LOCATION: Leeds, Yorkshire, England
ARCHITECT: Dr Alister MacKenzie
PAR: 71 S.S.S. RATING: 73 LENGTH: 6,888 yards
DATE INSPECTED / PLAYED: Monday 23rd June 2014
The Alwoodley Golf Club is a magnificently understated layout, immersed in a beautiful landscape that gives one a serene feeling of isolation. Though despite its seclusion, it is actually one of nine courses in a greenbelt situated just 5 miles – or 15 minutes drive – north of the centre of Leeds.
The ground over which The Alwoodley is laid upon could best be described as gently rolling. What little change in elevation there is across the site has been exceptionally well utilised, and somewhat cleverly incorporated into the strategy of a number of holes. A fine example of this is the small ridge encountered on the short uphill par four 2nd. In addition to making the tee shot on that hole blind, the same ridge is also smartly utilised to conceal the green at the par four 17th, whilst also providing a home for the 18th tees, thus affording the golfer a commanding view down the full length of the home hole. Aside from the demanding 10th, there is minimal change in elevation across the remainder of the property, though this takes absolutely nothing away from the quality of golf holes encountered throughout the round.
Interestingly the course is actually laid out over two separate parcels of land, which are divided by a narrow public roadway that cuts through the site. This road separates the two opening and closing holes from the remainder of the layout, though does little to detract from the course. In fact the need to pass through pair of small timber gates on either side of it only adds to the rural character and charm of the property.
The opening three holes are all very playable for the average golfer, helping to welcome one to the golf course and relax them into their round. However after this gentle start, things get rather lively at the brutish 478 yard par four 4th, where length, multiple fairway bunkers, heather and some thick rough all combine to give you a taste of things to come.
Most of the interest from the perspective of the scorecard can be found in the middle portion of the layout: from the 7th through to the 14th you will encounter two par fives, two par fours and all four of the par threes. From the back markers these four one shotters measure 143, 235, 179 and 206 yards respectively, providing plenty of variety and challenge.
The bunkering of the course is both well used in a strategic sense, and is also very attractive. Their sand faces splash part-way up the mounds / banks into which they are set, with the upper portions of these mounds covered in a combination of long grasses and heather, and/or closely mown turf, depending on their location. Those bunkers edging the fairways and greens typically have broad sweeping curves, while those set into the roughs have more irregular outlines to them, a classic style for which the Architect became well-known for throughout his career. However regardless of the finished edging, all of the bunkers move in irregular shapes and patterns, which in turn has created hazards that take on a very natural appearance.
The majority of the greens possess only a mild amount of slope, with a handful leaning towards the bolder side for which Dr MacKenzie is renowned. The softer contouring allows for the greens to be maintained at a hefty pace though, which in turn provides for plenty of interest with the putter in hand. And while strong undulations are employed sparingly compared to his later courses, when done so they are used exceptionally well. More often that not the tilted greens reward drives played to a preferred half of a fairway with an easier approach, with the golfer required to successfully take on one or several bunkers to achieve such an advantage.
Standout holes here for me are grouped into two four-hole stretches: 8 – 11 and 15 – 18, the latter of which provides for a very tough finish.
The par five 8th is the first of four great holes in the middle of the layout, which culminates in the short uphill par three 11th. With no fairway bunkers to speak of, and a flat, wide-open fairway to drive into, my first impression when standing on the 8th tee was that of a relatively straight-forward and somewhat benign looking hole. However upon closer inspection it is anything but. The flattish hole dog-legs left at the first landing area, with the last third rising gently to a green benched into the slope that tilts heavily from back right to front left. This simple design element dictates the entire playing strategy of the hole: while the drive here is wide open, the best line must hug the trees down the left on the inside of the dog-leg. Playing your tee shot to this half of the fairway is fraught with the danger of ending up in the trees (or worse, out-of-bounds), though if successful in finding the fairway one is rewarded by the fact that you are then hitting your approach perpendicular to the severe slope in the green, making it easier to hit and hold.
Reaching the green in two requires one to carry a large cross bunker protecting the left half of the fairway, though it is located 100 odd yards short of the green, proving no trouble for longer hitters. For those who can carry this bunker but not have the length to get home in two, the preferred line of play remains down the left, as anything played to the right half of the fairway will have to contend with several fairway bunkers and a more difficult angle of approach into the steeply cantered putting surface. The enormous width of fairway makes the hole eminently playable for all, though asks much more for those looking to better par.
The following three holes all require focus and strong shot making if one is to close out the front and start the back nine with any sort of confidence.
The 9th is a long par three of 235 yards played downhill to a generous open-fronted green that accommodates a running tee shot, though is well protected by sand on both sides should you stray too far left or right of the ideal line.
