The Heathland Course: A Golf Geography Lesson

General view of Woodhall Spa's Hotchkin course, a heathland golf course.
The Hotchkin Course at Woodhall Spa is considered one of the best heathland golf courses in England. David Cannon/Getty Images

A "heathland course" or "heathland golf course" is a term that describes the physical characteristics of a golf course built on a specific type of geography. What type of geography? A heath. So to understand what a heathland course is, let's first explain what heathland is.

Definition of Heathland

Heaths are most common in the United Kingdom and in parts of Western Europe. This is how BBC Nature defines heathland:

"Heathlands are lowland areas dominated by colorful heather, gorse and bracken. Much like moorland, the soils are acidic and nutrient-poor, but unlike the water-logged moors, heaths have light and sandy soils. ... Lowland heath occurs mainly in north-west Europe, with about 20-percent of the world's total coverage found across the warmer parts of southern England."

Golf Courses Built on Heathland Resemble Interior Links (But With Some Trees)

If you build a golf course on heathland, what does it look like? There are two good ways to picture the terrain of a heathland course:

  • Think of it as a middle ground between the coastal links courses of England and Scotland and the parkland courses of the United States;
  • Or, perhaps even better, think of a heathland golf course as an interior links, but (most likely) with trees.

Referring back to BBC Nature's definition, we see that heathland bears some strong resemblances to linksland: nutrient-poor, sandy soils that drain well; landscapes of heather and gorse. But linksland is, by definition, coastal. Heathland is typically interior, away from coastlines.

Also, heathland courses tend to have trees, albeit most commonly around the edges of holes rather than in positions where they easily come in play. Pines and silver birch are tree species most commonly found at heathland golf courses.

Some of the best-known heathland golf courses include the Old Course at Sunningdale, Walton Heath Golf Club, Ferndown Golf Club and the two courses at Woodhall Spa, all in England.