- +44 (0)1526 352511
19 miles SE of Lincoln
Contact in advance - handicap certificate required
The Hotchkin course at Woodhall Spa invariably fights with Loch Lomond and Sunningdale Old for the coveted position of “best inland golf course” in the British Isles. Originally, Harry Vardon laid out the course and it opened for play in 1905. Harry Colt, just before the Great War, made further modifications to the layout. But in the 1920s, the owner, Colonel S.V. Hotchkin, put the course through one last major redesign phase before the Hotchkin finally matured into its present layout. The English Golf Union purchased Woodhall Spa in 1995 for a reputed £8m and turned it into their headquarters.
An oasis in the heart of Lincolnshire. Set amongst glorious pine, birch and broom, this heathland course is an absolute delight to play. The sandy subsoil allows all-year-round golf, the springy turf making walking a real pleasure. Keep your ball in play and do your best to avoid the heather, gorse and bunkers. See if you can copy the feat of J.A. Wilson (8 h/cap) and his opponent L.D. Henshaw (12 h/cap). In 1982, Wilson holed in one at the 12th (a beautiful, long par three) but only managed a half because Henshaw also holed in one. Apparently they were hurrying their shots too because they had just been invited to play through. The four-ball standing behind the green were gobsmacked!
The Hotchkin is bunker heaven (or hell), notorious for its deep, cavernous sand traps. It is also helpful if you can hit the ball long and straight. Otherwise you will be presented with some very tough second shots. Woodhall Spa isn’t a tournament course, but it is supremely challenging and plays host to a number of distinguished national and international amateur competitions.
Many important matches have been decided on its famous 18th hole. This 540-yard par five finishing hole typifies what is so special about Woodhall Spa. If we can strike the ball with solidity off the tee and avoid the hazards, then we give ourselves a chance of scoring well. We can see the flag clearly in the distance but the drive is tight. We must land left of the sentry oak, but not too far left, otherwise we will be bunkered. We must be dead straight in order to find the crisp, sandy fairway and if we achieve all these things, and if we are a stout hitter, we may be tempted to go for the green with our second shot. It is tempting - the route to the green is visible but is protected by bunkers and there's a swale guarding its right flank. What can we say? “Go for it” perhaps?
It is definitely worth making the trip to play this gem and the green fee is tremendous value for money too (especially if you are a member of an English golf club). And remember - the Hotchkin is undoubtedly one of the premier inland courses in the whole of the British Isles. Can you afford not to play it?
In 2016 Tom Doak was hired to advise Woodhall Spa on a development plan that includes tree clearance and “generally removing visual clutter so that the unique bunkering can dominate the views”. Additionally bunker faces will be reconstructed to ease maintenance. The schedule of works was due to be completed by 2022, but we received an update from Tim, a Woodhall Spa member, in February 2017:
"The work Tom Doak is doing has been speeded up and should be completed by 2019. All bunkers are being remodeled, many that had disappeared are being reinstated and a small number of obsolete ones are being removed. Huge areas of undergrowth have been cleared so that the feel of an old fashioned heath with far reaching views across the course are being brought back. Although only holes 7,8,9,10,11 and 13 have been done so far, the changes are fantastic and when completed will elevate Woodhall further from its already lofty position. Some of the holes (still to be completed) will have significant work done to the greens and also the position of the tees."
Tim contacted us again in February 2018: "“The second phase of the three-year renovation program at Woodhall Spa is nearly complete. The changes this year are to holes 5, 6, 12, 14, 16 and 17. The changes to the two par fives (6 and 14) are particularly dramatic. Many trees have been removed. Many old bunkers have been reinstated and the visual impact of these changes are striking.”
I have played this course twice but not since the changes that are mentioned in recent reviews and as such I will need to go back and play again. I played twice in the course of a few weeks, once off the whites and once off the yellows. The course is sublime and as you enter the village of Woodhall Spa the anticipation what is renowned as the best inland course (after Sunningdale) on most UK rankings was palpable.
I was playing off a higher handicap than now and as not a big hitter found some of the carries required to make it past the rough, especially off the white tees a real test. Some carries were over 225 yards.
But this course is a delight to play and the holes linger long in the memory which is what a great course should do, regardless of your game on that day.
Holes which stick in my memory include the 1st (because its a gentle opener) the 9th, 16th which whilst not long has a 200 yard carry and the 18th.
