Woodbrook Golf Club is a lovely parkland course sitting on cliffs overlooking the Irish Sea at Bray, just south of Dublin. Peter McEvoy redesigned the course in 1998 when USGA standard greens were laid in preparation for the Irish Seniors Open. As he said at the time, “Woodbrook had history, ambience and class. Golf and its high-tech equipment had outgrown its challenge…design changes will prove to have redressed this balance and places Woodbrook back at the top of Irish championship venues.”
The main railway line south of the capital runs through the course and must be crossed after playing the 4th and 17th holes. It is said that in the recent past, members could pull a switch to stop the next train traveling north to Dublin or south to Bray if they required transportation!
The course stretches to 6,863 yards from the medal tees and has a hole configuration of five par threes, eight par fours and five par fives, giving a par of 72. There are many stands of mature trees and strategically placed bunkers around the course. Greens are generally large and gently undulating though several are tiered and hard to read.
Woodbrook is a truly classic golf course that has a long and storied history of hosting major tournaments. It sits on a flat piece of land with cliffs overlooking the Irish sea, and when playing it on a calm sunny day, there may be no better place to play golf and enjoy a stroll.
The course was created by Sir Stanley Cochrane, who inherited the land and fortune from his father who co-invented ginger ale. Cochrane's first love was cricket, and he initially built Woodbrook as a cricket ground, fortunately for everyone, cricket never took off here and be built the golf course instead.
Due to the flat piece of land that the course sits on, the main defense of the course is the wind, and with it being a flat piece of land sitting on cliffs over the ocean, there is no hiding from the wind when it does blow (and it often does). Most of the holes on the course play either north or south, and the wind will mostly blow to or from the north making the holes play mostly down wind or into the wind making club choice extra difficult into small and undulating greens.
The course has an unusual setup having 5 par fives, 5 par threes and 8 par fours. I particularly enjoy this layout, and it provides a welcome change from the typical golf course and really ensures that you use all the clubs in your bag.
I will detail some of my favorite holes on the course below:
1. Is a true handshake opening par 5 which is about 500 yards long. The fairway is flat and wide and the main defense of the hole is a burn running across the fairway at about 320 yards and a large mature tree in the middle of the fairway at the burn. Hitting a good drive down the middle of this fairway is not good enough, you have the find the left or right side of the fairway to give yourself a chance of hitting the green in two and making a birdie or better.
4. Four is a short par 4 that runs alongside the railway line, which is OB all up the left. The fairway has well placed and deep bunkers on the right, which forces you to take on the OB up the left. Ideally here, you take a long iron or fairway wood up the left side which will give you a great angle with a short iron to attack the two tiered green.
9. Is a magnificent short par 3 which measures 120-150 yards that faces directly at the Irish sea. The green is very shallow and raised with sharp runoffs in the front and back with deep bunkers left and right. Club selection is key here and if you are lucky enough to find the green, you will have a mostly flat putt at birdie. If you do not hit the green here, you will be happy to make a 3/4 as big numbers can happen very easily.
10. Is probably the best hole on the course. You tee off from the far corner of the property from a tee box that sits on top of the cliffs with the Irish sea all down the left hand side. Any tee shot that is turning over to the left will likely fall to its peril, and a small grouping of trees protects the right hand side of the fairway for anyone who tries to bail out. Depending on wind direction you can have anything from a wedge to a wood into one of the more interesting greens on the course, which is designed in a Biarritz fashion, although much smaller. You will always be delighted with a par on this hole.
14. As like the 10th, the 14th plays along the cliffside with the Irish sea on your left. This time you are faced with a par 5 that has cross bunkers in the landing zone of your driver and your layup. If you take on the cliffs with your drive, you will be left with an enticing second shot that allows you to attack the green with your second, if you bail out right off the tee, you will be forced with a very tough layup. The green here sits very close to the cliff's edge and is and interesting to tier green with the back tier being a foot or two lower than the front tier with everything running towards the back. A truly classic risk reward par 5 that brings all numbers into play.
18. Is a classic closing hole that can bring anything from birdies to large numbers into play. After crossing back under the railway line, you tee off right next to it. It is important to ensure you time your tee shot to when the trains aren't passing as you have the railway all up the right side which is OB and the driving range to the left which is also OB. The fairway is very flat and wide here and the only thing to avoid is a small centerline pot bunker. If you navigate the pot bunker, you will be left with a short iron into a three tiered green (almost in the design of a double plateau) that is heavily guarded by bunkers. Find the right section of the green and you will have a great opportunity at birdie.
Located on Shankill Beach in Bray, County Wicklow, Woodbrook has hosted many significant professional tournaments, including the Irish Sweepstakes Tournament from 1959-1962, The Carrolls International from 1963-1974, the Carrolls Irish Open in 1975, six times the Irish PGA Championship during 1977-1991, the Irish Seniors Amateur Open in 1975, the Irish Amateur Close Championship in 1982, and the Irish Senior Ladies Open in 1975-1976. The winners are a “who’s-who” of Irish golf legends including Christy O’Connor, Sr. and Jr., Bernard Hunt, Philip Walton, Des Smyth, Liam Higgans, David Feherty, as well as few others such as Bernard Gallacher and Neil Coles. One of the most decorated amateurs, Peter McEvoy, has spent some time renovating it.
