Ganton vs Woodhall Spa
Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, England

The deep bunker guarding the right of the fifth green at Woodhall Spa.

In the early days, golf courses had a place where you started, a hole where you finished, bunkers and a burn here or there. Fairways weren’t exactly mown, closely or otherwise. Strategy came from avoiding the bunkers. Leap forward 125 years and the bunkers have lost a lot of their meaning. First, there was the invention of the sand wedge and then from 1950-1985 bunkers became shallower and shallower. They lost their teeth and no longer held terror. When you hear a professional at an US Open screaming for the ball to get into a bunker, you appreciate how far the mighty have fallen.

However, there remain those outposts where bunkers still command respect. Two of the very best examples are to be found at Ganton and Woodhall Spa. The bunkers are deep, numerous, well placed, and varied in their shape and contour. They share the same principle: that to find a bunker is a mistake and will carry a penalty of some sort. There are many bunkers, such as the one to the left of the 4th green at Woodhall Spa, where the player is quite happy just to find the green with his first sand shot and score bogey. How many other courses can say the same?

Woodhall Spa embraces its reputation of having the deepest bunkers in the British Isles and appears hell-bent on maintaining this notoriety. On a recent return visit, one author was somewhat disturbed to find that the course is rebuilding several of its bunker faces with stacked turf. The concern is that these neat, sharp bunkers, while impressive, are out of character when compared to the overall more unkempt look of the course (including other bunkers). Still, the authors look forward to a return trip to this little oasis, in hopes that their fears were unfounded.

Woodhall Spa Bunkers to Note:

Third hole, 415 yards; A long serpentine bunkers guards the left side of the green and encroaches some 30 yards out into the fairway.

Steps leading into another deep bunker, this time on the third hole.

Fifth hole, 150 yards; One bunker hooks around the front and right side of the green. Two other bunkers guard the left side. Another bunker will gather shots long right. An interesting feature is that the bunkers are not visible from the tee, but after his first round there the player will learn that the narrow green is a virtual island surrounded by bunkers. This knowledge makes the short-iron from the exposed tee the most nervy shot on the course.

More bunkers surrounding the left of the fifth green.

Sixth hole, 460/510 yards; A beautiful bunker sits some ten yards short and left of the green and meanders out to the golfer. This bunker is at just the right place as a wood or long-iron approach must land short of the green before bounding onto the green. A rare example of a bunker that directly affects the approach yet is short of and to the side of the green.

An excellent bunker for a long approach on the sixth hole.

Twelfth hole, 170 yards; Another beautiful bunkered par three, similar to the 5th hole in terms of demanding an accurate iron.

The right side of the twelfth green.

Fourteenth hole, 460/490 yards; Again, the golfer trying to force a birdie needs to be careful. A mean little bunker cuts into the green’s right edge. Just as importantly, a bunker twenty yards short of the green cuts across the front left of the green, making distance judgment difficult. The left-to-right angle of the green makes the left side of the fairway the desired target, bringing this bunker into play for the long second.

As for Ganton, Patric Dickinson best described the bunkers in his A Round of Golf Courses: ‘Bunkers are of two kinds: there are the solid crushers of golfing crime, obvious as the heel of policemen’s boots; ¦but there are other bunkers: beautifully alluring sirens, daring us to steer too near them, rallying our faint hearts to carry over them, and sneering at our feebleness if we take the middle course.’

In particular, the bunkers at Ganton give each of the fourteen par fours individual character.

Ganton’s Bunkers to Note:

Sixth hole, 450 yards; If the tee shot hasn’t been perfect, it is not a matter of just progressing the ball up the fairway: four bunkers litter the fairway from 60 yards in with another two on either side of the green. These are genuine fairway bunkers, i.e., bunkers surrounded by fairway.

Seventh hole, 430 yards; One of the most attractively bunkered holes in the world. Four bunkers stand guard at the inside of this dogleg to the right. Two deep, sea shell invested bunkers eat into the green from the left with another one standing guard on the right. Again, a bunker 60 yards short of the green does the golfer no favors and makes depth perception tricky. Just the way a dogleg hole should be bunkered as there is a decided advantage, in terms of both distance and angle of approach, to hugging the bunkers at the corner.

Fourteenth hole, 285 yards; A tempting par four to drive but first a cavernous bunker must be carried at the 240 yard mark and another two avoided closer to the green. Everyone knows an iron off the tee is the wiser choice and yet ¦.

Fifteenth hole, 435 yards; A unique 38 yard long bunker works its way up the left side of the fairway and requires a carry of 225 yards to be past it.

Sixteenth hole, 450 yards; The biggest bunker on the course is a cross bunker some 185 yards off the tee. It stretches across the entrance to the fairway and offers no hope to those who enter. Except into the strongest of winds, the bunker is not in play, yet there is no denying the thrill of blasting a tee shot over what looks like a World War I trench.

Some courses in the United Kingdom rely on the wind to stiffen the challenge that their holes do not otherwise possess. However, a course that is well bunkered is always a challenge, regardless of the conditions. Golfers are guaranteed such a greeting at either Ganton or Woodhall Spa, where they can say hello to the real thing.

The End