For the second instalment of GOLF RETAILING’s Secret Golfer series, our discerning and fearless golfer of moderate ability ventured to one of the most famous golfing venues in the Home Counties, the mighty Woburn Golf Club. But don’t forget, reputation holds little stock with the green-fee paying Secret Golfer. There is no room for prisoners upon this golfer’s trolley.
Introduction to Woburn GC
With all three of Woburn’s 18-hole golf courses ranked among the UK’s top-100 by Golf Monthly, the Duke’s, the Duchess’ and the Marquis’ golf courses have a reputation to uphold. The golf club is part of the Woburn Estate, and is privately owned by The Duke of Bedford, while Ryder Cup hero and local boy Ian Poulter is the club’s touring professional. I played the most famous of its three courses, the Duke’s, which stages the Travis Perkins Senior Masters, and was home to the British Masters for 20 years.
After a two-hour drive in the early hours, my first stop at 7am sharp was the locker room, where impressively, an attendant was already on duty, and greeted us with a locker key and, on request, a towel, so I could freshen up with a shower before breakfast. The attendant was friendly and obliging – nothing was too much trouble – and the locker room was spacious, perfectly clean and every detail added to the sense of luxury: the immaculate lockers, carpeting, and the excellent showers. It was a good start to the day.
Next stop was breakfast, and the buffet presentation, with a member of staff on hand to serve up the plates, was just what was needed after the long journey. The breakfast options were typically English, but the quality of the food was excellent, as you would hope at Woburn. With attentive table service from another friendly member of staff, the Secret Golfer stars were accumulating. After a great breakfast, complete with freshly squeezed orange juice and excellent coffee, the pro shop beckoned.
Luther Blacklock’s pro shop is well laid out, clean, spacious and bright, with a reasonable selection of products on display, although there was room for greater variety of brands, without over-crowding. Stocking Hugo Boss, IJP and Galvin Green apparel and plenty of crested items too, as you would expect, and with hardware from Taylor Made, Ping, Cleveland and Odyssey, the product offering is broader than in a typical shop, but nothing more than I expect from a club of Woburn’s stature.
Next to the shop is the fitting and teaching studio featuring the Foresight GC2 launch monitor. I was reliably informed that Woburn has just invested in Foresight’s HMT (Head Measurement Technology) upgrade, to enhance its shot analysis and custom-fitting capability, and it is good to see the club is keeping up to the minute. Golfers come to Woburn and pay a premium, so it is reassuring to see the club re-investing accordingly.
The shop staff were very welcoming, helpful, and showed sound knowledge of the shop’s offering and golf courses. They were also efficient in managing the high footfall of a shop servicing three golf courses in peak season, with a large corporate group also on one of the golf courses on this particular morning. A well-oiled machine.
With green fee paid and wallet considerably lighter for it, it was time to hit the range. Having just paid £169 for the day, £3 for 30 balls seems a bit unnecessary, although the range itself was in keeping with the rest of the club; plenty of bays, mats in good condition and a number of targets to focus on.
While warming up, Dan Grieve, one of Woburn’s professionals, passed by while waiting for a corporate group, and having spotted some strange shapes emanating from our iron play, he offered a few tips. My playing partner and I wondered whether he was simply trying to protect cars in the car park, but nonetheless, a free two-minute lesson was appreciated, and further illustrated the attention Woburn’s professionals give to customer service.
Heading towards the first tee there time for a quick putt. The practice green was busy with many golfers looking for an early start to miss the Friday afternoon rush hour, but this expansive green caters for large numbers, and its size did not compromise its great condition, and the green also offered a true reflection of the greens out on the course. Adjacent is a chipping green – so no need for a “No chipping or pitching” sign that is often posted by practice facilities. Many clubs simply don’t have room for a chipping green – this is understood – but Woburn has both the space and has optimized the quality within it.
The 6,983-yard Duke’s was built in 1974 and was designed by Charles Lawrie, and it is defined by towering pines, silver birch and chestnut trees. Plenty of heather, bracken and gorse enhance the attractiveness of the course but also boost its defences.
The Dukes’ really is an awesome test of golf. It is a beautiful setting, and on this hot summer’s day it was in superb condition. The greens were fast and true and missed putts left decent knee-knockers back to the hole.
The half-way house provides everything you would wish for, including hot and cold drinks, sandwiches, crisps, chocolate and energy bars, and as it is centrally located on the course, golfers are not limited to ‘halfway’ visits only, which was particularly appreciated on such a warm day.
Secret Golfer Verdict
The atmosphere at Woburn was superb, which is set-off by the welcoming, friendly and professional staff throughout the club, and boosted by equally friendly members. We even happened upon Ian Poulter on the putting green in the afternoon, honing his short game ahead of the Open. While the Ryder Cup star largely kept a low profile, he was also relaxed and accommodating when the occasional golfer shook his hand or asked for a picture.
Well done Woburn; excellent facilities, fantastic Duke’s course and the staff are a credit to the club. While the club did not score five stars across the board, the undeniable quality earns the club the top rating overall.
Be ready: GOLF RETAILING’s Secret Golfer is out there, rain or shine, reporting without bias.