Woodcote Park Golf Club was established in 1912 and founder members enlisted Harry Vardon to design their course, assisted by the club’s first professional, Montrose-born Tom Winton. To mark the opening of the inaugural 18-hole layout, reigning Open champion Vardon played James Braid in a stroke play exhibition match, which Braid won by a single shot, 78 to 79.
Those scores might appear to be relatively high by modern standards but the course measured all of 6,840 yards – with bogey set at 80 (37 out and 43 in) – and the professionals were playing with hickories over a comparatively long distance. Indeed, a contemporary report suggested the course “would be improved if some of the later holes were shortened”.
Two holes on the original course were routed beyond Grove Lane, next to the current 16th hole, and both were lost to development in the 1930s, replaced with two holes which were inserted into the northern loop. During World War II, holes 1, 17 and 18 were requisitioned for agricultural use before the land was reclaimed in 1952 and the holes restored to their former glory.
The projected routing of the M23 motorway in the mid-1960s gave some cause for concern, as it could have impacted on a corner of the course around the 12th and 13th, however the proposed road improvements never happened. More recently, alterations were made to holes 9 and 16 in the late 1980s and the 11th and 17th were lengthened at the start of the new millennium.
The course occupies a chalk downland landscape that was once open in character, but a concerted tree planting program in the 1960s has resulted in tree-lined fairways playing largely in isolation to one another. Greenside bunkers were reconstructed a few years ago, when traditional sand hazards were replaced with modern, grass faced splash traps, and this improvement gives the course a more contemporary look.
Notable holes include long, difficult par fours at the 5th – which doglegs right past three diagonal cross bunkers towards a left to right sloping green – and the 10th, where the fairway rises gently to a two-tiered, sand-protected green. The 481-yard par five 18th is a fine closing hole, offering a late birdie opportunity if the fairway bunkers defending the home green can be avoided.
I felt Woodcote to be solid, but lacking in inspiration. As the headline review states it's moved from being a downland course to very much a parkland design, and, in late September, it was set up for target golf as opposed to the chip and run. It did that pretty well, with a combination of receptive but pretty rapid (especially downhill) greens. That there are just three par 3s contributes to the length of the course and there aren't any tempter short par 4s to ameliorate the diet of mid-long par 4s. It's thus not an easy course on which to score. On the other hand the cut grass under the trees and the somewhat back and forth nature of the course did make it relatively easy to keep one's ball in play, even if the next shot was at best 50 yards sideways.
I broadly preferred the holes north of the bridleway - 6 to 15, but as I hinted at earlier I would not criticise any in isolation, even though I would a bit as a collection.
Woodland splendour in the middle of Surrey suburbia! I played this course on a hot summer’s day where the dry conditions and fairways allowed plenty of run on the ball and significantly shortened the 6800 yards that it plays from the back tees.
The holes are all tree-lined and it is the ever-present trees that are the major challenge creating some narrow fairways and challenging tee shots. Having said that the rough under the thick trees is generally not penal and it is easy to find your ball and hit it back into play. The tee boxes, approaches and greens were all in excellent condition.
The 3 par 5s are all well in range in three shots and the most memorable was the straight 18th which provided a good birdie opportunity, the ideal way in my view to end a round so the players can hopefully walk off with memories of a good final hole, thereby hastening their return. There are also only 3 par 3s all of medium length and top quality. It is probably the lack of variety of the 12 par 4s, the shortest of which is a weighty 363 yards, which probably lets the course down, although 2 in particular, the signature 12th from a raised tee to a wide fairway and dogleg 17th which will stick in the memory.
The course however offered wonderful woodland scenery, escapism and challenge in a heavily populated area near to Croydon and was great fun to play.