I have long held an interest in the evolution of both the courses, Highgate & Lodge, at my home course, Enville. Situated in the lovely, rolling South Staffordshire countryside that abuts the western-most edge of the West Midlands conurbation, the club was founded in 1935. Initially only 9-holes, the course quickly expanded to 14 and then finally 18-holes by the spring of 1938. Alf Padgham was responsible for the layout of the original 9-holes. A talented professional from nearby Warley Woods G.C. he would go on to win the Open at Hoylake in 1936.
What makes Enville standout from other courses in the local area is the ground over which golf is played.
The land, offered to the club by Enville Estates is of a sandy, free-draining nature. At the time overgrown with broom, gorse and most importantly, heather and thus relatively useless for farming, the formation of the heath came about from the deforestation of the once vast 'Kinver Forest' during the 13th Century and Enville G.C is a small remaining fragment of what was a significant tract of lowland heath that stretched from the southern edge of Wolverhampton to the north as far as Kidderminster to the south.
There are very few courses in the Midlands where will you find such an abundance of heather - Beau Desert and Sutton Coldfield - are the only two that may draw similarities.
The above image comparison focusses on what was the original 18-holes against an aerial photo taken in 2006.
The black and white image, taken in 1945 clearly shows the layout of the course with the darker, mottled areas being the heather. I have used a less recent 2006 image as a comparison as the dry, baked out ground conditions allow us to see the lighter 'shadows' of previous bunkering.
What is most evident is the lack of trees seen in the 1945 image - the truly open nature of the heath has yet to be punctuated by the arrival of birch and pine, both self-set and planted; as well as the area known as 'Old Lady's Farm' wood in the upper centre-right portion which is bereft of the birch that is found in copious numbers today.
A further interesting point is the greater amount of bunkers found on the 1945 image. In an era where bunkers were truly a 'hazard' many courses utilised them in large numbers to exact even more challenge on the golfer.
Onto the layout itself.
If you look closely at the 1945 image, you can make out the 'L' shaped building seen to the right of Morfe Farm that is now Enville's clubhouse. The platform for this structure is still evident alongside the 18th Highgate. From here the 1st hole was played toward the upper-left corner of the image to a green located within a hollow that adjoins the existing 9th green Highgate. The green can be located next to a line of what appear to be bunkers, but it is more likely that this area was being used to quarry sand for course construction or possibly even bunker sand. Another green can be seen short and to the right on the fairway and this might well have been an initial green before the hole was lengthened.
The 2nd hole (now 1st Highgate) has seen a few changes - a small bunker to the rear of the green has been removed and the bunkering scheme in the 2006 image has since been remodelled. What is known is that there was once an open ditch at the base of the slope on the fairway. During the period 1942 / 43, the secretary at the time, Mr. Frank Green, instructed that this ditch be piped and filled in. The hole during his tenure played from a tee much closer to the bank, however grass coverage on the slope was patchy at best. Mr. Green would often struggle to make the carry to the top of the slope and consistently saw his ball roll back down into the ditch. Whether this story is true or not may be lost in the annals of history, but what we do know is that Mr. Green made other changes to the course - again it is said on holes where he would often cry foul!
In the top left corner there is the 3rd hole (2nd H). A relatively long par-3 even by today's standards, the fact that there appears to be fairway bunkers and an additional two greenside bunkers would've made this a stern test with hickory or early steel shafted golf clubs. The 4th (3rd H) whilst shorter than the present left-handed dogleg it would need an accurate drive right of the fairway bunker to open up a clear view toward a green surrounded by hazards. A similarly accurate lay-up would be required on the 5th (4th H) if one wasn't to catch the slope that leads down toward the current green - indeed the approach bunker on the right of the fairway might well have been an afterthought to stop balls from trundling into the heather.
It is the 6th (5th H) that sees the first significant change - the 1945 tee would see one play over the current 4th green toward the present 5th green - the green would have been a formidable target fronted by an array of bunkers, the right-hand most being retained when the hole was adjusted to lengthen the existing 4th.
Other than being lengthened and having it's centreline slightly re-orientated the 7th (6th H) isn't too dissimilar to today's hole.
The next par-3, 8th hole, sees another major alteration to today's layout - played to what is now the 9th green on Highgate your tee shot would be played from a tee adjacent to the current 6th green into a blind target protected both left and right by bunkers - a testing pitch shot even now.
From here the course deviates away from the Highgate as we know it today and it would be a further 30 years before the holes within Old Lady's Farm wood were constructed.
The front nine finished with a dog-leg left par-4 toward what is now the 1st green on Lodge. Played from a slightly elevated tee the view over the open heath would've been a wonderful sight, especially during late August and September when the heather is in flower. The corridor through which the hole played can still be seen in the 2006 image.
And so onto the back nine - the 10th (2nd L) played longer than today's hole and was a par-5 - the rear tee is still visible in the trees adjoining the 10th Highgate. A good drive would leave a testing second shot over the ravine that bisects the fairway. It was into the face of this ravine that two or three bunkers can be seen in the 1945 image, the remnants of such are still present on the slope. The 11th (3rd L) is another hole that has seen a big change, playing as it is did into the 'punchbowl' green of what is now the 14th Highgate. The bunkering on the left of the green presumably to save a pulled shot from running down the slope toward the large, dark area to the right of the 1945 image which is 'Foucher's Pool' that once extended as far as the boundary road.
The 12th (13th L) is very much as it was until quite recently when the fairway bunker was moved toward the brow of the hill. One interesting point is the apparent additional bunker that is short right of the green on what is now the 14th carry. Whether this bunkers placement was to act as a hazard for the 12th, 13th or both holes is open to debate.
A further relatively large change that was made on the 13th (14th L) can again be attributed to Frank Green. At the same time he oversaw the filling in of the ditch on the 2nd (1st H) he saw fit to flatten the current 14th green from what was an exacting two-tiered affair into the gentle back-to-front green we see today. One can only guess why....? Another later alteration saw the removal of two approach bunkers short-left of the green, replaced with the rather mundane cross-bunker ~ 1960's. It is also of note that there may well have been an additional bunker on the left-hand side of the fairway at a similar distance to that of the existing bunker.
The 14th (15th L) hasn't altered much, only in that the right-hand fairway bunker in the 1945 image was removed and has recently been replaced, with a further bunker on the opposite side of the fairway. Interestingly, the green appears to have a horseshoe of bunkers around it's side and rear; these coupled with the two larger approach bunkers would've resulted in a precise shot being required to find the putting surface.
Another green to be altered by Frank Green was the 15th (16th L) - this time it is not certain whether the green was a front-to-back two-tiered affair; the front tier being higher than the rear, or if it had an even more pronounced front-to-back slope than at present; all that can be said is that despite his best efforts this green is still very difficult to hold. The 16th (17th L) is another hole that had changed little until recent bunker remodelling removed the large fronting bunker short of the green.
The 17th puts us back onto the Highgate. A stern test of a hole the two staggered approach bunkers short of the putting surface seen in the 1945 image would've kept those laying up honest as well as helping to frame the green and draw your view in toward the target.
We finally reach the 18th, which in it's 1945 guise would have only been a drive a pitch, however it appears the green was very small - it had yet to be moved further toward the old clubhouse where it can still be seen today. What is fairly clear when comparing the two images is that this hole has seen a number of bunkers added and then removed during it's lifetime with only the existing fairway bunker being somewhere close to one of it's predecessors. It would be sensible to assume that some of the 'shadows' seen in the 2006 image were bunkers utilised when the hole was initially lengthened prior to becoming the par-5 18th it is today.