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Wonderful Woodham is worth a visit
8:00am Thursday 26th September 2013 in Sport
Golf courses across the region vary in difficulty, length and quality. Dave Horsley paid a visit to Woodham Golf Club to find a gem of a course to be had for a bargain price for North-East golfers
THERE are some brilliant golf courses in the Durham County Golf Union. Many might pick Rockliffe, Wynyard or Ramside as their favourite, or perhaps the links of Seaton Carew or Hartlepool, or the quirkiness of Brancepeth Castle or Beamish. I would slip in another contender – Woodham Golf and Country Club.
All summer, Woodham, a 6,700-yard par 73 park and woodland course in Newton Aycliffe, has been charging just £10 a round on midweek afternoons and, as of September 1, upgraded the offer to £10 anytime Monday to Friday, and after 2pm at weekends; and at that price, it surely leaves the others standing in its wake in terms of what you get for your money.
The variety and difficulty of Woodham’s back nine is, I would suggest, among the most testing you will come across in the North of England and, overall, the layout of this course, with its abundance of trees and water hazards, and good quality fairways and greens, make it a genuine golfing pleasure.
He may be just a tad biased, but PGA head professional Ernie Wilson – who has been associated with Woodham, off and on, for 20 years – includes the 15th and 17th in his top 100 holes in the world. That’s some statement, regardless of the obvious vested interest.
With membership currently standing at 300, the club has worked hard to entice along the growing brigade of pay-as-you-play golfers – thus the amazing £10 offer, which is sometimes even made available at the weekend – but it is not something Woodham has done without fully considering the implications.
Says Ernie Wilson: “It is a matter of finding the right balance between ensuring the course is viable and ensuring that the members, the club’s bread and butter, are kept happy. But every eight minutes that passes without someone teeing off, whether a member or a visitor, is a lost opportunity for Woodham Golf and Country Club.”
Sadly, Woodham is also a golf club showing all the symptoms of the austere times in which we live. In June, its owner – Washington Developments Limited – went into administration when, just a year earlier, it had announced a £32m housing and leisure scheme that included developing the course as a leading golf venue, potentially hosting European events.
A buyer for Woodham is still being sought and, until one is, Washington Developments and administrators KPMG say it is business as usual for the golf club – which is good news for anyone who hasn’t already experienced Woodham’s many delights.
I believe all golf courses should start with a relatively easy hole to ease and encourage players into the game. The first at Woodham, a 511-yard par 5 with a wide fairway and little to penalise a stray drive, is a definite birdie chance and should give most golfers the chance to start with a satisfying par.
At 400 yards, the second is also a hole many will fancy their chances of birdying, but the out of bounds on the left makes the tee shot quite intimidating and the valley as you approach the green can make your second shot seem shorter than it actually plays.
The narrow approach to the green at the third, a short par 4 at 346 yards, means it is all about an accurate tee shot. Get that right and the trees closing in on either side the nearer you get to the hole should not interfere with your short iron up to an elevated two-tier green.
The fourth, a 176-yard par 3, is stroke index 18, but the enclosing trees and steeply-sloped green means it is not without teeth.
The fifth is undisputedly the most challenging hole on the front nine. A 564-yard par 5 lined by woodland on both sides, it is a genuine three-shotter for the vast majority of golfers. Even a 250-yard drive leaves the sensible golfer with a short iron up to a near-70 degree left dogleg and a mid-iron into a green that is quite generous by par 5 standards.
The sixth, a pretty dogleg right 370-yard par 4, is another hole that demands careful positioning from the tee as woodland bites into the fairway from the right.
The seventh, eighth and ninth, a 338-yard par 4, 177-yard par 3 and 319-yard par 4, respectively, are all good birdie opportunities and play them well and all of a sudden your card could be looking very nice.
The tenth, a 530-yard par 5, has tree copses eating into the fairway at about 300 yards, so going for the green in two depends on being both long and straight. The tree-lined amphitheatre green is protected by a deep gully, so the sensible player will lay up and go into the green, which slopes quite steeply towards you (and the gully), with a short iron.
The challenge on the eleventh, a 419-yard par 4 with a left dogleg, is its undulating green and a bunker, just short of the green, which forces the eye to the right of the green when the flag is typically on the left.
The 12th is a sweet par 3, 149 yards downhill to an “island” green heavily guarded by bunkers at the front and an out-of-bounds fence immediately behind. Even with a 17stroke index, a three feels good.
The 13th a 533-yard par 5 doglegging first left and then right, has a stream running its length which emerges as a small lake in front of the green and would be the signature hole on most golf courses (at Woodham that honour is reserved for the 15th). The tee-shot favours a draw over, or around, a huge oak tree (at about 200 yards) to reach the wide and inviting fairway. Going for the green in two would mean a long and blind shot to a small and heavily guarded target. Few members try it. At about 280 yards, the fairway, always sloping right towards the stream, rises steeply and reaches a highpoint at about the 150-yard marker. It is from here that most would look to play their third shot, able to admire the green’s attractive setting in its full glory. With trouble short, left and right, the only bailout is long, but that would leave a steeply downhill chip back towards the trouble.
Get the 14th right and the 374-yard par 4 is a potential birdie opportunity. A good tee shot to the generous fairway give a good view of the green and the huge lake in front of it.
And so to the 15th, the signature hole, a 485 par 5 that, on paper, suggests reachable but in reality is a hole you have to carefully plot your way through. Another sharp dogleft leg forces the average golfer to drive to the corner, which would leave a second shot of about 250 yards to a narrow green surrounding by trouble, not least a small ocean of a lake at the front. The stream that feeds this lake runs alongside then cuts across the fairway at about 120 yards from the front of the green, creating a small island of fairway between it and the lake, so even laying up has to be precisely measured. Just for added interest, the green is two-tiered sloping gently back towards the water.
The 16th, a 390-yard par 4 with birdie potential, provides a brief lull in the excitement before arguably the most difficult hole on the course, a 232-yard uphill par 3 approached through a narrow neck of woodland. Stunning and intimidating, I was tempted to pull out an 8 iron and play it as a par 4.
As if by apology for the ordeal of the 17th, the 18th – a 389-yard par 4 – is a tee-shot to possibly the widest fairway in the world and, if you avoid yet another lake front left, an enticing mid-iron shot into a big green.
Factfile Woodham Golf and Country Club, Burnhill Way. Newton Aycliffe, County Durham DL5 4PN 01325-315257. Open to the public seven days a week, 8am-7pm, with a spike bar/restaurantand well-stocked golf shop.
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