Woodhall Spa – Home of the English Golf Union and the deepest bunkers in the UK

After a reasonable nights sleep (in separate beds after our room was initially booked as a double!) we departed Sandwich in misty rain for the 4 hour trek north to Woodhall Spa.

This weekend is The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebration and the whole country is excited. English flags line the roadways and hang from the telegraph poles on the main streets – all in memory of the Queen’s 60 years as the reigning monarch.

We were actually invited to be on the Queen’s barge on the Thames but had to turn this kind offer down due to a pressing tee time at Woodhall Spa. It is not every day you get to play the one of the finest inland golf courses in the UK!

Woodhall Spa is renowned for two things – its pensioners and golf. A large pensioner population ensures the local chiropractor and chemist are kept busy although David also gave the chemist business with his blister issues on his left foot.

As we sit in the local pub “The Mall” sampling the best of English cuisine (David – Beef Stroganoff, Gary – Chicken Calypso) we are dumbfounded by the country’s obsessions with peas… Every food order comes with peas which would be ok if it were with steak and veggies but you have to draw the line when the strawberry crepes comes with a side order of peas!

But back to the golf. Woodhall Spa is the home of the English Golf Union and also two 18 hole golf courses – the Hotchkin and the Bracken.

The Hotchkin is rated in the top 50 courses in the world so we were both excited to be playing this course. And we were not disappointed. It is the kind of golf course you could play every day and not be bored. It presents different challenges depending on wind conditions and where you are hitting the ball.

But make sure you don’t hit into one of the hundred or so bunkers. These bunkers are deep! It often takes more than one shot to extricate yourself from the sand and the escape route is often sideways or backwards. The Australian bravado ensured we went straight for the pin in ALL cases and paid the price (both of us had multiple bunker shots from the same bunker).

The landing areas off the tee are generally tight and the fear of landing in a fairway bunker is part of your thinking the whole way round. Longer hitters are faced with narrower landing areas – a sound design characteristic that provided defence for the course with today’s technology.

Woodhall Spa is most enjoyable to walk and laid out over relatively flat terrain. The layout is peppered with heather, bunkers, grassy hollows and trees all of which combine to force you to hit precise shots to score well.

If you are even in this part of England this is a must stop on your golfing calendar.

Shot of the day – Has to go to Gary’s second birdie on 16 – a putt of 20 feet which never looked like missing. Combined with his birdie the previous hole it was a good close to the round.

Dave’s three lipouts and a near chip in which hit the flagstick left him with no birdies to add to his tally.

Overall Birdie Tally

David (0 birdies, cumulative 5)
Gary (2 birdies, cumulative 10)

Another big drive tomorrow morning but an exciting round ahead at an Open venue – Royal Liverpool (Hoylake) with a mate of ours Jim Saunders. Stay tuned.

By golfselect

Our first taste of 5 star links golf

After experiencing a number of England’s finest inland courses over the last 4 days we were excited to be heading east – to Sandwich – home of multiple Open Championship courses Royal St Georges and Royal Cinques Ports.

A wonderful previous night with Anne and Steve at their country farmhouse (with talented cricketer son Sam also providing much amusement) saw us up bright and early for the one hour drive to Royal St Georges.

Our modest rental vehicle struggled to keep up with Steve’s Maserati and it was the only with the aid of a police car keeping Steve’s speed in check that we were able to arrive at the golf club at the same time.

Our fourth playing partner Peter (R & A member and head of greens at Royal St Georges) had his first ride in the Maserati convertible and soon became one of the finest gentleman we have met on this trip.

Peter’s precision driving off the tee (compared to Steves precision driving to get to the course!) was a treat to watch. Steve and Peter were the ulimate hosts providing invaluable advice on everything from the history of the course to the driving lines off the tee and the lines of putts.

We loved Peter’s quote – “Yes, this is a relatively new hole – it was built only 40 years ago!”.

The course delivers a seamless integration with its natural surrounds. Bunkers look like they have been there since time began and greens are positioned perfectly amongst the naturally undulating landscape.

Hitting the fairway at Royal St Georges is no guarantee of a flat lie for your approach shot. In fact be prepared for a stance that may see your ball above or below your feet – such is the nature of the land the course is laid out on.

Playing so many Open Championship courses in our links4032 quest has us reaching into the history books to recount highlights of their Opens.

Unlike Dustin Johnson during the 2011 Open (out of bounds right, made 7 and lost the Open by a couple of shots) and Thomas Bjorn (in the greenside bunker on 16, 2 to get out, made 5) David took this challenge on with both hands and birdied the 14th and got up on down from Bjorn’s bunker on 16 to par the hole.

Gary meanwhile was quietly compiling a sequence of 14 pars, a sole birdie, one bogey and a double bogey (arghhh) on the last for a great 40 stableford points.

A relaxing lunch followed the round and David caught up with dual NSW Golf Club/Royal St Georges member Chris who happened to also be playing on the same day.

Royal Cinques Ports is located a short 5 minute drive away and our 3:30pm tee time was perfect after a quick chat with David (Captain), Martin (Secretary), Chris (Course Manager) and Laura (in the office and the one who makes it all happen!). We met the team at Royal Cinque Ports in their historic clubhouse which has a maritime feel to it including a mast style flag pole at the front of the building, which was only hundreds of metres from the water.

The course starts with some wildly rolling fairways that direct your golf ball to where the land natuaraly flows. These fairways make a corrugated roof look flat. The beachfront seawall does provide some wind protection but it obscures a direct view of the water on most holes. They say you make your score going out before trying to protect it coming home. Our problem was that we did not make our scores early.

This gem would be a great model for any architectural student. It exemplifies that some of the best golf terrain in the world is natural. This course forces you to think about wind, lie, stance, landing area and run on every shot. This is not a course for the faint hearted but every golfing purist would love it. Having hosted two Opens, Luke Donald practiced here last year to hone his game before playing next door at Royal St George’s.

Having played these two golf courses will make you want to come back to Sandwhich again.

Shot of the Day – 3rd hole, Royal St Georges, par 3, 190 yards into the breeze saw Dave’s tee shot finish 3 feet from the hole, duly converted for another birdie for the Door of Hope Childrens Charity.

Overall birdie tally

David (2 birdies, cumulative 5)
Gary (2 birdies, cumulative 8)

With less sleep than we would like, we head out at 6:30 am in our 4.5 hour drive north west to Woodhall Spa. Stay tuned.

By golfselect