- Neil White
Updated: Nov 6, 2022
Clang! A heavy nine-iron saw my compadre’s ball ricochet off the vermillion roof tiles of Woking’s clubhouse and settle next to the practice putting green.
We had been warned. An IMPORTANT notice at the 14th tee states that the green is very close to the pavilion and the prevailing wind is behind the golfer.
I confess to a stifled snigger at seeing the prophecy fulfilled, only to thin my approach and be forced to play my next shot, next to a wall and underneath a drainpipe.
One of the great quirks of Woking is that the clubhouse is in play – indeed, signs on the veranda confirm this but warn golfers continue at their own risk.
They make no mention of the poor devils who are supping after-match refreshments while attempts to rescue pars are made around their tables.
Woking is different from any other course I have played. Sure, there is a touch of Swinley Forest and a couple of echoes of The Berkshire but it has its own idiosyncrasies.
For starters, I cannot recall a stroke index-18 opening hole.
It sets the bar for an outward nine where precision rather than big-hitting is required to score.
Long drivers will fancy their chances of hitting a target which is only 277-yards off the whites but they would have to be very skilled to keep their ball on the green.
I was about 30 yards short but watched in alarm as my chipped approach gathered pace on a putting surface which was dazzlingly quick for April.
The beauty of Woking truly emerges on the par-three uphill second whose green is perched on a bend over heather and between bunkers.
The purple Calluna is omnipresent on this beautiful Surrey course. Only the foolish or very talented will be more ambitious than simply taking their medicine and chipping out.
I could say the same of the fairway bunkers after finding myself in the one which changed golf design forever.
Apparently, Woking member Stuart Paton dug a sand trap (without telling anyone), left of centre on the 4th hole and modelled it on a bunker at St. Andrew’s. It made what is an otherwise straightforward hole one of intense strategy.
Needless to say, I not only found the bunker but also failed to emerge after my first attempt and ended up with null Stableford points.
Paton’s concept was copied extensively and the changes meant inland courses began to compete with revered links. I would have enjoyed the story more if I had read it rather than lived it.
The 6th is a beautiful par four with an elevated tee, bunkers on either side of a fairway and heather on the right before a second shot to a green protected by a stream.
I loved the attention to detail and conditioning at Woking – with its crisscrossed tee boxes and manicured fairways divided into light and dark green. Nowhere is this more evident than looking down this gorgeous hole.
The dogleg 9th may be stroke-index nine but is surely one of the toughest holes on the course with trees encroaching from the left. It rises dramatically to a green with a fearsome slope from back to front.
I was quite happy to reach it in three only to see a long putt from behind the hole go on and on and on… finishing 20 yards back down the fairway.
The back nine begins with another testing par-three on the side of a hill before a sequence of holes which require even more accurate but longer hitting than previously.
For example, the 11th which needs attacking down the left to avoid heather and a pinpoint approach through bunkers.
The 12th has a fiendish two-level green which causes the ball to swirl away from the hole and demands expert reading.
The 13th is arguably the toughest hole of all – I succumbed to a central bunker, my big-hitting partners found the heather and none of us managed a point between us.
The 16th is one of the prettiest par-threes I have played – I can testify that even if the ball is hit cleanly over water and bunkers, it may struggle to hold on the long green.
The course begins with stroke index 18 and finishes with the second easiest hole but there is a pond to the right which will gather approaches from those who take it for granted.
I was beguiled by Woking and, after only one round, completely understood why it is so highly rated.
The tasty carvery in its wonderfully traditional clubhouse was the final touch on a superb day and was just about far enough from the 14th green not to be interrupted.
I am scheduled to return next month and cannot wait.