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  • Neil White

Woburn - Duchess

Updated: May 12

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"My dad stood here with a crew filming an advert and they wanted him to strike the ball towards the green.

"When it flew straight into the hole, the director said: "That was perfect. Now do it again when we are rolling."

David Hay, the son of Woburn legend Alex, has many stories about the club and its three courses, but I especially loved this one from the par-five 15th on the Duchess.

The incident, he told me, had happened next to a tree shaped like a Churchill-esque victory sign, presented to the club by a Japanese member.

The tree is still there. I had a similar approach to the two-tiered green and was happy to find the target, but I narrowly missed my birdie.

The Duchess is seen by many as less exciting than its siblings, The Marquess and Duke's.

I can understand why – it doesn't quite have their levels of drama. Nevertheless, it still has plenty of attributes and its opening and closing holes are of particular merit.

It also adds a different dimension to the trio of tracks that make up England's finest corporate golf venue.

I had struggled to score well on my previous visits to Woburn and feared a repeat because of the very tough start on the Duchess.

The opener is a long par-four down an avenue of Woburn's hallmark tall pines with a fairway which dips before a steep ascent to the target.

All four of us played short approaches into the bank, failing to take into account the combination of the wind and damp turf caused by recent heavy rain.

It is followed by a devilishly narrow par-three, with bunkers and trees waiting for anyone who doesn't strike a straight ball. 

I can testify that even those who do could become victims of a swirling putting surface that cost me a three-putt.

One of the atypical elements of The Duchess is the difficulty of the four par-threes (three are among the most challenging holes on the course, according to the stroke index) against the apparent generosity of the four par-fives (all under 500 yards).

That said, I didn't yield as many points on the latter as I should because of slack course management.

This was highlighted on the dog-leg fourth when my drive was too straight, following the natural terrain to fall off the fairway down the right.

Because of the recent weather, the rough was more cloying than usual, and I could not make up the ground. 

I also missed out on opportunities around the green because of my inconsistent close-chipping struggles with such turf.

Nevertheless, I began to find a stride from the fifth hole onwards, parring the par-four that has the first appearance of the ridge—the remains of an ancient Danish settlement on which some of the course is built.

The seventh is a stroke-index six par-three and was playing more than its 200 yards, reflected by my well-struck three-wood shot coming up just short of the green. 

Somehow, my pal managed to thin his tee shot onto the green. He was a tad sheepish to claim a par.

An owner of one top-100 course remarked that he didn't understand how Woburn's team could grow grass, let alone achieve its high level of conditioning, given the amount of shade cast by the massive trees.

They are particularly evident on the furthest side of the course on holes eight and, especially, the ninth – a very tricky par-four where length and fairway placement are necessary to yield a good score.

By the time I hit the back nine, I was looking for some quirky holes that would make The Duchess more memorable than it had been.

Thus, after a testing par-five and two difficult par-fours comes an excellent six-hole run-in.

The 13th is another long par-three through the omnipresent trees to a sunken green with a false front.

It is followed by a stroke-index-one par-four, which requires every sinew to find the target and avoid menacing bunkers on the fairway and greenside.

Alex Hay's film crew escapade is on the 15th, which has been changed to a fun par-five from the par-four it would have been in those days.

After my par, I arrived at the 16th with some relief, believing the shortest par-three on the course would yield dividends.

However, my merriment soon turned to dismay as my high tee shot clipped a tree branch and the ball dropped straight down.

I was then required to lift it up a steep bank into the sloping green. Sadly, I couldn't hold the pitch and it trundled over the back. Blob.

We were told the 17th is The Duchess's Marmite hole because it is so quirky – a short, curving par-four down a dale, before climbing to a flag in a bowl green. I loved it.

The 18th is a splendid finale – a bending par-four with plenty of trouble down the right and bunkers all around a sloping green.

It polished off an excellent round before a quick sup in Woburn's modern but most welcoming clubhouse, which has huge indoor rooms (including ones dedicated to Alex Hay and touring pro, Ian Poulter) and a gorgeous verandah.

This is a place to be seen as well as to experience.

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