All hole are good and the surroundings of heathland and trees a beautiful setting.
Keen to get back and play the remodelled course.
What a strange thing to do, review and rate a course you haven't played for years, that has been remodelled and is totally different than it was. I dont get why you had to write this review, its not relevant about the course today. Im sorry but i don't get it.
Give it a go now, the changes are great and it might even get a 6 ball rating now :-)
Thanks James, I certainly will.
Woodhall Spa Hotchkin is a course that is definitely worth making the journey to visit. And once there, rather than playing the Donald Steel designed golf course, which I found to be dull and uninspiring, one should try to play the Hotchkin course twice.
Possibly only Notts rivals this course for the best in the area. It really is on the same level for inland courses in England as Walton Heath Old, Notts, Sunningdale Old and New, Ganton, and Swinley Forest. It also could be considered as the "best course on a flat piece of land" the way that Chicago GC in the USA often receives similar praise.
The layout is superb. The routing moves in all directions so that no matter which way the wind is blowing, you will have to consider whether to take an extra club. There is a good mixture of straight, dogleg left and right, and long and short holes. This is a course that is pure joy to play and no matter one's score, should bring a smile to one's face.
The bunkering is outstanding, whether green side or in the fairways. Many of the bunkers are very deep, such as green side on the fourth hole or the ten feet deep bunker on the short fifth, but never so narrow that you face an impossible shot of getting out. However, being able to execute a bunker shot that gets you closer to the green or pin is a different question as the bunkers can be very penal. Therefore, without question, the bunkers should be avoided if one can, particularly off the tee.
From the tee, the golf course is very strategic, making you choose which side of the fairway you want to hit in order to be "safe" versus having a shorter shot in but potentially bringing into play some very difficult bunkers. Saving par after being in many of the fairway bunkers is a tall order, but when you do you feel like you made a birdie.
It is not a very long golf course, but heather and so many bunkers makes it play longer than the length and the terrain.
The greens overall are not difficult to read and they roll true. They are not overly fast. This makes sense because if they were more difficult, the course might become unplayable for anyone above a 15 index.
There are so many outstanding holes on this course but the ones that come to my mind are #2, #3, #5, #6, #8, #9, #11, #12, #13 and #18.
#5 the short par 3 is very well surrounded by bunkers to a relatively long but skinny green. #6 is the first par 5 that might be very simple for the long, low index player but is very challenging for the 5-15 index due to the bunkering throughout the hole.
#8 is a long par three well surrounded by bunkers and is the first elevated green on the golf course. It is splendid.
#9 a long par five incorporates cross bunkers that don't really come into play that often unless one hits a poor drive, but makes one wonder why more golf architects did not incorporate them into their designs. They are wonderful to look at. The cross bunkers are used again on #11, where the fairway is tree-lined on both sides, and represent a bit of misdirection since they are actually well short of the actual green.
As good as #5 is, the #12th might be even better as a par three. It is simply one of the best in the world, with one bunker about 12 feet deep. Both of these par 3's are surrounded by bunkers. While one can run up a score of a triple bogey fairly easily on these holes, nevertheless they are a delight to play.
#13 is a long par four that is superbly bunkered throughout the layout.
The course feels a little different starting on #13. It feels a bit more tree-lined and "closed" as opposed to the earlier holes. You finish with a few shorter, more simple holes until you get to #18 which is a fine finishing hole as a medium length, well bunkered par five. I am certain many matches are settled on this hole if they are tied standing on the tee.
Woodhall Spa is often mentioned in the World 100 list and it is deserved. It truly does have everything one wants to experience and see on a golf course - strategy, requires a good long game and a good short game. If one were to criticize it I suppose they could say the majority of the greens are too flat. However, I would not want them changed much because there is so much to consider and so much difficulty in getting to them.
Played this course, in its new guise in may, for the first time since the changes were made. What a transformation to an all ready exceptional golf course. How many courses can be made better by taking out 100s of trees. The test of golf has always been fair and strong at Woodhall and still is, even after adding bunkers and growing more heather. Hats off to the guy who redisigned and remodeled this course back into a classic heathland and made it better. Trees can make a course look fantastic but when someone has the vision to remove trees to make something aesthetically better, he deserves praise and thats what he has done. Yes it is bunker heaven or hell but it is also fair, if you plot your way round. It punishes bad golf and reward good golf. Im sure the improvements to this course must move it to near the top of the pile because the weak holes have been improved and so have some of the stronger have too. A lot of the course hasn't been altered but thats because it didn't need altering. There is no tricking up on this course, no water to catch you out but just pure natural or natural looking pure golfing heaven. Its been moved up a level or two and i didn't think it could be. Up there with the very best, go and try it for yourself and enjoy.
