In the summer of 2019 I returned to Woking after a 20-year absence. Much has changed over the last two decades but the atmosphere of the club and the strategy of the course have not budged an inch.
For architecture buffs, golf historians and those with an admiration for traditional, old-school clubs Woking is a living, breathing monument and this highly strategic course is still studied as much today as it ever was. There is a wonderful vibe at this venerable Surrey-heathland masterpiece which strongly appeals to the golfing cognoscenti.
At a modest 6,606 yards (par 70) from the black markers Woking, which oozes character, is never going to beat you up from the tee and I suspect much of the membership will never even hit a ball from the stones.
However, things change dramatically when it comes to playing your approaches into a set of greens which must rank as one of the finest across the country. Swales, slopes, semi-punchbowls, mounds and hollows on the putting surfaces give much drama on our shots into and from around the undulating greens. You may often hit a shot into the heart of the green only to watch in dismay as it is swept away from the flag or, on the contrary, closer to the hole should the angles be used wisely… or fortunately.
Then once we are on the greens, immaculately conditioned on my visit in early June, the fun and excitement recommences. They are not comparable in style to Beau Desert – my favourite set of inland greens – but the challenge is very similar and extremely rewarding should you master them. There was visible evidence of new draining being added recently on many greens but this did not affect the roll of the ball in the slightest.
It is not just the contouring of the greens that is so impressive but how the greenside bunkering is sculpted into the entire green complex. Examples of this can be found at several holes but particularly the 3rd & 8th and at many of the short holes. Quite often you are given the choice of taking the bunker on or shaping your ball around it and using the green contours as your friend…
In truth there is a collection of excellent holes at Woking and the rhythm of the course is good too as we flow through the heather and woodland –significantly cleared during recent times opening up long views across the property – as we play a variety of shots. I love how we are brought right back to within touching distance of the clubhouse after the 14th – the first of back-to-back par fives – before we venture out to play the closing loop of four which includes a new par-three 16th over water…
Admittedly there are a few awkward holes at Woking, ones that you could say don’t really fit in with the rest of the course. But I like holes that make you feel a little bit unsure on how best to play them. And this trio certainly tick the box in that regard. The three holes I am thinking about in particular are the first, ninth and the 18th. None of these will ever be classed as great holes. You could indeed argue they are poor ones... at best ill-fitting. However, I’d rather acknowledge them as holes which make you feel uncomfortable… and how you negotiate them is paramount.
I don’t quite feel right talking about other golf clubs on a review for a particular venue but the inevitable comparison to near neighbours; West Hill and Worplesdon – collectively known as the “Three Ws” – must be made and I make no apology for saying that Woking is my preference of the three. It’s a tactical feast of golf where you must think well in order to play well.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Beautiful course - each one of the 3 W's is - but this a great layout with a good variety of challenging holes.
The course is top quality and so many of the holes are sublime. The heather ls gorgeous and the condition overall is fantastic, lots of beautiful golf holes in particular hole 6 which from the white tees looks stunning with heather either side of the fairway. Hole 14 was also one of my favourites with the clubhouse behind making it a fantastic approach shot into the green and one that you do not want to knife long! The club is full of history and very old fashioned still being a 2 ball only club! I have only played there once but would love to go back and play again although it was very difficult with the greens being quick and extremely undulated. Definitely a golf course I would be happy to play every day!
My wife and I played Woking as part of a trip through some of the best heathland courses in the area. This was the last of the three "W's" for us to play we found all three of these courses to be excellent. The course starts with a short par 4 of 277 yards with the fairway actually sloping downhill towards the green. The second is an excellent long par 3 of 221 yards across a valley to a green guarded by a bunker short and right and a sloping back to front green. There then runs a succession of amazing holes including the well known par 4 4th with it centrally placed bunkers demanding a strategic decision off the tee. 8 and 9 are extremely difficult par 4's, and 10 a demanding short hole with a steep slope to the left. The highlight of the back nine is probably the par 5 14th with the green situated right next to the clubhouse verandah. The finish is a short par 4 of 362 yards, but the green is guarded by a large tree to the left for left side pin positions and a pond to the right for pins placed on that side of the green. The green also a large ridge running through it which adds to the difficulty of this fine hole.
The greens are certainly interesting with a variety of slopes, borrows and runoffs that make it difficult to get the ball close to many pin positions. I enjoyed to the flow of the holes and the course was natural, comfortable and fun to play.
