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Blackwell

Yardage
6260
Par
70
SSS
71
Built
1893
Architect(s)
Tom Simpson, Ken Cotton, Frank Pont
Nature:
Tom Simpson designed parkland course. Prestigious West Midlands club.
Location/Address:
South of M42 Jn1, Worcestershire. B60 1PY
http://www.blackwellgolfclub.com
Secretary
Sarah Holroyd
Telephone
0121 445 1994
Professional
Dan Cummins
Green Keeper
Rhys Thomas
Blackwell golf club, tom simpson, jim arthur
Blackwell golf club, tom simpson, jim arthur
Blackwell golf club, tom simpson, jim arthur
Blackwell golf club, tom simpson, jim arthur
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Access Policy:
Visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
No dogs
Open Meetings:
Fees in 1960s
50p
Fees today
£90 - 2016

Review

Blackwell GC, formed in 1893, built its first course in the Victorian ‘penal’ design style of the ‘Tom Dunn’ mode with basic green complexes and ramparts of bunkers across the fairway to give advantage to the better player and catch-out the foosled shot.

Blackwell golf club, tom simpson,

Clubhouse and 9th green from across lake. Click to enlarge.

In the early 1920s, more land was acquired along with a substantial farmhouse and outbuildings that continue to be the attractive red brick clubhouse to this day.

Harry Colt was invited to submit a plan but the committee decided to retain the brilliant, if eccentric Tom Simpson (Cruden Bay and County Louth are two of his finest creations) while he was a partner with Herbert Fowler, another well respected architect who designed another West Midlands course, Beau Desert.

Simpson used his outstanding creativity to fashion out of only 102 acres at Blackwell, an artistic parkland course that asks many interesting questions of the golfer. Simpson was often quite dismissive of muddy farmland as ground for a golf course and Blackwell was shrewd in engaging him.

Blackwell golf club, tom simpson,

Tom Simpson sketch of 10th hole bunkers

He was given more than a year in 1922/3, during which no golf was played, to totally redesign in the true ‘golden era’ strategic style.

The early photos and sketches of his bunkers are emblematic of the naturalness of his beautiful style, known for its rough edging, which over the years has been lost at Blackwell.

Blackwell golf club, tom simpson,

13th green in 1920s.

Recently Frank Pont has been retained and the Club should be congratulated in its objective of re-bunkering the course back to the traditional Simpson style. We shall have to wait to see whether wispy fescue turf will be used to create a cultivated ‘wilderness’ to the bunker-topping in a heathland style or whether perhaps with the new, supposedly ‘dwarf’ ryegrass turf now being available a more parkland manicured feel is created.

Blackwell golf club, tom simpson,

13th green in 1990s

Interestingly, most of the numerous trees now dividing the fairways were planted between 1957 and 1980 and having sufficiently matured, now call for more accurate driving, whereas previously Simpson was relying predominantly on his bunkers to create challenge along with some very demanding double-tiered and swinging putting surfaces. In addition, the use of the movement in the land and a stream allowed him to create holes like the seventh and eighth, where there is less reliance on bunkering.

The seventh is a typically quirky Tom Simpson short par four with a blind drive to a hump-backed fairway falling away on both sides. If the fairway centre is held then a birdie is definitely on the cards. It is not clever to be too long on your drive here and finish in a deep ‘Hamlet type’ greenside front bunker!

Blackwell golf club, tom simpson,

Ken Cotton bunker on the 5th

Simpson’s original routing is unaltered to this day except some new back tees extending the course to 6260 yards (par 70, SSS 71) and a central drive bunker being added by Ken Cotton in the 1950s to the fifth hole. This bunker, being where the scratch golfer wants to place his drive, has been most controversial over the years but is still in place and in some ways is similar to the historic John Low bunker at Woking’s fourth hole.

The Club boasts many legends among its membership over the years including families of Sharps, Elliotts, Greeys and the Cadbury quakers and there was no bigger than the affable, papabile Guy Bigwood CBE who was dominant in the club right up to his death in 1966.

He helped set-up some enjoyable exhibition matches coupled with Moor Park in London around 1930.

Blackwell golf club, tom simpson, guy bigwood obe

Guy Bigwood CBE

Bobby Jones (winner of the 1930 Grand Slam of each of the USA and UK Professional and Amateur Opens) came to Blackwell, while Walter Hagen played Archie Compston and Abe Mitchell played with Leo Diegel, respectively the UKPGA and USPGA champions. Diegel had prodigious length but many putting problems. He will forever be remembered primarily for having a short tap-in putt to tie The Open Championship at St Andrews in 1933 but made an air-shot to lose the title!!