From the very start you know you are in for a real treat at Woodhall Spa. Stepping on the first tee you immediately feel like you are about to play a pure classic heathland course but know that it will be hard with all the bunkers that are in the way. The condition of the hotchkin was awesome and not many other courses are up to the same standard as here. The greens were rapid and tees and fairways were manicured exceptionally well. Bunkers were deep but designed really well and the heather just made it all the more enjoyable. The key to Woodhall Spa is figuring out where all the bunkers are and where not to miss it. There are so many deep bunkers which can cause some awful scores that it is important to plot your way round and stay well clear of them.
The first hole is a tough start with about 12 fairway bunkers making it important to hit it straight off the tee. The 2nd and 3rd are fairly straight forward but then 4-9 can be absolutely brutal. The 4th is a tight par 4 with a deep cross bunker about 240 yards up and lots of heather left and right. The 5th is a very short par 3 but has an extremely deep bunker to the right of the green making it important to hit to the left. The 6th is beautiful hole but probably the hardest on the course with a narrow tee shot and brutally thick heather to the left and right. I missed the fairway by 5 yards and had to take an unplayable as the lie was so bad.
The back 9 gets a lot tighter and more tree lined and starts off with a short par 4 playing about 320 yards, keeping it in play is key on this hole. The 11th is then a long par 4 with a deep fairway bunker on the left and out of bounds on the right. The approach shot is played towards a slightly elevated green and going over a patch of heather/thick rough. The 12th is one of m favourite par 3s, measuring about 145 yards with one of the deepest bunkers ever to the left of the green. Of course me being me I went in there but miraculously managed to save a par. When we got to 16 I felt great deal of sadness as the first 15 holes had sped by and it felt like I'd only just teed off 10 minutes ago. I was in such love with the course I could've played another 54 holes and not gotten bored. Heading down 18 was a great but sad feeling as you felt happy to have played such a wonderful course but sad that it was over so quickly and you couldn't go out again.
In my opinion this is better than West Sussex and I would say as a course this is extremely near to being as good as Swinley Forest and so is up there with one of my favourite heathland courses I've ever played. For this reason I must absolutely give the 6 ball rating that Woodhall Spa deserves as it really is a top quality golf course. I will definitely return soon to play there again as it really is perfection.
We played the Hotchkin in may, it was the first time that i had played since the changes to the course. I have to say the changes are a revelation. The course was really very good before but now it is amazing. Taking trees out and taking it back to its original status, has transformed this course into a masterpiece. The course has been brought into the 21st century as well as far as a challenge. Its a real treat to play it and a very fair test of golf.
Wow, this is simply the best course I have ever played. I have played Woodhall this year and also Royal St Georges (ranked No1), and for me if I was asked which was best, I would say Woodhall every time. There are no spectacular views at Woodhall, and the overall layout is pretty flat, and yet this is probably the most pleasurable golfing experience you can have. On the first tee you can see what you are in for, as approximately 14 bunkers lay before you. The bunkering at Woodhall is serious, and what a bunker should be, a penalty, some 12 feet deep! Almost all the holes you can see the flag from the tee which I like. Tee shots are intimidating as many involve serious carries over heather, with deep bunkers flanking the generous fairways. If I was to pick out some highlight, they would be the dogleg 4th, with two very deep bunker protecting the green, the short 5th, which at 135 yards sounds a doddle, until you see it is an thin island green surround by 12 foot deep bunkers. 7 is the perfect risk reward hole, a dogleg right, where the player can decide how much corner to cut off, played over heather and bunkers, the penalty for being too greedy is severe. 11th a beautiful slightly downhill par 4, the first of 3 beautiful holes on the back 9, with 12 being a classic 150 yard par 3, again like the 5th surrounded by 12 foot deep bunkers and last but by no means least, the 18th, recently remodelled, this par 5 sets up beautifully from the tee, a fairway straddled by strategically placed bunkers, a great finish to a great round. This course is a test and the choice of the golfing connoisseur.
