Course Review: Woking Golf Club (Surrey, England)
Designer: Tom Dunn
It has been said that Scotland gets all the love when it comes to golf, but depth in terms of courses belongs to England. It is hard to argue with, even if you just look around the London area. My recent trip had multiple options — ranging from the best-known, like Sunningdale Golf Club or Walton Heath through to lesser-known clubs like St. George’s Hill. And if you’re willing to expand your trip out to the coast, as I did with Royal St. George’s, then there are a multitude of other options as well.
I settled on Woking, a course rarely discussed outside of golf architecture circles. It is a heathland layout, like many of the courses surrounding London, and was a short train ride away from our hotel, the Draycott in Sloane Square. It is also, as the pro at Sunningdale would say a day later, kind of a course where the evolution of golf stopped about 50 years ago. He’s right, though I’m not entirely sure how that is a bad thing.
Arriving at Woking is underwhelming. There’s a gravel parking lot and a pathway that leads to a low-lying clubhouse. The assistant pro in the shop seems to be surprised to see me, even though I’ve made arrangements to visit weeks earlier. Woking is a private club, but allows limited outside play like most U.K. private clubs. However, Woking seems less inclined to this than others. It doesn’t exactly get inundated with requests, which probably explains the pro’s sense of befuddlement at my appearance.
But once there, he urges me to hit the course. It is quiet — hardly anyone playing on a bright sunny morning — and there are only a few hundred members anyway. It walk a few yards to the first tee, a 270-yard par-4 opener that requires little more than a mid-iron and a wedge, and quickly settle into my round.
Truthfully, Woking is a mix of odd, quirky holes and stunningly good ones. The opener, as mentioned, is underwhelming, aside from a neat, fall-away green. But the second hole, a 220-yard par-3 that plays over a slight valley to a green perched on a hillside, is all-world, a remarkable second hole that completely compensates for the shortcomings of the first hole.
Though there have been tweaks to Dunn’s layout (architect Martin Ebert works there now and is a member), the course remains relatively intact. New tees have been added on holes like three (now a very big downhill par-4) and the fourth hole, and alterations have been made in other areas (like the 9th hole). But basically the course is as it was. That means an interesting use of center-line hazards (take the third hole, for instance, with a large bunker sitting in the middle of the fairway short of the green). The most famous hole on the course is the fourth, a mid-length, downhill par-4 with a bunker set in the middle of the landing area and a railway track with out-of-bounds down the right side. Legend has it that members created the bunker in the middle of the night and the hazard has been there ever since.
There are plenty of great holes at Woking, but they are slightly off-set by average ones. The opening par-3 is by far the best of the set of one-shot holes on the property, and there are a couple of clunkers, like the uphill par-4 9th (which sports a green that won’t receive a shot from a long iron), and the marginal par-3 10th. The great holes, like the 12th, which plays alongside heather to a green perched on the top of a ridge line, or the following par-4, a lengthy brute that bends slightly to the left, are exceptional.
It is unfortunate that the last few holes end on the least interesting and flattest areas of the property. Back-to-back par-5s (14-15) are not particularly compelling, though the green site for 14, set right in front of the clubhouse, is attractive. The 16th, a slight par-3 over a boggy pond, is simply out of place and the closer, a short par-4 to a green set near a pond, actually looks like something a modern architect would fashion and is salvaged by a wonderful green.
Woking costs 60 pounds to play — which is quite affordable when considering some of the nearby courses with their relative fees. Is it great? Not quite. But if you’re interested in seeing how the game was once played, this is a throwback that is worth investigating.