Woodhall Spa Golf Club's historic Hotchkin course has undergone a mamoth restoration at the hands of Tom Doak, but will it be enough to take the Lincolnshire course back into the upper echelons of the world's best golf courses rankings? We sent a fourball of club golfers along to get their views.
The historic Hotchkin course at Woodhall Spa Golf Club in rural Lincolnshire features prominently in the Golf World Top 100 course rankings and best courses lists around the world.
This classy heathland is famed – and feared – for its natural routing through heather and pines, dramatic bunkering and distinct tactical challenge. Brains win over brawn at Woodhall.
The home of England Golf and the National Golf Centre since 1995, golf has been played at Woodhall since 1890, though it wasn’t until 1905 that the first 18-hole layout, designed by Harry Vardon, opened. It was marked by an exhibition match involving the Great Triumvirate of Vardon, James Braid and JH Taylor – the latter pair both carding 68s.
Today’s course is a very different animal, especially following leading US architect Tom Doak’s three-year restoration project to restore the Hotchkin to its original open heath character, which meant the felling of 10,000-plus trees and more expansive bunkering. The greens area of 4,000sq/m are larger than they were, too.
“Our driving force was to improve the course so that golfers rated it inside the world’s top 50,” says Woodhall’s general manager Richard Latham. We think that has been achieved, but what did our fourball make of the changes?
Meet the TG Undercover players
Age: 53. Handicap: 4. Best golfing moment: Winning the 2017 Club Championship and registering a hole-in-one.
Age: 49. Handicap: 10. Best golfing moment: Playing Wentworth annually for the Rooprai Spinal Trust charity day.
Age: 55. Handicap: 6. Best golfing moment: my first hole-in-one on the 15th at Sherwood Forest.
Age: 43. Handicap: 11. Best golfing moment: Attending the 2017 Masters at Augusta National.
Woodhall Spa Golf Club factfile
Architects: Harry Vardon/Col. Stafford Vere Hotchkin/Harry Colt/Tom Doak
Yardage: 6,519-7,080 (par 71/73)
Green fees: £99 [England Golf] & £114 [non-England Golf]. Maximum handicaps of 24 [men] and 36 [ladies].
Star holes: This writer loves the 172-yard 12th. A classic par 3, it has featured in many lists of the world’s best short holes. It’s ridiculously protected by penal bunkers, including a cavernous 12ft-deep one lurking on the left. The par-5 18th is also a fabulous hole and a fitting end.
Famous for: The scary bunkers – back in 1974, one English Amateur Championship player, attempting to take a short cut in the gathering gloom, drove his car into the large trap guarding the 4th green. The sand traps certainly contribute to it being one of the most formidable inland courses around.
Our fourball's review of Woodhall Spa's Hotchkin course
Tees and green
Paul Showler: The tees were well presented, freshly cut and the perfect invite for the test ahead. Despite a thoroughly wet winter,
the greens were in great condition and played very well.
Wayne Howard: The tee boxes were immaculately presented and added to the overall sense of occasion on each hole. The greens themselves were delightfully undulating, fast yet fair, representing a wonderful challenge.
David Wheatley: The condition of the tees was excellent and considering the greens had been hollow-tined and sanded heavily the day before we played, they still performed very well.
David Gregg: We opted to play off the white tees, making the course a challenge at just a shade under 7,000-yards. The greens had just undergone maintenance, but were still in fine shape and ran true.
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PS: Overall, the Hotchkin was in great condition. We visited after the winter maintenance work and it was a credit to the staff.
WH: Despite the conditioning work due to persistent inclement weather, everything was more or less spot on. The fairways were firm and in pristine condition, the bunkers looked and played consistently throughout, likewise the greens.
DW: Excellent. Many courses would have closed following the weather endured in the week leading up to our visit. There won’t be a better draining course anywhere.
DG: The greens were fast and true, the tees tidy and flat. We were helpfully guided round with ropes and paths as heavy rain had impacted the course over previous weeks. Amazingly, we only saw a couple of standing water areas… the drainage was excellent.
Variety of holes and challenge of Woodhall Spa's Hotchkin course
PS: Simply a wonderful piece of land and a fair test of anyone’s game. The appointment of Tom Doak to carry out the recent refurbishment only underlines the club’s ambitions and the results certainly don’t disappoint.
WH: There is a wonderfully eclectic mix of par 3s, some devilishly long par 4s and even the odd short par 4 thrown in to tempt the longer hitters. Every hole represents a fun and unique challenge requiring patience, precision and accuracy.
