Tree clearance is under way at Sandwell Park Golf Club in Birmingham, England, the first step of a renovation plan by golf course architecture firm Mackenzie & Ebert.
At the beginning of 2020, the club’s board of directors tasked its greens committee with rejuvenating the course. Terry Bray, a member of that committee, said the goal is to reconnect with “our great design history of being arguably the first Harry Colt course in the Midlands.”.
Bray consulted Mackenzie & Ebert, explaining the club’s desire to “undertake a programme of course changes, mainly course lengthening, bunker refurb and woodland management to try and return the course to its historic Colt design.” The course has a history of staging tournaments including most recently the finals of England Golf’s 2016 Men’s County Championship finals. Bray said: “It’s our 125th anniversary this year and we are hoping to kickstart a new plan to take the club into the next 125 years.”
The original Sandwell Park course was designed in 1896, and Colt designed a new layout for the club in 1911, much of which is still intact.
In the 1960s and 70s trees were planted and others were allowed to regenerate in out-of-play areas. As these trees developed, play and sight lines were encroached and air and light circulation hampered, impacting turf quality in places, including some tees and greens.
“Sandwell Park is a rare opportunity to work on what can only be described as a hidden gem,” said course manager Robert Lydon. “It was evident when I took on the role as course manager that the course has become overgrown and was in many ways attacking itself.
“Light, air flow and design features have been lost over the years. I pulled an old aerial picture out of the archives, taken 60 years prior, and it was abundantly clear that the golf course needed a roadmap to get it back to its former glory.”
Mackenzie recommended the creation of a woodland management plan ahead of any design work.
“We are moving ahead with a lot of woodland clearance,” said Bray. “This may take longer than we would hope due to the current climate, but we are focused and driven as a committee to implement the plan.”
That plan includes a return to Colt’s original bunker style. “Bunkers will be given a more united style that is in keeping with the 1911 Colt design, with grass faces and fairly flat sand bases and a few sandy faces for visual impact,” Mackenzie wrote in his report for the club.
Mackenzie has also proposed work on the greens. “Sizes should be restored where they have been reduced, like the second, third, eleventh and twelfth greens,” he wrote.
“Steep sections of greens need to be tackled, the highest priorities being the fourth, fifth and eighteenth. The latter is on a uniform slope that is much too steep for modern green speeds.”
Additional proposals include new irrigation, increasing the range of total yardage, by adding forward and some back tees, expanding the putting green and creating a new short game area.
“The information exchange via Mackenzie & Ebert’s hub has started to really galvanise the enthusiasm from the members, which in turn, allowed work to be carried out with the full backing of the membership,” said Lydon.
“The plans are such that even with tight resources we are able to make steady progress in doing what we can afford before costing and implementing the bigger projects. The breakdown is such that you can always look at a part of the plan and say we could do that this week.”