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Enville

Yardage
6695
Par
72
SSS
73
Built
1935 / 1983
Architect(s)
various, including Jonathan Wood
Nature:
A Club that has emerged through sustainable greenkeeping to be the leading Running-Golf club in the West Midlands. Two superb half-heathland, half-woodland courses.
Location/Address:
Off the A458 between bridgnorth & Stourbridge
http://www.envillegolfclub.com
Secretary
Heather Mulley
Telephone
01384 872074
Professional
Sean Power
Green Keeper
Andy Wood
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Access Policy:
Visitors are welcome
Dog Policy:
Well behaved dogs welcome.
Open Meetings:
various, check club website
Fees in 1960s
50p
Fees today
£55 - 2017

Review

The Midlands is not populated with many ‘fine’ golf courses and the predominantly clay-based West Midlands has few. Herbert Fowler’s Beau Desert is an obvious exception on Cannock Chase, as is Whittington Heath, that is being changed as HS2 will drive through the middle of the course. Blackwell and Little Aston have their adherents, though it is the fineness of their Clubs and reputed wine cellars(!) etc rather than relying fully on the ‘joy to be alive’ aspects of their parkland tracks that highlights their entry in FineGolf.

Nevertheless one club that has been overlooked by Frank Pennink and FineGolf  until recently is Enville. On the edge of the Black Country, it was founded in 1935 with nine holes and extended to 18 in 1940, a strange year to do so!  A third nine opened in 1970 and finally a full thirty-six were finished in 1983. The R&A has recognised Enville’s coming of age and it was awarded being a regional Open qualifier 2007 to 2011 and hosted the Britsh Girls in 2017.

Jonathan Wood, 4th enville golf club, finest courses

Jonathan Wood on the 4th

What attracted me to investigate was the reputation of their previous Course Manager Jonathan Wood who not only combines being a ‘master’ greenkeeper with being a low handicapper but has the type of personality and modern management skills to help a club and its members down the sustainable (low inputs and lower costs) greenkeeping path that has taken this Club to a higher level.

He and his team have transformed Enville into a true running-golf heathland experience. They did this over many years, by changing the design of many holes, naturalising the bunkering and most importantly developing the indigenous perennial fine grass agronomy, with advice from Europe’s leading fine grass consultant Gordon Irvine and leading agronomist Alistair Beggs (both members of FineGolf’s Advisory Panel).

jonathan wood mg,

New ‘Golden-Era-style’ bunker at fifth hole

They built superb practice facilities. It is not since I was at Rye GC that I have seen such a suitable ‘bump and run’ practice area. All of these outstanding changes have been done ‘in-house’ at minimum cost.

Jonathan Wood has not only led the development of fast running fescue fairways and firm greens, he created natural-looking fescue mounds and around many of the bunkers to enhance that heritage heathland feel while taking out many trees and much undergrowth.

This was accompanied unfortunately on occasion with protest from ideological ‘save-the-world-from-CO2-tree-huggers’ who refuse to listen to the truly conservationist concept that this country should try to preserve the ever dwindling acreage of heathland and that golf courses have a vital ecological role to play in this.

The area between the Highgate holes, one to three, which used to be tree lined is now a wonderfully open vista in line with Natural England’s SSSI objectives of returning the courses to their original heathland environment, while allowing Enville to pick up grants to help achieve this.

The old Enville

Moreover, there is plenty of beautiful heather to give testing but not unfair carries on five of the first seven tee shots. Heather hates being fertilised and this site has far too many deciduous self-seeded silver birch and oak, whose leaves not only make ball finding difficult but blow under the heather in autumn, mulch down and fertilise it.

When FineGolf  visited in 2011 the enthusiastic Chair of Green Ephraim Davies buggied me around the ‘Lodge’ course, while I had the delight of playing the Highgate with Jonathan. The firm consistent bounce to the green complexes encouraged the ‘Bump-and-Run’ and the run-offs and aprons swept one’s ball away to the bunkers if not hit quite right.

The fairways, high in gorgeous fescue, were cut in the appropriate heathland style of up and back. Greens cut above 4mm were running truly and in dry spells between 9.5 and 10.5 feet, the perfect speed for the vast majority of recreational golfers. Faster than that and one worries about giving oneself a six footer back even on these predominantly quite flat surfaces. This slows the game which is not helpful in encouraging particularly the younger players whose lives are more crowded these days.

Until 2016 Enville was on an ever greater trajectory to fame as a heathland Running-Golf course, with sustainable (low inputs and lower costs) natural greenkeeping, previously hidden away in the ‘parkland’ West Midlands. The dry course with firm greens gave a ‘Joy-to-be-alive’ feeling that enhanced the attractive natural design, all year round.

Is this all about to change back to a lush parkland style set-up with soft greens?

