For a start, we need to talk about Whittington Heath Golf Club because this course, which dates back to the 19th century, won’t be there, in its current form at least, for very much longer. The proposed HS2 route bisects the course and indeed runs right through the current clubhouse. Big changes are afoot. Plus, it is yet another example of fine inland golf to be found around Birmingham that is broadly overlooked by the wider world.
Whittington Heath was extensively redesigned by the peerless Harry Colt in 1929 and what he left is pretty much what stands today – apart from the fact that what was once a heath is now almost uninterrupted woodland. It’s something that has happened at heathlands all over England but it doesn’t stop it being any less of a shame.
Of course, many members will now know and love the undeniably attractive tree-lined fairways but there is always a price to pay in terms of the quality of the turf and year-round playability.
The short holes here are a particularly impressive collection – 172, 184, 144 and 207 yards respectively and a pleasing contrast in their direction of play and nature.
I really enjoyed the elegant sweep of the 14th, a long par-4 that flows downhill and to the right, heather lining the fairway. The green is natural and attractively situated. If you have to chip on to it, or putt from distance, then the slopes can make you look clumsy.
There are some subtle changes of elevation here that add great interest to several holes without being dramatic. In keeping with its reputation, this is a course that goes quietly about its business.
The club have received sufficient cash to replace what they will lose with HS2. In the case of a golf course dating back to the 19th century, it isn’t that simple. Only a handful of holes (probably six, the stretch from the 12th to the 17th) will remain unchanged. Architect Jonathan Gaunt is the man who is being called in.
“When you’ve got a railway line going through the middle of your golf course, it is pretty radical,” said Gaunt.
“There’s the purchase of 60 acres and putting in five holes and a new practice range. You can’t put those holes in without any impact on the main course. Then you’ve got to go back onto the main course and remodel another five or six holes to incorporate the new design.”