Meet the courses manager: Sam Rhodes

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir November 30, 2017 20:25 Updated

Sam, who looks after Woodhall Spa GC in Lincolnshire, talks about what his role entails and the major refurbishment of the world-famous Hotchkin Course

You probably are aware of Woodhall Spa Golf Club, which features the National Golf Centre – ‘the Home of English Golf’ – and the Hotchkin Course, currently ranked 25th in Golf World’s top 100 golf courses on the planet, but what is it like to be the manager of both its magnificent courses?

Sam Rhodes

The Hotchkin Course is a heathland course with heather-lined fairways and cavernous bunkers. While the Bracken Course is a parkland course set among woodland with undulating greens which will test the ability of any golfer’s putting ability.

“The demands the courses make on our management regime are completely different. The Hotchkin Course is presented in a very natural way,” says Sam Rhodes, courses manager.

“The playing surfaces such as the fairways are cut in such a way that the stripes are not too apparent. The rough is left so that the fescue can flower and seed while still being sparse enough not to cause any issues in terms of the game. All adding in my opinion to the heathland experience.

“The Bracken Course however is totally different. This parkland course lends itself to the aesthetics of fairway striping and so on. The rough also is a different animal and demands constant attention throughout the seasons.”

As well as the two courses Woodhall Spa is also the home of England Golf’s Performance Centre, a nine-hole short game coaching facility where the national, regional and county squads come for coaching throughout the year.

“The emphasis on the maintenance regime for this area is based on surface quality and meeting the specific needs of the individual squads,” he said.

In 2016 a refurbishment programme commenced for the Hotchkin, for, as Sam explains, four main reasons.

“Bunker refurbishment, heathland restoration, course ranking and course playability.

Bunker refurbishment: We were having increasing difficulty keeping our bunkers, which are arguably the main feature of the course, in acceptable condition. In particular, the south facing bunker banks are crumbling and letting the course down badly.

“We decided that we needed external opinion on a new design that would be both in keeping with a heathland course and one that would be easier to maintain. The Hotchkin Course is renowned for its bunkers. There are currently 123 bunkers of varying depths and sizes. The style and type of bunker demands that they all must be maintained by hand and as such they require a team of three greenstaff each taking three hours per day just to rake them over.

“With the help of [golf course architect] Tom Doak we are in the process of returning the bunkers back to their original design which many have been lost over the years. For maintenance purposes this will greatly help in allowing the natural heathland aesthetics around the bunkers to come to the fore and greatly reduce the need for such tasks as strimming the faces, because we are now returning to high sand faces and encouraging the heather to recolonise around the extremities.

Heathland restoration: There are many areas of the site that have become overgrown with trees and scrub and we were in danger of losing the heath.

“After careful planning, we have embarked on a heathland restoration programme that will benefit the quality of the site from a heathland perspective as well as having a knock-on benefit to the playing surfaces.

“The removal of trees can alter the appearance dramatically and it is our intention to return the course to how it was originally intended to be played before becoming so overgrown.

Course ranking: The Hotchkin Course is currently ranked 66th in the world in Golf magazine, 2017. We wish to keep the course in the world’s top 100 as it is considered by many to be a ‘national treasure’.

Course playability: As a tournament venue, it is crucial that we regularly assess the course from a playing perspective – that is, does the course still provide the elite golfer with a stern test given improvements in equipment and playing ability? As well as catering for the scratch golfer, we also have to make sure that our many visitors and growing membership enjoy the challenge.

Nigel Lovatt (l) Reesink Turfcare and Sam Rhodes 

“The project began in 2016 with the aim of completing six holes per year.”

The Hotchkin is also a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the greenkeeping team works with Natural England.

“Personally I have found that working with Natural England has been really productive,” he said.

Finally, Sam detailed what’s been going on at the club this year. “It has been hectic to say the least! We have held six national events this year including the Brabazon Trophy, English Women’s Strokeplay Championship and England Golf’s Golf Week,” he explained.

“It was a summer of long days and very short nights!

“This is what Woodhall Spa is about though and we thrive on having these type tournaments.

“Yes, we are all tired, but are also incredibly proud in what we have achieved throughout the site.”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir November 30, 2017 20:25 Updated
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