Woburn (Marquess)

Woburn (Marquess)

The Woburn Marquess was just a year old when the European Tour’s finest players arrived to give the course its ultimate examination. That was for the British Masters in 2001, but the Marquess has certainly passed the test of time. For those who do not know the club, it is worth explaining a little more about the way Woburn works. It has three top-quality courses – which puts it in a very distinguished group within the United Kingdom.

In fact, only the St Andrews Links Trust (Old, New, Jubilee, Eden, Strathtyrum, Balgove, Castle), Wentworth (West, East, Edinburgh) and Frilford Heath (Red, Blue, Green) spring to mind as golfing centres than can rival Woburn for both quality and quantity.

One of the most interesting things about Woburn is the fact there is no universal agreement as to the order the courses rank in – ask three different people and you will probably get three completely different answers.

We are on safer ground by stating that the Duchess is the shortest and tightest, while the Marquess is the longest and most open, with the Duke’s somewhere in between and closer to the Duchess in style.

You will probably have seen the Woburn logo on local boy Ian Poulter’s sleeve – raised in nearby Bedfordshire. The Ryder Cup star, second here in the 2002 British Masters to Rose, has been a club ambassador for years and has a prime parking spot reserved for whenever he drops in.

Poulter played an important part in returning the British Masters in 2015 to not only the Marquess, but also the European Tour schedule after a brief absence.

The Marquess was designed by a team of four: Ross McMurray, Clive Clark, Peter Alliss and Alex Hay. Hay, the much-loved former BBC commentator, lives locally and has been heavily involved with the club for over 30 years, first as the club professional and then as its managing director. The course they designed measures well over 7,000 yards, and is easily the youngest of the three layouts here.
This is a course on a grand scale – 200 acres largely filled by pines, oaks, birches and beech trees.

The other two, the Duke’s and Duchess, opened in the 1970s and while the setting of all three is similar, it is clear that the Marquess belongs to a different era of golf course architecture.

While the Duchess particularly and the Duke’s to a slightly lesser extent can be claustrophobic, the pines silently encroaching with every second you stand over your ball, the Marquess is much more generous from the tee.

This is a course on a grand scale – 200 acres largely filled by pines, oaks, birches and beech trees.

Its rolling, undulating fairways invite you to let rip with the driver but all is not always as it appears, because being on the correct side of the fairway can often leave a significantly easier approach.

The greens very much match the fairways, in the sense that you will only rarely have a flat putt and may well face some very long ones.

The start is relatively generous – a sub-400 yard par 4 followed by a reachable par 5. Thereafter things get much more difficult. The 3rd is surely the hardest hole on the front nine, almost 475 yards from the back tees, although it does drop into a valley.

Undoubtedly the highlight of the front nine, and certainly the most talked-about hole on the Marquess, is the 7th.

At this par 5 you have a clear decision to make – a stand of pines is in the middle of the fairway. Take the safe route to the left and accept it as a three-shotter; or gamble by driving down the narrower right side and give yourself the chance of going for the green in two.

As with many holes here, the choice is to play conservatively and avoid disaster, or be bold in pursuit of glory. The highlights of the back nine come in the shape of a long par 3 and the shortest par 4 on the course.

At the latter, the 12th, you must avoid two ponds and a stream to leave yourself a birdie putt while the former demands a wood (for most) across a valley to a mercifully large, if sloping, green.

With two long 4s either side of an awkward short hole to finish, the Marquess is designed to test right until the end.

And that is just as it should be on a modern, championship course that is the perfect complement to Woburn’s older and more established charms.