- +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.”
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.
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.