A 130-year-old golf course situated on historic land in Lichfield, has been saved from potential closure by the approval of a planning application that will offset the routing of the planned HS2 railway through the middle of the property.
Whittington Heath Golf Club was faced with extinction when plans for HS2 construction revealed the railway line would bisect the course. The planned route will eliminate five golf holes as well as a club house which dates back to the 18th century. The successful application, which includes maintained ecological areas and public right of way, will preserve land unaffected by HS2 construction which has connections to the military and records dating back to King William III.
The plans, approved by Lichfield District Council, have been underpinned by the purchase of adjacent land which makes site re-development possible. Five new golf holes, by Gaunt Golf Design, and a new club house, designed by Brownhill Hayward Brown (BHB) Architects, will be constructed to reflect the equivalent re-instatement of facilities lost by construction with all costs being borne by HS2 on that basis. Publicly accessible ecological areas including wetlands and environmental offset land will also be part of the project.
The announcement marks the completion of over five years of dialogue with HS2 and club Captain Pete Espin said: “After consultation with members about the course of action we should take, we made a conscious decision to work with HS2 and preserve 130 years of golf and a much longer history for the overall site. We could simply have accepted the HS2 route as a signal for the course’s closure but we’ve worked closely with them and we’re delighted with the outcome under the circumstances.”
30-year member, Kelvin Edwards, who led the preliminary discussions that created the strategy for re-development said: “Throughout the process, we liaised with local action groups, councils and national government officials to collaborate positively with HS2. In accepting the intended path of the railway, we’ve been able to reach a solution for both the club and HS2 which preserves the future and also secures environmental benefits for the local community. It’s been a difficult journey but one we feel has been entirely worthwhile.”
Committee member Keith Ridgway, who spent a career in the construction industry, took over the project in the latter stages. He said: “The basis of ‘equivalent re-instatement’ means the level of our current facilities will be maintained on a new-for-old basis but we’re still losing an historic building as well mature heathland as a consequence. So the ecological element has been an important factor in the plans. While the new golf holes will be constructed to replicate the traditional heathland
environment, there’ll also be around 10 hectares of heather and acid grass land, four eco ponds, additional hedgerow and woodland along with public access. The status of the ecological land is preserved by a binding agreement and the Golf Club is responsible for maintaining it as such on behalf of HS2.”
The announcement is believed to be the first of its kind relating to the HS2 project.
History of Whittington Heath Golf Club
In 1886, a nine-hole golf course was founded by Lieutenant-Colonel George Simon and built by the soldiers from the newly constructed and neighbouring barracks. The course was remodelled in 1929 and extended to 18 holes by the renowned course architect Harry Colt.
The course was nearly lost after the Second World War as it was used as a holding camp for American forces. The area was used as a campsite for soldiers and 18-inch thick concrete bases were created across the land to form the foundations for the huts required as living quarters. Hard-core and cinders were brought in to create lorry paths and pathways and it was only the dedication of the greens staff at the time that resurrected the course when the soldiers had left.
In 1702, the land was used to facilitate Staffordshire’s only racecourse. The current 18th fairway was part of the finishing straight and the current clubhouse was erected as a grandstand for racegoers. The grandstand was erected adjacent to the finishing straight’s water jump which would now straddle the 18th fairway.
In 1992 the Club changed its name from ‘Whittington Barracks’ to ‘Whittington Heath’ when it was purchased from the Ministry of Defence by the members.
The club has worked with local charities fpr many years and over the last decade alone has raised over a quarter of a million pounds for local causes.
Throughout its history, many prestigious competitions have been held at the course, including The English Boys’ Under -18 Amateur Stroke-play Championship, The Carris Trophy and the women’s Whittington Heath Scratch Salver.
Whittington Heath Golf Club www.whittingtonheathgc.co.uk
Gaunt Golf Design www.gaunt-golf-design.com