Dukes and Hazards

Modern-day parkland golf complements the enduring nobility of Woburn Abbey

By: Dale Leatherman

Appeared in July/August 2004 LINKS

Don’t expect to bump into many Americans at Woburn Abbey. This secluded English estate (located about an hour northwest of London) is inexplicably overlooked by wayfaring Yanks—even though Woburn Golf and Country Club’s three parkland layouts are consistently ranked among the top 75 in the British Isles.

Were it not for the perfidy of a wayward religious leader, Woburn Abbey may never have become a golf destination at all. In 1538 Abbot Robert Hobbes was hanged for treason from one of the big oaks near the massive Great House and the Cistercian monastery was confiscated. Bad tidings for Hobbes and his fellow monks; good news for the Dukes of Bedford, who were granted the estate by Henry VIII. In the 1970s the 14th Duke brought golf to the property. It was a fitting complement to the 3,000-acre deer park, 22-acre flower gardens and 300-acre safari park filled with exotic animals.

The Dukes and Duchess layouts were designed by Charles Lawrie and opened in 1976 and 1979, respectively. A former venue for the Women’s British Open, the Dukes has also hosted the British Masters 14 times. With wind an almost guaranteed factor, the 6,963-yard course plays long and difficult. Highlights include the par-3 third, which spans a 130-yard sea of rhododendrons to a green flanked by bunkers and flowering shrubs.

The Duchess Course is shorter (6,651 yards), but its gauntlet of tight fairways deals harshly with imprecise ballstriking. The 7,214-yard Marquess Course opened in 2000. It ranges through oak, beech and chestnut copses along a plateau with superb views and plenty of water.

Accommodations are found at the Inn at Woburn, built in 1724 as a Royal Mail coach stop and elegantly refurbished in 2002. The property’s centerpiece, the Great House, remains the home of the current Duke and Duchess of Bedford, but is open to visitors from March through October. The house contains one of England’s finest collections of art, furniture, silver, gold and porcelain—all treasures to rival the golf holes contained on the grounds outside.

For more information, call 011-44-1908-370756 or visit


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