Thursday, April 19, 2012

england Harry Colt, Railroaded

A recently approved railway in England is going to destroy a Harry Colt-designed golf course.

The track is the centerpiece of Whittington Heath Golf Club in Lichfield, a northern suburb of Birmingham. A rail line linking London to Manchester, Leeds, and other northern cities will run through the middle of the course, right across its clubhouse. The course still has a little life in it -- the railway, known as HS2, isn’t likely to be built until 2018 at the earliest -- but its days are clearly numbered.

Whittington Heath got the bad news just a year after it celebrated it 125th anniversary. The 500-member club was created in 1886, to serve soldiers from the nearby Whittington Barracks. Its original course, a nine-hole track, was designed by an army colonel on what had been a horse-racing track.

Colt’s 18-hole, 6,490-yard course dates from 1927. The layout isn’t generally regarded as being among his best, but its loss will nonetheless be felt by those who appreciate golf’s design traditions.

“It has unique features,” John Tipper, the club’s captain, told the Tamworth Herald earlier this year. “It's almost like an inland links and always poses a challenge.”

Colt, who trained as a lawyer, is an iconic figure in the history of golf architecture, a designer of great influence. Born in Highgate, England in 1869, he was responsible for more than 100 golf courses on six continents, including Sunningdale Golf Club in England and Royal Portrush in Ireland, and he redesigned some perennial British Open venues, notably Muirfield in Scotland and Royal Liverpool Golf Club in England. With collaborators (including Alister Mackenzie and C. H. Alison), he produced nearly 200 other courses. He died in 1951.

Whittington Heath is currently trying to work out compensation with local government officials. The club will use the money to acquire a site for a new course and hire a designer who has big shoes to fill.

An earlier version of this story originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of the World Edition of the Golf Course Report.