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.
Suffolk may not be the first location people think of when planning a trip in England, but I can assure you there are some hidden gems in this part of the world, plenty of which I am sure I am yet to discover. A two day visit with some friends afforded me the chance to revisit a club I am a big fan of in Ipswich and the opportunity to play Woodbridge Golf Club for the first time.
With Woodbridge it is best to form your opinion of the club once you have walked past the tired looking clubhouse, for on the other side is a ruggedly beautiful rolling golf course with 18 varied holes which were a huge pleasure to play.
Most golf clubs would bite your hand off for the turf and terrain that is on offer at Woodbridge. Despite the lack of rain in recent months, the fairways were in great condition and some of the springiest as I have played on these shores. The course naturally undulates and plays in all different directions with a couple of cross fairways coming into play. The course is short, measuring only 6,299 off the whites, so it is extremely scoreable with the course’s main protection coming from the superb bunkering and run off areas around the greens. I understand there is a large heather regeneration project underway, which is probably needed to add more protection.
There were many highlights throughout the round. All of the Par 3s are good and visually impressive with the bunkering layout, but the back nine seemed to throw out one good hole after another and the closing stretch from 14 to home is worth the journey alone. The 14th is a superb Par 4, played over heather into sweeping downhill fairway to a two tiered green. The 15th is the best one shotter on the course, the 16th is a long Par 4 with a cambered fairway, 17th a pretty dogleg right Par 4 playing over the 4th green and the 18th a classy short Par 4 with bunkers running the width of the fairway. A good closing birdie opportunity, which I duly obliged.
There was an overriding sense of fun when I walked off Woodbridge and it is a course that I wouldn’t tire of knocking it around with some friends. This was the last of the three 18 hole Suffolk courses currently residing in the England Top 100 rankings that I have played and I can’t understand why Woodbridge languishes so far below Ipswich and Aldeburgh. I would have it ranked higher than Aldeburgh and it is certainly more varied. Woodbridge is a course that should be visited if in Suffolk, but Suffolk should be an area on everyone’s golfing ‘to do’ list.
For all photos of reviews, please follow Chris’ Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/top.100.golf/
A game at Woodbridge is always a treat and something to look forward to – my recent visit has seen the course experience improve with the very needed woodland management program well underway. Approaches and aprons around all greens are much improved too and it is clear that the green-staff are doing a great job.
Similarly, to Keith’s opinion below (Dec ‘18), I too find it difficult to put much distance in terms of ranking between Suffolk’s Top 3 courses, maybe I would have Woodbridge slightly ahead of Aldeburgh but only just.
Excuse the pun but rankings are not really on a level playing field as the links and heathland courses will be many golfers favourite styles forever and Woodbridge has that heath advantage and probably why it will always hold a county Top 3 and country Top 100 position for years to come. The obvious quick draining conditions are a huge plus point.
A couple of under 350-yard par-4’s open the round (how kind) – with the approach to the 2nd being the toughest shot – anything under-hit will not stay on the putting surface and may even end up in the pond short and right. Anything over hit and you are left with a horrible downhill part – a par is a very strong score.
The 5th hole is a favourite of mine; 371 yards and named, ‘Hole O’Cross’ – it has a slight turn to the right to a fairway sloping to the left towards perfectly placed bunkering. Further strong bunkering on either side of the green and great run-offs complete the hole. As a slight comparison, think of the 7th on the Old course at Sunningdale.
The front nine ends fairly quickly with short holes at the 7th and 9th. The 9th is interesting at 198 yards; called ‘Magazine’ (need to research why this name) with bunkers left and right at the green but also at around 50 yards short of the putting surface. Not sure who is targeted by these hazards but could be a little harsh for that occasional topped tee shot?
The back nine is brilliant from start to finish with some serious par-4’s that are so tough to score on. Four of these are 400 yards or more and have stroke indexes to reflect this. The 14th (St. Andrews Hill) at 425 yards is my choice of back-nine ‘pick’; a hole that plays a little downhill and slopes a little to the right; plenty of heather covering the right-side, impressive tree clearance to the left and a multi-level long green – faultless.
The 17th hole from the tee is a bit of a conundrum and not an easy hole to hit in two. Tee shots must favour the left-side on this uphill shot as they will find their way back to the right naturally – the approach to the green, which is now to the left and up on high is a big shot, with many balls ending up short and right – a very popular spot.
If there is an observation to discuss on Woodbridge’s Heath course, I would say that having no par-5’s on the back nine could be worth looking at – the 16th (currently at 445 yards) an obvious candidate for a potential upgrade.
Playing to handicap on this par-70 course is a tough ask, especially for visitors but Woodbridge is such a joy to even just walk around and you will have a great time even if your game is not quite there. Highly recommended and a must play.
