Two years after winning the Formula 1 World Championship in 1992, Nigel Mansell, an accomplished golfer, visited the newly opened Woodbury Park Golf and Country Club and such was the impression the 500-acre site made on him, he decided to buy it, lock stock and barrel. Mansell has since sold the property which is now part of The Club Company portfolio.
Configured in two returning loops of nine with holes 1 to 9 encircling the inward half, the Oaks at Woodbury Park is a testing, if somewhat hilly, parkland course that extends to a monstrous 7,314 yards from the championship tees – the standard scratch score is two strokes more than the par of 73 – with the more realistic regular gents tees playing almost 750 yards shorter.Golfers face an intimidating tee shot at two of the three one-shot holes on the card as the greens at hole 3 (“Kingfisher”) and 18 (“The Splash”) are fronted by ponds. The third short hole (“Little Badger,” the 15th) is not exactly a pushover either, measuring over 200 yards from the front tee markers.
I have no idea why more golfers have not posted reviews for the Oaks course at the lovely Woodbury Park. I played it earlier this month in pleasant sunshine and it was a real treat to finally get to play one of the few Devon courses that had been lingering on my to-play list for far too long.
The Oaks course was playing firm and fast in the middle of summer, but most likely it’s not a great winter course as the ground is clay, unlike the huge expanse of sandy heathland at nearby Woodbury Common.
What I liked most about the Oaks course is that there is zero repetition. Every hole looks tangibly different from the tee box and there are no weak holes. The huge green complexes are what you’d expect from an early 1990s USGA build – gently contoured and rather predictable. But this really is a minor criticism as the build is high quality from the son of John R. Stutt who constructed many of James Braid’s courses.
The late J. Hamilton Stutt clearly learned a thing or two from his work on the original course at St Mellion (now called the Kernow). The topography at Woodbury is very similar to the lay of the land at St Mellion, where there are a number of valleys to cross, which create excitement and a fair share of uneven lies.
Only two tees were in play last Friday, white for men and red for ladies. The white tees were largely aligned with the yellow markers, so the course probably played around 6,300 yards, which for me is close to the perfect distance for an enjoyable round. However, the Oaks course clearly has scope to be a brutal test, as the black tee tips kick the yardage out beyond 7,300 yards.
I liked the Oaks more than Braid’s parkland layout at nearby Exeter Golf & Country Club. I’d also argue that the Oaks is tad better than Colt’s cliff-top track at Thurlestone, so perhaps it deserves to be a place or two higher in Devon’s Best in County rankings.
The bucolic nature of Woodbury Park is hard to beat from a parkland golfing perspective where long views across to the rolling Blackdown Hills remind you that you’re golfing in a lovely part of England.
I do think the Oaks deserves more loving. It’s easily as good as the Manor House in Wiltshire but not quite as good as the Nicklaus course at St Mellion. I liked the Oaks a lot and would be very happy to be a member here if I lived on the east side of Exeter city. It definitely exceeded my expectations.