Top 100 under £80: No. 2November, 2011
After Sunningdale, the finest inland course in Britain
A superlative and fair test
I AM aware that not everyone falls for Woodhall Spa on their first visit, writes Dan Murphy. Perhaps they have been frustrated by the journey – this is not the easiest place to get to despite being located in the middle of England.
The capillaries that pass as main roads in this part of the world make the last 20 miles take that much longer than you feel they should, and seem to ensure that you never arrive or leave by the same route twice.
Or maybe it is because Woodhall, for all its qualities, is not a spectacular course. Nor does it treat you to any cheap birdies, or flattering elevated tee shots.
But the more you play the Hotchkin (and, by the way, the newer Bracken course here, designed by Donald Steel, is also very good) the more you realise what a superlative and fair test it is.
Stretching to almost 7,100 yards from the championship tees (and a SSS of 75) this is the real deal, with additional protection coming from heather, gorse and, most of all, Woodhall Spa’s special brand of bunkering.
I would say the only course I know which is bunkered more severely, in terms of both number and depth, is Royal Lytham. Generally speaking, if you are in a greenside bunker you’ll be unable to see the bottom of the flag.
Perhaps the finest specimens are either side of the short 12th – from where you can see nothing in front of you but bunker face.
Mercifully, compared to those at certain links, the bunkers are quite large, which means only rarely are you faced with an awkward stance. And the sand is of such quality that good sand players will easily slide under the ball and create a fair amount of backspin.
None of which is any consolation should you find the equally punitive fairway bunkers, like the sand-filled craters that await on either side of the shelf-like 2nd fairway. The softest hole is almost certainly the 1st, an unremarkable par 4 that gives little clue as to what comes ahead but you will soon get the idea.
A personal favourite is the 3rd, where a blind drive leads to a generous fairway and an inviting approach to a green. And just to show that Woodhall is not all about long holes, the 15th, at little over 300 yards but with a sunken green in a ring of bunkers, is a wonderful short 4. Singling out holes, though, is not what the Hotchkin is all about.
Rather, it is the collective weight of 18 strong holes that make it arguably the best inland course in the British Isles.
Woodhall Spa is also the home of the English Golf Union, and playing here is not only great value, but also much easier to arrange than at most courses of a comparable stature.