We will have to see, as the Club’s new Board members have appointed a new course manager brought up on a lush parkland ‘target-golf ‘ set-up with annual meadow grass (Poa annua) agronomy at the Belfry and Robin Hood.

The newly diamond striped sixth hole.

Within his first six months, the new course manager, without he says needing any outside advice, while following a policy of not wishing to keep any fine fescues in the greens, he has reduced the height of cut to below 4mm (fescue will not grow below 4mm) as those vocal among the membership and particularly low handicappers, became infected with what is called ‘Augusta Syndrome Disease’ and want an increase in the speed of putt. The fairways are now ‘parkland-style’ diamond striped, the run-offs have been allowed to grow so one’s ball sticks on the fringes around the greens’ complexes while the greens are now softer and receptive, though he wants to top-dress with 200 tonnes of expensive pure inert sand, that is not felt to be conducive to fine grasses in their battle with Poa annua by some, to try to maintain firmness.

It takes years to create a soil biology to support the ‘Running-game’. ‘Target-Golf ‘ can be created within months by over-use of fertiliser, water and pesticides.

The Club suggests the two, half-heathland/half-wooded, courses are of almost equal standing and without many weak holes. The Highgate is 6695 yards, par 72, SSS 73 and the Lodge is 6417 yards, par 71, SSS 71.

The Highgate enjoys a higher proportion of heathland holes and these are found at the beginning and end of the round.

The first is a short par five but it is not the usual easy introduction before you are warmed up. A long carry across an angled valley tries to kick your ball left into sand, so one needs to carefully negotiate up the right but with out running-out into the heather. There will not be many going for the re-sculptured green in two since some bunkering has to be carried 30 yards shy of the green.

The short 16th, enville golf club, finest courses

The short 16th

There are two par threes of 215 yards with the second of these, the sixteenth, being the pick of the short holes, across an attractive small lake to a sloping green. The fourteenth and fifth are both about 160 yards and in attractive tree-lined dells. All four are placed at different angles to the compass though perhaps this is a less important requirement in this relatively low wind area and among all these trees.

The Berkshire sandbelt feel 6th,enville golf club, finest courses

Jonathan had succeeded in giving Enville the Berkshire sandbelt feel at this the sixth.

The third and fourth are short left and right hand dog legs respectively and it is not until the sixth (450 yards) that one needs to open one’s shoulders. This plays through fir trees that start for the first time to encroach. This a very fine hole, with a half blind second and recently sculptured bunkers around the green. Before its fairway was diamond striped it gave the feel of being on the high quality Berkshire sandbelt around Ascot.

Another par four with a dip in its middle, to a green shaded by firs in the opposite direction brings us to the first of eight holes through the forest of fir, silver birch and oak.

This area is not as visually attractive as the open heathland though much of the undergrowth below the trees has been opened up and some trees thinned out. To my mind more air needs to be permitted to circulate so as to improve the dryness of the course and help encourage the fescue, which is its finest characteristic.

The long Par five 9th, enville golf club, finest courses

The long Par five 9th

The ninth, must be highlighted as four yards short of 600 yards, formed in a long parabola with an uphill approach to the green. It is the trees on the corner that elevate the hole to a strategic one from a slog.

The twelfth (407 yards) certainly has character with a double twist in the fairway through a tight avenue of trees and an approach shot over a deep gully to a flat plateaued green. Although backed by trees, the green here used to be firm and one’s shot required backspin to check, though many first putts were still played from the back of the green, rather than stopping near their pitchmark(!) in target-style method. Lets hope this does not change and that the bank in front of the green remains firm and well mown to allow one’s ball to be run-in.

The 13th within the woods, enville golf club, finest courses

The 13th within the woods

The humpbacked fairway of the thirteenth and the severely sloping fairway of the fifteenth, both between tight lines of mature trees, demand an accuracy when the ground is running and are testing.

The two finishing holes are in open country again out on the heath with some good strategic bunkers and are both classic slight doglegs with the scratch player’s line taken as close to the corner bunker as possible to set up the easier approach while perhaps the one on the seventeenth can be flown.

This Club may not have used any famous designers but its two courses make the most of pleasant draining ground and, now that it has been upgraded by a very fine greenkeeper, we will all hold our breath, noting that the new Chair of Green says that he is committed to a policy of continued heathland regeneration, that it continues its improvement, though perhaps the ides are not too favourable with regard to agronomy, which of course is at the heart of creating a ‘Running-Golf ‘ course.

The new timber framed spike bar

The delightful spike bar built in a green oak framed building with plenty of glass, greatly enhances the look and presentation of the front of the attractive traditional red brick and hand-made tiled clubhouse.

Sean Power, the well travelled club pro, who has been the pro here for some 35 years, should also be mentioned as an important influence on the ethos of this club and its elevation to having two courses that are now worth travelling some distance to play.

Reviewed by Lorne Smith 2011 and updated in 2017.

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