Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Woodhall Spa Golf Club

My visit to Woodhall Spa marked my first taste of English golf. It is also my latest check mark on the world top 100 list, on which the Hotchkin course is ranked #62. It has taken me three years to make the trip south from Scotland with my golf clubs in tow. This trip included rounds at Woodhall Spa (Hotchkin) and Ganton Golf Club (whose review is on its way). In this review, and the coming post on Ganton, you will see me draw a number of comparisons between the two clubs.
We arrived at Woodhall Spa after a long drive from Edinburgh eager to play the course. The facilities are nice, but don't have a particular "golf club" feel. The club is "The National Golf Center" and as of 1995, is owned by the English Golf Union and the course feels as such. This is certainly not a negative observation, but if you are in search of tradition and "old English club" feel, head two hours north to Ganton. The Hotchkin course was my first taste of heathland golf. The course lived up to its legend, and I really enjoyed the round.
I only had two, very minimal, complaints about the course. Firstly, the greens had been aerated and were in poor shape. Of course, aeration is essential course maintenance, but our round happened over "summer peak dates" during which peak greens fees are charged. For the money, you would expect great course conditions. Secondly, the absence yardage markers in the fairway bothered me (as I struggled with distances all day). This is a standard feature of traditional old clubs, but based on my short visit to the club, old tradition does not seem to be its aim. I should have ponied up the £5 and bought a yardage book!

Hole #1 - 353 yards
The course opens with a straightforward par 4. The bunkers on the right, and short left of the green, are a small warning of the massive hazards that are yet to come.

Hole #2 - 401 yards
The second hole is a great example of hazards consciously and subconsciously affecting golfers. The fairway is large, and if you play out left, there are no hazards. However, massive bunkers guard the right side of the fairway. To give a sense of scale, the second picture above shows Tim playing out sideways after a wayward drive. Keep in mind that this a fairway bunker.

 Hole #3 - 408 yards
The third hole has a semi-blind tee shot leaving a long approach to the green. Slopes short of the green keep balls from running up, and large bunkers left trap golf balls. The piece of tower behind the green is part of an original structure that dates back to 1440. This is where the course really begins to take off.

Hole #4 - 383 yards
The fourth hole requires a drive to the right side of the fairway, which leaves a short iron approach to a heavily guarded green. I cannot overstate how large and deep the greenside bunkers are on this hole. The photos above do not do the size justice.

Hole #5 - 143 yards
This short par 3 may be my favorite hole on the course. From the tee, golfers have no idea that there are bunkers guarding the very small green. Once you crest a hill, it is apparent that the entire green is surrounded by the same penal bunkers found everywhere on the course. This hole is a great example of a challenging short par 3.

Hole #8 - 187 yards
The eighth is another strong par 3 at Woodhall Spa (notice a recurring theme). The hole was playing into a steady wind, and I hit a full 210 yard shot to reach the center of the green. Bunkers guard this green as well, but the putting surface is large, and allows varying degrees of offline shots to survive, a trait of any great long par 3. 

Hole #9 - 545 yards
I have a bone of contention to pick with the 9th hole. A set of cross bunkers intersect the fairway of this par 5 directly where a long hitter's ball should end. I personally have never liked par 5s where a design feature takes driver out of play off the tee. That is certainly the case here. Find a more creative way to make the hole a "three shotter!"

Hole #11 - 405 yards 

The eleventh started a string of holes featuring tight, tree-lined fairways and heather guarding the greens. The par 4s on the back were all very picturesque, and the course as a whole felt tighter off the tee.

 Hole #12 - 162 yards
The final par 3 on the course rounded off three very strong short holes. The elevated green at the twelfth demands an accurate mid-iron to get near the pin. Bunkers guarding short left and right swallow any weak tee shots.

 Hole #15 - 315 yards
The fifteenth hole was my playing partner Tim's favorite hole on the course. It is a great example of a difficult, short par 4. The small, undulating green is guarded by deep greenside bunkers. The angle of attack from the fairway makes the already small green even shallower. 

Hole #17 - 322 yards
The seventeenth is another one of the tight, tree-lined par 4s on the back nine. The dogleg left bend to the hole is very pleasing to the eye, and bunkers on the right side of the fairway guard any bailout tee shots.

Hole #18 - 442 yards
The eighteenth hole requires a left to right ball flight off the tee, opposite of the seventeenth hole. After a solid tee shot, around 165 yards is left to the green. The best miss is certainly short on this green. It is an excellent finishing hole to a very strong round of golf.

After our round concluded, we immediately turned around and played another 9 holes to cap off a very enjoyable day. Before the round, I had heard many comparisons of Loch Lomond and Woodhall Spa asking which was a better inland course. Having played both, I would say in solely comparing the courses, Woodhall Spa edges out Loch Lomond. Factor in the full experience, and Loch Lomond is on a different planet altogether.

