The reconfiguration of Whittington Heath Golf Club

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick August 18, 2022 17:07

Earlier this year Whittington Heath, which was reconfigured and extended due to HS2, opened following a huge course redevelopment project under main contractor John Greasley Ltd.

This year has been a pinnacle moment for Whittington Heath Golf Club after the major course reconfiguration project was completed in 2020.

The revised layout has now been in play for a number of months and the feedback has been very positive with the membership embracing the new holes, with the consistency of the old and new greens being a great success. Commencing at the start of 2019, phase one encompassed the rebuilding of all relevant bunkering to the holes due to remain, along with the formation of newly positioned tees, fairways and greens / surrounds. A completely new irrigation system was also installed to the existing course’s ‘long term layout’ by our subcontractor Irrigation Control.

By April 2019 we moved onto the new land allowing the season to proceed uninterrupted. The club had the benefit of playing out of all the newly constructed bunkers by early May that year, in part helped by the early sequencing of turfing the surrounds through February and March. The turnaround and establishment period was tight, but helped along with favourable conditions for both construction and growing in (the February heatwave did cause some stress for both contractor and newly laid turf!)

Phase two really got underway at the start of April on the adjacent ‘New Land’ with the new holes being seeded throughout the summer. A total of nine new USGA style greens were built and prepared in pairs every six weeks to allow cores to be harvested and spread from the existing 18 greens. The six week ‘rest’ period was to allow sufficient recovery before the operation could be carried out again. In an effort to minimise disruption to golf, we ensured all coring was carried out and collected within a 48 hour period, with temporary greens utilised during this short period. An extensive irrigation system, including full twin row fairway heads and over 250km of dripline were also installed by Irrigation Control under our contract.

Our contract extended to the initial maintenance of all turfed, seeded and cored areas, prior to handing over to the greenkeeping team to carry out the remaining growing in.

A new driving range, chipping / bunker green and putting green have also formed part of our works on the extension land, these being positioned around the new 1st tee complex for ease of access. Over 4km of pathways have been constructed on both the new and existing holes during the winter of 2019 and 2020 to suit the revised layout. This formed part of phase three which saw us return to the existing course in November 2021 to construct the new 8th hole.

One of the major aspects of the Whittington Heath project is the formation of mitigation land, comprising both heather and acid grassland. A crucial part of the contract involved the translocation of 700m2 of prime, well established heather dominant vegetation located within the boundary of the proposed railway line. This demanded a pair of RotoTilt equipped 13t 360 excavators with specialist attachments, one harvesting at the donor site and the other laying at the receptor site. We opted to use two nine-tonne dumpers on floatation tyres for ease of access, quick turnaround and to minimise the disruption on the existing course. To ensure the heather’s success, the receptor areas were stripped back of all vegetation and samples were taken to ensure the pH was suitable. Each slab was also cleanly cut into 1.50mx1m rectangular, 300mm thick slabs to retain the root structure and native soil. Independent valves in head irrigation heads were also installed to cover the receptor area, whereby water can be applied as and when required to prevent the heather from unduly drying out and becoming stressed.

The bulk of the sandy subsoil mitigation areas separating the five new holes are being hydroseeded. Using our own Finn T90, 900 Gallon low ground pressure hydroseeder, we have covered over 17 hectares of mitigation hydroseeding. The two main mixes are heather dominant and heathland acid grassland. The first comprises pure Calluna Vulgaris (ling heather), with the second predominantly a fescue and bent mix, with some specialist varieties such as wavy hair grass and heath bedstraw.

Establishing new heather plants from seed is a very slow process and can take two to three years given the right conditions. During the summer of 2022 we are starting to see the first signs of heather coming through from the seed sown over 18 months ago. This is an incredibly positive sign that more will follow, however this is a plant that will not be rushed!

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Architect Jonathan Gaunt on the Whittington Heath project

We were first asked to be involved in the redesign of the golf course at Whittington Heath Golf Club in July 2012, after an initial meeting in early February 2012 with John Tipper and Kelvin Edwards.

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 existing 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 masterplan was set.

The detailed design of the course, though, took several years to develop with many iterations before a planning application was submitted to Lichfield Council in 2016. Soon after permission was granted the project started on site in January 2019, and that was when the fun really began.

Progress on site was swift and the contractor, John Greasley, worked amazingly well through some very challenging conditions (torrential rain, flooding, drought and the Covid pandemic) to finish the golf course in autumn 2021.

The project has far exceeded my expectations and is one I am really proud of. The construction project team and maintenance team at Whittington Heath have worked so well together to bring this project to life. The mitigation land is now establishing well, giving an established heathland character to the new holes, with sprigs of heather already popping through and thriving. The wild grasses between the new holes give the roughs a rugged look which are offset by the tightly cut, fast running main playing areas – being excellently maintained to a high standard by course manager, Adam Jones, and his team.

It’s been an absolute pleasure to be a part of the next 100 years at what, I consider, to be the best course in Staffordshire.

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Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick August 18, 2022 17:07
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