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The Alwoodley Golf Club is home to one of the finest and most subtle inland courses in the British Isles, located in a secluded spot. In many ways, it is reminiscent of Woodhall Spa’s Hotchkin course, which is very high praise indeed. "This the home course of Dr. MacKenzie ought to be good and, personally, I put it very high among inland courses." Wrote Bernard Darwin in his book The Golf Courses of Great Britain.
Founded in 1907, Alwoodley is the cream of a cluster of excellent courses stretching across the moors just north of Leeds. The great Alister MacKenzie (a doctor at the time) consulted with the already renowned architect, Harry Colt, before fashioning Alwoodley. This was Dr MacKenzie’s first dabble with golf course design. Clearly inspired, he went on to become a full time golf course architect and later went on to design the great Augusta National, home of the Masters.
The course is a combination of heathland and moorland with rippling fairways and fine, crisp, springy turf. There is plenty of heather and gorse, which provides glorious seasonal colour and punishes the wayward shot. There are few trees, other than the occasional cluster of pines and silver birches on this glorious, windswept heath.
Essentially an out and back course, the front nine is generally regarded as the easier of the two nines (the only two par fives are on the outward nine). The back nine invariably plays into the prevailing winds coming off the Yorkshire Moors.
Alwoodley possesses some strong and supremely challenging holes. The 3rd is a very subtle straight par five measuring 510 yards and it used to appear open and devoid of definition. However, in recent years the club has implemented a policy of restoration and improvement of all the bunkers on the course. This has changed the playing characteristics of some holes, including the 3rd. The once lonesome bunker on the left-hand side of the fairway, some 200 yards from the tee, has been joined by a further left-side bunker, 240 yards from the tee, which complements the original one. A new bunker 30 yards short and right of the green narrows the approach, demanding a very accurate shot to the right-to-left sloping green.
The 17th is one of our favourite driving holes if you can avoid the out-of-bounds on the left. It’s a 434-yard par four where a reasonable tee shot will leave a blind approach to a hidden green nestling some 30 feet below.
Make sure that you bring your full compliment of golf clubs. It is likely that this hard but fair course will force you to use every club in the bag. Alwoodley has played host to many important amateur events over the years and it regularly tests the pros when the course is used as a Regional Qualifier for the Open.
2nd March 2009 - Nicholas Leefe commented on our article:
“As the Club Historian, I wish to confirm Alwoodley (1907) was the first golf course designed by Dr Alister MacKenzie. Our records simply state Harry Colt (probably the most famous golf course architect of the time) was requested to visit Alwoodley and he duly came on July 31, 1907. This was after the first medal round had been played. The proposed alteration of the course (presumably by Alister MacKenzie) was discussed with Mr Colt and it was unanimously resolved that it be adopted. Mr Colt visited Alwoodley for his second time on Oct 6 1909 to report on the course, but our records regrettably do not state what action was proposed. This is a MacKenzie course with the Committee wisely seeking a second opinion from one of the most respected experts of that period."
In recent years, Ken Moodie has restored most of the bunkers to MacKenzie’s original specifications and Clyde Johnson has overseen a programme of tree removal, gorse and heather management, and the reconfiguration of some bunkers.
There is no doubt that this is one of the very best courses I have played in the U.K. The words ‘Top 5 inland course’ are emblazoned upon the scorecard cover and this should give you more than enough of a clue about the quality of golf course you are about to encounter.
One of the first things I come to when writing a review is how memorable was the course in the aftermath of the round? How much of the layout, the subtleties and unique design features lay imprinted on the insides of your eyelids when you go to sleep that night? Well I sit here now writing this review some 6-7 weeks after having played the course for the first time, and I am certain I could recount the whole round from first swipe to last.
