The Duchess is the shortest and prettiest of the three courses at Woburn Golf Club. Major competitions, accolades and honours are usually heaped on the Duke's and more recently the Marquess courses, but the Duchess is lovely in its own right, and a stern challenge.
Charles Lawrie routed the Duchess course but sadly died before the build started, so his partner Donald Steel completed the project. The layout opened for play in 1979 and it measures a respectable 6,651 yards from the back tees, but it’s tighter, more heavily wooded, and therefore less forgiving of the wayward shot than the Duke’s. It's also more undulating than its older sibling, appearing more comfortable in its own skin.
It's a course where you must keep your ball in play. If you manage to do this from the tee, then the rewards can be great as finding the small greens in regulation is no mean feat. Use your driver sparingly because this is a real thinker’s course. The towering pine trees make each hole appear exceptionally tight. However, on occasions, you will need to go for distance or be left with long approaches.
There are some solid holes on the Duchess, especially the par threes. The 9th, stroke index 2, is a par four, which begins with a long, narrow chute off the tee. Halfway down, everything begins to kick left. The green, a stingy little thing, is close to the trees on the right and fronted by a nasty bunker on the left.
Most of the one shotters are quite long and challenging, demanding very straight tee shots. The unusual, 203-yard 7th, has a huge bunker, front and right, and danger to the left. An historic ridge – the remains of an ancient Danish settlement – runs diagonally across the hole and will push anything short and left into the forest.
The 15th, a 485-yard doglegged par five, is a typical Duchess shot-maker’s delight. Anything other than an arrow-straight drive ends up in the trees. A short drive leaves a blind second shot. The left-sloping fairway runs downhill, then rises sharply to a two-tiered green.
The Duchess fits into the Woburn family exceptionally well – it’s a real gem which many prefer over the Duke’s and Marquess.
I haven't played the Marquess Course, but if I was given 10 rounds on the Duchess and Dukes, I would split them 1 Dukes and 9 Duchess. For me the Duchess is a far better course, and it's not even close.
There is way more variety in the holes, including more doglegs, and the routing isn't back and forth like the Dukes. Standout holes for me are 2, 4, 8, 10, 11, 15, 16 and 17.
All this being said, it is extremely tight, so you do still get some repetitive holes as they all look the same. I've played there maybe 8 times so I can easily tell them all apart, but after 1 round you may struggle to distinguish the 11th from the 12th, or the 7th from the 13th.
The condition is always great, so I'd say it's worth a stop if you're in the area.
I have not played the Marquess course at Woburn, but played the Duchess’ and Duke’s a few years back. The Duchess’ course is heavily lined by trees on either side and the fairways are narrower than one will find on other parkland courses. In fact, the trees are thick and the fairways narrow that at times it does not feel like a parkland course. One would not have been surprised had this course somehow incorporated “forest” in its name as it likely deserves that descriptive word more than a few courses that do have “forest” in the names.
The Duchess’ course is considered short at 6500+ yards. It feels like it plays longer as one does not want to take a full swing on the tee shot, resulting in the approach shots being a bit longer than one might expect. One has to have full command of a near center strike on the clubface to score well.
I expected to not like the Charles Lawrie designed course given the lack of variety in setting and the tightness of it, but in fact I found the course to be a lot of fun. As it was the second round of the day, we played it as a better-ball net so that we could save a bit of time if one of us was out of the hole. The result for me was playing to my index while having a few laughs.
The greens are kept very smooth here. The greens are rarely tricked up with severe undulations. There are tilts and tiers but they are easy to determine the appropriate line. Overall, I felt the greens to be too similar.
Because the setting lacks variety, this is a course more difficult to remember than many others. In general, the differences are only in the green setting. For example, the first hole par 4 has a valley fronting the an elevated green. The second as a par 3 has one of the thinnest greens one will ever find surrounded by three bunkers. In Fourteen has a green sloped left to right with the contour of the land.
The par 5’s are short with the longest at 500 yards, and one par 5 (the fifteenth) only 464 yards. I did not like a single par 5 on the golf course.
The better holes are:
- the first, a longer par 4 with a fairway sloped to the right going downhill ending in a valley before an elevated green.
- The fifth, a short par 4 with trees blocking the entrance to the green from the right side
- The eight, a medium-length par 4 seems to have a better setting for the green.
- Sixteen is a mid-length par 3 in a lovely setting.
I did not like these holes:
- the second due to the trees being so close to the green.
- the third as the green is too small for the hole. In addition, the trees are so close to the hole one feels like they can feel them interfering with a putt. If one put a roof over this hole, it would be a tunnel.
