Few approaches to golf clubs are as grand as the entrance to the 2,000-acre Bowood Estate. The Golden Gates are huge and imposing, the approach road passes through grounds landscaped by “Capability” Brown. This is quite something – apparently the Black Prince used to hunt here – but what is the course like?
Well, it’s essentially laid out on farmland. But don’t be put off, Dave Thomas designed Bowood, and Thomas was well-versed at subtly transforming farmland into great golf courses – you may remember he co-designed the Brabazon course at the Belfry?
The course at Bowood Hotel, Spa and Golf Resort opened for play in 1992, to much acclaim. Despite its agrarian beginning, this is a solid golf course, making best use of the estate’s mature woodland. There’s a fair amount of water, but rarely does it come into play because the fairways are generous. On the other hand, Bowood’s length is extraordinary – measuring a monstrous 7,300 yards from the back tees. But Thomas thought of everything, he created numerous teeing areas to cater for golfers of all standards.
There is a lovely feeling of peace and spaciousness at Bowood – it’s definitely a course of which the members are rightly proud. It is usually kept in immaculate condition and often plays every inch of its length. The pick of the holes: The 3rd, "Cascades" – a short uphill par three with the green guarded by a stream and the 17th, "Queenwood" – a huge doglegged par four (stroke index 1) with an inviting downhill tee-shot.
Bowood, which became the official PGA golf course for the South West of England in 2019, is a challenging West Country course, one of the best in Wiltshire. Play Bowood alongside the Manor House at Castle Combe – but make sure you take your best driving game along with you.
We played the course in early May 2021 after a period of cool and clear weather. There is no doubt that Bowood is a solid test of a layout and the hotel grounds and approach most certainly whet the appetite for what is to follow.
The property is expansive and this gives the feeling that routing has been crafted rather than crammed in to the space available. The pressure off the tee comes mainly from limiting bunkering while there are also a number of tee shots that require a significant shape to be played (both directions).
The start is an impressive one. Holes 1, 3 and 4 are all quality golf holes with interest at every turn. 4 in particular plays on the mind all the way down the deceptively difficult par 5. The water down the right hand side of the last 200 yards of the hole must see a lot of urethane. Finally on the front 9, hole 8 is a cracking right to left dog leg par 4 with a carefully crafted water hazard to clear on the near side of the dogleg. If you get greedy, you will regret it here.
I think I preferred the front nine but there are still quality holes throughout the back side. 11 is lovely severe dog leg right that goads you into hitting a big left to righter. 13 is tough, particularly up by the green and 15 again asks some severe questions from the tee in regard to shot shape.
In summary, this is a multi faceted test that requires a certain type of game. Higher ball flights and bigger distance off the tee are beneficial. Water threatens on a number of holes and the bunkering is effective in impacting both the visuals and the practicalities of playing the holes. The offering of a number of tee boxes is a good thing and my advice would be to err on the side of caution when playing the course for the first time. All in all, a quality golf course presented in very good condition in memorable surroundings.
In my view by far the best course in the county, great design and most holes are varied and memorable. Great practice facilities and a nice place to visit. Recent hotel built of high end quality. Unfortunately gets very very very wet in winter(ie losing balls in the fairway)
Its a very "american" or "spanish" style course, ie target golf..... not one for the links players but if you hit the ball long and spin the ball, you will love it here. I try and play here at least twice a year.
In general, a very long and challenging course. Lots of movement, water, cross bunkers, etc. It has really generous practice facilities, with big practice greens and driving range (even including some practice par 3s in great condition).
I paid £35 for a twilight (3pm) round and I thought it was great value given the course and facilities. Additionally, the place is beautiful and has a Hotel & Spa, ideal to leave your (non golfer) wife while you play.
I played it in April and perhaps it looked like the greens where a bit damp and might not be able to hold decent condition in winter weather.
I found many holes to be picturesque, but some holes weren't too impressive. That being said, every hole has cross bunkers, at least double-level green and a hazard.
