West Midlands - Top 10 Golf Courses 2017
England’s West Midlands is the second of seven English regional updates that will inform our higher-level rankings later this year.
Two years ago, we surveyed every club in England and we issued individual news releases for each of the thirty-six English counties as defined on the Top 100 website. This time we’re issuing just seven English regional news releases for: East Midlands, West Midlands, North East, North West, South West, East and South East. For the first time we’ll produce a ranking list on a regional basis and these tables will be underpinned by a complete re-evaluation of each English county.
The West Midlands has a population of around 6 million people, with Birmingham, Britain’s second most populous city, at its heart. Rather like its neighbouring region of East Midlands, West Midlands is not a popular destination for travelling golfers, but there’s one course in the West Midlands that’s a golfing household name, it’s the course that has hosted more Ryder Cups than any other.
There are approximately 170 golf clubs spread across the five counties which form our West Midlands region: Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. Our new regional Top 10 features four courses that are currently ranked in our English Top 100, but only one that is presently placed in our GB&I table. There are no world-ranked layouts in the West Midlands, which may account for this region being overlooked by intrepid, travelling, overseas golfers.
Little Aston heads the West Midlands ranking table and this club is hidden away in 176 acres of tranquil, mature parkland on the edge of upmarket suburbia, eight miles north of Birmingham city centre.
Harry Vardon reputedly laid out the course in 1908 for ten guineas; he created possibly the best and toughest parkland course in England. As it turned out, the course had too many long and challenging carries that ultimately proved too hard for the members, so Harry Colt was subsequently summoned to make the course friendlier.
“Once upon a time Sandwell and Handsworth were the only two Birmingham courses that could reasonably deserve the epithet ‘good,’ but there have been great developments since those days.” Wrote Bernard Darwin in The Golf Courses of Great Britain, published in 1925. “Little Aston has many merits, not the least among them its dryness… This is another of Mr. Colt’s courses (I grow tired of writing his eminent name and even so do not write it as often as I might). He has bunkered it with judicious severity, and the bunkers are reinforced by punishing rough.”
“About twenty-five miles away from Birmingham, near Hednesford, is Beaudesert, which Mr. Herbert Fowler originally laid out for Lord Anglesey. Here might be one of the very best courses,” commented Darwin, “for the turf is excellent and there is a flavour of Gleneagles about it. It stands high and is pleasanter in hot weather than cold, for the wind can blow there with penetrating shrewdness.”
Beau Desert, or “Beautiful Wilderness”, is an unusual name for a golf club, especially for one located in such manicured grounds. Straight in at #2 in our inaugural West Midlands rankings this Fowler-designed heathland course might consider glancing back at its “Gleneagles” beginnings. According to Tom Doak’s analysis in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses: “Unfortunately, it is becoming ever narrower due to tree growth at the margins, as the double-dogleg par-4 12th bears witness.”
The Brabazon at The Belfry (#3) hardly needs introducing. Dave Thomas and Peter Alliss designed this four-time Ryder Cup host course in the late 1970s and then Dave Thomas returned to give the Brabazon a substantial makeover in the late 90s.
This unremarkable farmland canvass required significant sculpting to turn it into a remarkable golf course. Well, there are at least two remarkable holes that have been popularised by television – the 10th and 18th. The former, a short par four, was immortalised by the swashbuckling Seve Ballesteros who ignored the watery hazard and drove the green. In doing so, the late Spaniard enticed tens of thousands of amateur golfers to gamble their ball in an attempt to follow in his footsteps. The long par four closing hole is dominated by water and it simply oozes Ryder Cup emotion.
Blackwell (#4) is the antithesis of the Brabazon. It’s the quintessential English parkland course that’s the Golden Age handiwork of Herbert Fowler and Tom Simpson. Routed across a compact 102-acre tract of land just outside the village of Blackwell, it’s a course that is highly respected for its one-shot holes. 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.
It’s known for a fact that Bobby Jones played Blackwell 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 this little Worcestershire beauty.
You’ll find Enville Golf Club in South Staffordshire, not too far away from Stourbridge. This 36-hole facility is highly regarded by locals and even the R&A recognise its quality. The main course, called the Highgate (#5), hosted Regional Open Qualifying from 2007 to 2011 and the club will host the Girls’ British Open Amateur Championship later this year.
Golfers wishing to seek out hidden gems should consider a day at Enville (their Lodge course is also pretty good). With echoes of The Berkshire, this heathland cum woodland layout has plenty of admirers and that’s despite the lack of famous provenance in the design department, which is unusual for a course that was fashioned before the Second World War.
