Golf Course Review
Woodhall Spa Golf Club is located in a former spa town in Lincolnshire, England. Found on the southern boundary of the Lincolnshire Wolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), it is quite literally out of the way and in the middle of nowhere. 30 or 40 minutes from any regional centre, it's off the radar for most. You will need to make a special effort to get here, but make no mistake - its worth it!
Famous for its World Top 100 - the Woodhall Spa Golf Club Hotchkin course, there is also an 18 hole, Donald Steel design from 1998, known as the Bracken. Tom MacKenzie built the set of greens. Built on clay in contrast with the majority of the Hotchkin, it is also home of England Golf and along with it one of the best practice facilities in the country.
Woodhall Spa History
Golf was first played here in 1890 on a 9 hole course when the amenity was added to the list of attractions of the Victorian spa town. In 1895, the course was moved, before moving again to its present location in 1902. A local gardener, Robert Wilson, was responsible for both designs.
Harry Vardon was employed by Stafford Vere Hotchkin to layout the new 18 hole design and JH Taylor advised on bunkering. The 5500-yard course officially opened play on April 24, 1905, in a match between James Braid, Harry Vardon and JH Taylor.
In 1911, Harry Colt was invited to make alterations. The course was lengthened and routing adjusted. After 3 years of construction, the 6400-yard course was opened in May 1914 by Ted Ray and Tom Ball.
Following WW1, Stafford Vere Hotchkin took control of the club. During the 1920s and 1930s, he remodeled the course making adjustments to tees, greens, and hazards. It was reported in 1926, the course then measured 6516 yards.
During WW2, he almost single-handedly kept the course afloat. This wasn't just your average owner meddling with a course he was fortunate to own. SV Hotchkin had established himself as a prominent golf course architect during golf's golden age. Partnering with Sir Guy Campbell and Major CK Hutchison, the group known as The 3 Majors were also responsible for the tremendous layouts at West Sussex and Ashridge amongst others.
After his death in 1953, his son Neil ran the club before selling the facilities to the English Golf Union in 1995.
The Hotchkin Course
The Woodhall Spa Golf Club Hotchkin Course is described as 'a classic British heathland experience.' If anything could be added to that description is would have to be 'authentic'. The sandy subsoil allows for firm and fast conditions. The fairways are generously wide and the greens are reasonably undulating.
Become too reckless and scrub, gorse and heather will be your fate. Perhaps the course's most distinguishing feature are the 143 'cavernous bunkers'. The rustic and period-authentic, rough-edged bunkers are strategically placed and have teeth. These are indeed hazards - as they should be!
Woodhall Spa Golf Club Hotchkin Takeaways
I must admit I am still grasping for what makes Woodhall Spa so good. It is incredibly good but one has a difficult time putting one's finger on exactly why. It's a little bit like the Old Course and Royal Worlington that way - it doesn't give away her secrets but they are uncovered through play. Once is enough to be smitten, twice is enough to be charmed, thrice is enough to be enchanted and any more you'd be madly in love.
The golf is understated. The location is 'soulful' as one recent, well-traveled mate explained. The course lies on the land and golf is a part of the ecosystem. It doesn't try, it simply is. It is sometimes said that the greatest links were made by God... the only conclusion is he must have spent a little time in Lincolnshire.
I played the course off the whites with the yardage tipping out at about 6800 yards. It was the shortest 6800-yard golf course I ever played. It didn't feel long despite hitting the driver only a handful of times. Most tee shots were long irons, hybrids, or fairway woods off the tee but the cantered fairways and firm play negated what was left in the bag.
The play into many greens is a running shot from the proper side of the fairway with the correct shot shape. Far better to have a longer club in from the proper side of the fairway and on short-grass than in the heather...
Another test of greatness is a course's ability to entertain all golfers endlessly without respect for their playing ability. In our group, we had a plus handicap, a single-digit handicap, and an 'average golfer' and you'd be hardpressed to pick which one enjoyed the round the most... it gave each of us exactly what we needed and more...
How Good is the Golf at Woodhall Spa?
The fact Woodhall Spa is so highly regarded is not to be overlooked. Of the inland courses rated above it in the world are Pine Valley, Oakmont, Augusta, Sand Hills, Merion East, Pinehurst No. 2, Chicago GC, Los Angeles North, Winged Foot, Crystal Downs, Riviera, Praire Dunes, The Country Club, Hirono, Morfontaine, Somerset Hills, Shoreacres, Garden City, Southern Hills, Camargo, and Bethpage Black. Of the inland courses above it in the UK? Only Sunningdale Old. To think it is the 2nd best inland golf course in the UK is more than enough reason to visit when you consider some of the golf on offer in and around London!
Tom Doak's Restoration
In 2015, work began on the long-term development of the course. It had started to lose the heathland feel and was evolving into parkland. Tom Doak was approached and a 25-year course development plan was approved in January 2016. Work began in December 2019 on the first 6 holes and were followed each year by 6 more until all 18 were complete.
Overall, 43 bunkers were re-introduced, three greens were rebuilt, irrigation replaced, scrub cleared and 10,000 trees removed. Tom Doak's vision was to find a 'consistent and coherent approach' that would harmonise the design ethos of SV Hotchkin, Harry Colt, and his own vision for how the modern game should play.
Well Earned & Deserved Recognition
Rankings are not the be-all and end-all in golf. There are plenty of great golf courses that will never see a World Ranking or even be in the Top 100 in their own countries. Golf.com's rank is perhaps the most informed in golf. Its panel is the most well-informed and conversant in the matters of golf course architecture. (Click here to find out why we feel that way!)
With its inclusion, Woodhall Spa Golf Club Hotchkin Course was named the 54th best golf course in the world. Only 30 other golf courses from the UK & Ireland were included in the list and The Hotchkin ranked above half of them. To be included is high praise indeed. With tastes trending towards minimal, rugged links, it is even more heartening to see an inland heathland course included... and this only speaks further to its immense quality and character.
Featured Architect: Harry Colt
Harry Colt felt courses should reside in the land as opposed to upon it. Courses should be a part of the natural landscape. Bunkering on Par 3's is usually odd-numbered. Artificiality and symmetrical hazards were avoided at all costs. Most greens are square or rectangular. Despite this inclination, variety...View Profile
At a glance
- Renaissance Golf Design
- Tom Doak
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Lincolnshire, LN10 6PU, EnglandVisit The Website
Featured Architect: Harry Colt
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