A tactical feast where you must think well in order to play well


Woking Golf Club

Date Reviewed
June 5, 2019
Reviewed by Ed Battye
In the summer of 2019 I returned to Woking after a 20 year absence. Much has changed over the last two decades but the atmosphere of the club and the strategy of the course have not budged an inch.

For architecture buffs, golf historians and those with an admiration for traditional, old-school clubs Woking is a living, breathing monument and this highly strategic course is still studied as much today as it ever was. There is a wonderful vibe at this venerable Surrey-heathland masterpiece which strongly appeals to the golfing cognoscenti.

Tom Dunn is the man responsible for the original course and most of the current routing belongs to him but John Low and Stuart Paton especially, both members of the club, were responsible for shaping the essence of the course we play nowadays thanks to changes they made over a number of decades during the first half of the 20th Century.

Founded in 1893 by a group of London barristers Woking is a wonderful example of a second shot golf course. Getting away on your tee shots is not generally a hard task here. Yes, there is heather and some well-located bunkers but there is enough width to ensure that you should be in play from your drive and you don’t need to be a bomber to bring the course to its knees. On many holes being in the correct place is advantageous but not essential.

At a modest 6,606 yards (par 70) from the black markers Woking, which oozes character, is never going to beat you up from the tee and I suspect much of the membership will never even hit a ball from the stones.

However, things change dramatically when it comes to playing your approaches into a set of greens which must rank as one of the finest across the country. Swales, slopes, semi-punchbowls, mounds and hollows on the putting surfaces give much drama on our shots into and from around the undulating greens. You may often hit a shot into the heart of the green only to watch in dismay as it is swept away from the flag or, on the contrary, closer to the hole should the angles be used wisely… or fortunately.

Then once we are on the greens, immaculately conditioned on my visit in early June, the fun and excitement recommences. They are not comparable in style to Beau Desert – my favourite set of inland greens - but the challenge is very similar and extremely rewarding should you master them. There was visible evidence of new draining being added recently on many greens but this did not affect the roll of the ball in the slightest.

It is not just the contouring of the greens that is so impressive but how the greenside bunkering is sculpted into the entire green complex. Examples of this can be found at several holes but particularly the 3rd & 8th and at many of the short holes. Quite often you are given the choice of taking the bunker on or shaping your ball around it and using the green contours as your friend.

Depending upon where the pin is located on any given hole it can change the dynamics significantly.

Recovery shots can be played in a number of ways from around the greens and the lottery of what sort of lie you will get – from nestled in wiry grass to sitting on a bare patch of sandy wasteland – will also dictate how the shot must be played.

The influential fourth is a famous, historically important hole, with a pair of centreline bunkers that ask the golfer to hit down the trainline side of the hole for a superior shot into the angled green, fronted by a bunker to the left, and which falls away slightly from the left and towards the rear. Simple strategy and its best and this philosophy is repeated many times during the round.

In truth there is an entire collection of excellent holes at Woking and the rhythm of the course is good too as we flow through the heather and woodland –significantly cleared during recent times opening up long views across the property – as we play a variety of shots. I love how we are brought right back to within touching distance of the clubhouse after the 14th – the first of back-to-back par fives – before we venture out to play the closing loop of four which includes a new par-three 16th over water.

The second, eighth and 12th are another three standout holes on a course that features highly in the top 100 golf courses of Great Britain and Ireland.

Admittedly there are a few awkward holes at Woking, ones that you could say don’t really fit in with the rest of the course. But I like holes that make you feel a little bit unsure on how best to play them. And this trio certainly tick the box in that regard. The three holes I am thinking about in particular are the first, ninth and the 18th. None of these will ever be classed as great holes. You could indeed argue they are poor ones... at best ill-fitting. However, I’d rather acknowledge them as holes which make you feel uncomfortable… and how you negotiate them is paramount.

The opening hole is a driveable par-four but the nature of the green which slopes away from the falling fairway, and drops off sharply over the back, is a cunning little terror where bogies can easily be made from within 20-yards of the green. I frustratingly carded a par of fives on the day here and was left scratching my head exactly how I managed it.

Meanwhile, a dropped shot is not necessarily a bad score at the 470-yard ninth where we play up a (too) steep incline after a (too) sharp dogleg – in old fashioned money it’s your classic ‘bogey’ hole and does the job of transitioning us from the low ground back up to higher land but it is a pig of a golf hole.

Similar to the first the 18th ‘should’ be a birdie opportunity but the shape of the hole and proximity of both a pond (with fake swans) and the clubhouse ensure this is no easy task. Woking doesn’t finish in grand style but you still walk off extremely impressed and satisfied.

I don’t quite feel right talking about other golf clubs on a review for a particular venue but the inevitable comparison to near neighbours; West Hill and Worplesdon – collectively known as the “Three Ws” – must be made and I make no apology for saying that Woking is my preference of the three. It’s a tactical feast of golf where you must think well in order to play well.

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