The club originated in 1886 with a few holes set out on Whittington Heath, a high piece of land adjacent to Whittington Barracks, two and a half miles from the cathedral city of Lichfield. According to the 1860 Post Office directory, Whittington Heath comprised 338 acres on the south east side of Whittington village and was an open sheep walk where Lichfield races were held. The Lichfield races had been moved to Whittington Heath from Fradley in 1702 and during the eighteenth century became one of the leading meetings in the Midlands. In the early 1740s, the races were held in the first week in September and lasted for two days, extending to three days in 1744. The meeting provided the focus for a great social occasion with well-attended public breakfasts and dinners, balls and concerts taking place in and around Lichfield. The line of the course was altered in the early 1740s to give spectators a better view and by the 1750s Lichfield was the only race course in Staffordshire.
In 1766 the landlord of Lichfield’s Red Lion pub advertised that he intended to set up a viewing stand and a booth at the course and in 1773 a grandstand was erected by public subscription.
From the 1780s onwards a decline set in, although the opening of a new stand in 1803 suggests at least a temporary revival in fortunes. In this year a larger stand was donated by Lord Paget, with a flat lead roof added for viewing in 1829. This stand was situated close to the present second tee. Between 1840 and 1875 a new brick grandstand was built adjacent to the main road between Lichfield and Tamworth but the racing days at Whittington Heath were numbered. General William Dyott described the 1836 meeting as a “wretched affair” and by 1850 it was reported that the race-goers were “a coarse and common crowd with hardly a gentleman’s carriage to be seen”.
Today there are still visible reminders of this period of the heath’s history, particularly the “road” to the right of the sixth fairway and at the back of the 7th green. The grandstand adjacent to Tamworth road has served as the clubhouse since 1957 and prior to that as a residential home for old soldiers.
Whilst the races were declining, military use of the heath was growing. Officers in the local militia (forerunner of Territorial Army) were using Whittington Heath for training and manoeuvres. In 1881the amalgamation of many old ‘numbered’ regiments formed new named regiments, including the North and South Staffords. It was decided to establish permanent depots in each regimental area and Lichfield was selected for the depots of both Staffordshire regiments. In1875 the Marquis of Anglesey agreed to the sale of his land. He, and one other, were paid £5000 in March 1876 and the common land was bought from the commoners of the Manor of Longdon for £14,211 in February 1877.
Construction of the barracks for the two depots and for a Militia battalion (of which there were four in the county) started in 1877. The barracks were simple in design, based around a large parade square. Some of the original buildings survive to this day although many have disappeared; for example the Military hospital which was sited to the north of the Officers’ Mess.
‘Father’ of the club was George Simon, a Lieutenant Colonel of the Army Medical Service, who founded the club which became known as Whittington Barracks Golf Club and was, for some years, open only for military personnel. Eventually civilian members were elected and gradually these members took over the running of the club.
In 1927 Mr H.S. Colt was brought in to re-model and extend the course to 18 holes and what a wonderful job he made of it, creating a par with any in the Midlands. Today, with its length of 6510 yards from the white tees, the golfer is made to think carefully about where to place his/her tee shot in order to avoid a problem with the second. There is heather, gorse and trees to contend with should one stray from the straight and narrow.
Although large parts of the heath were occupied by the military during two world wars, the club continued in being throughout and some holes were kept in play, albeit in poor condition, and in 1945 it was even suggested that the club no longer existed. Through the efforts of the then professional, Fred Fox, and others the course was rapidly recovered.
The golf club was purchased from the Ministry of Defence in 1994 (financed by members) and became Whittington Heath Golf Club. The club has maintained its relationship with the barracks next door, welcoming army personnel as members. There is an annual match between teams from the golf club and the barracks and the Army Golf Association Championships are held at Whittington each year.
In over 100 years the club has had only five professionals, starting in 1905 with David Fox. He was followed by Mr W Goodrich for a brief period before David’s brother, Fred Fox took over in 1931. He remained until 1968 when Adrian Sadler was appointed. Adrian retired in 2009 and handed over the reins to Mike Raj, the present incumbent.
There is no doubt that Whittington Heath (described by Martin Hawtree as “classic golfing country”) is a club with character, the more you play the course, the more you wish to, and in the clubhouse you will find an atmosphere of friendliness so necessary to complete a perfect day.