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


How much do you, or anyone else for that matter, know about Major Hotchkin’s design philosophies?

It’s not like there are 10 courses for you to go and study so you really have to respect what he did here. I have to make some assumptions about his philosophy based on here. We’re really not changing the golf course very much at all – we’re restoring it.

We’ve had some good old pictures to go by and we’re restoring what we can and at the same time were trying to fix things that have got messed up over the years and make it more maintainable.

Mr Hotchkin’s son actually kept digging the bunkers deeper over time and he was only concerned about playability and not maintenance.

As a result, you’ve got bunkers where there’s an eight-foot face that’s vertically steep and it’s facing south where the grass has a really hard time because it dries out faster.

They play a lot more rounds of golf here than they used to too, so there’s more traffic and more play and more sand getting exploded up the face and more people trying to climb up the face to get a look at where the pin is.

There are a dozen bunkers here that Sam (the course manager) has no chance of keeping grass on the face of.

So we’re trying to fix that without changing the bunker dramatically.


Tom Doak Woodhall Spa restoration – continues below

Woodhall Spa 7th fairway2

Above: The area to the right of the 7th fairway will become a sandy wasteland 


Beyond the severe bunkering, what do you think Hotchkin’s design philosophies were?

It’s what I said about the greens. He didn’t build greens like most people by digging the bunkers, throwing the dirt up in the middle and building a rectangular green then tilting it back towards the fairway a little bit. His greens mostly lay on the ground and if the hole is playing downhill the green just keeps going downhill away from you.

I don’t know what he would have done with a hillier piece of land. This land is gentle enough that you can do that and not worry about the green having too much tilt to work.

He didn’t have to worry about doing anything artificial – there wasn’t any place where he built a green that was too steep on its own.

So you’ve got greens like the 9th, which just tilts hard right to left and goes away from you a little bit and there’s a little ridge at the front right and if you leave yourself short and right it’s a very tricky chip shot to get within 15 feet of the hole.

Even the 6th, if you hit a draw into the green, the green is tilted right to left and if it goes around the left bunker it could roll off the side of the green into a gorse bush right now. That gorse bush won’t be here this time next year. That’s just ridiculously severe.

It’s the kind of thing that wasn’t here originally – and we’re clearing back a lot of that stuff.

We’re trying to clear more trees and reclaim more heather – that’s probably the biggest change.

If this course were near London I don’t know if they’d want us sawing down some of these pine trees and silver birch but up here you’ve got two things going for you.

One, it’s not really a member-owned club any more so you don’t have a committee of members that are attached to every tree as a living thing. And two, Natural England, who oversee maintaining the heath here, are all in favour of us cutting more trees down and putting the heath back.

So instead if the resistance you encounter at a lot of courses about cutting the trees, they’re all in favour of that – go for it, do more!

That’s a contrast to somewhere like Sunningdale where they probably should do that but it’s much harder to do.

Woodhall Spa 10th green

Above: The green at the short 10th

Previous article
Next article