- +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.”
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
The most underrated course in the world? This might just be it. If it were located in Pinehurst, on the Aussie sand belt or in the wilds of Oregon it would have a much higher ranking.
The Doak renovations are nearly complete and he has done an incredible job. It is a light touch… a few new tees, some bunker work and some clearing out of trees to bring back the original sight lines. All in all a top job.
The course eases you in with the 1st but the 2nd sets the tone. A tough uphill drive with deep bunkers framing the fairway followed by a mid iron to a large green full of subtle breaks and borrows. Just perfect.
Hole 3 is one of a few blind tee shots. It plays tricks with your mind, as the fairway is generous.. you just can’t see it and know you need a 200yd carry to cover the gorse. This sets the scene for many holes to come as the angles of fairways, the bunkering and the use of gorse make the tee shots appear to be a lot tighter than they actually are.
Seven is another beauty. A dogleg left to right that suckers you in to being braver than you should. It also a great example of Doak’s work as by taking out the tree on the corner of the hole the fairway is opened up and gives you choices as to how you want to play it.
12 is an evil par 3. We played it from 145yds but you have no room for error with deep deep bunkers swallowing anything not on line. In my humble opinion 15 is one of the only weak holes on the course (along with the first). You have no real choice from the tee and play to a blind punch bowl green with little chance of controlling your shot. No a bad hole on any course but the lack of strategic choices leave it wanting compared to some of the other beauties.
17 and 18 make a nice pair as you head back to the clubhouse. 17 is a short par 4 you can attack whilst 18 is defence all the way as you plot your way on this treacherous par 5.
Overall this is as good as Sunningdale, Royal Melbourne, Pinehust 2 or any other heathland/ sand course you could care to mention. There are no roads to get distracted by, no houses interfering or anything to take away from the golfing perfection this place is. The whole set up is pure golf. Traditional, friendly and welcoming, it is as golf should be.
We played in early June after a beautiful dry-spell. The course was playing firm and fast, as it should in the summer months. A classic heathland course playing as a links. Perfect.
I feel Woodhall Spa is a lovely course, it's a bit like Walton Heath, but interesting ! Every hole, whilst maintaining the courses character, offers a different feel.
We played on a very windy day, 20mph + gusts, which made it very tricky to play as the course dictates, but every tee & approach shot gave you options, on how brave / reckless or cautious / cowardly you wanted to be !
In late October, with other local courses shut, it was a pleasure to play,
I will certainly return, hopefully on a clamer day. A real must play.
If you come here expecting spectacular beauty then you will be disappointed. It is pretty but never stunning. Where it scores however is the sense that as you trip round this easily walked, well routed course that there are very few, if any, occasions when you are not faced with peril for an errant blow It is always threatening to twist your arm behind your back or just step on your throat. Generous are the fairways in the main but reaching them over the very deep heather can be trying for mid to high handicappers. Several places at this time of year featured massively luxurious heather that has not been chopped back for years, just yards from the fairway. A tad penal. I prefer to play my golf on grass. It is a great value course with no shortage of consistent variety and of course the bunkers are deep but fair. You should make the trip to play it. I prefer Sunningdale New. Perhaps this one is more complete. Greater than the sum of it's parts. I'll come back and see what Tom Doak leaves us with in the early 20's. JCB Lay