Royal Blackheath nearing completion of five-year course renovation

  • Blackheath

    The renovated closing hole at Royal Blackheath, with the seventeenth century clubhouse as a backdrop

  • Blackheath

    The new sixteenth green allows for more pin positions

  • Blackheath

    The second hole features long fescue rough and new diagonal drive bunkers

Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Royal Blackheath Golf Club in London, England, has completed the penultimate phase of a five-year renovation project developed by golf course architect Ken Moodie, working with construction firm MJ Abbott.

The club – the oldest in England, instituted in 1608 – moved to its current course in 1892. It was designed by Tom Dunn and and redesigned by James Braid in 1926. “The course owes more to James Braid than Tom Dunn, so we used his design style as inspiration for the new and remodelled features,” said Moodie.

Moodie completed a course review in 2014 to look at the history of the course, the way the layout had developed and the balance of yardage and par. He conducted a hole-by-hole analysis and made proposals for improvement.

In conjunction with Moodie’s review, John Nicholson prepared a Woodland Management Plan, in order to re-establish the parkland character of the landscape following years of unsuitable planting and lack of management.

A construction and tree thinning/felling programme commenced later in 2014, starting with a pilot project on holes two, seventeen and eighteen, and then developing into a five-year programme of course improvements conducted by golf construction firm MJ Abbott.

“The work involves the building or remodelling of 77 bunkers, the construction of two new greens, the extension of five putting surfaces, and the building of four new tees,” said Moodie.

“There have been plenty of changes during the course of the project thus far, including the new green on the first to extend the hole to a par five, new diagonal drive bunkers on the second hole offering different lengths of carry from the tee, the new ditch feature on the sixth to replace a line of leylandii, the reshaping of the eighth to make it a better par three with a more visible green for a greater variety of pin positions, the new green on the sixteenth hole is to provide a better range of pin positions and a more visually striking final par three.

“To create definition in the fairways, fine fescue rough is being cultivated via a cut and collect policy to lower the nutrient levels and this is helping to give the course an older and more rustic character in keeping with the origins of the club on the heath,” said Moodie.

MJ Abbott completed the fourth phase of construction work in August 2018, with one more phase next August to complete the programme. The course has remained open during the work with two to three holes, or parts of holes, closed at a time to allow the contractors to work unhindered.