Bracken course, Woodhall Spa

This little brother's a gem in this Lincolnshire outpost

Bob Warters's picture
Tue, 4 Jun 2002

Bracken - delightful little brother.

Comparing Woodhall Spa’s Hotchkin course with its younger brother, the Bracken, is like comparing Bobby Charlton with brother Jack.

One is all style, subtlety and finesse, the other is uncompromising and in your face with a bit of a mean streak.

The Hotchkin is the more popular with visitors, hewn through heathland with its 365 bunkers and heather-flanked fairways – a test of golf which Tom Weiskopf once admitted to me, he sprinkles aspects of in every course he designs.

He had been introduced to it by his friend Tony Jacklin who told him he had three ambitions in life – to win the Open Championship, to win the US Open and to break 70 on the Hotchkin at Woodhall.

Said Jacklin: "Two out of three ain’t bad!"

Almost every day, the Hotchkin is fully-subscribed with golfers, while its less fashionable kin is almost ignored by those who make the pilgrimmage to Woodhall Spa, the home of the English Golf Union's National Golf Centre.

But the Bracken is no ugly duckling. I was privileged to play it with its designer Donald Steel on the day it officially opened in 1999 and last week made a return visit to see how it had matured.

Most noticeable were the trueness of the immaculate greens, which undulate like fast, seaside surfaces, yet hold a well struck long iron or fairway wood.

There was less evidence, too, of the staked trees which had lined some of the fairways. Many had grown into strong, upright firs and spruces which now demand a detour rather than a free drop.

My companion for 'Bracken re-visited' was Neil Hayward 12-handicap assistant secretary of the English Golf Union and we revelled in the opportunity to play a course which sets a tough examination paper without the pressures of scratch golfers breathing down your neck.

He pointed out where much drainage work had been undertaken to speed up the fairways and where subtle plans were in place to make it a slightly stiffer challenge.

The front nine gets off to a generous start with a wide open fairway ahead of an undulating first green. The second and 17th holes, played in opposite directions share a narrow strip of common land which can prove a dangerous off the tee.

After a dogleg third, the fourth demands only a well-placed short iron to set up a similar approach over water. The sixth is a great driving hole sandwiched between two par-3s and while the narrow 8th has come in for some unfair criticism, it's a thinking golfer’s hole, sliced into three parts by a meandering stream and a lake beside the green.

The par 36 front nine is completed by a dogleg demanding an astute drive, similar to the tenth. The short par-3 11th green sits on a mound and the 12th takes no prisoners who sport a slice. Even though the 13th at 371 yards has a stroke index of 2, it has been known to be driven by some of England’s best young prospects. The 15th is only a few yards longer but with trouble lurking left, right and centre caution is required.

Jimmy Tarbuck, who volunteered his services free to promote the course on video when it was opened, thought the 16th one of the best par-3s he’d played, disguised as it is beside a small, but yawning pond.

The 17th demands two well struck shots avoiding a majestic oak beside the green, while 18 threads between more matured trees.

At around £35 a round (including a discount if you're affiliated to the EGU through your club), the Bracken is excellent value and well worth the hike across north Lincolnshire to this superb golfing outpost. For further details call 01§526 352229.


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