The "W"s are all excellent courses, and I rate Woking the most difficult test of golf, Worplesdon the most fun to play, and West Hill the prettiest of the three. I would agree with editor Jim McCann that to be a member with reciprocal privileges at all three would be heaven. Read my story: Diamonds of the heather - golfing London's heathland
This course has a reputation for wonderful greens. I confirm that this theory is 100% correct. The opening hole is a very short par 4 followed by a very long par 3. They are fairly similar in length which is a little odd, but the course doesn’t take long to get going. A very demanding par 4 3rd hole will test the very best of golfers, and really begins to emphasize the magnificent shaping in the green complexes. I did fall in love with the greens and strongly encourage visitors to pay attention to what Tom Dunn left us with.
In my humble opinion, there were a small number of areas where the grass needed to be cut – but that was just on the day I played it – and they didn’t come into play. More importantly, there are many enjoyable aspects of playing golf at Woking. The routing has a nice change in direction and the land is more undulating than meets the eye. Uphill holes are especially difficult (eg: 9th) of which there are many, as is the need to avoid superbly placed fairway bunkers (eg: 4th fairway).
You have to wait until the 14th hole to play an official par 5 per the scorecard which takes away from the courses design variety, although the 9th hole at 470 yards to an uphill diagonal green could well be the toughest par 4 in England! Could new tees add to the variety on the scorecard?
I discussed with my playing partner how enjoyable the course becomes as you progress through the round. The closing hole feels very different to the rest. On the day I played the course, the flag was back-left and almost ungettable from the middle of the fairway even with a sandwedge in my hand due to overhanging branches.
Woking is a tough golf course and will ask a lot of your driver off the tee given how tree-lined this course is compared to the other heathland courses in Surrey. Woking is a wonderful club and is absolutely worth playing every time you’re in the area.
I’m sure Fergal is aware British clubs tend to run fairly tight ships and excesses of staff are rare. To keep out of play areas pristine takes lots of resources. When the grass is growing the course manager will have everyone cutting just to keep the greens, surrounds, fairways and semi rough in pristine condition. The costs involved in keeping everywhere pristine would be prohibitive for members and those visitors for whom paying a green fee is the norm.
Having played the 3 Ws recently, my order of preference is West Hill, Worplesdon and Woking. My reasoning is that there at least 6 holes on Woking that have more of a tree dominated parkland feel (2, 3, 4, 9, 17, 18), rather than heathland which is my preference. So this order of preference is aesthically based rather than design etc. I thoroughly enjoyed the course and the 2 stretchs of holes (5 to 8) and (10 to 14) are superb. The 8th is as good a par 4 as Ive played (played 85 of top 100). A couple of other observations. 1/. Not sure of the 9th hole. Very tough and unless you can shape the ball right to left off the tee, the approach to the green which is severely uphill, will be in the 180 to 200 yard range. 2/. Perhaps some more trees can be removed as there is a claustrophobic feel on 12 (off the tee), 13, 14 and 15. 3/. The odd, out of character tree on the right side of the 13th fairway is most bizarre. It is completely out of character (much greener and lusher than the pines and firs) and spoils an otherwise brilliant hole. Was it planted nefariously or with permission of the club by some eccentric dignitary or patron ? Either way it is a shocker !
Our golf society visited here last week and we were looked after from start to finish. Coffee and decent bacon rolls on arrival then a round of golf. We were all very impressed with the course itself especially the fairways and greens. A nice range of holes, some challenging and others just a beauty to play. We finished with a magnificent three course lunch, buffet style, that beats most others we have sampled. Thanks to everyone that looked after us and we will surely all be back later in the year. From Mark and all the Silly Billys
It’s interesting to note that this reviewer was impressed with Woking's fairways and greens this April but the reviewer below reports a very different story regarding mid April course presentation. It will be interesting to see for myself when I visit in a couple of months time.
Had my annual game at Woking today. It has a couple of holes any lover of golf course architecture should play - the par four fourth with bunkers 250 yards from the tee in the middle of the fairway, which is edged by the railway line; the par four eighth with an optical illusional ditch which will challenge your choice of line off the tee, and an uphill shot over heather fringed bunkers to the green. But the eighth - possibly the best hole in Surrey - is followed by a hole which may be the worst in England - 450 yards sharp dogleg left with the last 200 steeply uphill. The fourteenth is a potentially great hole with the green adjacent to the clubhouse. But unfortunately the conditioning of the course lets it down. Awful, bumpy, slow greens including a couple of temporaries for no apparent reason in mid- April. With better green keeping this would be a five ball course without question, but the way it is presented now it has a lot to do to justify its elevated ranking.