The double salvo of English top 100 golf courses at Moortown and Alwoodley is one of the best independent two course combinations you’ll find anywhere. Located within a mile of each other on the outskirts of Leeds and both designed by Mackenzie, you can feel the cohesion between the two in many ways. The lazy assessment may be to summarise that Alwoodley is the better of the two as the rankings suggest this. We were advised to play Moortown before Alwoodley which is what we did and I was very much taken with both courses. However, it is the sustained quality, layout flow and unique character that does indeed give Alwoodley a significant edge for me.
As far as memorable moments go, the entrance into the amphitheatre 1st tee/18th green area via the archway close to the pro shop is one hell of a reveal. That first tee shot shouldn’t be too taxing but with hushed voices swirling from the veranda of the iconic clubhouse just a few metres away, I am sure even the most self-assured golfer feels a mild sense of trepidation on that tee.
This course is one of the most subtly punishing I have played in some time. There is a large emphasis placed on course management but the layout is long enough that playing too conservatively from the tee boxes will only ramp up the pressure on the approaches. The recently renovated bunkers are consistently well placed and holes that may look appetising on the scorecard quickly reveal themselves to be exacting foes.
Singling holes out for particular praise, the 2nd is one of the best risk reward par 4’s I have played. There is a real possibility to threaten the putting surface if you are bold, but failure to execute that policy correctly will most likely result in severe consequences (which could be particularly painful so early in the round). The run 4-9 has you bouncing from one wow moment to another. The short holes at 7 and 9 are both cleverly framed and visually appealing. Im happy to share that a miss to the right of the 9th green will leave you a tougher shot than you may think when viewed from the tee box due to the well disguised hollow that resides there.
The back nine is a real collection of blockbuster holes. 10 is believed to have been the inspiration for Mackenzie’s design of 13 at Augusta and you certainly get a feel for it with its sweeping right to left similarity. 11 is an outrageous par 3 with a green that should be exited swiftly if you manage to negotiate a 2 putt. 13 is a straight up quality golf hole, 14 is the toughest par 3 tee shot on the course and then we come to 17 and 18. Well what can you say about 17? The tee shot is a cracker, possibly the best on the course and is both challenging and deceptive. I found the temptation to follow the holes persuasion and push one out to the right too difficult to ignore. The approach is then played blind to a sunken green where a shot fed in from the left side is the most likely to be rewarded. Finally, 18 is up there with Royal Lytham for me as my favourite 18th hole I have played in the U.K. A true closing out test, this 440+ yard finisher will expose any premature celebrators and needs to be negotiated with supreme skill and a clarity of thought.
Alwoodley is just a straight up classy golf course and club. The conditioning is supreme, the tee boxes and surrounds are particularly characterful and the course flows across this wonderful piece of heathland in a way that satisfies ones golfing soul. Alwoodley enters my personal list tied with Woodhall Spa at the top of my inland courses of the U.K. That really is saying something as Woodhall holds a particularly sentimental place in my heart. Come and play Dr. Alister Mackenzie’s first ever course design, you won’t be disappointed by his precocious brilliance.
Great review. I love the 2nd too, partly as it’s a very fine hole but mostly due to a personal memory a few months ago. Hit 5 iron off the tee, then SW to 2 feet. Couple of people walking the lane behind the green gave a round of applause. Another compliment as I holed the putt (would’ve been embarrassing to miss!). Turns out it was Jonny Bairstow and his other half. Lovely couple, they stopped and had a nice chat to the extent we had to bin them off to play the 3rd as the group behind was waiting! Think he might enjoy his golf more than his cricket!!
Anyway, wholeheartedly concur with your thoughts. Would throw the 12th and 15th in there as quality holes too (birdied them too!). Spot a theme?!?!
Rugged heathland perfection. I could leave it at that, but I have so much to say about the Alwoodley. It’s perhaps my new favourite golf course, offering a complete championship test, immaculate greens and greenside areas but with all the texture and ruggedness of heathland golf.