Definitely worth the trip.
Bowood is a modern style golf course and very different to the traditional Wiltshire courses. The drive to the carpark is impressive as are the clubhouse and facilities. The course generally seems to be in pretty good condition, however I have played during the winter/wet periods when the course does become very wet. My over-riding impression of Bowood is that fairways are fairly generous but shots to the green are all about carry (often over bunkers at the front of the green) which makes the course play reasonably long. My favourite hole (especially the tee shot) is the downhill dog-leg par 4 2nd, and a bit like another reviewer I'm not sure the reversing of the nines has done the course any favours as the more enjoyable holes seem to be on the front nine. Par 3's aren't fantastic and I don't really think the course design matches the splendour of the drive-in and clubhouse. Having said that it probably is the best course in Wiltshire, which sadly is a reflection of where Wiltshire courses sit in the rankings. Just edges into a 4 ball rating for me based on its summer conditioning.
Driving two hours to play a modern parkland resort course would never be top of my list when choosing a day's golf so with my expectation levels kept in check I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with this typically big and bold Dave Thomas design. There's an unexpected mature feel throughout the routing with numerous impressive tree specimens and historical water features (previously introduced by Capability Brown) often coming into play. My biggest disappointment was undoubtedly the collection of par 3's which really do need spicing up a bit as none of them are particularly memorable, however the longer holes offer up some excellent golf on an undulating and interesting parcel of land.
Following a solid opening par-5 we get our first taste of the rolling terrain at the 2nd, an attractive downhiller which skirts woodland as it doglegs to the right. The 6th is a memorable par-5, again shaped around trees, then past an old water feature to an attractively situated green and the 7th follows the pattern of well designed doglegs this time turning left with a troublesome bunker at driving distance. All very good.
The pick of the back nine would include the back to back par-5's at 12 and 13 which are both interesting holes, the 16th, a cleverly bunkered par-4 and the picturesque 17th with its narrowing tree lined approach to a tricky green. A few hikes from green to tee would be a minor gripe and switching the two nines around some years ago means that the original 18th, quite an exciting hole involving water, has been replaced with the fairly mundane original 9th as the finishing hole.
Bowood definitely rewards and encourages the use of the driver and with no shortage of length and heavy fairway bunkering it provides a tough test for even the most skilled of players.
Really nice track, very few holes in view from adjoining holes. Some tricky doglegs on front nine. Very attractive course, wildlife aplenty with deer, hares etc. Well worth a visit and I would like to go back again.
Pity they let people on in collarless in-tucked in shirts and the person who takes the bookings quotes a cheaper price than the person who takes the money when you get there BUT the £30 for a twilight was still WELL worth it
You prefer to play Tidworth or High Post to Bowood! What have you been smoking!
@ George Thomas - Perhaps it has something to do with relishing the creative and strategic challenge of courses that accommodate a running game - as opposed to the repetitive and banal diet of target golf you’re force fed at Bowood (as my Bowood course planner declares “to find the targets you will need to pitch all the way.” Yawn). Or maybe it’s about being able to enjoy free-draining turf that plays well year-round, rather than slogging around converted farm fields that can require wellies in winter. Just a couple of thoughts for starters...
I played Bowood for the first time in March after the hardest British winter in memory and the grass had hardly had chance to start growing, but Bowood was in incredible shape considering the time of year. Was impressed with the greens which were quick and true and the fairways were also in very respectable condition – the Bowood green staff should take a bow. I’m not a lover of resort golf, nor am I Dave Thomas’s No.1 fan, however, I really liked his effort here at Bowood and it may even be my personal favourite Thomas solo creation alongside his equally challenging course at Abama. Interesting changes in elevation at Bowood make the course very enjoyable and despite the ups and downs, the walking is very easy. I am sure when the trees are in leaf and the birds are singing Bowood will be even better, but even in the stark, bare winter, it’s still a decent golf course.