Sunday, 29 September 2013

Woburn - What A Pleasure

What do you call a collection of strangers who drive many miles to meet in the middle of the country to indulge in a similar passion? For those that have kept their thoughts out of the gutter, the correct answer is Golf Monthly Forum Members ( and although there is probably a better collective noun out there, we all descended on Woburn Golf Club on Friday to play the Duchess and Dukes courses.

The last time I played in this event several years ago, I was struggling with flu. Proper flu and not just the man flu variety and didn't really enjoy it so with the weather set fair I was determined to have more fun this time and to be honest with my swing in a state of flux at the moment I wasn't overly worried about how I played as long as I enjoyed the day.

The Duchess' Course is sometimes considered to be the least challenging of the three Woburn courses, the junior sibling lying in the shadow of well respected and much heralded family members. However, like many younger siblings, it's not a charge the Duchess' takes lying down. Anyone who has played the course knows this is a layout that demands as much respect as the adjacent Duke's and Marquess' courses.

Woburn is renowned for holes that play through avenues of pines. Nowhere is this truer than on the
Duchess'. This layout may only play to 6,651 yards in length, 322 and 562-yards shorter respectively
than the Duke's and Marquess', but Charles Lawrie created a course that calls for a different sort of
challenge to the one he presented when he laid out the Duke's. One of the reasons the members play this course so often on their own is that they know anyone who can play this layout well has a good chance of handling the other two. Of the three Woburn courses, the Duchess' is the one that puts a premium on that most elusive of golf talents: the ability to hit the ball consistently straight.

I was in the first group out and with everyone else watching on, I threaded a driver magnificently down the right side of the fairway. I made a hash of the rest of the hole. My five iron approach looked great in the air but just failed to carry the cavernous bunker at the front of the green. I got it out but left the first putt woefully short to end up with an annoying double bogey.
I had gone with a game plan to use my three wood off a lot of tees to play for position. Sadly no-one told the three wood and it mis-behaved throughout the opening nine and I spent more time in the trees than I wanted. It is an unforgiving course if you are errant off the tee and has a huge impact on the scorecard.
The Duchess Course at Woburn - no for those that spray it off the tee
I went out in a measly eleven points. I wasn't last in my group and to be honest, having ditched the three wood in favour of the driver which was behaving impeccably, it could have been better. However my iron play was very shoddy and when I got into prime position I managed to miss the target.
The back nine is an extension of the front nine and each hole is a secluded nirvana of golfing paradise and it is rare to be able to even see another hole from the one you are on. I have to say that despite the time of year and early morning dew, the greens were magnificent and were a testing speed. I rallied on the back nine and made a better fist of things for a more respectable 14 points coming home. My irons were still letting me down and the quality of strike and direction were way off compared to my normal standard of play. At least my putter was keeping me in it. I had reverted to my Odyssey ProType Tour #9 fearing my recently acquired Odyssey Tank #1 might be a fraction heavy for the quick greens. I was making a lot of good putts that burned the edges but couldn't get any to drop. My pace judgement from length was great but it was those 10-15 footers I couldn't make.
In the end my 25 points was enough for mid-table anonymity. We adjourned to a two course carvery lunch which was exquisite and made it very difficult to leave and head out to the Dukes course for the second round.
Stand on the first tee of the Duke's Course at Woburn and it's hard to believe this magnificent layout has only been in existence since 1976. It has an old world feel of maturity and tradition, as if it has been around since the early 1900s. Mature pine trees, silver birch, chestnut and magnificent banks of rhododendron bushes provide a splendid backdrop to a course that is among the best inland tracks in the UK.
Few courses have been as right for golf as the Duke's. It is one of the most aesthetically pleasing on the eye in all of the British Isles. There is no prettier place than the Duke's in spring when the rhododendrons are in full bloom and nowhere is this more evident than on the par three 3rd hole. Played from a high tee to green just 134 yards away, golfers can be forgiven for casting golf from their minds to take in the view. All around are huge kaleidoscopes of purple rhododendron bushes, a nature lover's paradise. If any hole on the Duke's calls for you to remember Walter Hagen's plea for golfers “to stop off and smell the flowers as they go through life,” then it is this hole.
The iconic 3rd on the Dukes - shame the blooms weren't out on Friday
Play the course early in the afternoon when the setting sun illuminates the majestic pine trees and you'll feel inspired. That the course is in existence is down to the tremendous foresight of the late 14th Duke of Bedford. He had the vision to realise that the combination of woodland and sandy soil which comprises this part of the Woburn estate was perfect for the game of golf. He commissioned Charles Lawrie to design not one, but two courses. Thus the Duke's and nearby Duchess' courses were created within two years of each other.
Greens are set in natural amphitheatres. The natural ravines and gullies that run through the course have been incorporated into the design as if they had been part of Lawrie's original intention. Thus the huge swale to the left of the par-5, 5th hole becomes an obstacle that has to be carried if par or better is to be achieved. Similarly, the drop off to the right of the 13th green naturally forces the player to aim left, bringing the left-hand bunker into play.
To be honest I enjoyed the Dukes more. It is more forgiving off the tee and with my driver still working well in the afternoon I was able to string a good score together going out helped by a birdie four at the fifth following three opening pars. Sadly, I started to make a few errors on the back nine, partly through fatigue and partly through poor shot making and my iron play still wasn't great. Indeed I saved the best for last on the short 322 yard par four. I hit a good five wood off the tee leaving a nine iron in. I finally hit one well and stuck it to four feet. Although I didn't make the birdie a closing par left me with fond memories of the Dukes and the day and my 33 point total was good enough for third place overall in the afternoon results.
If anything, the greens on the Dukes were even quicker than those on the Duchess which seemed to always be in shadow and so the dew was slow to clear. With the sun able to dry the Dukes greens they were a yard quicker and so true. My putting was still very solid but like the morning round, the ball was scared of the dark and refused to drop.
One quirk on the Dukes course is the tame fox that appeared from nowhere on the 14th hole. It had no fear of the golfers and edged closer and closer in the hope of a few titbits and seemed to give a derisory scowl if no-one offered any treats. It seemed in good health too.
This chap had no fear of humans. I didn't risk getting it to eat out of my hand but it took a piece of fruit bar from right by my feet
The day was a fantastic success and the thirty or so members of the Golf Monthly Forum enjoyed a couple of post round drinks as the presentations took place before heading off to all points of the compass. If the day is repeated next year I will definitely be putting my name down and for £135 to play these fantastic layouts, with bacon bap and coffee before we started, the delicious two course lunch and complimentary stroke savers for both courses, it was exceptional value for money.
I've no idea where my iron play went. I am usually very comfortable with this facet and it is getting out of position off the tee that is my down fall. I drove very well and had I been able to find more greens with mid irons in my hand and hit any of the par threes on either course I could have done much better and indeed may have contended for top spot in the PM round.
I was due to play the monthly stableford yesterday but with my mother in law in Harefield Hospital about to undergo a triple bypass and also feeling absolutely shattered having walked 36 holes I pulled out. I worked on the short game and my putting today and will hit the range this week to try and find an answer to the issues with my iron play.
I've got a week to get the game in gear before a big event next Monday. The Golf Monthly Forum in conjunction with Golf Monthly magazine's support are holding a golf day in aid of Help for Heroes at West Hill in Surrey. Another majestic course and similar to the Duchess in many ways I hope I can plot a smoother passage especially as I'm in the auspicious company of the Golf Monthly Editor, Mike Harris. It isn't too late if you are interested in making a donation or if you wish to give a prize for the charity auction afterwards, please contact Rick Garg (RickG) on the Golf Monthly Forum.

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