Exclusive: Architect Tom Doak on the restoration of Woodhall Spa

Golf News

One of the world’s most renowned architects is currently carrying out a restoration of the Hotchkin course at Woodhall Spa. We sat down with him

The Tom Doak Woodhall Spa restoration is one of the most significant architectural events we have seen in Britain in recent years.

Doak is among the most feted of modern course designers. His company, Renaissance Golf Design, have earned a global reputation both for their sensitive restorations of great old courses around the world, and also for their own creations.

In the former category are the likes of Royal Melbourne, Pasatiempo, Chicago, Mid-Ocean, Broadmoor, San Francisco and Cherry Hills.

In the latter, Pacific Dunes (at Bandon Dunes), Ballyneal, Cape Kidnappers, Barnbougle Dunes, Streamsong Blue and Renaissance, which sits between Muirfield and North Berwick.

Doak, 55, is also the author of The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses. The original version acquired cult status for its bold and forthright views.

It was written after he had taken a year out from his studies in design and landscape architecture in 1982. He spent six months living in St Andrews and the other half of the year travelling around the British Isles studying many of our classic courses.

Now it has been updated and become a series of several books. The volumes looking at the British Isles and the Americas are already out, with the rest of the world being tackled in two future books.

Doak’s latest project is to restore the Hotchkin course at Woodhall Spa, in the heart of Lincolnshire.

He and his team have just broken ground on what will be a three-year project.

Tom Doak Woodhall Spa restoration – continues below

Tom Doak Woodhall Spa

This winter, they are working on the 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 13th. Six more holes will be tackled in late 2017 with the remainder the following year. The project will be completed by early 2019.

Considering this is the first time he has tackled a restoration project of this scale on a course in the British Isles, it is quite a coup for Woodhall Spa.

And it also gave us the rare opportunity to spend a morning with Doak when he was on site.

Tom Doak Woodhall Spa

Above: The 7th green

How familiar were you with Woodhall Spa before this project and did what you found compare to what you remembered?

The first time I came here was when I spent my year overseas after college. I was going from one course to another without much of an itinerary for most of a year. I lived in St Andrews for the first few months and I wrote letters to clubs in England and said I was interested in seeing their course and why.

With this one, it was Hotchkin’s course and I didn’t know much about Hotchkin and I got a response from his son – sure, you’re welcome to come and see it, stop in and see me.

So I had tea with him and got a good look at the golf course and I’ve been back a few more times since then.

 

You rate Woodhall Spa among the very best inland courses in the British Isles. Can you explain what sets it apart?

There are three things that make it memorable. One, that it’s set apart from London a little bit. Just the fact it’s out on its own make it a little more mysterious.

Honestly, it’s probably ranked a little higher because it’s right here rather than in between Sunningdale and The Berkshire and Swinley Forest.

 

You think that helps Woodhall?

Yes, it does.

Two, both Hotchkin’s name and his style of what he was doing were a little bit different so it does feel different to most other courses.

Three, the bunkers have made it famous. They’re deep and nasty. That’s really the character of the golf course but it’s not the only thing that makes the golf course good.

People forget that there aren’t any dramatic contours on the greens.

It feels like the closest comparison that I’d make to another course in the UK is Walton Heath. The greens are not built to help you at all. They’re not mounded up at the back, they’re kind of sliding to the side and sliding away from you and they’re not that big and they don’t hold very well.

So it’s more important to get to one side of the fairway and cut the ball back into the slope instead of just hitting away and thinking it’s going to stop where it lands – you don’t get that much here.

Tom Doak Woodhall Spa restoration – continues below

Woodhall Spa 13th fairway 2

Above: The trees to the right of the 13th had encroached so much that Doak discovered an entire bunker in the woodland

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