Whittington Heath appears at #6 and it’s tucked away on an elevated heathland plateau where there are delightful views across to nearby Lichfield Cathedral. 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, but it really came of age between the Wars when Harry Colt was commissioned by the military club owners to extend the course to 18 holes.
This is another archetypal "hidden gem" but the club is directly in the path of the new HS2 (High Speed Two rail link), so if you'd like to experience the entire Colt course, we suggest you make a beeline for Whittington Heath immediately before part of it disappears forever. Plans are afoot to relocate the clubhouse and build five new holes on adjacent recently acquired heathland.
Sutton Coldfield (#7) co-hosted the English Amateur Championships in 2010 and this free draining heathland layout is yet another West Midlands course that successfully flies under the radar.
Founded in 1889, the Sutton Coldfield course that’s in play today is attributed to Dr. Alister MacKenzie who first visited the club in 1919. The doctor apparently stated that: “The land on which the present course is situated is almost the best heathland I know for golf... if the suggested alterations are done ... there is no reason why it should not compare favourably with the best inland course in Britain, and be vastly superior to many seaside ones.”
For those who have not read our introduction to England’s highest golf course at Kington Golf Club (#8), written by Sean Arble, we thoroughly recommend doing so. Here’s an appetite whetter: “At less than 6,000 yards, many will dismiss Kington as far too short and nothing but a bit of fun. Though fun Kington certainly is, the course should not be taken lightly. Hutchison's fondness for North Berwick, a links famous for its variety and quirkiness, taught him to value unusual concepts while embracing design ideals developed during the first decades of the 20th century.”
“Kington can be described as an inland-super-mare. The sea is miles from Herefordshire, yet the golf at Kington is remarkably similar to seaside golf due to keen turf and rambunctious terrain. Like Royal Ashdown Forest, Kington has no bunkers and the course is generally wide with practically no shaping of the fairways. In fact, Kington is the epitome of why wide is good.”
Edgbaston Golf Club (#9) dates back to 1896, but the course in play today at Edgbaston Park is one of the ubiquitous Harry Colt’s later designs, created in 1936.
The parkland course is certainly classy, if relatively short due to its solitary par five at the 17th, and it’s laid out on a compact site where the magnificent Edgbaston Hall serves as the imposing Georgian clubhouse. It was here in 1979 that Miss S Lapaire won the Girls' British Open Amateur Championship.
Trentham Golf Club (#10) completes our inaugural West Midlands Top 10. Here we have another high quality and testing parkland course, which remarkably also carries the badge of Harry Colt, but here Charles Hugh Alison was also involved with the design.
Trentham extends to 6,641 yards from the tips and it has been used in recent times for Open Regional Qualifying. It hosted the 33rd edition of the English Women’s Open Amateur Match Play competition in 2015, won by Sophie Keech. The English Boys’ Under 14 Open Amateur Stroke Play championship will also be held here in 2019.
We’re keeping an eye on one significant £30 million West Midlands golfing development at JCB’s Rocester headquarters in Staffordshire. Scheduled to open in 2018 with tournament play in mind, the course, which is being built to showcase JCB’s global brand, is from the drawing board of Robin Hiseman at European Golf Design. The ruined 18th century Woodseat Hall mansion will be redeveloped for the clubhouse.
Finally, eagle-eyed observers will notice that we’ve extended our Warwickshire Best In County rankings from a Top 10 to a Top 15. We firmly believe there is sufficient quality in Shakespeare’s county to warrant the increase.
West Midlands - Top 10 Golf Courses 2017
Click the following links to see in detail our latest Best In County rankings for the five West Midlands counties:
|3||Burghill Valley||No change|
|4||Sapey (Rowan)||No change|
|2||Hawkstone Park (Hawkstone)||No change|
|4||Astbury Hall||No change|
|6||Church Stretton||Up 1|
|7||Lilleshall Hall||Down 1|
|1||Little Aston||No change|
|2||Beau Desert||No change|
|3||Enville (Highgate)||No change|
|4||Whittington Heath||No change|
|6||Sandwell Park||No change|
|7||South Staffordshire||Up 1|
|8||Enville (Lodge)||Down 1|
|9||Brocton Hall||No change|
|1||Belfry (Brabazon)||No change|
|2||Sutton Coldfield||Up 2|
|4||Forest of Arden (Arden)||Down 2|
|5||Copt Heath||Down 2|
|7||Ladbrook Park||Down 1|
|8||Robin Hood||New entry|
|10||Olton||Down 2 |
|12||Moor Hall||Down 3|
|13||Warwickshire (Earls)||Down 3|
|14||Belfry (PGA National)||New entry|
|5||Fulford Heath||Up 2|
|8||Kings Norton (Weatheroak)||Down 3|
|10||Vale (International)||New entry|