MacKenzie did a lot of work in these areas and there is a familiarity to them. However Alwoodley feels like the grandest, the most mature of his designs and the quality of holes is unrivalled. The green sites are superb with challenging tiers on most holes and superb bunkering to deceive the golfer - on a number of occasions the bunkering plays with the depth of field.
A must play, and maybe one of the most underrated golf courses in the top 15 in England.
Alwoodly is a fantastic course and was presented in great condition. It's a tough test so don't get too attached to your scorecard, and a test that will become more enjoyable with additional rounds there I'm sure.
The test is relentless, asking for accurate drives and good iron shots. Staying below the hole is essential on a number of holes - 1, 10 and 11 spring to mind as particularly tricky greens.
The terrace and clubhouse are also just excellent places to be.
One criticism I would have, is that just before our round a starter explained that the club didn't use BRS and so it was possible some members could have phoned up for a time and he would just have to check this wasn't the case or we would have to wait. It didn't exactly leave us feeling like valued customers, but fortunately no members had booked our tee time.
A course that requires you to use a bit of brain power! Strategically placed bunkers/hazards and swales ensure than no shot is an easy one. It's clear to see why this is held in such high esteem - a true test and beautiful surroundings. Part of the strong Leeds golfing heritage - one ticked off my to-play list.
Absolutely stunning course, with some of the best looking holes in Yorkshire. I have played here a few times, and a lot of the courses around Leeds and, in my opinion, this is the best around Leeds, if not Yorkshire.
Good condition fairways, very nice greens, and nice sand in the bunkers it is on to a winner. If I had to pick one issue there is not enough water holes. The only time water is really seen is on the 16th.
Alwoodley is a beauty. Anyone wondering, go and play it. A golf course does not need water holes to be top drawer. Often, quite the opposite.
I know top courses don't need water holes. I personally like water holes, I maybe should've put 'in my opinion' but I stand by my comment.
Alwoodley is a stunning course, hence it is the first 3 words of my review.
I haven’t played this truly magnificent course for quite some time, but my word, what a jewel in the crown on inland golf in England. The course has extreme playability backed up by fantastic condition, and when we were there we even ended up having a beer with the captain during our lunch just highlighting what a wonderful place Alwoodley is.
This course is a MUST if you have yet to play it
I've played most of the top 50 in England and consequently, the chance to try one of the few I haven't is always really exciting. As a Yorkshireman, I should have played Alwoodley much sooner than I have of course and I wonder if it was the high expectations I had that ultimately left me feeling decidedly underwhelmed?
The clubhouse is magnificent and the huge, pristine first tee sets a great opening scene. Good first couple of holes too but then things become very similar and more to the point, the lack of elevation from many of the tees leaves one wondering what the best line is to take. It reminded me a little of Walton Heath in this regard - another course that fell a long way short of my expectations.
My home county is not particularly blessed with good golf courses but this is one of them and it is just that - good. Nowhere near the level of Ganton and not much better than Fulford, if at all.
It is very expensive for what it is too and I am afraid I won't be rushing back. That said, I did enjoy the day and am glad to have played there.
I made the trip to play Alwoodley and Moortown in a 36-hole day in August 2020. Having heard and read the reviews of both I was excited at the prospect. Ultimately though I was disappointed to walk away quite underwhelmed by Alwoodley. In my very humble opinion it didn't match the praise. There are some really quite poor holes (2 and 17 in particular). 17 stands out as one of the worst holes I remember playing anywhere, driving blind across a public road off the tee, then playing down to a hidden green with a comically tall pin. There were a couple of holes that played across each other too, giving the impression of having squeezed 18 holes in to a portion of land only big enough to accommodate 15 or so. We played Alwoodley in the morning then Moortown in the afternoon and I certainly preferred Moortown. A 3.5 ball rating feels right to me on the basis that the condition of the course couldn't be faulted, they clearly have an excellent group of greens staff. Sadly though my biggest take away were the poor holes rather than any stand out holes.
