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

You say in your Confidential Guide that you prefer Woodhall Spa to another great outpost of  English golf, Ganton. Can you explain why?

Ganton’s got the deep bunkers and that’s why people would put the two together. I love Ganton too but to me they are very different in style.

The greens here are a lot more like Walton Heath than Ganton, although it’s been a while since I’ve been back at Ganton.

 

How do you work when you are doing a restoration project overseas like this one?

Part of my business model is I have all these young people working for me and these three guys here for 15 years.

They should get credited as designers in their own rights. They’re all very good and when I don’t want to be so busy they go out and do consulting works for clubs that I’m not involved with at all. And in addition to being very sharp on design matters, they’re the best shapers I’ve ever seen on equipment.

When we’re building a new course I can go for a week at a time and they’ve been working on three or four holes while I’ve been gone and we can edit those and then get started on the next three holes and then I can go home or to some other part of the world to look at somewhere else. It’s so efficient because we can get so much done while I’m standing there looking at it.

I work by eye. With a lot of the little detailed stuff, we’re not changing very much. Sometimes to make the bunkers work better we’re lowering bunkers by maybe 18 inches or a foot or we’re flaring sand into the face. It would be almost impossible to show that on a plan because it’s such fine work. You’ve either got to trust someone to do it or be standing there throughout.

Tom Doak Woodhall Spa restoration – continues below

Woodhall Spa 11th fairway

Above: The trees left of the 11th fairway have been cleared out

 

How did you come to be involved at Woodhall?

We do consulting for a bunch of courses in the States – 30 or 40 clubs including a number of the top 100 courses in America and a few that weren’t in the top 100 until we did a lot of work to them.

I’ve always been known for that. I started doing that before I built Pacific Dunes and anybody paid much attention to me as a designer on my own. I try to be very faithful to the previous architect’s work rather than getting ideas to change two holes and make them different.

It’s kind of different in the States to here. Here, a lot of the courses go back to the turn of the century.

Woodhall Spa goes back to 1905, even though the course that everyone plays now was really finalised in the 1920s by Hotchkin and then he and his son kept tinkering with it but it’s basically theirs.

It’s hard to say who designed Muirfield – several guys worked on it to get it to where it is. That’s more accepted here whereas in the States it’s ‘Donald Ross built that course’ or ‘Alister MacKenzie built that course’. It’s kind of sacrosanct from the beginning that we don’t want to wreck that. We might try to figure out how that applies to today and how far people hit the ball but we’re not trying to change that because there’s a label attached to who designed it.

Five years ago, Royal Melbourne approached me to consult there. I’ve been there a lot and I’ve designed a few courses down there (Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania, St Andrews Beach in Victoria and Cape Kidnappers and Tara Iti in New Zealand). It’s an awful long way to go to do a couple of days of consulting work but it’s one of my favourite courses in the world so I said yes I would do that.

And now we consult on half dozen courses in Sydney and Melbourne Royal Adelaide too.

I hadn’t really looked but I’d had feelers from clubs over here over the years but to come this far to just work on one or two didn’t really make a lot of sense, especially when we were busier on new courses in the States.

Now that that business has slowed down a lot and now I’ve had two young people go through my internship programme and be working with us construction jobs that are from over here – one from England one’s from Germany – I’m trying to help them find some work closer to home and get to the point where they can do consulting on their own.

So Richard (Latham, Woodhall Spa’s general manager) called at the right time when I had time to come over here and I had a couple of people who could help get it built so I didn’t have to bring my whole crew with me. So we’ve been able to get a running start on the project.

 

Tom Doak Woodhall Spa restoration – continues below

Woodhall Spa 9th fairway

Above: Working on the cross bunkers on the 9th

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