Woking Golf Club

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  • Architects:
  • Consultant:
  • Holes of Merit:
    1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18
  • NCG Rank:
    37/100 in GB&I

At A Glance

  • Woking Golf Club is the birthplace of strategic golf design.
  • The centreline bunkers on the fourth.
  • A model heathland course in all its brilliance on full display.
  • It was at Woking where CH Alison climbed a ladder onto the roof of the clubhouse and pitched his ball onto the 18th to gain a half for the Oxford and Cambridge Golfing Society.

Full Course Review

Woking Golf Club is somehow greater than the sum of its parts. The clubhouse is appropriate and modest. It lacks the grandeur of Muirfield and the benevolent neglect of Brancaster. Still, there is no better place than the veranda fronting Fourteen, especially when the Wisteria is in bloom. The golf itself is the ideal, Surrey heathland course. Not long, it is stunningly beautiful. The wildly undulating greens, which seen to be in permanently excellent condition, serve as its best defence.

Due to the who's who of golf's golden age calling Woking home, the history here is palpable. The course itself pre-dates golfs golden age. Founded in 1893, Woking Golf Club was the first of the Surrey courses to be cut out of the pines and heather by Tom Dunn. Built to cater to barristers for weekend play, its association with those of the legal profession continues to this day. With connections to Oxbridge and the golfing elite of the day, Woking established itself as a mecca for forward-thinking design theory and practice. Stuart Paton and John Low were instrumental in transforming the course to its current self. Virtually all of the prominent writers and architects universally sang Woking's praise. Preeminent among them was none other than Tom Simpson.

The greens are multi-tiered and perhaps the reason to visit the course as an individual keen to see its architectural merits. The fourth is worth seeing because as its influence on strategic golf theory can be traced to a single hazard complex in the middle of its fairway. The emphasis on accurate driving is also a hallmark, as almost every hole rewards a good tee shot with a much more straightforward approach. It is a two-ball course with foursomes being the preferred game of choice.

The Course

The course could be divided into two parts. The stretch from Three to Eight play along the lower-lying part of the property. The first two holes and last nine are routed on the property's higher ground.

One - a warm handshake from an old friend is how Tom Watson described the first hole. Under 300 yards and downhill, the temptation may be to try to overpower it. Ease into the round with a gentle tee shot and don't be long. The runaway, infinity green is best respected and played using the ground game.

Two - Woking's best one-shot hole. The tees were initially closer to the first green. From this angle, it would have made the right pin utter folly to attempt to attack. Somewhat tamed by the backstop and the current right tee's, the second is due for renovation the winter of 2019/20. The original intent will be restored and make a great hole even better.

Four - The hole which changed inland golf and altered the collective thought of architecture theory. See The Fried Egg's article on the centreline bunkers and Evalu18's article on other aspects of its components.

Five, Six and Eight are all first-rate, two-shot holes — the sixth and eighth both benefitting from a beautiful stream that adds strategic value and food for thought.

Seven - A lovely par 3 with an undulating green. It will reward the excellent shot, collect the good and reject the mediocre. The mounds surrounding it are expertly hewn to leave a fine shot untouched, gather a good shot inward and reject a mediocre shot outward. The use of mounding as opposed to a plethora of bunkers on this green complex is worthy of careful thought.

Nine and Ten are the most maligned holes and have the most turbulent of histories. The silver lining is that from 1937 through to 1959, Tom Simpson and Stuart Paton designed two holes which to this day lie dormant. If restored, they would make the ninth the third par three on the front nine and second in three holes. The tenth would become an uphill par four with centreline bunker complex instead of the current par three. More can be seen by clicking here or by visiting Lee Patterson's Golf Chronicle.

The tougher of the two nines, the inward nine has some stunning features. The restored vistas from the eleventh tee provide views of virtually all of the first ten holes.

Twelve - The natural-looking green site on Twelve is draped exquisitely across the tumbling hillside. A four-tier, two half, kidney-shaped green is nothing short of mesmerising.

Thirteen - A classic Woking green. It appears mundane from a distance, but it is made of three distinct portions. Finding the green in two is no guarantee of par. Even finding the correct part won't do that. Frank Pennink wrote it would be possible to have a nervous breakdown on account of Woking's greens. Further, he said a surgeons touch is vital if three-putting is to be a rare complaint and not a permanent disease. Quite possibly, he had the twelfth and thirteenth in mind!

Back to back par fives are found at Fourteen and Fifteen. Fourteen is a bite as much as you can chew tee shot. The more aggressive the tee shot over the heather and down the right will yield the option to go for the green in two if successful. The cross bunkers on the right will come into play for the layup of the mid to high handicapper and provide some visual intrigue for the more skilled player. They are reminiscent of the seventeenth at West Sussex and twelfth at Muirfield. A characteristic which makes the fourteenth so good for every class of golfer is the significant depression before the green. If going for the green in two, it comes into play. Played as a three-shot hole and it must be carried. Behind the green is a crowded veranda waiting for an opportunity for a hearty cheer or kind-hearted jest. The swale in front of the green is a design feature seen repeatedly at Tom Simpson's New Zealand a few miles down the road. Perhaps it was Fourteen that provided the inspiration?

Sixteen - The newest hole on the course. A short par three recently introduced is the first significant design change to the course in over fifty years. The green is small and undulating with nearly no flat areas, even for pins. The old sixteenth is to the right with the original green now used as a turf nursery.

Eighteen - Woking in a nutshell. Accuracy, not distance, is rewarded. The green is undulating using the natural fall of the hillside toward the pond ideally. The perfect finish. Not demanding but cerebral. It can determine a match and wreck a card if you're not careful.

In Summary

Woking Golf Club doesn't have significant elevation changes within the holes themselves. What is given away on the third is regained on the ninth. The fairways are modestly flat, devoid of most micro-contouring. The greens make up for any lack, however. The greens are incredible. Multi-tiered and partitioned, they are works of art. Accurate, not necessarily straight, tee shots reward easier second shots to heavily contoured greens. The fourth is worthy of the pilgrimage alone.

The weak part of the course is the ninth. It doesn't seem to fit, but they have the alternative carefully obscured by overgrowth. Even more remarkable is it is a Tom Simpson original. Tree removal, heather regeneration, irrigation, a forward-thinking keeper and secretary and educated membership, Woking will continue to climb the rankings as it goes from strength to strength. For further insight on the missing Simpson holes, please click here.

Conclusion

If you've played the course you'll understand why it is constantly found among the top 100 golf courses in the country. The course design is superb, strategic. The history, palpable. It is one of golf's joy's to play the 4th, the birthplace of modern golf course design.

Further Reading

Golf Club Atlas' review of Woking Golf Club can be found by clicking here.


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The Essentials

Everything you need to know before you go!