Played here in September 2020 on an at first slightly damp but at the end sunny day. The course is fantastic both on the eye and in it’s conditioning, with the greens being the standout and resulting in far too many three putts.
The day we played we had a strong breeze into us on 1 and as the course in the main goes out and then back it meant getting to 11 was hard work, but then getting back to 18 was easier. Apparently this is the opposite to how it usually blows.
In regards to the holes themselves it really is difficult to pull out one or two holes to mention as there really are a lot of good holes. However, in the bar afterwards I heard the party in front of us mention that if they could, they would just loop round 10 and 11 and I think I would echo that. 10 is a great par 4 a big dogleg left and as you stand on the tee for the first time you have no idea how great the approach shot is. I won’t ruin it for those who haven’t played. 11 is the best par 3 and having put the ball on the green and watch it roll back off the green and then watch my partner do the same we had a reality moment about how important it is to have played the course before. I genuinely think you would save 6 shots just playing the course a second time and knowing a bit more.
Lastly being from Surrey it is hard not to compare this to the heathland courses around those parts and I think it is better than the 3 Ws, Hankley, The Berkshire and Walton Heath. Could it be in the top100 in the world, I think there is definitely a case to be made.
The Doctor’s first effort might not be held in the same high regard as the golfing legacy he left behind at Augusta, Royal Melbourne or Cypress Point, but his design at Alwoodley would still be the golfing equivalent of acing your first exam. Alwoodley is a fine course in a real golden patch of heathland a short hop north of Leeds that is also home to neighbouring high achievers Moortown and Sand Moor. Play here as I did whilst the heather is in bloom this last August and this beauty can really bite. I thankfully had one of my better ball striking days so I was able to enjoy my round, yet I still couldn’t muster a score to challenge my handicap.
The heather is endless at Alwoodley, a real purple haze if you can catch it in high season, but almost even more eye catching is the striking quality of the bunker work. I’m not well read enough to know how many of the bunkers have been restored to the original MacKenzie or even Colt designs, but if they haven’t been, they’ve maintained the true philosophy from both legendary architects. Strongly shaped into knolls and embankments, they provide a distinct visual threat from the tee. Sweeping, irregular and on many an occasion heather topped, Alwoodley’s bunkers provide strong competition to my favourite sandy hazards at West Sussex.
Away from the heather and bunkering, it’s a quality layout too and deserving of its place in a tightly fought England top twenty. It’s difficult to pick standout holes amongst the eighteen as the whole course is consistently strong throughout but I’ll make my best attempt. The 4th hole stood out for me for its horribly intimidating carry off the competition tees whilst the 5th has an attractive left to right rippled and sloping fairway. The holes around the middle of the round would likely be the most memorable; the 8th is one of those wonderfully bunkered holes and a gettable par five whilst the 10th is a long arching hole that plunges into a deep hollow. 11 is a corker of a photogenic par three with a set of traps that are arranged like wicket keepers’ gloves around the front of the green, but don’t think you can protect your score by going long to take them out of play as the downhill putt from the back of the green is also perilous. 13 has a wonderful set of bunkers that semi-circle the entrance to the fairway, although they don’t really come into play, whilst the 16th is a delicious par four that criss-crosses the 3rd fairway and comes decorated with a snaking bunker on the left side of another beautifully shaped green.
The drive to an infinity fairway on 17 is another highlight, although I’m yet to be convinced by the green site on this hole as it’s hidden half-blind on a downslope. Although visually they may have saved one of the best until last with a breath-taking elevated tee shot playing to another heavily bunkered par four with a green that’s set back to the side of one of the best modern clubhouses in the game.
It’s fair to say that I really like Alwoodley. Playing here may feel like an elbow to the ribs at times – it’s golf’s equivalent to Medusa, she’ll draw you in with her beauty before turning you to stone, but you’ll still get your kicks out of it along the way.