Tucked away in the quaint little resort village after which it is named, the Woodall Spa Golf Club is laid out amongst a forest of mature pines and birch that give it a wonderful sense of isolation from the outside world. In fact its location is probably somewhat to its own detriment. Despite being home to England’s National Golf Centre, with no major roads taking you there, finding Woodhall Spa can be a bit of a mission in it’s self. However for those that are willing to make the journey to Lincolnshire in search of good golfing grounds, your efforts will be well rewarded with a round on this beautiful inland layout.
Woodhall Spa has 36 holes: the Hotchkin Course and the Bracken Course, with the former being the older and superior layout of the two, and the focus of this review. The Hotchkin Course is a fine test of one’s golfing ability, largely due to the very deep, and extremely large bunkers found scattered throughout the layout. These enormous bunkers can be found flanking the edges of fairways – often lurking amongst beautiful patches of heather and long grass – as well as fronting or surrounding many of the green complexes.
The bunkers are obviously the headlining act in the course’s defence. It is the visually striking yet penal roughs, and large greens - which can make three-putting a real possibility – that both play solid supporting roles. Additionally, forced carries over heather off many tees - some being upwards of 200 yards from the back markers - would no doubt intimidate the average golfer and definitely add to the difficulty of the layout.
All of this boils down to the fact that in order to score well at Woodhall Spa, one must drive the ball well, and do so all day.
In singling out some of the course’s finer holes - depending on your taste - there is plenty to choose from.
The par threes are particularly challenging, and as a set of one-shot holes, are some of the most unforgiving I have encountered. Even from the back markers the 5th and 12th play at 148 and 176 yards respectively, meaning that many golfers will only require a short to mid iron. However missing the green on either of these two holes is likely to result in an extremely difficult recovery shot from one of the very deep greenside bunkers that surround the respective putting surfaces. Playing at 209 yards from the tips, the 8th is the by far the longest, and rounds out the trio of fine one shot holes. The tee shot is slightly uphill, and must carry a lone cross bunker in the fairway, sited some thirty yards short of the green. Three more bunkers flank either side of the large green to the front – two on the left and one on the right – ready to swallow up anything that strays too far off a decent line.
But there is far more to this course than simply some challenging short holes. The biggest strength of the Hotchkin Course for me would have to be the fact that it possesses a number of great holes spread over a variety of lengths.
Of the great par fours, the pick for me is the 338 yard 10th, where your drive must skirt two fairway bunkers with the first being sited on the left, the second a little further up on the right. This hole dog-legs from left to right, and it is a drive that splits the two fairway bunkers while still slightly favouring the left-hand side that is best rewarded by a short approach into the open-fronted green. The safe route is to play out to right and short of the second fairway bunker, though from here you must approach the green at an angle that shortens the depth of the green considerably, whilst also avoiding a pair of bunkers sited short right and two more long and left. To keep the approach interesting the green falls away from you, ensuring your approach requires deft judgement in length to get the ball close for a birdie putt.
If I had one slight bit of criticism of the Hotchkin Course it would be the greens, which despite being on the larger side of average, are not very strongly contoured. In a perfect world they might possess some stronger slopes to make them more interesting. However, given the significant challenges that one faces in reaching these surfaces in regulation, I gladly accept their mild contouring as being a fair trade-off that likely keeps the course from being too punishing for the average golfer (myself included). In fact it’s reasonable to suggest that the gently sloping putting surfaces would be a warmly welcomed respite by most who play here. Their size still makes three-putting a real possibility anyway, so let’s not split hairs.
The Hotchkin Course at Woodhall Spa is a fine layout that has well and truly earned its reputation for possessing strategic challenge, beauty, and deep, intimidating bunkers. If you’re not driving well, I’d recommend you steer clear until such time as you are. For everyone else, golf here in the summer is absolute bliss…
This review is an edited extract from my Blog titled: An Architect Abroad. The full review can be found by clicking here along with photographs taken of the course. Please also note that my rating of the course here has been done specifically against the other courses which I visited on that trip, many of which rank very highly in the top 100 listed on this website for the United Kingdom. For that reason some ratings of courses may be lower than that given by other reviewers.
Date: July 08, 2015