The drive to the town of Woodhall Spa is long, windy and will test your patience – but it’s totally worth every mile when you get there.
When I last played the Hotchkin course 6 years ago, I fell in love with the layout and could remember every hole. Fast forward to today, with significant credit going to the hugely talented and visionary General Manager, Mr. Richard Latham, the club contracted with Tom Doak to renovate the course and bring it to a refreshing new level. The reports over the past 18 months of tree clearance, vegetation cleanup, and bunker improvements have amalgamated into a golf course today that has never looked better. The club’s hardworking greenkeepers pushed forward with the tree clearance while Doak’s shaping team was the perfect complement. Some holes are truly unrecognizable due to the tree clearance, and even the tower for the club’s logo is now clearly visible behind the 3rd green. The heather that lines the fairways continues to get healthier by the month, and hopefully will grow in more this year.
Some of the notable changes include a new location for the 5th tee, widespread clearance down the right side of the 7th, a shift of location of the 13th fairway, a revivification of the short 15th – and the cherry on top is the abundance of tree clearance on the 18th hole. From the back tee, the closing hole is without doubt a masterpiece.
Compared to my last visit, the course oozes good health and has a wide-open feel in places which brings much improved light and air. Overall, the results are not to be missed, and I encourage everyone to visit Woodhall Spa for what is guaranteed to be a fabulous golf experience among beautiful heathery surrounds and lovely hospitality.
Despite being a pain to get to (!) it is well worth the drive to experience some great holes and some massive bunkers
I'm lucky enough to be a country member at Woodhall Spa it's great value for an hours drive is too good to pass up.
Heathland courses to me are lovely, I would probably just prefer true inland courses such as Woburn however that doesn't take anything away from the Charm that the Hotchkin has.
The layout is arguably the best part of Woodhall, you won't play anything quite like it with the amount of bunkers the course has, green side bunkers up to 12 ft deep and fairway bunkers you need a lob wedge struck very well to escape. Bogies are the accepted result from any form of sand on the Hotchkin. Some great holes which they have, as of last week, made the last of the changes taking trees out to give it a proper heathland feel. My favourite hole has to be the 18th, a charming finishing hole either par 4 or 5 depending on white or yellow tees which provides a great test to a small green. The tee shot needs to be price to allow the longer hitters the opportunity to bomb it in two.
Even along the way to get there, Woodhall Spa offers a fantastic range of holes such as the 3rd with the famous tower as a backdrop beyond the green. the 5th, a very short par 3 which boasts a 12 ft bunker for a poor shot or even the par 3 12th which is slightly longer with just as deep bunkers littered amongst the hole with an astonishing achievement attached to it. A hole halved with aces! What are the odds?!
Between tees are very good, no long walks and it's a great view all around and congestion can unfortunately be a problem. Being the home of England Golf with very reasonable green fees, it can be a very popular venue. The condition however, is exceptional taking into the account the amount of traffic it gets.
The facilities at Woodhall spa are great, a lengthy peaceful walk to the practice range with built in strength and conditioning suite and putting lab available for sessions. Not forgetting the short game area reserved for England squads. This is the only negative being a member, the only available chipping green for members is situated on the neighbour course, The Bracken, which is small with few holes to use. However, pretty meaningless as a visitor so it won't impact your trip to the beautiful town in Lincolnshire.
Course Played : Many times
Between tees & Congestion: 7.5
TOTAL SCORE: 42/50
having played many premier golf courses this year, Hotchkin is most definitely my favourite, the layout is a true test with perfectly placed bunkers and fantastic fairways and greens, staff were excellent, friendly helpful staff
I convinced my group to extend our annual golf trip to the UK beyond our normal length in order to play 2 great inland courses. The first was Notts at Hollinwell, previously reviewed, and it was great. The last was Woodhall Spa, generally regarded as the best inland course in England. I think it's a close contest. I'd played there many years before, while living in London. It is VERY good. A little scruffy around the edges, but the holes are very well designed for the most part. We were lucky to get a local good player to guide us around and the wind was a factor on the first day of our trip. The bunkers are as fearsome as described. Relative to other highly rated courses, a very good deal. Though not in the easiest place to get to, don't miss it. M