It was Lord Tavistock’s brilliant idea to bring golf to Woburn. He commissioned Charles Lawrie of Cotton & Pennink, to design the Duke’s course. After two years, and much tree-felling, the first course at Woburn Golf Club opened for play. It didn’t take long for it to be recognised. In 1979, the Dunlop Masters was hosted, and, since then, the Duke’s has never looked back – playing host to the English Strokeplay Championship, the British Masters and the Women’s British Open. The professional golfer, fashion designer and personality, Ian Poulter, is officially attached to Woburn Golf Club.With fairways flanked by glorious pine, birch and chestnut trees, the Duke’s is an intimate golf course. Each hole is played in splendid isolation. It’s a serious challenge too, measuring almost 7,000 yards from the back tees and 6,550 from the regular tees. Straight and long driving is the order of the day. This is not a course for the novice golfer – it will beat you up and spit you out.
There are some fantastic holes on the Duke’s but the pick of the bunch is the famous par three 3rd. Framed by rhododendrons and gorse, this is a genuinely delightful golf hole. The green is 100 feet below the tee, and the hard green slopes violently from back to front. Measuring only 125 yards, a short iron must be played to the heart of the green, otherwise, the ball is likely to scuttle off, pronto. The 5th is a wonderful, short par five – a well-struck drive down the right, as close as you dare to the trees, will provide a chance to reach the green in two – anything struck too far left, will scamper down a slope towards the trees.
The Duke’s is an outstanding course, but Woburn’s younger upstart, the Marquess, has threatened it. There may be a benefit to this – the Duke’s will be less busy – perhaps.
Don't miss the third course at Woburn, the Duchess.
The Duke’s, the oldest of the Woburn trio having being founded in 1976, is around 300 yards longer than the Duchess’ and has a little bit more seniority about it. This layout has hosted several prestigious professional and amateur golf tournaments in its relatively short existence. And apart from a short stretch of holes, just before and around the turn, each hole is memorable and at times breathtaking.
I must admit that by the time I had played the tenth (after commencing at the sixth thanks to a shotgun start) I was wondering what all the fuss was about. Holes six and nine are sound par three’s, played in opposite directions over a deep valley, but don’t compare to the other short holes on the course and whilst there is nothing wrong with the seventh, eighth and tenth – all strong 400+ yard par fours – these weren’t quite up to the admittedly very high quality I was expecting.
However, it didn’t take long for the course to start going through the gears and virtually every other hole from there on in was superb and everything I had imagined and hoped it would be. Each hole is played in almost glorious isolation from the next and the round as a whole is enthralling as you walk the peaceful fairways.
The tree lined nature of the course, each hole flanked mainly by towering pine, silver birch and chestnut, inevitably requires straight driving and you don’t have to be far off the fairway to be totally blocked out from the green. Indeed at times you can actually be on the fairway and still have to work the ball slightly if the hole is located in a certain part of the green.
There’s no denying that the Duke’s course becomes very narrow at times and I must admit that I’m not a fan of ‘strategically placed’ trees but for the whole the Duke’s remains very playable.
Despite many holes being played through mature trees the routing of the course does have a little bit of a feeling of going ‘up and down’ at times and many holes do run parallel to one another but this is a minor point as is my pet hate of the course finishing on a relatively weak hole from a playing perspective (long iron, flick). There’s actually nothing wrong with the 18th hole, except that it is the 18th hole.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.