- +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.”
Woodhall Spa is a wonderfully presented course that will challenge every facet of your game, especially your ability to think your way around a golf course. You’ll need every club in your bag and the ability to craft different shots with each of them. It’s a such a fun and fair test of golf. To be honest, there’s not much more to say. Love it.
Absolutely gorgeous course and one to play for the intelligent golfer. It was refreshing to play a course when you had to think carefully about your shot selection, taking a driver and whacking it wont work.
There are some daunting bunkers should you find them, which you will.
The greens are fantastic and ran very well.
This was a little gem in the area and well worth playing 3 rounds.
A highly rated course fully deserving of its ranking. Fantastic layout, played in 40+mph winds which made it a brutal test of golf. Beautiful looking holes, where everything is laid out in front of you on the vast majority. There is the odd hidden landing area, and semi blind green, mainly obscured by strategic bunkering. Go off line at your peril, heather grabs your ball, go wider into deeper rough and it's gone. Every club in your bag gets a thorough test at some stage of the round. The greens were consistent and with subtle (and not so subtle) borrows meaning we holed very few longer putts. A wonderful course that will hopefully be kinder (less breezy) on our return.
"You haven't seen anything yet, wait until the 12th", exclaimed our playing partner as I appeared as a mere speck against the backdrop of a giant dune in front of the 4th green at Woodhall Spa.
I was rather chuffed that I managed to send my ball up almost vertically to land within 10 foot of the pin. If I had sunk the putt, it would have been the best sand save of my life.
However, my adventure had nothing on the tales regaled by our delightful playing partners in a mixed open at the home of English Golf.
While playing a previous foursome on the aforementioned 12th, the chap had dumped his ball into the deep cavern and his wife had torn a knee ligament trying to heave it out!
Yes, Woodhall Spa's sand can certainly be a score wrecker or even prompt a hospital visit.
One of the favourite descriptions of the famous Hotchkin course is as 'a great test of golf.' I presume that the test is to avoid sand and heather in order to preserve sanity as well as build a decent score.
Both are devilish from the opening hole onwards, lurking menacingly to suck in errant shots or even ones which are initially thought to be accurate.
Of course, both Mrs W and I discovered our fair share but, on occasion, it would have been better to find ourselves with a good lie in the sand than the tufty stuff in which many of the bunkers are submerged.
Off the yellow tees, the Hotchkin is not an especially long course and holes can be conquered with accuracy off the tee and smart placement with shots into the greens.
The par-five 9th demonstrated a classic example of what can go right and wrong. My drive was short, so I tried to blast a three-wood over the giant bunker which stretches across the fairway. Big mistake. Three duffs later my hole was over. Fortunately, Mrs W showed how it can be conquered with a straight long drive, a meaty three-wood and a five iron which drifted in from the right and within ten feet of the pin.
I had a similar moment of glory on the par-five 13th when I landed my second shot in the centre of the green and recorded a birdie.
Ok, we played in near-perfect conditions but The Hotchkin rewarded concentration and the occasional bit of bravery.
However, even though the greens were far from their slickest, we struggled to interpret their subtleties - thus, a very good score became out of reach because of too many three-putts.
Oh, and because we struggled to avoid sand on the run-in.
This couldn't be much of a surprise on the short par-four 14th whose green is protected by bunkers which are akin to sentries at a fortified castle.
And then there is the 18th - our only no score. A dramatic hole which seems to have sand as far as the eye can see. We followed the lead of those who have found beaches popular during the Covid crisis and found five of them between us!
We were told by our playing partners that The Hotchkin had not been in as good condition as they had expected. I confess I did not find it as beguiling as St Enodoc was on our recent visit because I enjoy dramatic backdrops to golf holes.
However, we did have a thoroughly enjoyable round and, like many before us, we would thoroughly recommend playing here.
Any course that is consistently ranked in world top 100 lists is always going to increase your own expectation levels going into your first round there. This was certainly the case at Woodhall Spa- for somewhere in England I hadn’t heard a great deal about what made the Hotchkin course so good, or seen lots of photos of special holes.
Woodhall Spa completely met my expectations, and some. Driving in through the Lincolnshire countryside you wouldn’t expect there to be an expanse of sand that gives the course it’s firm playing characteristics, and makes the many large deep bunkers sustainable.
