Golf was first introduced to Woodhall Spa in 1890 when a nine hole course opened for play. The Golf Club was instituted in 1891 and flourished until 1895 when the land that the course was built on was required for building. A new site was hurriedly found and another nine hole course was laid out. The village was extremely popular for its spa waters and golf proved to be another attraction.
In 1902 it became clear that the Golf Club would have to find another home as the land was required for town expansion once again. Local landowner and prominent member, Stafford Vere Hotchkin, offered a sandy tract of land off the Horncastle Road for the building of an 18 hole course (this is the site where the course remains today). Harry Vardon was employed to design the course and he visited Woodhall Spa on 24th January 1903. During his stay he played an exhibition match over the old nine hole course, setting a new course record of 35 in the process.
Course construction was not straightforward due to the nature of the ground and the weather conditions. After two years the course was ready for play and J H Taylor advised the placement of bunkers before the course was formally opened for play on 24th April 1905. The official opening took place on 30th June 1905 and the celebrations included an exhibition match. Harry Vardon, James Braid, J H Taylor were among a number of leading players that took part and a course record of 68 was set by Taylor (equalled by Braid later in the day). It is estimated that the course was about 5500 yards long with holes varying in length from 102 yards to 535 yards.
Harry Colt was employed to redesign the course in 1911 and his recommendations took three years to complete. By 1914 the course routing was the same as it is today and the length had increased to 6400 yards. An exhibition match was played in May 1914 and leading players Ted Ray and Tom Ball stated that they considered the course to be one of the best in the British Isles.
In 1919, Stafford Vere Hotchkin agreed to take over the finances of the club in light of the difficult economic conditions following the First World War. Hotchkin had fought in the War and had reached the rank of Major but was soon to be made an Honorary Colonel of the 60th Field Regiment. He had developed a huge interest in golf course architecture and he set up his own golf course design company in the late 1920s. He remodelled many of the holes at Woodhall Spa, moving greens and tees and adjusting hazard locations.
Hotchkin travelled to South Africa in 1928 and designed/remodelled a number of courses. Humewood Golf Club, the only true links course in South Africa, has hardly been altered and is a tribute to his design philosophy. On his return to the UK, he joined forces with Cecil Key Hutchison and Guy Campbell and designed many new courses around the world.
The Colonel continued to improve the course at Woodhall Spa through the 1930s and virtually kept the course open on his own during the Second World War. He died in 1953 and his son, Neil, continued his father’s legacy through the second half of the century. The course underwent minor changes throughout this time including the building of new tees to combat development in equipment. Neil was a staunch supporter of English amateur golf and among many administrative roles, perhaps the most significant was being elected as President of the English Golf Union in 1972.
In an effort to safeguard the future of the Club and the course Neil Hotchkin sold the facilities to the English Golf Union in 1995. The Union also secured enough land to build a second course and extensive practice facilities. The original course, now rated as one of the finest golf courses in the world, was aptly renamed ‘the Hotchkin’ when the second course (the Bracken) opened for play in 1998. The dream of a National Golf Centre was finally achieved and there is no doubt that the game of golf has benefited from the Hotchkin’s legacy.