The redesign of Whittington Heath GC due to HS2

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir August 27, 2019 20:09

The HS2 project might be under review but Whittington Heath GC is already undergoing a huge redevelopment, including the building of new holes and the reworking of existing ones, due to the rail line being projected to pass through it. Detailing what’s happened so far this year is course construction specialist John Greasley Ltd.

It’s been a busy and productive first half of 2019 for John Greasley Ltd, starting the new year on a very interesting heathland re-development project at Whittington Heath GC in the West Midlands with golf course designer Jonathan Gaunt.

Phase one commenced in early January with the reconfiguration of existing holes involving tee, fairway and green alterations along with the complete reconstruction of all bunkering on the 13 holes that are to remain after the HS2 line is constructed. We managed to bring forward works programmed for this autumn and complete more than anticipated before April, helped by the dry winter. Feedback has been fantastic and both the project team and members were pleased to have all the reconstructed bunkers returned back to play at the start of June. A new and updated irrigation system also formed part of our contract during the same period, designed by Irritech and installed by Irrigation Control.

As well as installing part of the system to the new features to enable an efficient and successful establishment, they were tasked with a complete new ring main, new green and tee irrigation, most of which was seamlessly installed between January and the end of March.

From mid-March works have concentrated on the construction of five new holes being created within 70 acres of adjacent arable land. One of the key parts of the project is the formation of substantial swathes of new heathland which are being predominantly formed out of the sandy subsoil areas of excavation. Earthworks are nearing completion with the holes at their final stages of preparation for seeding.

As is now quite typical, but nevertheless enthralling, we utilised Jonathan Gaunt’s three-dimensional CAD designs in conjunction with GPS surveying and machine control systems during all aspects of the topsoil strip, earthworks and shaping. To have the ability to install the latest 3D model onto suitably equipped dozers and scraper boxes was paramount to the effective implementation of Jonathan’s design, without the need for a team of full time surveyors, assistants, hundreds of pegs, boning rods, tapes, ranging rods and head scratching! We decided to use a number of GPS-controlled, low ground pressure tractors and scraper boxes to excavate, haul and spread material to the design levels. Each machine is able to cut, load and haul significant distances and discharge fill material in layers as the design model intends. With the right operatives and methodical planning, it has been a deceptively efficient and accurate way to carry out the bulk earthworks, whilst being sympathetic to the ground.

John Greasley has also harvested and spread ‘grass cores’ over the new USGA-style constructed greens instead of the more conventional seeding or turfing of putting surfaces. This has involved hollow coring all 18 existing greens every six weeks to provide sufficient cores to cover two new greens which are then topdressed and oversown with pure bent.

This relatively new and pioneering technique was specified and orchestrated by the club’s agronomist, Bruce Jamieson, who’s also overseeing the agronomic aspects of the project. The new landscape created by Jonathan’s vision and guidance is formidable.

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Jonathan Gaunt on the Whittington Heath project

In 2010, Whittington Heath Golf Club was informed by HS2 that the High Speed 2 railway line would be routed through the centre of the golf course, car park and clubhouse. The future looked decidedly bleak.

However, the club took on the challenge with determination – members and club officials worked together and, through careful negotiation and forward-thinking commitment, found a solution to the problem. This exciting solution will enable Whittington Heath, established in 1886, to continue to operate successfully as a golf club (post railway line construction) for, hopefully, another 130 years.

In 2012, Gaunt Golf Design was appointed as golf course architect and, after numerous masterplan iterations, the final designs were granted planning permission by Lichfield Council in September 2016. Construction work finally started two and a half years later, in January 2019 – beginning with significant modifications to the existing holes. Since starting, John Greasley has barely stopped for breath, and this is partly due to the free-draining nature of the site, but more to do with the excellent working relationship and understanding we’ve established.

Key to the success of the project is the development of five new holes and practice facilities on 25 hectares of undulating farmland adjacent to its existing site, to the north-east. This land is essentially denatured lowland heath, with a sandy subsoil beneath so, perfect for re-creating a heathland golf course in the style of the original Harry Shapland Colt design.

Ecology has been an important element in this project, and specialist consultant, Johns Associates, has worked alongside us every step of the process. While the new golf holes will be constructed to reflect the traditional heathland environment, there is also 10 hectares of heather and acid grassland, four eco-ponds, additional hedgerow and native woodland to establish. The status of the ecological (mitigation) land is preserved by a binding agreement and the golf club is responsible for maintaining it as such on behalf of HS2.

Construction of the new holes will continue through to spring 2020 with a tentative opening date being expected in spring / summer 2021. HS2 railway line construction is anticipated to begin in 2022/2023.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir August 27, 2019 20:09
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