He was a fine player and his exploits were much like George Duncan, who failed to get up and down from his hollow on the left of the 18th green at the Royal St George’s Open Championship of 1922 after he had made up seven strokes in the last round on Walter Hagen. It is most unfair as both will be forever remembered for follies rather than their actual brilliance.

The Club’s history book published in 2000 and thoroughly researched by Charles Wade is a very good read and like most of the best ones, covers the true characteristics of this small membership club run, to quote him “with a benign despotism” where the quality of the wine cellar is as important as the Saturday morning game organised in the stud bar over an early snifter.

Prof David Wrightmen had started drafting a centenary history book for 1993 but this was not finished, perhaps, it is suggested by Charles Wade, because he saw the Club from the perspective of the political centre-left, whereas the way Blackwell is run owed more to the authoritarian right! Both the men and the ladies Clubs sharing all facilities do seem to be more comfortable in a conservative mode, though that is not to say that the Club does not ask the opinions of the best outside experts when necessary.

Blackwell golf club, tom simpson, jim arthur

Jim Arthur

Like many clubs Blackwell suffered after putting in an automatic watering system in 1974 but had the sense to enquire of Jim Arthur, Golf’s leading agronomist, whose book ‘Practical Greenkeeping‘ continues to be the bible of greenkeeping, what had gone wrong. In his usual outspoken, truthful mode he called the greens in 1980 “appalling yellow bogs”. He recommended aeration, 70/30 sand/fensoil topdressing and over-seeding with fine grasses and though there was the usual initial mood of denial among the green committee, nevertheless eventually an era of complacency was ended.

To come right up to date, it is good news that the present course manager Rhys Thomas, appointed in 2012, is getting hold of the agronomy again, and doing what has become the latest fashionable thing, top-dressing with 400 tons of pure inert sand over a period of two years to create firmness and dilute the thatch build-up. He is also reducing the N input below 100, while over-seeding with browntop bent three to four times a year. It is all part of a ten year programme to recover a firmness, a smoother roll to the greens and a more sustainable maintenance programme, after another period when the greens were cut low for speed and annual meadow grass (Poa annua) was allowed to invade again. The run-offs and aprons to the greens are also being attended to and trees and under storey being cut back in places (forty tons taken out last year) to allow better drying airflow.

Blackwell golf club, tom simpson, jim arthur

The beautifully bunkered 6th green

The two long par fours at three and sixteen are the most difficult holes but the five par threes all in different directions define the course, as would be expected from Tom Simpson. The sixth is the shortest, played downhill and beautifully bunkered. Both nine and eleven are some 200 yards and at the thirteenth, one plays from a high tee across a stream to a narrow but wide, steeply sloping and bunkered green, and here a three is very well earned.

The best hole is the quirky eighth, an acute left-hand dogleg par five with a stream crossing the fairway twice and then running along its right hand side. If the drive is well placed correctly a four is possible but the entrance to the green is narrow.

Blackwell golf club, tom simpson, jim arthur

The 9th green in the 1920s showing no trees on the 8th.

The photo from the 1930s across the ninth green shows the lack of trees in the background. There is a private house on the corner of the eighth and with the ball being driven ever further distances these days, it was good thinking that the trees were planted on this boundary to save the golfer now having to collect golf balls from the garden.

Mention should also be made of one of the longest bunkers in golf originally running some 300 yards down the right and then across the fairway of the par five twelfth. Who else but Simpson would think of such a hazard! The man was a genius, though a couple of breaks have now been incorporated to give the golfer a bridge back to the fairway.

Blackwell golf club, tom simpson, jim arthur

Tom Simpson’s long bunker on the 12th.

The attractiveness of Blackwell has never been higher than at present and its finances are solid which was not always the case in the past. I finish with another Wade quote just in case we mix up this fine Midlands club with some dandy southern one. He comments: “Woosterish insouciance may have pervaded the higher reaches of society in the interlude between the wars, but it did not reach down to the typical conservative business and professional men who formed the nucleus of Blackwell’s membership”. It would not be for me to say whether that still pertains but I notice that not even well-behaved gundogs are allowed here to add to the sociability of the golf, an aspect more often found among the southern finest golf clubs!

Read “Blackwell Golf Club 1893 – 2000” by Charles L. Wade

Reviewed by Lorne Smith 2015

 

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