Set out as two concentric nines within a generous 177-acre wooded property, the course at Studley Wood Golf Club celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2015. The 18-hole layout was designed by Simon Gidman – whose portfolio includes the likes of Galgorm Castle, recent host to the Northern Ireland Open, and Centurion Club, an English Top 100 track – with fairways routed around no fewer than fourteen lakes.
Situated within easy access of Oxford, the course has matured way beyond its years, offering golfers a very fair test of golf, complemented by an excellent practice and short game facility, along with a 15-bay driving range, a state of the art golf club fitting centre and a clubhouse that’s well known for its convivial vibe – all of which helps Studley Wood in its quest to be “the friendliest golf club in Britain”.
The layout extends to 6,482 yards from the regular tees, playing to a par of 73, with a back nine measuring more than 300 yards longer than the outward half, thanks to it featuring three par fives, two of which are played back to back at the end of the round. The par four 3rd is rated the toughest hole on the front nine, its degree of difficulty matched by the left doglegged 15th on the inward half, the final hole in a short sequence of three strong par fours.
The term “signature hole” could be applied to any of the short par threes on the layout but the 499-yard par five 18th is probably most deserving of the title. Tee shots are played towards the clubhouse from an elevated position at the highest point on the property, with water to be avoided on either side of the fairway. On an eminently birdieable hole, what better way to finish than to walk off the home green with a “4” marked on the scorecard?
Architect Simon Gidman kindly provided us with the following comments:
“Studley Wood was one of my first golf course projects, constructed by Golf Landscapes Ltd at a time when there was a massive explosion of golf development. It was built on clay and was relatively important parkland to the local area.
However, as the site remained waterlogged for large parts of the year, this was beginning to affect the trees, many of which were beginning to die. The local authority was keen to see the site developed and to see drainage installed to lower the water table and improve the chances of the trees surviving.
Thus the course included a number of lakes in the lower part of the site and together with the generally wooded nature of the property, there were the main ingredients for a very attractive golf course.
The layout is characterised by large bunkers and well protected greens, enabling a lot of competition pin positions, which means that the course can be set up either as quite an easy test or a very difficult one.
The layout finishes, rather uniquely, with consecutive par five holes where the 18th provides wonderful views over the Oxfordshire countryside.”
Studley Wood is located in pretty countryside east of Oxford and is an interesting open parkland golf course, yet is in parts heavily-wooded. Fortunately a lot of clearance has taken place beneath the trees so if your ball goes astray into a wooded area you will normally find it and the penalty is often not a full shot. At times the woodland creates a very narrow gap into which to hit the ball, for instance the approach shots at 6 and 12 and tee shot at 17.
Water is a continual theme with a number of small lakes close to the fairways. Rather than being a design feature, the fact that the underlying terrain is clay probably causes some waterlogging, but on the sunny June day we played, the tees, fairways and greens were all in excellent condition. The greens were the star of the show, they were quite outstanding. They were also pacy and rewarded good putting if that part of your game was on song.
The four par threes are of similar length with protection from bunkers, water or both. On these holes your mid-iron tee shots have to be firm and straight to avoid trouble, but once on the largish greens you have every chance of making a par.
The other holes were varied and never dull, with two runs of difficult par fours from 1 to 3 and again 12 to 15, but it is the 5 par fives where your score can be made. Only one is over 500 yards from the silver tees which are the equivalent of the yellows on most courses. I liked finishing with two of them, and believe the signature 18th with its raised tee, long straight fairway narrowing to about 40 yards between two lakes where the average player should land his second shot, and then comparatively easy pitch to a wide green, is a seriously good ending. Risk and reward!
Studley Wood is fun to play, it is challenging and fair and now in its 26th year has settled down well. We were lucky to play on a calm day in very dry conditions, it would be far harder to overcome all the obstacles if it was wet and windy. A few less trees in places would probably enhance its playability, but then they have probably been left in situ for good reason.