For those who do not know better, rumours of a “beautiful wilderness” just to the north of Birmingham might be thought of as fanciful. But to anyone who has had the good fortune to visit Beau Desert, near Cannock, it is an entirely appropriate description. For how this charming corner of Staffordshire came to be so exotically titled, we must thank the Sixth Marquess of Anglesey, one Charles Henry Alexander Paget.
Beau Desert lies within land that once belonged to the family and in 1911 the Marquess, a keen golfer, instructed Herbert Fowler to lay out a course on the present site of Hednesford Hills.
It proved to be an excellent decision. A place of calm that seems completely separated from the modern world, Beau Desert can be thought of as old-fashioned in many senses – all of them to its credit.
Length is not the main issue here, though its 6,300 yards has a tight par of only 70 and almost all the par 4s are worthy two-shotters. Rather, keeping your ball in play between the banks of heather and gorse is a prerequisite.
So too is judging the strength of your approach shots, many of which are played downhill to greens that run away from the direction of play. Notoriously, grass bunkers act as collecting troughs beyond many of these greens.
Fowler has created a delightful fast-running inland course with trademark bunkering and some quite evil green complexes.
Try chipping back from the downslope of one – which is where balls invariably seem to finish – to an elevated green and you will quickly learn the lesson.
In addition, the greens here can get frighteningly quick in the summer and there are some fearsome borrows to negotiate so this is certainly a course where short-game skills come to the fore.
The most extreme example is possibly at the short 16th, where a ridge runs the length of the green and can present severe complications. A regular host of Local Open Qualifying, only the very best tend to beat or match par.
The easiest scoring conditions for better players come after periods of rain when it is possible to fly approaches all the way to the flags. At other times, with only two par 5s and a very short 4 (the 9th) offering obvious birdie chances, good numbers are elusive.
For the most part, the par 4s are not exactly long by modern standards, but on the other hand nor are often much under 400 yards either.
In every single case, you will need to execute not one but two precise shots to find the green. In terms of style, Beau Desert has shades of Royal Ashdown Forest, Sherwood Forest and Hollinwell, as well as the inland courses of Surrey and Berkshire.
Hilly in places, not least up the 1st, which plays much longer than its yardage would suggest, there are some outstanding views.
The back nine is much longer, and with all but one of its par 4s over 400 yards, many cards are beyond recovery by the time the first of the par 5s, the 15th, is reached.
Rather than a course with a couple of stand-out holes, Beau Desert is consistently strong with few weaknesses.
The ability to hit the ball from right to left from the tee is frequently an advantage, most notably on the 2nd, 5th, 8th, 11th and 13th, and often 3 wood is a better option than the driver.
Beau Desert may indeed be a beautiful wilderness, but not when attempting to find your ball from within its darkest recesses.