Whittington Heath Golf Club in Lichfield, England, has reopened its course following a redesign by Jonathan Gaunt.
The first nine holes of the course were built in 1886, and in 1929 it was redesigned and extended to 18 by Harry Colt. In 2012, it was confirmed that the new HS2 high-speed railway line would be built through the course – bisecting the ninth hole from tee to green, severing the eighteenth in two, and impacting the second, third, sixth, seventh and tenth holes.
Gaunt was hired by the club to come up with a revised routing, with construction beginning in 2019. His design includes five new holes on land adjacent to the course, replacing those that have been lost, while rerouting some existing holes.
“We were first asked to be involved in the redesign of the golf course at Whittington Heath in July 2012, after an initial meeting with then-captain John Tipper and Kelvin Edwards,” said Gaunt. “Our brief was to create a new section of the golf course to match in as closely as possible with the existing course, which was already highly regarded in the Midlands for its Harry Colt design. It was a tough commission to take on, but really exciting to be asked to do so.
“The first difficulty was that in 2012 the club had not yet identified the land to extend the course onto and the HS2 railway line was, unfortunately, splitting the course in two and demolishing the clubhouse. So, following investigation of four sites, a 25-hectare piece of undulating sandy farmland was chosen for the five new holes and practice area, to the east of the existing course and the clubhouse was positioned in a central, elevated location overlooking the new land.”
The new clubhouse, designed by Andrew Hayward of BHB Architects, was built by local contractor J Tomlinson.
“The detailed design of the course took several years to develop with many iterations before a planning application was submitted to Lichfield District Council in 2016,” said Gaunt. “Soon after permission was granted, the project was started on site in January 2019, and that was when the fun really began.
“Progress on site was swift and the contractor, John Greasley Ltd, worked amazingly well through some very challenging conditions – torrential rain, flooding, drought and the Covid pandemic – to finish the course in autumn 2021. The project has far exceeded my expectations and it’s one I am extremely proud of. The construction team together with the maintenance team at Whittington Heath have worked so well together to bring this project to life. It’s been an absolute pleasure to be part of the next 100 years at, what I consider to be, the best course in Staffordshire.”
Charlie Greasley, of John Greasley Ltd, said: “We were blessed with an amazing run of weather that allowed us to get ahead of schedule and more importantly, seed in the ground at the earliest opportunity. The weather did become a challenge later in 2019 and the winter of 19/20 was pretty testing at times. The site generally took it really well, however the numerous pockets of solid sandstone posed a different problem in preventing and slowing down the natural drainage properties within part of the site.
“One of the key and most enjoyable parts of the three-year contract at Whittington was working with the project team, which is often the most determining factor to any project’s success as there are so many factors involved in what can appear, on the face of it, to be a fairly straightforward course re-development and extension job! Co-operation, understanding, expertise and willingness are four words that best describe the way the team worked here with absolute synergy.”
Tony Rundle, chairman of Whittington Heath Golf Club’s HS2 sub-committee, said: “HS2 presented the club with an existential crisis. However, we were determined to find a solution, and through tenacity and close collaboration with a group of supportive partners, the course has been remodelled and its future assured. Whittington Heath Golf Club has for many years been considered one of the finest golf courses in the Midlands. We look forward to welcoming golfers to our new course and I’m confident its reputation will be enhanced.”