John Low’s and Stuart Paton’s addition to the centre of a single fairway helped shaped golf into what it is today. The resulting impact on inland golf, strategic golf design and the career of Tom Simpson make them possibly the most significant man-made hazards in golf. Their significance cannot be understated. However, the rest of the hole is also intriguing.
Well known is that the motive for Low and Paton introducing a centreline hazard was the Principals Nose on the sixteenth at St Andrews. Without being pedantic, this bunker at the Old Course is not a single bunker. Instead, it is a complex of three. The centreline hazard on the fourth at Woking is not a single bunker. It is a complementary pair of bunkers.
Two well-known illustrations are well-regarded references — the Tom Simpson sketch from The Architectural Side of Golf and Bernard Darwin’s Jovial Golfer cigarette card. Of note, the Simpson sketch gives not only a description but scale and distance in yards. These provide us with a reference point for further analysis.
What can we say with confidence? Firstly, the railway which runs parallel to the hole hasn’t changed location. Using this a general reference and Simpson’s measurements, we can also conclude the site of the centreline bunker complex hasn’t migrated. As well, the location of the front left greenside bunker is as per Simpson’s sketch. The opening is still roughly 20 yards.
What, then, has changed? At some point, a further bunker was introduced on the left side of the fairway. The trees on the left were planted or propagated, and an access road for the greenkeepers added. Additional tee’s to lengthen the hole also appeared.
What then has disappeared? Width and along with it, heather. The left side of the fairway extended at parts beyond even the path that meanders through the trees. Simpson defines 35 yards of fairway left of the hazard before finding the short heather. Additionally, the second bunker on the left-hand side of the green is now gone. The green extended beyond the front bunker and bisected the lost, left-side bunker. The right greenside bunker which ran the length of the green has also been lost. Simpson notes a significant left to right tilt to the green itself as a notable design feature. This tilt appears to be conveyed in Simpsons sketch, especially on the right and to the rear. It also seems to show heather-clad hillocks at the back of the green complex.
The Simpson sketch also appears to suggest the teeing area was in line with the Low and Paton centreline hazard and the bunker on the front of the green. This orientation would create an even more exciting tee shot. Anyone looking for the right-hand alley would need to play toward O.B.
Plans are afoot for further restorative work. Only time will tell which features will be restored. It seems inevitable heather and width will see a return. Will the additional left fairway bunker be removed? Could the lost greenside bunkers be reintroduced? Will the green be increased to its original size? Will shaping and heather return behind the green?
Woking has a significant history of design works. The fourth as shown has changed despite the reverence it deservedly garners. The eight and ninth have a turbulent history. A second sixteenth was recently created, and the original made into a turf nursery. Woking has proved itself to be resilient despite change and improves continually.
So then, what is the plan moving forward? Tim Lobb, Andy Ewence, Richard Pennell and an educated membership at Woking are embarking on significant changes. Course works are underway. In the winter of 2018/19, areas around the second green, eighth green and eleventh tee were opened up, heather restored throughout, and the sixth received a significant cosmetic facelift. Irrigation course-wide will be updated and introduced during the winter of 2019/20. We eagerly await the improvements to see what Woking will bring us next.
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