Spangles, I understand your reticence concerning Woodhall.
Tim...I hope Doak restores some of the larger bunkers by combining smaller ones. In particular, the corner bunker on 7 is crying out for restoration. WOODHALL SPA TOUR CONT
The 6th is interesting from a card philosophy perspective. This par 4 is one of two which are listed as par 5s from the back tees; the 18th is the other. As the Hotchkin family prided themselves in building a tough test for amateurs, I am somewhat surprised these two holes aren't played from the daily tees as long par 4s, thus reducing the course par from 73 to 71. Whatever one's opinion on this issue, at 464 yards the 6th is a tough nut to crack. As with nearly every hole, the fairway has been narrowed and bunker size reduced, the effect is this may play a bit easier than in the past....thank heaven!
A no prisoners approach to design. The green is protected by two forward bunkers so most golfers will have to run the gaunlet to reach the green in two...it may be wise to lay-up. The green is subtle, but runs dangerously away from play on the right. I did take care to pay special attention to the greens after T Doak stated there is more than meets the eye. I must admit that the greens are better than I previously thought.
The 7th is an excellent hole swinging well right. The inside line has been much improved with recent bunker work and tree removal. However, I wonder if this is a good opportunity to slam a huge bunker on the corner? It seems to me that if a course is primarily known for its bunkers, and Woodhall Spa rightfully is, why not do all possible to enhance this reputation with a visual representation of Dante's Inferno? Before and after the Renaissance work.
The approach after a pushed drive.
The long one-shot 8th turns back on the previous hole and heads west. One might have thought that after two big par 4s it was time for a break, but that wouldn't be the Woodhall Spa way. Regardless of the rhythm of the round, these holes are top notch and a primer on how to create interest from land which is essentially flat. Below is a 1935 aerial of the 8th.
This closer look at the 8th green.
Woodhall does have some Victorian mounding features which are highly attractive.
Running east, the 9th is comfortably the best par 5 on the course. If playing downwind some players may be concerned by the broken fairway, but unless played into the wind, this hole should seem like a break after the onslaught of 6 through 8.
One of the more interesting greens on the course, this hole location is particularly difficult.
The lovely and surprisingly difficult 10th takes us to the far eastern end of the property and is the first of three short par 4s on the back nine. The green is elegantly tucked into a corner of the property, a design trait I very much admire. Despite the card telling us the two nines are very balanced in terms of yardage, most will feel the back nine plays much shorter and requires more obvious tactics regarding how to tackle the less expansive holes.
Back to hard graft on the 11th. Another 400+ yard two-shotter, one of Woodhall's seven. Part of a 130 mile footpath, the Viking Way cuts through holes 11, 12, 13 & 15. The counties of Lincolnshire, Humberside and Leicestershire adopted the footpath named so because Danes occupied the area around 800AD. The fairway is bisected by earthworks. The false front dome like green is also of interest.
We are now set up for stunning set piece in the 12th, the final par three of an outstanding set. More straight-forward than the 5th, yet pure joy to behold let alone play. Strange that very few people mention Woodhall's threes as among the best sets in the country. During a club knockout match in 1982 this hole was halved in one! Before & after.
The thirteenth commences the long road home. Despite a few good holes, it is fair to say the course isn't quite as interesting from this point forward. I believe the main reasons for this are threefold.
1. The necessary similarity of penal design holes, in the case of Woodhall, the relentess left/right/cross bunkering with heavy rough.
2. The uneven rhythm of the course. The front nine is loaded with tough par 4s, the back nine with more concise 4s and a lack of par 3s to even out the mismatch.
3. Holes 14-16 and much of 17 are on the part of the property which is clay base. These holes suffer in comparison to the other holes where drainage is concerned.
I admired the stark bunkering prior to the renovation. While the bunkers are now more conventional, they are better integrated into surrounding texture of the property without suffering from being dumbed down in terms of difficulty. Below is the right fairway bunker looking back to the tee.
It seems to me that the long 14th is not in character with the remainder of the course. It feels more like parkland. A short and thrilling two-shotter, 15 moves right between bunkers then confronts the golfers with islands of sand, cutting off the ground approach to a slippery fall-away green. The new bunkering is a vast improvement. Before and after.
The tree clearance for the final three holes is striking, especially the 17th. The 16th is growing on me! The earthworks short of the green are a welcome change to bunkers defending the putting surface.
The approach to the raised 17th green is now much more evident without tree congestion. There is more fairway right than it looks from the tee, but its easy to stray too far right as the fairway leans that way.
The home hole is a monster par 4 featuring loads of sand for the tee shot. The green moves away from play making for a difficult decision as to where to land the approach.
That then is Woodhall Spa, much maligned in recent years on this site. I think most fail to read this course on its own terms as a purposely penal design and therefore all the baggage that comes with penal architecture. There can be no question Hotchkin succeeded magnificently in creating a beautiful course which blends perfectly into the surrounds and offers a stern challenge for amateurs. The front nine stands as tall as most any nine in the British Isles and for this reason alone it makes perfect sense to make the journey ascross the Fens. The recent Renaissance renovation has unquestionably improved the course by highlighting the design features with the elimination of trees. Woodhall Spa now takes its rightful place among the best inland courses northern England has to offer. 2022