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½ mile NE of Woodhall Spa
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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?
The future of the Hotchkin was addressed in 2015 as there was serious concern about the poor condition of the bunkers, the encroachment of trees and the general more parkland feel of the layout. Tom Doak and his Renaissance Golf Design team were called in develop a plan that would see the course through the following twenty-five years of operation. In the architect's words: “Generally removing visual clutter so that the unique bunkering can dominate the views.”
Key areas to be tackled included the renovation of all the bunkers, the significant removal of trees and scrub, the restoration of heather and heathland characteristics, and the return of greens to their original dimensions.
The plan was to tackle six holes a year for three years, starting in December 2016. Tom Doak and his team carried out the shaping and the club’s in-house green keeping team finished the re-instatement work that was necessary.
Holes 7 to 11 and 13 were completed in phase 1, holes 5, 6, 12, 14, 16 and 17 in phase 2 and the remaining holes in phase 3. During the project, 43 new bunkers were constructed or re-introduced, three greens were moved and re-shaped, more than 30,000 square metres of turf was hand laid, 90,000 square metres of scrub cleared, and 10,000 trees cleared.
The journey to play this heathland gem is not easy for most visiting golfers, but the green fee is great value, especially if you are a member of an English golf club.
I think heathland golf is my favourite type of golf, so I was in for a treat at the Hotchkin. Looking at older photos, the tree clearance programme has really had a dramatic effect of opening up the course, allowing light and air to circulate, but also bringing back open views and creating a feeling of space and grandeur.
The bunkering is what makes this course so strategic, some of it looks very intimidating (e.g. par 3 5th) but it is not overly penal. Playing in mid-April, the rough and heather were not too tough, so I found this course very fair and playable. The downside was that the greens were poor following spring maintenance. Every club has to do this, it's just frustrating to miss out on the full experience. I'd like to come back here mid summer when the greens and fairways are really fast and firm.
A big plus for me is that the club seemed entirely unpretentious, devoid of the stuffiness prevalent in many top-ranked British courses.
Although this is a very classy 18 holes, I'm not sure why this sits in a world top 100 ahead of either course at the Berkshire (for example). I need a second visit!
This course is a joy to play, I really am struggling to think of one shot that didn't provide you with a conundrum to solve. Whether you succeeded in completing the challenge is another matter, but the quality of the course soothed negative thoughts away.
Although I haven't played all the top courses I think you would struggle to find a better trio of par 3's anywhere. Each par 3 shows its defences from the tee and makes you feel you are playing a game of chess against the golf course.
The course has a high stroke index, there are some decent carries to the fairway, significant naturalized bunkering to avoid and heather and gorse for the most wayward, but it isn't penal and there are good opportunities for good scoring when you correctly solve the conundrum posed.
We were having so much fun that the 4 hour round flew by and my playing partner and myself were just wishing that we lived closer. Excellent course.
When you mention “Woodhall Spa” to golfers, most of them know what you’re on about. This is simply due to its reputation and the fact that it’s one of the best golf courses on the planet. Even though I’m a low handicapper, I must say that I was a little worried about what my performance would be like on this course, as I heard that it was quite a difficult one. However, to my delight I managed to shoot quite low.
Besides the fact that this golf course is one of the best in the world, as soon as you walk into the pro shop you get a sense that the people are really nice and friendly, and a credit to their club. Before you start your round, you are given the opportunity to use the short game area or use the high-tech driving range. This is a must for me, as I really wanted to enjoy the overall experience of the course.
As soon as you step onto the first tee, you look around and struggle to find something that doesn’t look magnificent. You get this unbelievable sense that you’re about to play one of the best golf courses you’ve ever played. I think the layout of the course is perfect and you do find yourself constantly looking around and taking photos, due to how magnificent the course is. The tees, fairways and greens were in great condition and you could tell that this course is very well taken care of. As someone who stayed 2 nights in Lincolnshire, I definitely recommend doing the same, as both courses were worth the 3 hour journey.
It was with high expectations that our group arrived on the first tee of the Hotchkin. A warm up round on the Bracken, a pint and a nice intro by the starter had us chomping at the bit.
As early as the second green I felt we were on a special course. The bunkering, mentioned by many of the reviewers here, is exceptional and demands constant attention and the spongy fairways are a joy. Melting a crisp 5-iron from the fairway of the 5th was worth the green fee alone.
The design and layout is a strategic test but equally just good fun. The course weaves you in different directions with the wispy, heathery rough defining each hole on the front 9 with trees shaping the holes on the back. You want to play well to do the holes justice.
Driving the ball well is a must (I didn’t) and if you can we felt there were good scores to be had. The greens weren’t that difficult in our opinion.
Overall there’s no doubt it’s a great course. Woodhall Spa is a decent little golf weekend break and worth a journey. Not sure if the global ranking is fully accurate if I’m honest but it doesn’t matter. My only real criticism is they need some better beer in the clubhouse.
Lucky to play this course, the natural architecture has stood the test of time. Fast and firm this place plays very similar to a links, with huge cavanous bunkers. Always in great condition and well worth the long journey to play
Woodhall has a big reputation these days so it’s natural to go into it expecting big things. I was a little underwhelmed, it lacks the grandeur and hills of some of its Surrey and Berkshire cousins, and I caught it at a time with bobbly, soft greens. I’m sure there’s a valid reason for that.
The bunkers certainly do live up to the hype. You will quickly learn that plotting your way around these is the key to scoring, even if it means turning a par 4 into a 5. The fairways are wide though, so it’s always tempting to open your shoulders.
