The great Bernard Darwin thought enough of Handsworth to include it in his most famous tome, The Golf Courses Of The British Isles. Unfortunately for historians, but likely fortunate for members, his description doesn't match what is in the ground today. True enough, the opening duo are as described, but little else raises an eyebrow. We do know HS Colt carried out considerable revisions to the course shortly after the finish of WWI and that three holes near the current 12th and 13th were abandoned in the 70s. #s 3-5 (Hawtree?) replaced these holes. While the 5th is a terrific short par 5, the other two holes are quite ordinary. In fact, for a course Colt was involved with, Handsworth has exceptionally average par 3s and as a set of holes is one of the two glaring weaknesses of the course. The other deficiency was pointed out by Darwin more than 100 years ago; "...although they (the greens) are perhaps rather lacking in variety and err on the side of flatness". This sentiment still rings true today. While the greens have subtle slope, they are virtually devoid of contour and shape which may compliment the bunkering.
Handsworth is a member of the 1895 Club, the same year Sandwell Park, a once prominent Birmingham club not more than a few miles distant, was founded. Probably best known in England for being the site of several race riots covering the last three decades, the golf club is fortressed in a middle class urban area with a high concentration of people of Asian decent. Leaving the M5 and heading past The Hawthorns and into Handsworth, it is near on impossible to think that a course was buried somewhere in this concrete jungle perhaps 3 miles from the centre of the largest city (technically anyway!) in the UK. This is slightly misleading, however, as there is actually quite a large green area which includes not only Handsworth GC, but Hilltop Golf Course (a Birmingham Municipal) next door, the already mentioned Sandwell Park GC, Dartmouth GC, a lake, a few parks west of the M5 and more open space spreading to the far northern border of Birmingham.
As noted earlier, the second is an original hole, but I wonder if Colt created the bunker placement.
The cracking 5th is a reverse dogleg which climbs to a steep plateau. The card lists this as a par 5, but I wonder if it might be better to move the tee forward 25 yards and be left with a monster par 4.
On the 7th we drive downhill over a road to a tightly guarded fairway; water left and OOB right. The green is somewhat large (like most on the course).
The front nine finishes with one of those tricky drives. Water bisects the fairway and it is more easily reachable due the downhill nature of the tee shot. Yet, the golfer instinctively knows he must get maximum distance from his drive to minimize the difficulty of the uphill second.
The back nine is a bit more consistent with its quality partly because the one-shotters are better, but I also think there are more interesting angles off the tee. Its also evident that the bunkering is quite unusual for the Brum area. Many of the bunkers are much larger, deeper and more centre-line oriented than normal. The bunkers were re-done about 10 years ago. I notice on a few approaches, there is a spread bunker giving the appearance of a funnel effect. I noticed this at Stratford as well and I think Hawtree also redid the bunkering there. One clever aspect of this bunkering is it obscures a dangerously situated stream just left of the green.
The long one-shot 11th.
The 12th is a longish par 4 playing to a narrow fairway which ends abruptly.
More spread bunkering with trademark Colt bumps framing the corners of the green.
After much of the golf being of a more open nature, the 13th is very narrow off the tee. The raised green is hidden by bunkers and as the bunkering suggests, angles a bit left.
#14 is Handsworth's only outstanding hole. The creek can be taken on for the drive, but one has to be quite accurate. For most, a lay-up turns this difficult par 4 into a three-shotter. The uphill approach after a perfect lay-up.
The moderate length 15th is only moderate if we take on the bunkers.
#16, nothing special, but solid golf design. A good if unexceptional par 3, the uphill 17th follows. Its a shame that trees mar the view of the hole. In general, I didn't think the trees caused playing problems, but they sure ruined some of the vistas of the course. The flag in the background is the 2nd. I think a great double green could have been built here.
The home hole, a short par 5. The fairway here near the bunker is quite narrow - maybe 15 yards wide. If one wants to get home in two he has to take on the length of the creek to the right.
A view of the green after a layup; again, simple yet effective architecture.
I am mildly impressed with Handsworth. The course is generally solid yet somehow feels let-down here and there. For sure, the par 3s hold back what I think could be a better course. I couldn't generally recommend the course, but if one is in the area and is invited, he shouldn't be disappointed if only because Handsworth is one the friendliest clubs I have ever come across. The members and staff made it a point to make us feel welcome and valued.