Woodbridge Golf Club is located a mere five minutes away from the beautiful market town, with its quaint Georgian shops and pubs. The golf club’s flagship, 18-hole heathland course, known simply as Heath, is well renowned, but taken alongside its cracking 9-holer called Forest, Woodbridge really is a delightful place to spend a day playing golf.
Founded in 1893, the formation of Woodbridge Golf Club was entirely due to Major Howey, who originally laid out six holes on parkland in front of his house. Intent on creating a first class course, the Major enlisted Davie Grant – the famous North Berwick professional – to find suitable land. Bromeswell Heath was eventually identified and the club moved to the heath. In 1908 a certain Mr Fryer redesigned the course and, some twenty years later, James Braid stepped in to reshape Woodbridge. Subsequently Fred W. Hawtree made further modifications to the layout.
“The best course in Suffolk today is, I think, an inland one, Woodbridge, though I say this with diffidence and with great respect for its friendly rival, Aldeburgh, which is likewise excellent.” Wrote Bernard Darwin in The Golf Courses of Great Britain. “Woodbridge has everything in the world that one could desire except the sea. It has sand and bracken and gorse, beautiful turf and the smoothest of greens. There is a delightful feeling of being on a hill-top, there is a fine big view, and there is peace and quiet and rusticity.”
Measuring 6,299 yards from the medal tees, the Heath course is not long, but the golf is truly engaging. There isn’t a single poor hole on the course; many are excellent, varied and entertaining. Make your score on the front nine where there are two par fives, the back nine is a tough prospect with four par fours measuring in excess of 400 yards. The 14th, called “St Andrews Hill”, is one of our favourite two-shotters with its well-guarded two-tiered green. The 15th is a cracking one-shot hole which requires a well struck mid iron to reach the sanctuary of the elevated green which is jealously protected by six bunkers.
The alarm went off at 4.15am and I was in the car by 5 o’clock heading to Woodbridge. Four and a half hours and 325 miles later I pulled into a relatively empty car park and by 10 am we were on the 1st tee. A gorgeous late December morning with hazy sunshine and a very light wind provided the perfect conditions to finally complete the Suffolk heathland quartet of Aldeburgh, Purdis Heath, Thorpeness and, at last, Woodbridge.
I may well have saved the best until last. I’m really not sure I could reasonably pick a favourite between Aldeburgh, Purdis and Woodbridge. Thorpeness is a decent course, but it’s not quite in the same league as the other trio.
In some ways Woodbridge’s undulating topography reminded me of Broadstone, but on a slightly gentler scale. What I liked most here in Suffolk is the variation between the par fours – they are all quite different in character and yet the flow is seamless from hole to hole. St Andrews Hill (#14) has the best greensite visually and if I were to table one criticism it would be that the green complexes are not quite from the very top drawer, but that’s really a small quibble in the grand scheme of things.
The routing is excellent with only short walks between greens and tees, and the one shot holes are really very strong – I especially liked the 15th named “Punch Bowl”. Sure you could argue that the front nine is perhaps too short, and some claim the three short par fours in the first four holes are rather too benign. But who doesn’t like a bit of flattery from time to time, especially when the golf is this good?
I had to re-read Darwin’s assessment of Woodbridge from the mid-1920s and I quote: “There is a delightful feeling of being on a hill-top, there is a fine big view, and there is peace and quiet and rusticity.” I didn’t notice the fine big view, nor did I feel I was playing on a hilltop (I felt the same after playing Huntercombe for the first time earlier this year). The trees have no doubt been and gone and come again down the years. There’s evidence of work being undertaken to regenerate heather and gorse is being removed here and there. I think there’s scope to continue to open things up much more and perhaps reclaim that fine big view.
I’m genuinely bewildered that Suffolk remains a largely forgotten golfing destination. This area of East Anglia is lovely and sound value for money. Four unsung heathland courses within a twenty-mile radius (all set reasonably close to the coast) seems rather too good to be true.
Worlington is also in Suffolk, and Darwin suggested that Woodbridge is the best course in the county. My guess is that many golf course aficionados haven’t made the trip to Woodbridge, which is a real pity. I’m glad I made the long journey – better late than never.
The more I play in Suffolk the more impressed I become by the quality of courses available in this often underrated county.
Woodbridge is yet another nail in the coffin confirming just how good this area is when it comes to superb inland golf. Like many of its neighbours Woodbridge has firm and fast ground conditions that promote the running game and where a wealth of gorse and heather thrive.
But here there is a more intimate feel to the venue as it wends its way over moderately undulating terrain through tree and whin-lined fairways. It’s more than possible to entirely lose your sense of direction on this secluded and tranquil parcel of land; prime real estate for good golf.
There is a fantastic variety of holes at Woodbridge where accuracy and strategy will prevail over length. The springy yet firm turf is also a delight to hit from.
The best hole of the 18, however, can be found at the 14th; St. Andrews Hill. This majestic two-shotter oozes quality from the tee, as it descends left-to-right downhill, before the fairway begins to rise just before the perfectly located two-tiered green which is an absolute joy to play towards. It is followed immediately by the excellent “Punch Bowl” par-three which is well defended by sand and gorse.
I didn’t get chance to play the nine-hole Forest course, that accompanies the main Heath layout, on my first visit to this charming golf club but I am informed it is very good also and Woodbridge would therefore make an excellent venue to enjoy a full days golf.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
I played Woodbridge again on our annual Suffolk trip in October and I love it. For me it’s more interesting than Aldebugh. Woodbridge has variety and style with a couple of great P3’s at #9 and #15, it’s also go a bit more elevation and quirk which I love. That said, Suffolk does have some good courses and Woodbridge is underrated.
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