Ahead of the Travis Perkins plc Senior Masters, europeantour.com goes inside ever-present host venue Woburn Golf Club and its renowned Duke’s Course with the help of defending champion Des Smyth…
Woburn, near Milton Keynes just north of London, is this week hosting the Senior Masters for the 13th consecutive year, having also previously staged The European Tour’s British Masters at differing times between 1979 and 2002, the Heritage Tournament – a one-off European Tour event won by Sweden’s Henrik Stenson in 2004 – as well as the Women’s British Open (1984 and 1991-99).
This year’s tournament holds special significance, too, in the relationship between The European Tour and Woburn, as the 2013 Senior Masters marks the 30th Tour event for the club.
There are three championship courses at Woburn, including this week’s host course, the Duke’s – named so after the Duke of Bedfordshire on whose land the club is built – the Duchess and the Marquess'.
There have been a plethora of iconic names to have won on the lush, tree-lined layouts, surrounded by mature woodland in the shadow of Woburn Abbey, including Graham Marsh, Greg Norman, Lee Trevino, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Ian Woosnam, and Justin Rose.
European Tour and Ryder Cup legend Ian Poulter, meanwhile, has been attached to the club as Touring Professional since 2003, during which time he has been a great ambassador for Woburn. He is extremely supportive of Junior Golf and in July 2013 held his eighth consecutive “Ian Poulter Junior Invitational” which with the support of his sponsors, was hosted at Woburn on the Marquess’ Course.
No one is more well-qualified to talk of the Duke’s Course’s unique challenges than Smyth, having won twice here in the last three years.
The Irishman is this week going for an unprecedented treble and with it looking to join a unique band of players to have won the same Senior Tour event on three occasions.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to have won twice here and I think the reason being that there is a premium placed on straight hitting,” said Smyth, a five-time winner on the Senior Tour after a highly successful career on The European Tour which yielded eight victories.
“We play lots of different types of courses and there are those that will give you a bit of breathing space but this certainly isn’t one of those. That plays into the hands of players like me, having always depended on my straight driving as one of the strengths of my game.
“I don’t hit it offline that often and therefore don’t get into trouble that often, so this type of course works for me.
“Aside from that, it’s just a great golf course.”
“The greens are very fair, there’s not too much movement on them. They’ve made some changes on them in recent times and they are all positive and I have to say they are looking better than ever this year, perhaps because of the very good summer we have had. They have always presented the course very well but it seems to be better this year than ever before. I noticed in the Pro-Am that the speed seems to be up and that could again be because of the weather.”
The Key Holes
The 1st – 514-yard par five
“The hardest shot of whole week is on the first tee because in the old days we used to start on what is now the second which is a nice, soft opener with lots of space. But that drive is the toughest on the whole course and you really don’t want that on the first tee. That is a big, psychological challenge you have to get over and it haunts you.”
The 7th – 464-yard par four
“Probably the toughest hole on the course. You’re never sure whether you want to hit a driver or a three-wood off that tee because you really do want to have a second shot into the two-tiered green.”
The 14th in…
“The finish is brilliant from 14 in. You don’t have this tournament won even if you are two or three shots ahead going into the back nine. I was three shots ahead at one point in the final day last year but I had five holes to play and I did really well to make five pars and ended up winning by one. So you’re never really comfortable until you get to the last green with your lead.”
How it played last year
As Smyth attests, on such a tight, tree-lined layout, there is potential for peril lurking around every corner on the Duke’s Course at Woburn.
There are a number of birdie chances out there for those on song, however, as evidenced by the statistics from the 2012 edition of the event.
The par five first hole ranked the easiest last year at an average of 4.70, conceding 90 birdies to the field and just the 12 bogeys across the week. There were, though, six double bogeys or worse made on the 514-yard opener, backing up Smyth’s observations about the all-important tee shot.
Conversely, it was the par four 16th that ranked the most difficult in 2012 at an average of 4.43. Only nine birdies were made there in the 12th edition of the Senior Masters while there were 82 bogeys and nine doubles or worse.
A winning total of ten under par proved good enough for Smyth in last year, just as it did when he won here the first time in 2010.
Ten, it seems, is the magic number for the history-chasing Irishman.