SANDWELL PARK, Mr Wooley driving from the pulpit tee.

In 1910 a book written by one of the greatest of all writers on golf, Bernard Darwin, was first published and entitled “The Golf Courses of the British Isles”. He toured the Country visiting many leading golf courses, in an era when the “gutty ball” was being replaced with the new rubber-cored ball.

It was also before the course redesign by Harry S. Colt, so part of his experience would not apply to the way members play it today. Also, one should note there have been several other changes since his plans were made for what turned out then to be a major alteration. For his round although he does not mention it, it seems likely he was accompanied by two members of the club and his good friend, artist and illustrator Harry Rountree who painted a scene entitled “Mr. Woolley driving from the pulpit tee”.  He also painted scenes from other golf courses which only appeared in the first edition of the book.

This is how Bernard Darwin described Sandwell Park at the time of his visit,

“From Nottingham our way lay to Birmingham, where we were to play at Sandwell Park. A train journey to a melancholy and mysterious place called Spon Lane, followed by a “penny to the left and a penny to the right” (as we were advised) in a tramcar brought us to West Bromwich. West Bromwich is a name calculated to thrill the football devotee with glorious memories of West Bromwich Albion, but it is not in itself a particularly attractive spot. Yet Sandwell Park must once have been a beautiful place before the houses began to crowd round its gates and the colliery chimneys to pour black volumes of smoke across it. It is a fine park still, if one can only blind oneself to the houses and the chimneys; but that, save in one or two secluded corners, is a difficult task – Birmingham is too all-pervading to permit of many illusions.
We did not see Sandwell Park under very favourable conditions as regards weather. There was every now and again a flurry of snow, and a most piercingly cold wind blew across the course rendering useless any number of waistcoats and mittens, and robbing the fingers of all power of gripping the club. It s very difficult under such circumstances to judge of the length of any particular hole, for the wind laughs at yard measures, and reduces a good length hole to a drive and pitch, and converts a drive and a pitch in to a 3 shot hole.

Perhaps it was the effect of first going out to face the icy blast, but I thought the first few holes at Sandwell rather poor, being of a hybrid length and not particularly exciting. The golf improves wonderfully, however, as it goes on, and from the seventh onward is infinitely more interesting. The eighth needs a very straight drive, followed by a very delicate second shot – a tricky shot in whatever way we start to play it. If we pitch up the hill, we must pitch just up and no further; while if we run the shot, the hill is just steep enough to induce a lively fear that the ball will refuse to climb it. Moreover, when I played it, the hole was cut with fiendish cunning very close to the top of the hill, so that the very nicest judgement was necessary in order to avoid a long sloping and curly putt. The ninth consists of an absolutely blind pitch with a small crater, reminding one of a very old but not very highly esteemed friend, the “Crater” hole at Aberdovey. Then comes a hole that is really good, and it seemed to me the best on the course – two honest shots along a neck of turf, which tapers perceptibly as it nears the green.

By this time we have reached the highest point of the links and now descend into the lowlands again, driving from the “Pulpit” tee to a green which lies in front of the big, white, gloomy house, whence the owner has long since retired, smoked out by the colliery chimneys. A good two shot hole follows, and next comes one of the most amusing of short holes, which, whether intrinsically good or bad, deserves to escape the zeal of the inconoclast because of its singular character. One hundred and thirty are all the yards it can boast, but between tee and green a terrible monster rears its head in the form of some ancient rifle butts. They tower so high above and so close to us that even with a mashie and a teed ball we are all too likely to err. Moreover, it is not merely a matter of getting over at any price. The hole is quite close to the butts on the far side, and only the ball that shall just drop over and no more should satisfy us. Circumstances alter cases, of course, and with his opponent having the honour and failing to get over, a man may well play his shot with a brassey if he have a mind to it. Then, indeed, it is a case of over at any price, for the ground short of the butts is terribly rough, and a brilliant recovery is not in the least probable. It is the hole that must have been the grave of many hopes, perhaps even of some foursome friendships; and yet, if we were out practising with half a dozen old balls and no one to look at us, we could do as many twos and threes as ever we wanted. (What he is describing is a hole played from the right side of the second fairway, over the front of the eighth tee and the butts to the seventh green.)

There are some other good holes to follow, but they appear comparatively orthodox and ordinary after that quaint little thirteenth. One of the best things about the course is the turf, which is very springy and pleasant to walk upon. This old park turf very often proves sadly disappointing when it comes making putting greens out of it, but the Sandwell greens are excellent, and in more propitious weather must be delightful to putt upon.”

Around Sandwell Park