Contributed by Sean Arble
HARBORNE GOLF CLUB Birmingham, England
Green Fees: £40 ($68 July ’09 spot rate)
Architect: HS Colt
Harry Colt was called in to completely redesign the course at Harborne in 1922. Frank Harris Bros, a firm used often by Colt and probably deserving of more credit for Colt’s success, completed the construction and in 1924 the course opened. The great Bernardo thought enough of Harborne’s framework to declare the course as good as any in the Midlands. In 1924 Harborne was a growing district of Birmingham and the course was then stretched over fields with endless views to the south and west. Like all the old line clubs in Birmingham, Harborne is now very much part of the metropolitan area with the various visual and audible aspects of city life readily abundant.
The course covers surprisingly hilly terrain with all manner of side hill, uphill and downhill shots required. A standout aspect of the design is the many built-up greens. The soil around the Midlands is famously clay based so perhaps Colt wanted to keep the greens as well drained as possible. Additionally, unlike many classic era courses overgrown with trees, Harborne is generously wide. Make no mistake, there are places where the presence of trees is questionable, but by and large the club has done well in keeping Colt’s original playing angles available. Finally, while the bunkering scheme has been altered somewhat over the years, the style and placement are not wildly different from the 1924 design.
Harborne is blessed to have several excellent holes that stand out as among some of the best in the Midlands.
#2 is a long par 4 with a blind drive and a creek crossing at approximately 300 yards from the tee. From here the terrain rises gently to a green protected by bunkers on all sides except for the front.
As with many of Colt’s holes, the second plays easier than it looks.
On the fifth the creek plays its part once again. The water is some thirty-five yards closer to the tee than on the second and the downhill nature of the drive encourages players to be bold.
The approach weaves between bunkers to a green with a knobbly ridge. As on many Ross greens, it is imperative to keep the ball below the hole.
The early run of excellent hols continues on the short sixth. This should be no surprise as Colt designed some of the most endearing par 3s in GB&I. There are several tees to choose from, but one is likely to be facing a 195 yard uphill shot to a wide, but shallow green which slopes deceptively hard to the left. After nearly 90 years and endless equipment improvements this hole proves to be demanding as ever.
A country lane is crossed after the difficult eleventh where five holes of a more secluded nature are located. One is never quite sure what he will find when entering secret gardens of this sort. Will it be as good as the 11-14 stretch across the A322 at Worplesdon? Well, in this instance, these marooned holes don’t quite measure up to Worplesdon, but there are two very worthwhile efforts, the thirteenth and fourteenth.
On the extra-ordinary thirtheenth, the only sand free hole on the course, the drive heads blindly over the crest of a hill and often into the prevailing breeze. Once over the top of the modest rise anyone who has played Colt’s famous Calamity hole at Royal Portrush will immediately be struck by the similarities of these two holes. The putting surface is tucked in the corner of the property over a steep fall-off on the left leading to the fourteenth tee. Nothing but sound judgement and unerring execution will see the golfer through to a par.
The short fourteenth is a visual delight with the tee shot crossing a valley not too dissimilar to the previous hole, only we now have the luxury of playing downhill. However, that is not to imply that the hole is a doddle. Three bunkers guard against the natural kick in off the left and from approximately the halfway point of the green, the terrain runs almost imperceptibly away from the tee.
The penultimate hole is the most difficult of those described here. Yet again we must cross the creek, but on the far side are two bunkers squeezing the player right with a worsening angle the more we drift. Now the golfer faces a steep, often blind and slightly left turning approach up the hill to a fairly flat green protected on the right by bunkers. Many days this 438 yarder will feel more like a par 5 than a par 4.
Harborne is clearly not one of the handful of top tier designs in the Midlands, but in some respects the course reminds me of the great London heathland courses such as St Georges Hill. It has that open feeling to it which really allows the player to swing away. While a handful of holes are mediocre, Harborne still retains the admirable qualities of playability and fun while posing a challenge for all but the very best players. The club is very accommodating to visitor play and doesn’t charge an enormous amount for the privilege. If one is travelling to the Birmingham area and in need of golfing sustenance, he should include Harborne on the short list of clubs to call.
Rating for Harborne GC
Walkability – 3 / 4: The course is designed with walkers in mind, but it is somewhat hilly.
Architecture and Aesthetics – 3 / 4: Harborne is an urban refuge and a joy to play.
Strategy and Playability – 2 / 2: Like nearly all Colt courses, Harborne is a strategic design using a variety of elements to intrigue and challenge golfers.
Overall – 8 / 10
Review by Sean Arble (July, 2009)
All Photos by Sean Arble
The Walking Golfer Course Rating System
Total is out of 10 Points
0 – 4 points – Walkability
0 – 4 points – Architecture and Aesthetics
0 – 2 points – Playability and Strategy