Woburn's Dukes Course "A rare shining moment in British Golf"
I make no apologies for starting my course reviews with the Dukes Course at Woburn. Yes, I’m biased because I’m a Woburn member, but it’s still one of the best inland courses in the British Isles for my money.
As Tom Doak said in his brilliant book The Confidential Guide, the Dukes is “a rare shining moment in the middle ages of British golf architecture.”
Play this course just once and you’ll understand what he meant. Sometimes you feel as if the course has been here for a hundred years rather than just since 1976.
Tall pines and silver birch trees frame the fairways. Rhododendron bushes and gorse abound. To stand on the par-3 third and gaze at the green below is a sight to behold when the Rhodies are in bloom. Just don’t over club or you might be playing out of them!
The Dukes has hosted 14 British Masters over the years, nine British Women’s Opens and the Heritage. Champions include notables such as Ayako Okamoto, Helen Alfredsson, Patty Sheehan, Liselotte Neumann, Karrie Webb, Greg Norman, Lee Trevino, Seve Ballesteros, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo, Mark James, Ian Woosnam, Henrik Stenson, Tony Johnstone and Colin Montgomerie.
The Senior Masters was staged over the Dukes continuously for 17 years from 2001 to 2018, with many seniors turning up to play a course they thoroughly enjoyed as European Tour players.
I’m lucky enough to play it on a regular basis. To play the par-4, 4th hole when the sun is going down is a joy. The magnificent pines that frame the right side of the fairway are aglow in the setting sun. If that’s not a reason to feel alive on a golf course then I don’t know what is.
Mind you, I always feel alive when I’m on the Dukes, even in pouring rain…….
Best par 3
3rd, 134/122 yards
This is the best par 3 on Woburn’s three courses, and it’s up against some stiff competition. The hole lends credence to those – me – who say a par-3 doesn’t have to measure 200 yards to be challenging.
Hitting the green shouldn’t be a problem because most players will only have a wedge in their hands. If you’re going to miss it, then don’t miss long. The green slopes downhill from back to front, so you better be comfortable with a lob wedge if you fly the green.
The fun starts once you get on the putting surface because you could find yourself with some fiendish putts, especially if you’re above the hole. However, even if your ball lands, say, 20 feet right or left, then you could face a putt that breaks five, six feet. My advice? Leave yourself an uphill putt. It’s probably your only chance at making birdie.
Toughest pin position is back right.
Best par 4
16th, 449/412 yards
This was originally the finishing hole, and what a finishing hole it made. An old log cabin sits behind the green. It was Woburn’s first clubhouse. The hole is pure and simply a par-5 for most Woburn members when played off the back tees.
Most will struggle to reach the two fairways bunkers when playing off the back tees. I played in last year’s Peter Hartley Shield and all the tees were off the white plates. Many holes called for me to hit fairway woods for second shots. This one was no exception. I made my par: I recorded five shots.
The hole is more enjoyable off the yellow tees. A good drive can clear the two bunkers on the left-hand side of the fairway. Take a route as close to the bunkers and you’ll leave yourself a shorter shot to the green. Find the right-hand side of the fairway and there's a danger of running into the right-hand trees.
If you’re going to miss this flatish green then miss left. The right-hand bunker is deeper and harder to get out of.
Toughest pin position is also back right, since any putt hit long can run off the green.
Best Par 5
5th, 517/487 yards
Once again, a hole that proves length isn’t everything. There should be no problem finding this wide fairway, but getting the second shot right is the key to playing the hole well.
The fairway arcs from right to left, with a deep, downhill drop on the left. Many a Woburn member has hit into this depression only to find the other members of the group reluctant to help find the ball. It’s a steep downhill walk no one needs early in the round.
Assuming you don’t top it into the depression, the key is finding the fairway on the far side. Trees right of the fairway need to be avoided on your second shot. Get that right and you’ll leave yourself a simple pitch to a green that isn’t as flat as it looks.
As with the third and fifth, the toughest pin position is back right.
Woburn’s Amen Corner
I’ll take 15, 16 and 17. A beautiful run of tough holes.
There aren’t many, but the run of holes from seven to 11 run pretty much parallel to each other and feel a bit like tram lines. Thankfully the trees besides these fairways are maturing and will one day enclose fairways from each other.