Woodhall Spa Hotchkin Course Feature Review
Review by Golfshake Ambassador Andrew Picken, July 2019
Home of England Golf, Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire is considered among the finest inland venues in the UK, its Hotchkin Course being frequently ranked with the best in the country. Golfshake Ambassador Andrew Picken had the chance to play this renowned layout and shares his thoughts on the experience.
I loved playing the Hotchkin. It is a quality and classy golf course. The design of the holes, the routing of the course, the incredible bunkers, the quality of the turf all create a superb golf experience.
The back nine is tremendous, and this is where a considerable amount of recent work has been completed with the removal of thousands of treen to return the course to its origins. I have read that some previously thought its tree lined holes a little claustrophobic. That is no longer the case and I loved the feel of open vistas graced with the colours of gorse and heather that all the best courses provide.
This is a very special place to play. If you favour competitive golf the club run several Open events throughout the season which represent great value for money and usually sell out very quickly.
If this course was in the commuter belt of Surrey or the North West it would be even more popular than it currently is. The Hotchkin represents one of the most accessible, affordable and best value of any course you will find.
Reasons to Play the Hotchkin Course Woodhall Spa
- It has always rated highly within the Golfshake system reflecting great customer service and the quality of its two courses and practice facility.
- Golfshake handicaps are accepted if they are current. The usual green fee for the Hotchkin is £110 with a £15 discount on presentation of an EGU membership card. We have negotiated with the club and they will provide the same discount to any Golfshake subscriber using a current Golfshake handicap. Please note that there is a handicap limit to access the courses being 36 for women and 24 for men. This is sensible given the challenge that it offers to golfers of any standard.
- This is a course that regularly hosts international standard amateur events.
- This is arguably the ultimate inland golf facility in the UK.
- There has been a radical overhaul of the layout with the intention of taking it back to its original roots and origins. Around ten thousand trees have been removed and original heathers and gorses reintroduced in order to give this a real heathland feel and atmosphere. It is entirely successful. The previously slightly claustrophobic back nine is now back to its origins and is a delightful challenge at any level.
- The Hotchkin is a brilliant inland heathland course with some superbly placed and conditioned bunkers. It has a natural feel and rythym that is difficult to describe. I very much doubt that you would regret the experience. I loved it.
- This is a tremendous layout. The bunkers are memorable. Avoiding them through accurate strategic play is required to develop a decent score. Entry into them is a definite penalty as they offer some unique challenges. I love the natural appearance of them but found them difficult to escape from. Many are supported by others in a chain so a poor shot from one will find another.
- There are two excellent golf courses at Woodall Spa and the practice facilities are second to none. Access to the short game area is under supervision of a PGA Pro. The most visionary aspect of the Training Academy is the four-acre area devoted to the development of short game skills. In addition to the large putting green, there are eight target greens to aim at offering shots of all lengths up to 100 yards. There are a range of individually styled bunkers with varying grades of sand. The short game area can only be used with a PGA Professional in attendance and must be booked in advance.
- It has a heritage and pedigree that most courses would envy.
Harry Vardon was the original consultant, later supported by J.H. Taylor who advised regarding bunker placement. James Braid joined this pair to make up The Great Triumverate, who later gave birth to the PGA, by playing in the inaugural event and setting the course record that was soon matched by Taylor. Harry Colt then undertook a redesign in 1911 but its full implementation was impaired by war. The administration of the club was taken over by local landowner; Stafford Vere Hotchkin after the war. It became his enduring passion to create and maintain a top quality golf facility at this location. He was a knowledgeable course architect and using the ideas of Colt with his own was able to construct and adapt the layout that is in place today. He handed on the legacy of the course to his son, Neil, who rose to become the President of the English Golf Union in 1971. In order to preserve and maintain the course it was sold to the England Golf Union to become their HQ in 1995. This led to the building of the second course and additional practice facilities.
The Hotchkin Course Highlights
There is plenty of room at the opening quartet of holes, but should you wander off line some of the deepest fairway bunkers you will ever experience. Getting out becomes the priority. Many of the green complexes also feature deeply inviting and dangerous (to your card) bunkering. If you find the bottom of one of these beasts do not be surprised at not being able to see the flag at all!
Beginning with a 361 yard par 4, this is a gentle opener that gives little clue of the joys to follow. OOB protects the right flank, gorse and heather the left.
The 2nd is a longer hole that showcases a brilliantly protected green complex with a necklace of fairway bunkers protecting the right hand side. This is a gem of a par 4 with challenges on every shot.
A stunning par three, the 5th at 148 yards is one of only three short holes on the Hotchkin. The bunkering is visible and intimidating. Another absolute gem.
The lengthy 7th is a deliciously challenging par 4 requiring a shaped shot to clear the heather yet avoiding the bunkers set at the elbow of the dog-leg. If you try and be clever and lay up short of these hazards you are then left with a seriously long and difficult approach into a sloping green. This is like playing 3D chess against some of the greatest minds in golf architecture. I failed dismally, but loved every second.
Another fabulous par 4, the 11th at 437 yards follows a direct line tee to green but is protected by OOB from the tee box to the landing area. Add to this the expanse of heather and this is an intimidating tee shot. Negotiate this shot and then decide on the risk or reward of attacking the green with the second. Laying up to play for a bogey is a possibility but the obvious landing areas are tight and also protected by bunkers. The green is large, with a false front, and seeks to encourage you to go for it. Anything short of a well hit ball will be penalised. I could almost hear the whispers of the ghostly golfing architects on my shoulder to go for it. I did and it was costly. Wonderful fun though.
Here's a story about the 12th, a 176 yard par 3. In 1982 Mr J Wilson (8) was playing a Matchplay event against Mr L Henshaw (12). They had been let play through by a four ball who watched in admiration as first one, then the other halved the hole in one shot! A rugby ball shaped green long and thin from the tee box. Protected by no less than ten bunkers strategically placed to catch all levels of player not hitting a well executed shot.
Later, the 16th requires a draw from the drive to enable any kind of a second shot into the green. This is a perfect example of this course. Tee shots need to be placed strategically or the course turns the screw providing shots that are above the capability of the golfer. Get in to the wrong place and the level of difficulty required to extricate yourself increases exponentionally. This is exactly how it should be. The satisfaction in executing the right path to par success is excellent fun. Just don’t expect to do it every time!
Finally, the 18th is a par 5 and another real gem. Visually beautiful, testing and challenging with every single shot. An interesting finishing hole.
I would happily play here again but I would seek to make it a two day stay as there are copious amounts of good quality accommodation available, given that the town first became popular due to tourists visiting to take the Spa waters. It is near to Lincoln and I am already planning a return visit to coincide with the famous Christmas Markets. This is an all year course due to the great quality of the turf and its natural drainage.
Serious golfers looking for a challenge will find Woodhall Spa well worthy of a visit. I would definitely recommend a minimum of a two- day trip to get the best view and be able to savour its real class.
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