THAT FINE AND most traditional of golf writers, Henry Longhurst, said ‘It is I think, the best course, in the most comprehensive sense, that I have played on in Britain.’ It is the Hotchkin course, named after club member, golf architect and local resident, Stafford Vere Hotchkin, who in 1902 offered a large swathe of his own hunting land to use as an 18-hole course in the Lincolnshire spa town of Woodhall.
Woodhall crept steadily to eminence in the early 1830s after speculative and entirely unsuccessful mine shafts had filled with water that cured local cattle of their ailments. What was good enough for the cattle soon became popular with the locals as it was rich in iodine that proved effective in nullifying the effects of gout and rheumatism. A pump room was built and a nearby hotel that was soon proving extremely popular with visitors.
The coming of the railway saw Woodhall Spa provide the perfect entertainment for Edwardian tourists who would take the waters and golf. Now what was needed was a course worthy of the incoming golfers.
In 1911 Harry Colt advised on a major redesign of Harry Vardon’s original layout that stretched the yardage from 5,500 yards to something approaching 6,400 and provided a similar, seamless routing to the course we play today. Despite being flat land earth was moved to create mounds and bunkers and the process continued apace.
Hotchkin, who had survived the Great War and acquired the rank of Honorary Colonel of the 60th Field Regiment, had developed a keen interest in golf course design, setting up a company, Links and Courses, with Cecil Hutchinson and Guy Campbell in the late 1920s. As well as creating West Sussex in Pulborough, the company also advised on the extension of the Royal Ashdown Forest ladies’ course.
Hotchkin’s work at Woodhall Spa prompted Henry Cotton to remark in 1940, how the Colonel,’had been very busy making uninteresting flat land into the most natural looking of golf courses’ which remains to this day, albeit stretched to over 7,000 yards from the back tees.
The lengthening was undertaken by Neil Hotchkin, who took over the running of the course upon the death of his father in 1953 and continued by the English Golf Union which bought the course in 1995. In 1998, it was named the Hotchkin when a further 18 holes designed by Donald Steel opened, known as the Bracken.
The sandy based fairways are not irrigated which can lead to fiery, links-like conditions in dry weather and bring the numerous and extremely well placed bunkers into regular play. Even from the more forward tees- the men’s yellow tees reduces the course length to 6,519 yards- the bunkers are strategically situated to catch any drive that is marginally offline. And they are deep too, particularly those around the fast running and subtly sloping greens. Some are so deep that even to throw the ball out represents quite a challenge!
With tree lined fairways and dense gorse also acting as stern defenders of par, handicap golfers are best advised to play safe, use the strokes the card allocates and lay up especially at the more challenging and lengthy par four holes. With only three par three holes, including an absolute beauty at 12 that is guarded by six deep traps, birdie opportunities are rare.
What leaves the biggest impression to the first time visitor is the all round quality of the place, reminiscent of Hankley Common, Sunningdale and Walton Heath. Its location does not do it many favours as this remote part of Lincolnshire is not well served with fast roads.
However with the welcoming Inn at Woodhall Spa not much over half a mile away, where discounts are offered to visitors of the golf club, there is every reason to take advantage of a course that regularly features in the top 10 best English courses. As it rightly should, for it is one of the finest heathland tracks to be found anywhere and a must play for any golfing pilgrim.