An intriguing mix of heathland and woodland across

Enville (Highgate)

Enville Golf Club (Highgate)

Date Reviewed
September 2, 2016
Reviewed by Ed Battye
Enville is an extremely intriguing 36 hole golf complex located in deepest Staffordshire countryside that is slowly but surely building a reputation as one of the country’s most respected venues.

This fascinating private members club was founded in 1935 as a nine hole course before it was gradually increased over the next half a century or so, when two eighteen hole courses were completed, to what we have today.

The current Highgate and Lodge courses both possess nine holes of superb woodland and nine holes of inspiring heathland. And unlike many clubs with two courses it is hard to single out which is the superior. Both I should add are excellent.

Prior to my first visit in August 2014 I had spoken to several people who had played here, including a handful of members, and I was yet to hear a bad word said about either course. I therefore arrived with high hopes… and did not leave disappointed. A subsequent visit a couple of years later confirmed what I already knew - Enville is well worth a visit.

It doesn’t take long to realise that you are at a special venue. The opening hole on the Highgate course has a distinct air of quality about it; a shortish par five that fits the land perfectly and has some excellent bunkering on the approach to the green.

In fact the first seven holes are a class act, played over beautiful heathland with lovely bunkering. After a strong par three at the second the third and fourth are both relatively short par fours but ask you to work the ball both ways. Once again the bunkering is exceptional, especially at the latter.

The par three fifth is also a picture, but again quite short at less than 165 yards, and you now just have an inkling that, as lovely as the course may be, a lack of length could ultimately be its downfall. However, you can quickly dismiss that notion after a long walk back to the tee at the sixth, turning around and seeing a par four of epic proportions; just one pace short of 450 yards. This is perhaps the best hole on the course and has the most wonderful semi-blind approach from an uphill lie to a green that runs away from you. The drive is also a toughie, mainly because of a large bunker on the left at driving distance.

Whilst many of the fairways on this opening stretch are generous there is very little semi-rough which means that the heather starts almost immediately on both sides of the short stuff. I really liked this feature of the course on the Highgate and also, as it would transpire, on the holes towards the end of the round on the Lodge.

The lovely seventh, with a big dip in the fairway which allows you to hit a shorter club off the tee than you might think, is the last of the heathland golf until you return to this fantastic piece of land for the final two holes.

The remainder of the course is played through mature woodland and whilst this stretch doesn’t quite have the magic of the open heathland, and inevitably plays a little bit softer, there are some excellent holes. The true three-shot ninth (only a few strides short of 600 yards!) followed by the more unusual tenth work well as a combination before three fine par fours, the approach to the plateau green at the 12th being the highlight.

Another picturesque par three at the 14th, which backs onto the Lodge course, is followed by a stout two-shotter that is played to a relatively new green complex. Meanwhile, the 215 yard 16th is slightly out of character with the rest of the holes and is played over a large pond that only comes into play for a really bad shot. It has shades of Bearwood Lakes about it.

The final hole is another par five (incidentally both nines start and end with one) and can be reached in two but, similar to the first, there is trouble lurking in the form of bunkers in the proximity of the green and a trap on the inner elbow of the slight dog-leg must be skirted to obtain the shortest route.

The Highgate is a fine course and one I enjoyed as much as, or perhaps even more so than, other courses in the West Midlands such as Little Aston and Blackwell. There are several semi-blind shots throughout the round that some people may not like but I actually thought these worked well, especially as a first-time visitor.

After a quick lunch it was time to tackle the Lodge course, regarded by some as slightly inferior to the Highgate but preferred by others, so I was intrigued as to what would lie ahead.

As it turned out it was almost a repeat of the morning round. Start on the heathland, play through some woodland then finish back on the heath.

This time you only play three holes before venturing into the tree-lined part of the course, this time across a road. This opening trio of holes are not too taxing but the second is a fantastic hole where you must decide where you want to approach the hole from; either at green level from a long way back or from a blinder position in a large hollow but much closer to the green.

The wooded stretch of the Lodge course is fantastic. This much is clear from the first hole you play where you must decide if you wish to try and reach a second part of the fairway; closer to the green but at the bottom of a deep depression.

This part of the course has a similar feel to Woburn with many of the holes featuring towering pines that frame them magnificently. The green at the driveable fifth is perfect for this length of hole, large in size but with a pronounced slope. Six and seven are also fine holes on this part of the course but the climax comes at the 11th when you play from a high fairway to a narrow and angled green set in a valley below.

The 13th makes an impressive return to the vibrant purple heathland with a demanding drive before the final five ease you home. All of these are good holes, three of them (14, 15 and 16) excellent shortish par fours in their own right but as a trio they don’t quite ask the same questions that the Highgate course does over the closing stretch. The shining light of the homeward run is perhaps the 17th, a short par three that merges into its surrounds effortlessly.

The variety of holes is noticeable on both courses. All are individual in nature but work extremely well collectively. It’s also good to see that the Club are promoting heather regeneration on the heathland part of the courses.

So which is the best? Ultimately I found very little between both courses in terms of quality, and also as a golfing experience, with the Highgate just getting the nod thanks to a slightly stronger finish. I preferred the woodland part of the Lodge course more so than Highgate but it was the other way round for the heathland holes. It could also be argued that the Lodge has more of the top holes across both courses.

The only slight niggle I had about Enville was that with equal parts of heathland and woodland it might have been better to create two contrasting courses rather than both being a hybrid as such. I think I would have preferred it that way but I suppose if you only have the opportunity to play one course then you get the best of both worlds.

The pedigree of Enville has not gone unnoticed by the various governing bodies either. From 2007 to 2011 the Highgate course was used by the R&A for Regional Open Qualifying whilst the day prior to my visit had seen the conclusion of the English Boys Under 14's Reid Trophy and in 2017 the club hosted the British Girls Open Amateur Championship.

Enville also boasts one of the finest and most extensive practice facilities in the country. There is an excellent practice ground as well as at least three short game areas I spotted.

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