It’s a very flat piece of land, but the bunkering is so spot on that it makes the course extremely memorable. Every shot has to be considered strategically- off the tee there is always decisions to be made, and certain misses round the green can signal complete death for a golfer’s scorecard.
You start to realise the subtlety going on early in your round, for example the 3rd is a blind tee shot, but wiley golfers will realise that they had a glimpse of the 3rd fairway from the 2nd green. The course plays very firm and the bunkers are basically cut into the side of greens, and although I haven’t experienced Melbourne Sandbelt golf yet, I would expect this to be the UKs closest version to it.
An example of the trouble always lurking is on the short par 4 4th, where I hit Driver into a greenside bunker, but was never making less than a bogey because of being so out of place. The 5th is a downhill par 3 with the green sloping away from you, making it very hard to hold the green.
Every hole is great in its own right, but I particularly enjoyed the closing stretch. 15 has a epic green, and forces players to lay up because of heather and bunkering crossing the fairway short of the green. 17 is a brilliant short par 4, where the closer the player gets to certain fairway bunkers, the better angle they will have to the green (I hit 7 iron off this par 4 tee!). The 18th has 23 bunkers on it alone, and can play as a relatively short par 5 if bunkers are missed due to the firm terrain, but as with the rest of the course, it only takes a slight mistake for the player to be massively punished.
I can’t help but feel the Hotchkin course doesn’t get the plaudits it deserves with its location being slightly out the way from other golfing hotspots, but it is well worth a visit if you ever get the chance, and with the twilight rate being offered, it is also brilliant value.
It may be somewhat ill-advised to write a course review whilst sat in lockdown Britain. The absence of golf in my life for the past 2 months has added a rose-tint to every golfing memory, and therefore lesser courses may benefit from a kinder review than they might actually deserve. But there can be no doubt in Woodhall Spa’s place in the World Top 100. It really is a fabulous place to play golf.
It’s no secret that the Hotchkin course is known for its dramatic bunkers but simply knowing about them before you play won’t prepare you. They are truly terrifying. Large, deep, jagged, plentiful and cunningly placed. Tom Doak has certainly done a brilliant job.
But for me the most impressive thing about the Hotchkin course isn’t necessarily the bunkers. It’s how endlessly interesting and varied the course is, despite the fact it’s on land as flat as a pancake. There is not one hole where the green is noticeably above or below the tee and yet the quality of the routing, positioning of the bunkers and the shape of the greens more than make up for it.
It’s no doubt a tough challenge, but it’s a fair one. From each tee everything is laid out before you in plain sight. It’s up to you to choose a strategy and execute it. You will get the result your shot deserves every time.
I believe there are no weak holes at Woodhall Spa but there are certainly a couple that seem to stand out from the rest, in my memory at least. The 7th was probably my favourite on the whole course. A sweeping dogleg right par 4 with tall trees lining the left hand side and predictably enormous bunkers on the right. The braver the tee shot, the easier the approach.
12 was my favourite of the three par 3s and probably the most difficult too. You tee off through a chute in the tall trees towards a long, slender green guarded by three deep bunkers on the right and one outrageously deep bunker on the left. There’s nothing picturesque in the traditional sense about Woodhall Spa. No great vistas or perfectly manicured surfaces. But I think there’s a real rustic beauty to place and for me number 12 is the best example of that.
The final stretch is one of the best I’ve played and to be honest it could almost start on number 12. 13, 14 and 15 are all crackers but let’s focus on the final three. On the course planner 16 may look a bit dull. It’s dead straight and I believe the only hole on the course with no bunkers, but after having been beaten up for the previous 15 holes it’s a really pleasurable 2 shooter.
17 is a fabulous short par 4. Drivable for the bigger hitters but it’s one hell of a risk. Only a perfectly shaped draw will find the green, as the huge bunker lines the final 40 yards of the left hand side of the fairway.
Then to 18, a grand finale befitting this grand golf course. A long, straight par 5 that’s reachable in 2 if you can thread a drive between the various, angled fairway traps. I’ve seen photographs of how the hole looked prior to Mr. Doak’s remodelling and I think more than anywhere else on the course, this is where his work has made the biggest impact. It’s a tremendous sight from the tee and an utter joy to play.
