Woking Golf Club
Eleventh hole, 385 yards; The next three holes parallel one another and are all par fours. Though that may seem potentially mundane, nothing is further from the truth. Each hole is unique unto itself, thanks to how the holes fall differently across several natural depressions as well as each hole’s distinctive green.
Twelfth hole, 415 yards; This hole embodies one of the classic design features of the Golden Age architects, namely the fairway is quite broad with the challenge stiffening at the green. Off the tee, the twelfth feels like a true heath hole as the fairway is so lined on both sides. The fairway’s generous width encourages a bold, free swing. Hopefully, the golfer can reach the crest of the hill as a full view of the green is quite helpful.
Thirteenth hole, 430 yards; An appealing heathland hole from the tee, this hole is turned into a standoutone by virtue of its green complex. Referred to as ‘mountainous’ by Darwin, the green perhaps more closely resembles a rolling sea, with its high left and right halves divided by a lower plateau.This one-of-a-kind green is a marvel; more course architects should study it.
Fourteenth hole, 540 yards; This hole possesses a feature rarely seen in modern courses, namely a boldly contoured green located a mere seven paces from the clubhouse verandah. Hitting the dreaded half wedge approach shot and putting out under the watchful eye of the members is unnerving. Needless to say, the clubhouse and surrounds are an integral part of the course. Sadly, due to the litigious society in which we now live, the roof was recently made out of bounds and members can no longer climb up a ladder to play their third shot!
Seventeenth hole, 435 yards; A much admired long hole, the seventeenth is understated golf course design at its finest. Several of the most vexing shots at The Old Course at St. Andrews come from the fact that many of its greens slope from front to back. Same applies here. When Paton combined a right front bunker with a green that slopes away and to the left, right hole locations have stood the test of time for being among the most difficult on the course. After carding a ‘five’, the golfer might well reflect on the wisdom of Sir Guy Campbell’s summation, paid after one of his visits here, that ‘Once again, Woking proved itself the most subtle of all inland courses.’
Eighteenth hole, 350 yards; Pete Dye once remarked, ‘Show me a clubhouse with a pretty long view and I’ll show you a tough finishing hole with a long uphill second shot.’ Ignoring the message sent by such courses as The Old Course at St. Andrews, Prestwick, and North Berwick, far too many modern courses end on a formulaic hard long par four. Owners would be better served to study a hole like the eighteenth at Woking, one that allows the golfer to finish on a positive, up-beat note. At 350 yards, the hole is within range of all golfers. The bold interior green contours are such that the club can make getting a ‘3’ a real test for even the best. For the rest of us, we are pleased with our par, and the prospect of perhaps playing a few more holes.
Other virtues of Woking include that it is primarily a two ball course; early in the century it was noted that four ball matches tended ‘to keep the green waiting.’ Also, in recent years, the intelligent tree clearing program has helped enormously to increase sunlight and air throughout the course, thus successfully re-stimulating the heather to grow. Remaining true to its roots, Woking is once again taking on the appearance and playing characteristics of a genuine heathland course.
In the monologue by way to preface of The Architectural Side of Golf, J.C. Squire notes that Simpson ‘surveys his acreage of land, and says to himself, ‘How can I lay out a course of eighteen holes with these desiderata in view: that 1. Every hole shall be interesting 2. The maximum of variety shall be provided 3. The natural beauty of the country shall be impaired as little as possible 4. A premium shall be put upon good golf, and 5. The course shall be equally interesting and amusing to the first-rate and second-rate golfer.’ These five cornerstones form a great design philosophy to this very day and it is worth noting that Simpson developed it by studying Paton’s work at Woking. It is also worth noting that Simpson’s courses typically feature one of two greens that slope from front to back, another design attribute that he learned at Woking.
Some of the most influential writers of the time, including members Bernard Darwin and John Low, were quick to praise Paton’s work as he went along. Their written word helped attract all the more visitors and students of golf course architecture to the course. Even before the term ‘golf course architect’ was coined, Woking had become a think-tank on advanced design principles. At the turn of the twentieth century, man was quite awkward at adding strategic hazards to inland courses and the work done at Woking helped change all that. Overstating Woking’s influence on the evolution of golf course architecture is impossible.