- +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.”
I was a wee bit concerned as I walked onto the 1st green to see a couple of very nondescript small mounds defining the rear flank of the putting surface (who in their right mind ever thought they might add any strategic value or aesthetic quality to the hole?) but from there on it was top quality design all the way to the end. Very like Sunningdale in places, with severe carries across heather on several tee positions, the Hotchkin course is a wonderful layout that will keep you engaged for every inch of the 6519 yards that you’ll play from the yellows. Some seem to think that’s too short – not for me it isn’t when cavernous bunkers abound on every hole. I thought I’d seen it all by way of intimidating sand traps when I played Ganton a few years ago; well, those were mere sand pits for kiddies compared to some of the monster bunkers here – not quite sizeable enough to take a double decker bus but a few of the larger, grass-ramped specimens could comfortably hold a single deck minibus.
The three par threes vary in length from 143 to 187 yards from the regular markers and they’re all excellent short holes, especially as two of them (holes 8 and 12) play slightly uphill from tee to green. If you’re looking for affordable, top quality golf then you’ll be very hard pressed to pay a better value green fee than that charged here. I echo an earlier review from someone who called Woodhall Spa a place “for proper golfers” – how very true. Jim McCann
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