Mark Townsend meets three figures who make this year’s host venue, Woburn, and their three courses work like clockwork
Three of Woburn’s key figures take us inside their doors to explain how this year’s host of the Women’s British Open works. They are managing director Jason O’Malley (JOM), marketing manager Glenna Beasley (GB), and operations manager James Park (JP).
How did Woburn grow from its early days?
GB: I’ve been at Woburn since 1981 and I came from Wentworth. I came here in a position where I was doing reception duties and running members’ competitions and I then became the club secretary in 1985. I still do a lot of the jobs that that involves.
In 1981, we only had the two courses and the club was very much in its infancy. We had the Dunlop Masters in 1979 and 1981, then from 1985 we had the Dunhill British Masters and the club began to evolve. We’ve always been very fortunate with the winners that we’ve had here and that has helped generate interest in the club.
How does the club work?
JP: We are about an 80,000 rounds a year venue, which we are comfortable with, and we have a team of around 40 greenkeepers across the three courses. They will be assigned to a certain course and then stay on that course unless we have a tournament.
We’re a busy club with around 1,500 members as well as a lot of visitors, corporate golf and residential and seasonal packages that we offer.
How would you summarise the courses?
JP: We’re a 54-hole venue with the Duke’s, Duchess and Marquess courses and all three are ranked inside the Top 100 courses in Great Britain and Ireland.
The Duke’s (pictured) was our first course here, built in 1976, followed by the Duchess in 1978 and the Marquess was opened in 2000.
JOM: I always say the courses are like three siblings – they might be from the same parents (and the same woodland) but they’ve got really different personalities. The Marquess is the younger, brasher, wider course. It’s tree-lined but is more generous off the tee, there is more undulation and there is more to deal with on the greens. When they’re running they will be 11.5 and this presents the challenge. You need to hit the right part of the fairway to hit the right part of the green.
How did the Marquess course come about?
GB: The Duke’s late father, the Marquess of Tavistock, was the inspiration really behind the club coming to fruition in the first place and he always liked that piece of land and it was his vision to build a third course. Clive Clark, Peter Alliss and Alex Hay worked on some initial plans. Then, European Tour Courses became involved with the club and European Tour Design adapted the plans, and now we have the course that we have today.
Woburn held the Women’s British Open nine times before it became a major. How did you become the host in 2016?
JOM: A good number of years ago we went into conversations with IMG and that led to us being in the frame for 2016.
We’ve got a great history with the championship and through those conversations, being introduced to Ricoh and them coming to visit, we were able to rubber-stamp things for three years ago.
Then we were pleasantly surprised that it came back that quickly for this year. A few things worked in our favour. We have a great relationship with IMG, the proximity to London works for us and also the fact that the Scottish venues, to an extent, are ruled out by the Solheim, as they didn’t want to dilute that audience.
How much is Charley Hull part of the club?
GB: Charley joined here as an 11-year-old, when she played off 7, and her handicap then came crashing down. I interviewed her for membership and I remember her coming into the office with little pigtails.
Lauren Taylor was another one who excelled in winning the British Amateur and we’ve got other girls who are at university now and who will hopefully follow in their footsteps. A lot of the ladies from other clubs reminisce about the day Charley or Lauren beat them by a huge score.
We’ve never had separate areas for men and women with no restricted times and it’s fantastic to be able to push women’s golf. Right from day one women have always been included.
JP: When Charley is up here she will play with a lot of the members, she’ll play off the white tees, she gets involved in the scratch team events and she beats everyone most times. Hopefully she can do us proud in August.
What are the stand-out holes on the Marquess?
JP: Our signature hole is the par-5 7th, which has a split fairway and gives you the option to go for the green if you go down the right-hand side off the tee. You leave yourself with a big carry but it’s a shorter route. Most members will play up the left which is more undulating but a lot safer.
Other notable holes are the 12th, which is the only hole with water on it, and we’ve got a beautiful par 3, the 14th, which is spectacular and around 200 yards. There isn’t one bad hole on the Marquess and they’re all very different.
What sort of crowds are you expecting?
JOM: We had just over 53,000 spectators in 2016 and I would love to think that a British defending champion adds further excitement and an increased gate. It would be brilliant for all parties if we could push on towards 60,000. That would be spectacular.