Dear Anonymous reviewer – I am sorry to read that you had not enjoyed your game at Woking last week. We have worked hard on the greens drainage over the winter period, and the two temporaries that are in play as a result of the most recent phase of the drainage project had been communicated to the organisers of all visiting parties and members, but clearly the message had not got to you, and for that I can only apologise. If I knew who you had played with I would be happy to explore where the communication failed.
I am pleased to say that I played the course this morning, and the greens will be in very good shape for the Club’s Spring Meetings shortly, a sentiment which has been echoed by many of our recent visitors. I am only sorry that you felt they were not as you might have expected when you played.
Secretary, Woking Golf Club
I am a big admirer of the heathland courses in the Berkshire/Surrey area and for me Woking is one of the best. It is magnificently pretty with towering pines that border many holes on the course. It is pure quality. The clubhouse is both charming and traditional and the terrace is almost an extension of the 14th green. A wonderful setting in which to enjoy a drink after trying to master the subtle undulating greens.
It is the greens that set this course apart from many of the other great inland courses. The green complexes are one of the highlights of this course with the 3rd, 5th, 8th, 12th, 13th and 15th being particularly interesting. The bunkering is also excellent with some well-designed centre line hazards that demand a good line both off the tee and approaching the greens.
Woking is certainly not championship length but it doesn’t need to be. It is a course for the purists. It demands accuracy to place the golf ball in areas that give the best line to the green. I enjoyed every hole and felt they all offered something slightly different. On the front nine I particularly enjoyed the 3rd, 6th and 8th. All inspiring par fours that I could play over and over again. The centre line green bunker on the 3rd is sublime. The tee shot and view on the 6th is the best on the course and the 8th is simply a great heathland golf hole. The back nine continued to impress with my favourites being the 11th, 12th, 15th and 16th. The 12th green has to be admired and for me it is this sort of old fashioned design that elevates Woking into the higher bracket of British inland courses.
As for the 3w’s…..well I have now played them all on more than one occasion and for me Woking is the best by some margin over the majestic Worplesdon with the very pretty West Hill being my least favourite. Although it is a very good course in its own right. I thoroughly enjoyed my recent visit to Woking and on this occasion I had a post round pint in the Hook Heath Artisans Bar behind the first tee. The members were great company and most welcoming.
If it is tradition, charm and beauty that you’re after then Woking definitely delivers. I would never grow tired of playing Woking and for that reason it is one of my favourite inland courses in the British Isles. Stu R.
I expected Woking to be good but it was even better than I thought it would be, which was a pleasant surprise. Laid out by Tom Dunn in 1893, well before other heathland courses such as Sunningdale or Walton Heath, the layout is much the same today as it was then, apart from changes to the 9th, 10th and (more recently) the 16th, along with reversing the order of play for the 11th and 13th.
I’d read that agronomist Jim Arthur had consulted at the club during the 1970s and 80s and if the condition of the greens nowadays is in any shape or form a result of the work he put in during that period then they’re a fabulous legacy of a much respected man because they were absolutely superb.
The par fours at the right dog legged 3rd and left doglegged 9th were my favourite holes on the outward half – the fairway on the former sloping markedly right to left as it heads towards a really unique, horseshoe-shaped green whilst the fairway on the latter rises sharply to a large, two-tiered plateau green.
The 12th is another terrific par four, veering slightly left to a beautifully constructed green that’s benched into the hillside, protected at the front by three large bunkers. The first of back-to-back par fives at the 14th returns golfers to the verandah at the rear of the clubhouse, which is very much in play at the back of the green.
In these days of health and safety, I’m astonished that members and guests are still allowed to put themselves in the line of fire from stray approach shots to the 14th green – I overcooked my wedge shot by a considerable margin and just missed a large group of people sitting yards from the back of the green as my ball landed on the floor tiles then shot straight up into the overhanging roof with a terrible clatter.
Even an almighty cry of “FORE!” from the secretary, who was alongside me at the time, gave people only a split second of a chance to try to avoid a serious injury from my clumsy shot. Thank God nobody was injured but it could so easily have been very different - perhaps a fine mesh net rigged up along the front of the terrace would afford some protection from hackers like myself?
There’s another surprise in store at the end of the round, with water hazards featuring prominently at two of the last three holes. The lily pond at the par three 16th will catch anything short or right of the green whilst the pond to the right of the 18th will only really worry those who slice their approach shot - perhaps attempting to avoid firing into the clubhouse on the left if they’ve already done so at the 14th!
I can understand why former member Bernard Darwin spoke so highly of Woking as it’s a magical place to play. I haven’t yet played near neighbours Worplesdon or West Hill (they’re also ranked within the GB&I Top 100) but I’d love to do so next year to see how they compare against Woking, which sets the local bench mark for me at the moment.