I played this course on February 11th in Storm Dennis. I was made welcome from the moment I entered the Pro shop. I was a single golfer and was called through by members. The course was in fantastic condition. Every hole was a challenge, even more so in the high winds. I loved each and every hole. If I lived closer I would definitely be a member. Highly recommend you to play it.
Don’t judge this book by its cover as behind the architecturally dreadful 1960s clubhouse is one of heathland golf’s true hidden treasures. For starters, the ground conditions must be the envy of courses for miles around. Woodbridge is laid across some outstanding sandy turf that’s a joy to hit from making this a remarkable Winter course. Considering that this has been one of the wettest periods on record for the UK, the course was bone-dry and I was informed by some proud members in the group behind us that the course never shuts for frost and the greens are always in play.
The club has employed course designer Martin Hawtree and taken the brave but rewarding step to undertake large scale tree clearance to allow the heathland to regenerate, returning the course back to its origins and it’s already coming on a treat. Sand has also been replaced in all of the bunkers over Winter, some of which have been rebuilt.
The front nine of the course as a whole is good without being outstanding. Scoring chances present themselves through the first few holes via a combination of short par fours and an uphill par five, whilst doglegs, cross bunkers and smatterings of gorse keep you on your toes through the next few holes. The opening nine ends on a high though as a medium length par three from an elevated tee plays towards a green encircled by bunkers, reminiscent of the 13th at Worplesdon.
However, it’s the returning nine that is the reason to visit Woodbridge as the terrain takes on more interest and rolls through some gorgeous heathy land. The holes have some delightful names too; Lion’s Den, the 11th, plays through a dip with a mid fairway marker-post reminding me of the Cairngorms gem that is Boat of Garten. 13, The Ditch, is the doppelganger of the 14th at Broadstone as you play to a steadily rising fairway before yet more cross bunkers impede your journey and need to be negotiated on your approach to the green. As others before me have said, 14, St Andrews Hill is the star of the show. This is a downhill curving par four to a two-tiered green embedded into the side of a hill and stands up to some of the best heathland holes I’ve played. After playing another lovely par three, the 16th fairway crosses back over the 14th before 17 and 18 play parallel to one another across another large depression, 18 being a charming finishing hole with a sharp dogleg playing semi-blind around an incline.
Even with the course improvements that are ongoing, I still think the course has more potential. For example, 17 would benefit from some major bunker reconstruction around the green. Extending the right-hand side bunker so it sits more square-on to the approaching golfer would make the second shot to this green more attractive whilst simultaneously introducing a fierce, deep hazard that allows for a little jeopardy toward the end of the round. Hopefully the club’s investment continues.
Wrapping up my round, there was an overriding sense of joy that I got from completing my eighteen holes on the Heath course that I haven’t had when playing some more high profile clubs. It’s the ideal Winter course, but I may have to pay a return visit when the heather is in flower towards the end of Summer and all of the upgrades have had time to fully bed-in. Once it fulfils its obvious potential, I’d like to think Woodbridge will start to get more attention from those travelling from further afield.
Woodbridge is one of those courses you could play everyday and not get bored. It's a wonderful piece of land with a great layout. It offers a great mix of challenge and playability with each hole asking it's own questions.
The sand based turf means it plays really well all year around. Even on the wettest winter day it drains so well you don't really need waterproof trousers.
My favourite holes are the 2nd, 14th and 17th. The 17th is a unique hole and takes some working out as a deceiving dog let right. But, take a good look after from the 4th green to work out a line to take.
The forest course is also excellent. Slightly different style with some smaller greens but is a very enjoyable 9 holes.
The clubhouse, food, and practice facilities are also very good. The staff are very welcoming and couldn't be more helpful.
One of my favourite courses..
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.
I finally decided to make the long four hour drive to Woodbridge on a bright autumnal day and found it to be an absolute pleasure from start to finish. The course is a par 70 measuring almost 6,300 yards and whilst not being the longest there is more than enough trouble to grab your attention if you stray from the fairway. Strategy is important from the tee and driver is not always the best option here as there are a number of well positioned bunkers and gorse bushes. Combine this with numerous doglegs, a handful of blind shots and a little bit of undulation and its plain to see that there’s no shortage of variety in the layout. Two of my favourite holes were the 9th (Magazine), an excellent 198 yard par-3, running downhill all the way to a well defended green and the fabulous 188 yard 15th (Punch Bowl), majestically positioned amongst gorse, heather and sand. After completing 18 we headed straight for the 9 hole Forest course which is arguably even tougher than the Heath with its narrow fairways and smaller greens. Both courses have quick draining turf, great bunkering and excellent greens. This secluded corner of Suffolk is well blessed with good golf, making it an ideal location for a short break. Within a few miles you can find Aldeburgh, Ipswich, Thorpeness and Felixstowe Ferry, all very good courses and other than Thorpeness all have 27 holes. Although I was soundly thrashed by my 6 handicap pal (bandit) this heathland classic provided us with a great day’s golf. Brian W