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.
Date: June 14, 2019