DW: There’s barely a weak hole in sight, with the course picking its way through the woodland terrain to give you a very special layout. The front nine generally plays slightly tougher, but wherever you are on the course, a double bogey awaits after any errant shot.
DG: A mix of magnificent, sporty, technical holes and strategic dog-legs, although avoiding the bunkers is key. I think the course plays four shots harder than par and reminds me of a links-style layout with pot bunkers and large greens.
PS: Allows all visitors the chance to prepare for the challenge ahead and has everything you could want or need from a practice facility.
WH: In line with what you would expect from a venue of this status, and I was particularly impressed with the practice putting green which fully prepares you for the challenges you’re about to encounter.
DW: The putting green at the front of the clubhouse is fine, but if you want to hit a few balls [other than in the net] or practice your short game, it’s a bit of a hike to the practice areas. But, once there, it’s top drawer.
DG: I only used the chipping area and putting green and they were superb with lots of undulations. The speed of those greens replicated what was on the course. And they were close to the 1st tee…
PS: The fact that it’s tucked out of the way in rural Lincolnshire shouldn’t detract from a great experience.
WH: No easy access from major road systems could have made Woodhall Spa a trip for golfing purists only. However, once you’ve played Woodhall, you’ll quickly realise that the end more than justifies the journey.
DW: It takes a bit of effort to get to Woodhall, being some miles from the nearest decent road! However, the club and the delightful little town make up for that with excellent multi-day packages and some nice places to stay and eat in the town itself.
DG: It’s probably the only negative as the golf club is tucked away in the heart of Lincolnshire. But overall, the experience is definitely worth the effort and the drive to get there.
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Food and drink at Woodhall Spa Golf Club
PS: Great choice and quality with very quick service, too. The cheesy chips were to die for!
WH: I particularly enjoyed the sausage roll and scone and cream I had pre-round, and a hearty sandwich and chips in the bar afterwards. Fast and friendly service and very reasonably priced, too.
DW: The clubhouse serves a very good range of breakfast and lunch fare with wholesome pub grub that’s very good value for money. Some very good real ale is available, along with some decent wine.
DG: In the clubhouse there was Peroni on tap and great food with 10-out-of-10 service. The halfway house was superb, with soups, sausage rolls and all things a full figure of a man, like myself, loves!
Clubhouse and locker rooms
PS: The clubhouse is traditional and comfortable – we were made to feel relaxed – and not in any way ‘stuffy’ as you might expect. The staff were professional, as I have found on previous visits.
WH: A traditional, yet modern clubhouse with all the facilities you would expect from a club of such stature. The overwhelming friendliness of the staff helped make the day a real pleasure.
DW: There’s a nice little visitors’ locker room where you can leave your shoes while playing, the washrooms were very clean and the clubhouse very homely, which is always a nice feature when visiting other clubs.
DG: The clubhouse has been modernised with a few extensions, so it’s a bit quirky. Reasonably spacious locker rooms, but don’t leave property in the visitors one as this is really just for changing shoes, not for changing and showering.
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Is the Hotchkin course good value for money?
PS: For a golf course in GB & Ireland’s top 20, the Hotchkin represents fantastic value. Also, the twilight rounds are practically a ‘steal’.
WH: It’s a joy to behold… even before you hit a ball. For the quality of the course, I don’t think you’ll find better value for money throughout the UK.
DW: Green fees are medium to high, but it’s worth it to play this great course. If you want a really good deal, then play in one of the Open competitions or utilise one of the excellent winter packages.
DG: My dad used to say “You usually get what you pay for” and, as usual, he’s right. It’s definitely worth the extra money and time it takes to get there.
PS: It’s a bucket list course and the whole experience is one not-to-be-missed. A round on the Hotchkin will stay with you forever.
WH: Woodhall Spa is a gem and showcases everything you’d expect from a premier venue. It’s a demanding but fair test on one of the finest heathland courses around…
DW: The Hotchkin is, quite rightly, almost always in the top 20 of any UK’s best courses listings and for very good reason – it’s a delight and well worth the slightly difficult journey to get there!
DG: It’s that good I’m considering corporate membership there as I would be proud for my clients to come and play this magnificent course. It’s special and perfect for that special golfing occasion.
Find out more about the Hotchkin and book a tee time on the Woodhall Spa Golf Clubs website.
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