The course is a mixture of parkland and seaside links with 6 holes playing at or along the water (holes 9-14). 13 holes have water views. There is a good mixture of five tee boxes ranging from just under 7000 yards to 6000. It is a bit quirky in that there are 5 par 3’s and 5 par 5’s. Along the water one has a wonderful view of the Irish Sea as well as Bray Head, perhaps not quite as stunning as the Mourne Mountain range that one sees at Royal County Down, but it is pretty.
The course feels like it is in four pieces, although it is more likely only three pieces, as the train line slices through it leaving 1-4 and 18 on one side of it with those being separated by the clubhouse. Yet, 12 and 13 which play parallel in opposite directions to each other, have bushes between their fairways. These bushes are meant to provide protection, but instead make one feel as holes 5-12 are separate from 13-17.
Although changing the history of a golf course, especially one that has such a rich history, is not to be taken likely, this is a golf course that I wish would somehow figure out how to convert a par 5 and a par 3 into two longer par 4’s in order to increase the challenge of the golf course or at least figure out how to lengthen two of the short par 5’s. The first four holes is where I would look, although it might entail buying some land next to the first. It certainly would involve changing green locations.
This is a flat golf course where the seaside holes are very affected by the direction of the wind. There is good use of bunkers throughout the golf course.
The first hole, a par 5, is a bit odd in that three trees dissect the hole at approximately the halfway point with one of those trees right in the middle. I did not like the use of a tree in the middle of the fairway. The green is very well defended with four bunkers at the front and nice run offs areas surrounding it.
The second is a longer par 3 with the green at an angle left to right so it appears smaller. There are two bunkers at the green with the large jigsaw bunker in the back the devilish one.
The third is a shorter par 4 that has the railway line down the entire left with a collection of bunkers on the right with a grouping of trees behind these bunkers to catch the person playing away from the railroad line. The green has bunkers on both sides of the front and trees behind.
You walk back about 75 yards from the third green to the fourth tee, a longer par 4 that has trees on either side as the defense to the tee shot. The hole is a slight dogleg left and the green has four bunkers on the right side that are to be avoided.
The fifth is the longest par 5 on the golf course, a dogleg left, with two large bunkers in the fairway for the longer hitter but trees on either side for the shorter hitter. Trees once again pinch in a bit on either side of the fairway for the second shot while the green again is well defended with two bunkers on the left. This is the best hole on the golf course.
The sixth hole is a short par 4 with the green sat off to the right with gorse behind and a pond short of the green on the right. At this point you can see the Irish Sea.
Seven is a long par 4 that doglegs to the right. Bunkers are on the right corner of the dogleg. This hole is the hardest on the course due to the length and the green is the most undulated. This is another good hole.
Eight is a short par 4 that has cross bunkering from the right that is only for the eyes as it does not really come into play except for the longest hitters. I thought the cross bunkers should have started ten yards closer to the tee and bitten more into the fairway. The bunkers do have a nice depth to them.
Nine is a short par 3 with a heart shaped green very small/narrow at the front with bunkers on either side. I liked the hole because it plays towards the water and beach but I would build a more interesting green.
10-12 play right along the water and beach which serves as out-of-bounds to the left for 10-11 and the tee shot on 12.
Ten is likely the second best hole on the golf course as it has reasonable length for this par 4 plus the view of the water. It also has the best green on the golf course.
Eleven is a long par 3 that one wants to make sure they do not go left towards the water. There is a very clever placement of bunkers on the left side of the green for those playing too conservatively. I thought this to be the best par 3 on the course as those bunkers have reasonable depth to them given their location in proximity to the sea.
Twelve is a mid length par 5 that doglegs to the right. The tee shot cannot go left due to the water as well as three large bunkers on the left side of the turn. Thicker trees line the rights side of the fairway as you come into the green.
The very long at 230 yards par 3 playing back towards the water is next. While some may point to this as their favorite par 3, I thought the green complex was not as good as eleven’s despite two bunkers left and one right. There is no doubt that it is the most difficult par 3 on the course.
The fourteenth, a long par 5 plays along the Irish Sea to its left for its entire way. The fairway is wide and relatively safe playing down the right side. The green slopes away from the approach shot. You are looking right at the mountain behind the course as you play to the corner of the golf course.
Fifteen is a long par 4 that is straight. It does not have any bunkers which I thought it should have at least five bunkers to add both definition and more defense to the hole.
Sixteen is a short par 5 with seven bunkers, most near the green and two in the fairway for the layup shot. I thought this to be a weak hole despite a decently sloped green.
Seventeen is the final short par 3 with six bunkers defending the green which sits down a bit. It is a visually attractive hole and an improvement over the previous two holes.
The final hole is a short par 4 with a fairway bunker right in the middle of the landing area for the tee shot. There are four bunkers surrounding the green. The hole is unique in that there is out-of-bounds on both sides. However, due to the length of the hole, there is no reason to overswing so keeping a tee shot in the fairway should be fairly easy. It is a nice green but overall a slightly disappointing end to the round.
In summary, Woodbrook is a nice course to play as an alternative to playing the more difficult, more interesting courses nearby. There are a few holes to test one’s game but given the width of the fairways and the many shorter holes, there are opportunities to score well. There are some wonderful views.
My criticisms of the course would be in that it does not offer much in the way of strategy or decision making. When you stand on the tee or over an approach shot, it is easy to determine what club to select and the type of shot needed. I do not there is enough severe penalties for hitting a bad shot despite the number of out-of-bounds and the good placement of many bunkers. It is not a course that one should necessarily go out of their way to play but even if I don’t rate it higher as a course than Druids Glen, I would play here before it but not before Portmarnock Golf Links.