My first taste of English golf has merely whetted my appetite, and I am eager to get back down south to play more great inland and heathland courses.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

TRUE Linkswear PHX Shoe Review

This review of TRUE Linkswear golf shoes was written by Andrew Rehfeld, who will hopefully be contributing more to the equipment section of the blog in the future. 

Choosing the right golf shoe is very important. The feet anchor a golfer’s swing, and many instructors insist on building the swing “from the ground up.”  Finding a durable and comfortable shoe is especially important for the avid walking golfer.  Recently, focus has shifted from shoes that will help the golf swing to finding an overall good shoe that can stand up to the many miles walked during a round of golf.

         Having owned everything from premium golf shoes in the $200+ price range all the way down to the $50 Steinmart special, I have seen many different designs that succeed and others that fail. Unfortunately, I can say with great certainty that the majority of my purchases fall in the latter camp FAIL.  It seems that no matter what well-built, flashy design companies produce, I am never happy.  With all the “hybrid” style and innovative shoes in recent years, it seems that the general golfing community has the same dissatisfaction with traditional golf shoes.

         My interest in TRUE Linkswear shoes began ever since I first saw Ryan Moore wearing wearing the brand. At that point, I had lost hope in any golf shoe satisfying my needs, and I wasn’t interested in shelling out any type of money for a new design that could possibly be even worse.  However, I needed new shoes recently, so I decided to take the risk.
         On first examination, the TRUE phx looks like a casual “skateboard” style shoe.  At $99 – though they have recently gotten a price reduction – the PHX is TRUE’s entry-level model, although it doesn’t portray the entry level in styling.  While affordable, it’s clear that this shoe is well-built with its full leather upper.  In regards to sizing, I would recommend trying the shoe on in person, since it seemed to run quite large.  Compared to my Adidas Tour 360 shoes, I was a full size smaller – choosing a 9 instead of a 10.  This may vary with foot shape, but it was certainly the case for me.  However, I have also heard of other reviewers stating that the pricier TRUE models run a little smaller than the PHX since they have a sock liner.

         I have walked quite a few rounds in the shoes, and feel well qualified to review the product.  My initial reaction is… WOW.  My typical complaint with walking is pain in my big toes and rubbing on my Achilles tendon / heel area.  I have suffered neither problem with this shoe.  One thing that is different about the foot bed compared to other golf shoes is that it seems to slope up in the toes; this is hard to describe, but my foot is almost curved upwards when walking.  This seems to support my toes and allow my foot to roll naturally when walking.  I now believe that the pain in my toes came from the unnecessary energy used by my toes in previous pairs of shoes.  TRUE Linkswear shoes allow your foot to roll and don’t bend quite as much in the toe as other shoes.  I think this forces more of the energy of walking into the legs – I walk more with my thighs than with my ankles and toes.  Being a hockey player, this has been great for me, since I have spent years building up my quads and legs skating.  However, I could see others becoming oddly sore from this different motion. 

         Regarding the rubbing against my Achilles tendon, the PHX has lots of padding around collar.  I have noticed that more expensive, traditional shoes – such as the Tour 360 – are much slimmer and stiffer overall, and this seems to create uncomfortable pressure points.  While cheaper shoes tend to have more padding, it is often weak and wears down quickly.  I’ll have to see how this works in the long run, but it seems that the PHX provides both great durability and amount of padding.  Because of this padding and its “skateboard” style, the phx appears more bulky, but it is significantly lighter than most golf shoes and the size is completely unnoticeable.
         The big issue people want to know regarding a spikeless golf shoe is… Will I slip?  The answer to this question is a little nuanced, but the short answer is NO.  Expensive, stiffer golf shoes try to create a solid platform from which to swing.  The PHX does the opposite with its slim sole and pushes the golfer’s feet into the ground.  Because of this, the golfer is more anchored into the ground instead of on top of the ground.  I could see how this could be a preference issue.  So no, you won’t slip, BUT that doesn’t mean this feeling is for everyone.  Since I have a smooth tempo and don’t make a ton of aggressive swings, I like this feeling, and it seems to slow me down even more.

         So, are there are negatives to this shoe?  Overall, I have not found anything about this shoe that I don’t like.  While there may be a preference issue with the spikeless, thin sole design, the shoe is brilliantly designed and passes all tests that I find important in a golf shoe.  The non-traditional look might make some shy away and it’s probably not refined enough to wear at Augusta National, but for someone who walks consistently and needs to be comfortable, this is the shoe.  If I had to rate the TRUE PHX out of ten, it would get a nine.  The PHX only misses out on a perfect ten, because I know it’s not perfect for everyone.  But, this shoe is perfect for the walking golfer who demands comfort above all other aspects.

More can be found on TRUE Linkswear golf shoes at -