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


What role do you believe should trees play at Woodhall Spa, bearing in mind that Hotchkin used to encourage their growth at one stage?

He did in places. It was never completely open heath here. That big stand of trees between the 7th and 14th and 15th was always there.

There are places where it was broken up so it’s not completely open like Walton Heath is. Especially the holes going out on the front nine were a lot more open with very few trees in between them. Those are the ones where I think we’ll get something back.

I spend more time than most architects because we do stuff by eye so much – the backgrounds for the greens are really important to me; that they don’t all look the same and there’s variety to them.

When you get a lot of holes with trees growing at the back of the green, it’s very repetitive and it gives depth perception, maybe more than you really want to give the player.

Here I think there’s much more scope to get a variety of that with the clearing we’re doing. Some holes will be playing with a big wood in the background but we’ll open it up elsewhere.

There’s a couple of places in the back nine where the routing goes away from the big open space and then comes back to it. The 15th is one, and they’d allowed the trees to grow right around the 15th green so you’re playing into trees.

The first time I was here in January, we were on the 8th green and I looked and there were a few trees right near the 8th green but because it was winter I could see the 15th was playing right towards the 8th green.  But you couldn’t really tell that when you were out in the summer so I had them clear the trees by the 8th green and the trees behind the 15th green and now you’re playing down a fairly narrow hole but it opens up into a big space behind and you see the flag for the 8th, 200 yards past and up the hill and it’s pretty dramatic.

There’ll be two or three other places that will wind up with something like that when we’re done.


Tom Doak Woodhall Spa restoration – continues below

Woodhall Spa 7th green

Above: The bunker left of the 7th green is being restored to its original shape


But you don’t want it to be as stark as taking out all of the trees?

No, but what I will do is in places like between 6 and 7, and 16 and 17, that was much more open, we’ll try to get that back.

There’s a major walking path that goes through the back nine, the Viking Way, and there’s some huge oaks along that because it’s been there forever.

But you don’t see the oaks very well from the course because there are lots of Silver Birches between there and the golf holes. So we’re going to clear some of those away.

Between 16 and 17 a lot of trees are going to go but right behind the 16th green there are giant rhododendron bushes that are 12 feet high, which is something we would never see in the States. They’re great-looking but they are kind of lost because there are a bunch of trees growing around them so we’re going to get rid of the trees so that’s the background to the green.


Does your remit extend to re-shaping any greens?

On this phase, no. On the next phase, both the 12th and the 5th holes, the two short par 3s that are pretty famous here have some serious maintenance issues in the bunkers.

Part of fixing that will be going inside the green a little bit. The bunkers have evolved somewhere, they get so much play, the sand builds up the lip of the bunker and that tapers into the green 10 feet.

You wind up with less area of the green to put hole locations and a steeper bank of bunker closer to the green and to get that bank of bunker maintainable will take down some of the stuff that’s been built up over time.

We’re really not changing the green so much as working inside the edges of the green in order to make it work.

The one change I’ve proposed is the 5th hole. Right now they have an alternate tee to the right. The main tee is right in between the 2nd green and the 4th green, sitting up, and it’s a huge traffic problem in season. You have people standing there for a while waiting for the group in front to get out of the bunkers. And with people hitting approach shots into both those other holes it’s pretty dangerous.

With the other tee, there’s no problem over there but it’s not big enough to use all the time so we’re going to build those tees up to make them bigger. The green is oriented more towards the left tee so we’re going to do a little work to change the orientation and the back of it and make it more playable from the right tee so we can use that 90 per cent of the time.

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