The 10th then plays out to the most north-eastern corner of the property. You must drive long and straight up a hill to a wide, open fairway that turns sharply to the left as one ascends to its crest. From here the second half of the hole plays downhill and then back up again slightly to another receptive green sloping heavily from back to front, guarded by three bunkers to the front, left and right. The right half of the front is open to running shots, though from the upper fairway the gap between sand on either side does not seem so inviting, leaving one to ponder the need to carry the approach all the way to the putting surface.
Interestingly the hole plays very differently from each of the three tee boxes: as a testing 445 yard par four from the front tee, a short 475 yard par five from the members tee, while a new medal tee adds another 50 yards, stretching it to 522 yards from the tips. The position of the front tee affords the longer hitter an opportunity to cut length off the hole by playing over the trees on the corner, though this route must flirt with the adjacent out-of-bounds. The difficultly from the two back tees is that the additional yardage requires a long and well-placed drive down the left to actually reach the corner of the dog-leg and thus open up a line to the green with your second. Anything not struck well enough or played too far to the right will leave – at best – a blind second shot and turn the hole into a true three-shotter for most.
The 11th is a par three of 179 yards and is probably the most attractive hole on the course. Of the four short holes, it is certainly the most daunting tee shot. Steeply pitched from back left to front right, the green is set attractively amongst a copse of trees and is surrounded by no less than eight bunkers. The only bail-out area is to the front right of the green, though stray too far right and you will end up in one of the three bunkers guarding this side of the hole. What ever you do, don’t leave yourself above the hole – the green is exceptionally quick.
Aside from the 15th, which is 385 yards from front tees, the final four holes each play over 400 yards from each of the three sets of markers. So regardless of your choice of tee for the day, long accurate driving is a prerequisite on each of these final four holes if one has visions of closing out with a few pars. This alone sets the scene for a demanding stretch of golf to complete one’s round.
An uphill blind drive must be negotiated at the 15th, which dog-legs left to right. Take an extra club when hitting into the green to ensure you carry the false front, which directs short approaches towards the adjacent greenside bunker guarding the front right side of the green. Don’t worry too much about going long: the back left portion of the green rises up quite sharply, acting as a ‘back board’ that will help contain a bold approach and feed it back down towards the middle of the green. In that regard the bowl-shaped effect created by the contouring can definitely be used to your advantage, especially if the pin is in the back half of the green.
Another blind drive over a creek and low bank covered in heather awaits you at the 16th. Four fairway bunkers can be found spread along its length, with the first two on the left edge of the fairway. The other two are further up, with one sited in the middle of the fairway, the other in the right rough. A further three bunkers protect the sides of the large open-fronted green, allowing for shorter hitters to run their approach in.
At the 434 yards 17th you must drive over the road mentioned earlier (which divides the course) to a relatively narrow fairway beyond, causing one to focus on avoiding a topped tee shot and possibly ending up out-of-bounds. A successful drive then sets up a blind approach to a small green set some 20 odd feet below the main portion of the fairway. Adding to the drama is the fact that out-of-bounds runs the full length of the hole down the left-hand side, and it is this half of the fairway from which is it is best to approach the hidden green.
Standing on the elevated 18th tee you are afforded an eye-catching view of the entire hole laid out below, including each of the ten bunkers that guard its full length. It is both an attractive and intimidating view, and at 470 yards you will require two lofty blows to get home. It is a fitting finish to a testing layout and a four here any day is certainly well-earned.
The best of the rest include the short, drivable par four 2nd and the reachable par five 3rd. Though blind from the tee, the 2nd fairway is straight and generous in width. A lone fairway bunker guards the left edge of the fairway, while two greenside bunkers sit to the front left and right to protect the putting surface from those attempting to drive the green. There is plenty of fairway to hit, though the key to scoring well is to play as far right as possible so as to set up an approach into a green that slopes heavily from left to right. The shortish length of this hole is well balanced by the strong contouring of the green surface, ensuring you earn your par.
The 3rd hole tips out at just 514 yards, and from the front marker is a very reachable 489 yards. Driving over the 16th fairway (which runs perpendicular to this hole), the only two fairway bunkers to be found are tucked over the left-hand side. A good drive past this pair will set up the chance to reach the green on two. A lone bunker is set short and right of what appears to be a large, flat green. This gives you ample opportunity to run your approach shot in, though stray too far left and you will watch you ball disappear down the slope to the lower half of this surprisingly tiered green. With the ground directly in front of the green distinctly flat, Dr MacKenzie has done a wonderful job of carefully camouflaging the slope such that upon your first visit you won’t come to know it is there until you’re almost walking on the putting surface itself. A very clever tactic to incorporate strategy and playing interest to what otherwise appears to be a straight-forward par five.
All in all, this is a great layout and a fine test of one’s golfing ability. What makes it more impressive is the fact that it was Dr MacKenzie’s debut in golf course architecture, and a taste of things to come from a man who obviously went on to design some of the greatest and most famous golf courses around the world.
Please click on any one of the images below to load a slide show of photographs of the golf course.
FEATURED COVER IMAGE: The 235 yard par three 9th
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