If you’ve never played Woodhall Spa I believe it’s well worth the trip. Value for money is of course subjective and therefore probably shouldn’t affect the reviews on this site too much. But it’s worth saying that were this course in Surrey alongside the more famous heathland titans, you’d be looking close to a £200 green fee I’m sure. But here in the remote Lincolnshire countryside, a twilight round will cost less than 70 quid. If you can find a round of golf better than this for less than that, I’m all ears.
This is a fantastic golf course. I hadn’t played before the recent renovations so can’t comment on the changes but I can confirm that the course that exists today is almost perfect.
I played on a miserable rainy day and yet this was up there as one of my favourite golfing experiences. I can’t wait to get back again.
The holes flow beautifully with each hole wonderfully defined by the heather and the trees (in most places, the latter is just far enough away to only be in play for a really wild shot). The bunkers are tough and penal and your game needs to be on point or you’ll have a very sandy and heathery day.
No weak holes to mention but some of the highlights were the opening 4 par 4s, the short par 3 5th is fantastic and impossible if you miss the green. 6 and 7 are lovely holes and the long par 3 8th is a real challenge. The par 4 11th followed by the par 3 12th is probably my favourite stretch with some of the deepest bunkers I have ever seen on 12.
Some great holes coming in and 18 is a cracking finish. Too many great holes to mention.
Needless to say, I cannot wait to come back and sample this course many more times. It’s a great value green fee for one of the world’s best.
I have played the Hotchkin a number of times in recent years, and it is always in superb, if intimidating, condition. It is a proper heathland course, and over the last couple of years they have been trying to return the course to its pure state, removing non- indigenous flora. The bunkering is plentiful and severe, and makes the course a real test of golf for the purist. The tees are always perfect. The fairways are wide enough for an averagely accurate drive, and the greens are smooth and true, and, most importantly, never so fast that the pace of play is slowed, but fast enough to take the well read borrow. The facilities at the club are excellent, with good food and drink at reasonable prices. The course is quite flat, so easy to walk. The layout offers great variation in hole type, so you can remember every hole as a separate entity. The bunkering is quite savage at times- just don’t go in them!
Woodhall Spa the best course in Lincs. I used to love this place, one of my top 5 in the world, due to its brutle diffuculty. Unfortunately not now. The changes that have been made in my opinion are not good. Hole 1 and 5 being the only exception. The removal of hundreds of trees has made the course visually far easier to play. Before the Hotchkin was an intimadating place. One poor shot and you were in huge trouble. Not now. Holes 6, 7, 10 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 all now considerably easier to play. Wider fairways and huge areas of trees removed, such a shame. Don't get me wrong woodhall is still a very good golf course. Unfortunately it is no longer as great as it once was.
I presume you played it in January, which i did. First of all, it is in its winter state, rough is down, tees pushed 20 to 80 yards further up. I played it in the summer last year and it was a completely different story. The test is far more now, if you play from the correct spots and i think the course has a far more natural, classic feeling now. Go back in the summer when the heather is up and the fairways and greens are quicker, its a totally different animal.
All about opinions Sam, I think you're wrong. Steve, I have played Woodhall 50+ times over the years, it's still great but no where near what it was.
Ok Carl, its all about opinion but i think you will be in the minority. I did notice you rated Woodhall below Notts an Coxmoor, while they are both mighty fine courses, i 100% cant agree with that. They are both a notch below Woodhall as golf courses, but each to their own.
I too disagree strongly. The whole purpose of removing the trees was to remove visual clutter and return the course to a traditional heathland golf course as the original designers intended. The trees framed each hole, but in the main did not come in to play unless you were way off line. The new and renovated bunkering has transformed the visual aspect of many holes. How you can think the 18th is weakened by the addition of 6 new bunkers from the tee, which have been installed in such a way as to look as if they have always been there is unbelievable. I am a member at Woodhall Spa and have played here for 40 years. The work that has been done over the last 4 years has massively enhanced the reputation of the course as borne out by its revised World ranking.
The course is now more difficult, not easier as the positioning of many of the new bunkers is as clever as the original ones and they have also been shaped so that they swallow a ball up.
Woodhall Spa is still underrated by many in spite of its ranking. Some people need to play it several times to fully appreciate the subtlety of the holes. It sounds like you are one of them.
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.