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19 miles SE of Lincoln
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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?
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.”
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
Woodhall Spa is a credit to itself, and is well worthy of its lofty position in the top 100.
The course plays fantastic, with the bunkers the obvious highlight, unless you go in them of course, and the value for money is outstanding.
Make the trip here and you will not be disappointed.
Woodhall Spa Hotchkin course (June 2017) was my first golf trip to Lincolnshire and as the home of English Golf with it's high ranking and excellent reviews I was expecting great things. The first thing that struck me was that it was virtually in Woodhall Spa high street (for some reason i expected it to be out in the country), and to be honest I was a bit underwhelmed on arrival. The clubhouse was somewhat dated and the proshop fairly average, but the range good (with the auto doors an excellent idea).
Course condition was good. Greens were true albeit not that quick (not quite as good as Beau Desert where I played day before). Bunkers are the obvious and well written about feature of the Hotchkin and yes there were lots and yes they were deep, but many of them I thought were a bit tatty with quite a lot of sand and not welled raked. As this is the home of English Golf I did expect a top conditioned course setting the standards for elsewhere and it didn't match this level of expectation; it wasn't poor, it was good, but not top quality (for example like Parkstone which i played last year)
We played off the yellow tees and the Hotchkin was certainly one of the toughest tracks I have played, a definite 6 baller for toughness ! You need to take your A game, with bunkers, rough and heather awaiting errant shots. No poor holes, good par 3's (only three), and some really tough par 4's; I particularly liked nr's 11, 13 and 16 as you could actually see the hazards in front of you. The 18th is a really tough finishing par 4, (especially when you get the wrong (right hand) side of the fairway), however the non-beautiful brick building behind the green does detract from it's beauty. Most of the holes seemed fairly straight and many of the drives over expanses of heather (because the course is flat) mean't that it was not always easy to see where the ball finished up. Not too many dog-leg holes (nr 7 a lovely tee shot, 10 and 17 spring to mind), and generally I thought the flatness of the course with the the lack of elevational change, and the lack of vistas mean't there was a certain lack of variety.
Overall I came away a tad disappointed (perhaps my expectations were too high) and wondering (hope it's not heresay to think this) whether it's lofty place in the rankings is partly because it is the home of English Golf. Tough undoubtedly yes. Very good course yes, but I think there are more interesting heathland courses, and Notts Hollinwell remains my favourite inland course
There are few better places to enjoy a full day of golfing than at Woodhall Spa. Home to the National Golf Centre and England Golf, the governing body for the amateur game in this country, Woodhall Spa has the luxury of two courses.
It is the famed Hotchkin that grabs most of the headlines, and rightly so, because this is undoubtedly one of the finest golf courses in the British Isles and for many the ultimate inland golfing experience.
The Hotchkin is a wonderfully surreal place to enjoy a round of golf. Here you will find glorious seclusion on an inspiring piece of land that was touched by JH Taylor, Harry Vardon and Harry Colt but was ultimately shaped, through the endless work and love of the property, by Colonel Stafford Vere Hotchkin.
Hotchkin retained the Colt routing but remodelled many of the holes by moving greens and tees and adjusting hazard locations. The formidable bunkers that the course is notorious for today are due in the main to work carried out by the prominent member who effectively saved the club by offering them the present site in 1902. It was fittingly named after him once the new course at Woodhall Spa, the Bracken, was opened in 1995.
The course has many admirers amongst the ranking fraternity and regularly features near the very top of not just national lists but also as one of the leading courses in the world.
Everything about the Hotchkin oozes quality; it has that indescribable touch of class that only the crème de la crème of golf courses possess. The design and absorbing nature of the holes, the routing of the course, the unique bunkers, the quality of turf and the pureness of the greens all help create an unforgettable experience.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
I played with 3 others on 6th and 7th June. I have played here a few times before and try to get over on play when I can. On the first day it rained continuously and there were strong winds. The following day was dry and the wind was even stronger.
I see golfers agitating over whether the Hotchkin is better than some other course, or whether it deserves its ranking, as if these things matter. It has an understated charm and class that is magical. I am very lucky to have played at Turnberry, Birkdale, the Old Course and many others regarded as amongst the very best but I think this is my FAVOURITE course. Better than others? When courses are this good trying to separate them becomes meaningless.
As always the course was in magnificent condition. Despite the continuous heavy rain the bunkers had no standing water and surprisingly (to me) remained very playable. I found the deep bunkers on each of the short par threes and got out each time from the wet sand. On virtually any other course we would have been miserable given the conditions but cold and wet we still had fun. Having been here a few times I now know what I want to do on each hole but the challenge is to play each shot perfectly with a mistake likely costing two shots or more. The design is magnificent with options on every hole and infinite subtlety. It is as others have said a timeless classic course. Those who don't "get it" surely have no golfing soul.
When driving off the beaten track through the flat plains of Lincolnshire, you do start to wonder how this vast area of farmland could be home to one of the country’s best courses, but when arriving at Woodhall Spa, you find yourself amongst a green golfing oasis. Playing the Hotchkin is a pleasure; stretches of heather line the perimeters of the fairways creating an excellent challenge for the visiting golfer with superb routing throughout.
Naturally, no review of Woodhall Spa would be complete without mentioning the bunkers. The cavernous bunkers offer the highlight of the round and probably represent the best bunkering I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in the UK. This is best highlighted by the short 5th hole where ten-foot deep bunkers create an island green, one of which I had the displeasure of entering leading my playing partner to think I’d gone missing for a few seconds. On the longer holes, keeping the ball on the fairway comes at a premium, and when combined with some 180+ yard carries to hit the fairway, shorter hitters will struggle to score.
Whilst a memorable day’s golf will be enjoyed by most at Woodhall Spa, it does fall just short of golfing perfection. The green undulations and contours are a little on the subtle side for my tastes and when compared to other fine heathland courses such as Woking, are a slight let down.
I do also admit to having a bias for courses that offer an element of rise and fall, of which The Hotchkin offers none, but despite this it’s still undoubtedly a very fine course. The course improvement work by Tom Doak and his team will considerably enhance the layout. The back 9 needs additional tree clearance and heather regeneration, but going by the newly created area of wasteland found on the right of the dogleg 7th hole, the course is only going to improve its already glowing reputation. By 2022, I expect the course will well deserve its status as one of the absolute best courses in the UK, but it’s not quite hitting these heights for me in its current state. A solid 5-ball rating.
Played the Hotchkin course on an overcast, relatively calm April day. Course conditioning was excellent and the staff was friendly and helpful. The Hotchkin fully earned its status as a classic, must-play layout. The degree of difficulty was significant, but not to the point of discouraging an occasional bold shot. Fairways are the "right" width in terms of requiring some precision off the tee (often carrying 100-150 yards of gorse), but not overly punitive. Fairway and greenside bunkering is plentiful, but again reasonable. Greens were in great shape, holding well-struck irons and providing straightforward "reads". Petwood Hotel is a great option in this town.