Unfortunately, the club was directly in the path of the new HS2 (High Speed Two) rail link, so if you've not already experienced the original Colt course, you've left it too late.
The old clubhouse was directly in the path of the new rail line, as were holes #9 and #18 – holes #2, #3, #6, #7 and #10 were also impacted. Fortunately, the club was able to acquire sufficient adjacent heathland to allow Jonathan Gaunt to lay out some new holes, the architect has also rerouted some of the existing holes to accommodate the railway development.
A construction program involving the renovation of all bunkers, the remodelling of green surrounds and the introduction of five holes on new ground is underway. Work is expected to complete in 2021.
“We’re looking to bring back a much more open, heathland character to the golf course, with wider views of the landscape, as it would have been when Harry Colt was working here in the 1920s,” said Gaunt. “We expect that when the golf course establishes, it will begin to take on that ‘Golden Age’ look – broad expanses of hinterland with rolling features and dramatic areas of wilderness edging into the playing areas.”
When established, it remains to be seen whether or not the new Whittington Heath course will receive more or less affection than the club's former classic.
Following on from my first visit to Whittington Heath in 2017, I went again in 2018 and liked it even more and so thinking it was one of those under-rated courses that just grows on you I have just revisited in June 2019. Despite the wet weather in the preceding days the course played remarkably well with no standing water whatsoever. Course condition was excellent with the greens firm in excellent condition and of reasonable pace considering the rain. Looking at my previous review I think I underestimated the number of good holes, infact I liked them all.
HS2 (which should run through the golf course) is already having an affect on Whittington Heath, including the construction of five new holes. Foundations are already in place for the new clubhouse and from the drawings displayed in the clubhouse it should be impressive. On the course itself it is quite apparent that a lot of works is being carried out in respect of altering existing holes with many new tees and bunkers sprouting up.
The first hole is currently a par 5 (becomes 18 and a par 4 on the redesign) and just beyond the green the trees have been removed (for the new clubhouse) and beyond this you can clearly see the earthworks and construction of the new holes on the lower land below. This is where nagging questions start popping up in my head as you can clearly see a large new modern 'American' style bunker with convoluted edges. As the round progresses my sense of disappointment grows as on quite a few holes existing 'Colt' style small bunkers have been replaced with these modern style bunkers, with a corresponding amount of earth banking around changing the whole look of some of the existing green complexes. Also some of these new modern style bunkers crop up in new locations. It is quite apparent to me that once the new holes are in play it is going to be a different looking/new style of course and in my opinion it is very disappointing that the architect did not have the wit to match up with the existing Colt design. I think it is also fair to say that of our fourball, one of group agreed with me, one was fine with the changes and the other hadn't played the course before so didn't comment. Whether it is sacrilege or evolution or progress I guess depends on the individual.
Still worth a visit and I will return next year to see how the changes are going .. can't increase my previous rating though !
Glad you enjoyed our course, as you say things are rapidly changing and to be honest apart from the trainline it is most definitely for the better.
A note on the bunkers, the club have found old aerials and photos of the course from a time much closer to the colt design. I can assure you the new bunkers are far more in keeping with his original shapes than the small rounded ones that went before. Over time many golden era architects’ features were softened, made more uniform and in the main more boring through the 70s and 80s. Jonathan Gaunt has purposefully designed the new course to bring back the golden age design elements.
Together with our new course manager, who has made a significant difference to condition and presentation in less than two months, you can already see things being taken to the next level.
All we need now is for HS2 to not go ahead!
Anyway I hope you return next year, or maybe later in the summer to see how things are bedding in.
Enjoyed Whittington Heath very much. Although not too much heather in evidence (compared to Surrey heathland courses) it was very pleasant with a number of holes where strategic placement of the drive was important. Condition was generally good, albeit greens were on the slow side and some bunkers had a lack of sand. Absolutely loved the narrowness of the fairways (can't think of any narrower ones I've played), which with the narrow width of semi and then penal rough plus the excellently located fairway bunkers made it a really good driving course. Quite a few dogleg par 4 holes, including 5, 6, 8 and 11 which were probably my favourites, although the well bunkered par 3 7th was also very good. I thought the front 9 had more variety with two par 5's, with the 18th possibly the least interesting hole. I guess the big test for WH will be how the changes due to the HS2 manage to keep the classic Colt style of course. Until then at least well worth a visit