The 5th might be the pick of the par 3s, with gnarly bunkers short-right and almost as deep bunkers back-left. It’s a real test for us right-handers. The 6th is then as long a par 4 as I’ve played, at 465 from the yellows. Some GPSs even have it down as a par 5.
The back 9 has a few more trees, none of which encroach too much. There also seem to be fewer bunkers on this part of the course. An exception is the short par 4 15th, with its green more or less an island thanks to the sand.
Overall I found Woodhall to be very good and consistent, but not worthy of such a high ranking. It feels a little overhyped because of its remote location and the Tom Doak effect, but I’m sure I’d enjoy it more in firmer conditions and with better greens.
Played it a couple of days ago too and agree that the greens were slow and bobbly, which was a shame. Otherwise I thought the course was in very good condition considering how much footfall it must get. The bunkers, especially the greenside ones, were beautiful to play out of and probably my favourite thing about the course.
I am delighted to have joined Woodhall Spa as a Country Member. 1 hour 45 min drive from Sheffield is worth every drop of petrol spent, and then some. This is a class track, ranked as a high as 54th in the World in some publications and fully deserving these lofty heights.
The work that Tom Doak has done is fantastic. The course is heathland perfection. The fairways are generous, but they run fast given the springy turf they are laid out over, but any slightly wayward drive or shot is rewarded by your next shot being out of the bunkers, which line every hole and surround every green with the only exception being the 16th.
The front 9, up to the half way house is more open than the back 9 which wends its way alongside native woodland, with more holes tree lined as a result. This adds a nice balance to the overall round, as you see buzzards (and fighter jets) above you.
I can see that some reviews have felt that the 13th and 14th are the weakest holes. I would argue that there isn't one weak hole on the course. The 13th probably just needs a little more interest around the green and the 14th is short for a par 5, but it does present a great scoring opportunity.
My favourite parts of the course are the fabulous 15th green, in a bowl surrounded by bunkers, it has distinct links like feel to it; the 12th hole, played slightly uphill to a raised narrow green surrounded by deep bunkers left and right; the clever par 3 5th, where the green is 2 tiered (not noticeable off the tee) with deep bunkers awaiting anyone failing to find the putting surface.
The understated golf clubhouse and friendly welcome are just what you want when coming to the home of England Golf.
If you haven't played here, make the journey, stay overnight in the local hotels and then play the Hotchkin again (or the Bracken if you fancy a change). You will not be disappointed.
Congrats on joining Andy! The course sounds fantastic and surely you’re going to have bags of fun there in the years to come. Your favourite course in England?
The Batman & Robin of Dutch Golf will be swooping in later this year once we extricate ourselves from the elaborate and not so easily escapable trap set by our arch-nemesis, The Corona. Will let you know what we think of #14 & #15 - KAPOW!
Thanks BB. It is such a class track. I haven't played Sunningdale yet, but based on the courses I play in England this is my favourite inland course without a doubt. It trumps Ganton and whilst it doesnt have the elevation changes as say Hollinwell, its class shines through. You will love it, Corona permitting, of course.
Thats a big turn around Andy from your review from prior to the changes, after the changes had been made. Its great that you have been back to sample the new changes and were so impressed you joined. It is a top top track and i agree 100% trumps Ganton in every way. Enjoy!
We played this in the heatwave in-between lockdowns last year and the course was unbelievable.
Woodhall Spa is probably the most challenging course I have played however it lures you in with a fairly easy start and gives you a false sense of confidence. The bunkers are some of the best I have ever played out of with plenty of sand enabling you to play the right shot you need to get out. The greens were larger than other courses I've played however they rolled superb and made you take a second glance when reading a putt.
The heather is unreal, a word of advise, take your medicine and take the shortest route out back to the fairway as it's a scorecard ruiner!
As a review on the course only it's probably a league below the likes of Birkdale but isn't far off and is definitely a top 10 course in England.
The hospitality and clubhouse lets the overall club down a little however the course speaks for itself and is a must for any serious golfer.
I feel a little guilty for not giving this a perfect 6 but I feel I need to save room in case I get to play Pebble Beach or Augusta!! I have been lucky enough to play many world class courses and the Hotchkin is as good as anything I have played....nothing compares to the feeling stood on the 1st tee at the old course at St Andrews or perhaps the 16th,17th and 18th at TPC Sawgrass but the Hotchkin is a joy to play that for me gets better every time I have the pleasure. it’s beauty is there in natural abundance ,genius by design and easy to walk, but with ferocious bunkering. Not only is it worthy of all the accolades it receives but it is incredibly priced for such a course of this stature. In addition the clubhouse is itself a very non pompous affair that has the feel of a professional yet welcoming club that is actually pleased you are there. Their man Glyn Roddy that runs their open events is a perfect example of how top clubs should operate.
Quite simply make the journey and play it , then look back and question why did you ever pay the £££ you did to play the other similar ranked courses when you could of been playing this!!
This is far off the beaten track but well worth the time taken to get there. It is a beautifully presented course with colourful heather and excellent bunkering, undoubtedly enhanced by the recent upgrading. It is very playable but the heather, trees and bunkers can easily lead to high scores if you are not on your game. If I was being picky it lacks the elevation changes of Sunningdale, Hollinwell or Hankley but despite that all of the holes are interesting and challenging. I’m very keen to play the course again and will be trying to find a way to fit it into another golf itinerary.