- The fourth has trees located in the fairway for the second shot (a pet peeve of mine). It does have a nice green.
- Fifteen is much too short for a par 5 to be of interest to even the best players.
- Seventeen is a short par 4 dogleg left and the trees feel like they are closing in on you. Ugh.
Despite the course appearing in some top 100 lists, as well as some saying it is more difficult than the Duke’s course, this is a course I would not go back to play. While I had an enjoyable time, I think it was because we made it fun rather than the course making the round. As such, unlike courses such as Beaconsfield, Royal Ashdown Forest, or Liphook, it is not a course I would want to play again. I played it once and it was enough.
What could bring me back (although my list of courses I have yet to play remains very long) would be if they removed some of the trees such as on the second hole and seventeen. The trees actually detract from the visual of the course on several holes. I would also re-shape the greens to make them more interesting as they are primarily flattish. The course could also use another 15 bunkers along the fairway. I would certainly change the fifteenth to make it a par 4. It would be desirable to add some 20-30 yards to every par 5. None of these changes would change the essence of the Duchess’, but in my opinion would make it both more fun and better visually.
The Duchess seems to be tighter and hence more claustrophobic than the other courses at Woburn. Personally I enjoy the Duchess as much as the other two, probably because there is more of a premium on accuracy. Although it probably has less stand-out holes (maybe the 1st is my favourite), for me it has less poor holes and it is a good solid course. However a bit like the Marquess and Duke's I think the ranking is too high and I could name a number of courses which I would rank higher
Comfortably the blandest of the 3 Woburn courses. Only tree lovers would describe Woburn Duchess as pretty as everything is green - tees, fairways, rough, greens and even the shockingly ugly weeds, bushes and other wild vegetation that inhabit the ground under the trees. No purple heather or yellow gorse bushes in sight ( probably not indigenous but it's just an illustration ). There are courses that are dominated by trees which accommodate more variety than just avenues of trees running just off the fairways. The condition of the course was not great either. Ok before anyone responds by saying why play Woburn Duchess if you don't like parkland. The reason is that some publications (inc Golf Monthly), are misguided enough to have the Duchess in their top 100 in GB&I list - and it was the last course on that particular list that I had to play.
I played the Duchess course on a late October day, mild but misty and damp. I'd not played at Woburn for a few years but the experience was as good as I remembered, friendly, helpful staff and top notch facilities. Even with a 1300 tee time we had the course to ourselves, able to enjoy the experience of walking the tree lined fairways heavy with the scent of pine. As other reviewers have said the Duchess is the shortest of the three Woburn courses but makes up for it with tighter fairways and small greens, all immaculate with tee boxes that look like carpet. I personally didn’t think the fairways especially narrow, only the wildest of drives will mean you're searching the trees or reloading. What’s key to a good score is ensuring you are in the right place on the fairways; it’s all too easy to rip a good drive only to have a tree blocking you or playing your next shot from an incline. There is a good mix of long and shorter par 4’s; I thought they were the best holes on the course. The only slightly disappointing element was the greens, quite slow albeit very true, I’m putting it down to the weather and time of year. IRC
Woburn can boast no less than three golf courses that all regularly feature in the various Top 100 rankings.
That in itself is unique but what impresses me the most whenever Woburn is debated is that if you ask three different people which course they prefer you are likely to receive three different responses.
The Duchess starts off in scintillating fashion with a couple of absorbing holes and has a much better and compelling routing than the Duke’s. The course is also slightly more undulating as well as being shorter in length.
Many also say it’s much tighter but, whilst it possibly is a little bit, I didn’t think this was too noticeable. That said it’s still a course where you must keep your ball in play! The greens are certainly smaller too and, with the exception of a couple, much flatter.
The par four opener has a particularly narrow fairway that starts to gradually tumble down approximately 150 yards short of the green before rising back up steeply to the ‘dance floor’ at the same level as most of the fairway. Whilst the par three second has the most wonderful green setting, deeply seated amongst tall pines, with a narrow and twisting putting surface protected by three bunkers.
The remainder of the course doesn’t quite live up to this early billing but there are many more fine holes to come, especially amongst the closing stretch. Indeed I was very impressed with the final third of the course which has a lovely mix of holes and requires both length and finesse. The 11th and 12th also work nicely together and whilst not stand-out holes play very well.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
This is a very pretty and lovely course. Not long by any means, but really quite narrow! The par 3 2nd is a good example of that, you can't afford any bit of lateral movement to the ball. Leave the driver in the bag and enjoy that course for what it is. The routing with the other courses around is a little disturbing, but the place is well marked. And offers some excellent facilities. Lucky members these are!