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) joined forces with the already renowned architect, Harry Colt, to fashion 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."
For a long time I’d heard great things about this Alister MacKenzie gem tucked away in the middle of England near Leeds. I recently, finally had the wonderful pleasure of experiencing a round here. MacKenzie is my favorite architect and the more of his courses I experience the more confirmation I receive in regards to his insatiable talent at routing courses. I simply love Alwoodley, I caught it on a cold windy day in the early season so the course was still recovering from the winter. In this case it only meant the greens weren’t yet rolling as perfectly as they would be a month or two later. No issue at all when you are here to enjoy the architecture. It’s a wonderful property for golf where MacKenzie made perfect use of the available characteristics.
While Alwoodley is full of solid holes my favorites were the signature up hole par 3 9th hole which has a spectacular greensite sloping back to front. This greensite actually reminded me of something you would see at Crystal Downs. Let’s just say that keeping the ball below the hole would be advisable.
The par 4 18th is also pure magic. A perfect mix of heather and hazards outlines this hole, add the clubhouse in the distance and you have one absolute cracker of a finishing hole.
One other great aspect of Alwoodley is that it’s full of quirk like only the best of the Golden Age architects instilled in their designs by creatively working around land shapes, hollows and natural greensites. The 17th hole is a wonderful example of this. A semi punchbowl green with a 15 ft flagpole is protected by a large mound on the left side, a drive to the left side opens up the hole but to do so you need to take on the course boundaries. Right has more space but requires a blind and very exacting shot.
Never pass up a chance to visit this highly underrated gem.
Famous for its architect, but not a course that generally gets a lot of attention. Due to its location, it may not even come into people’s head for a golf trip. The greater Leeds area is not a top golf destination in England when compared to other more popular geographies. This club is actively seeking play and welcome visitors with open arms. They are breaking down the myth that this private club is closed to outsiders.
Alwoodley is to MacKenzie as Rye is to Colt. It was his first course. I felt that MacKenzie came on leaps and bounds in his years after creating Alwoodley. While the bones of many of his limelight courses are present at Alwoodley, the course is tame in comparison. The course gets well-deserved high praise for the closing stretch of very difficult holes.
Across the street is Moortown GC which hosted the 1929 Ryder Cup. Rumour has it that Alwoodley turned down the 1929 Ryder Cup, which is a great shame as it would be a major source of marketing today for the club to promote itself to visitors. Hindsight is 20-20 I suppose.
The routing across the land is Alwoodley’s top feature, including the dogleg swooping par 5 which inspired the 13th at Augusta National and the uphill par 3 which resembles the template for Gibraltar. I had a very pleasant and enjoyable experience at the club.
I was introduced to Alwoodley almost two decades ago by Nick Leefe, the then Chairman of Greens at the Club and also Honorary Secretary of the Alister MacKenzie Society of Great Britain & Ireland, whilst I was undertaking a university thesis on the work of the Good Doctor. The round provided a fascinating history to the course and an insight into the Club’s plans for the future.
Over the years I have since played and walked the course on several occasions, each time gaining a greater understanding of the layout and its many subtleties. A recent visit came when the Yorkshire Union of Golf Clubs staged their annual County Championships here in the summer of 2014. A practice game followed by two competitive rounds, when the course played extremely impressively, left me in no doubt that this is the real deal when it comes to first class championship golf courses.
I also enjoyed a round here in October 2014 when the course, as you might expect, didn't play as firm and fast but was still a great challenge and in wonderful condition for the time of year.
Unusually for a course predominantly of heathland characteristic the layout follows more of an ‘out and back’ routing. When the prevailing wind blows one must make their score over the first ten holes before hanging on for dear life coming home. The final six holes, when played into any sort of a breeze, are worthy of defining any a champion.
The terrain the golf is played over is extremely natural in appearance and with no two holes even remotely similar you must work the ball both ways if you are to score well. On several occasions when stood on the tee at Alwoodley you are only ever given a glimpse of the hole and it’s hazards; sometimes just a slither of fairway and a few flashes of sand, sometimes a little more. Always enough to know where you are going but never enough to eradicate doubt as to the correct line or distance to drive. This aspect I think is what sets Alwoodley apart from many other top heathland courses and gives it an edge; that degree of uncertainty it casts in a golfers mind. There are many examples of this during the round but the fourth and sixth are perhaps the finest examples you will find.
The strategic architectural merits at Alwoodley were well ahead of their time when MacKenzie constructed the course in the early 1900’s and it is testament to his work that they remain intact today.
As at most top courses the ground game is still very much alive and kicking at Alwoodley and thus the art of shotmaking is too.
The sophisticated golfer, who can make the right decision and also execute the correct shot, will prosper here at this fair but challenging venue.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
This is after just one round a favourite of mine. It flows gently over some fairly flat land (the only elevation is in the far corner) and yet it is very memorable with some really good holes and just a couple of weak ones. Great clubhouse and showers as well.
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.
Standout holes here are numerous, though I believe a great four-hole stretch in the middle of the layout from the 8th through to the 11th merits discussion.
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. 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 stretching across the fairway from the left. 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 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. What ever you do, don’t leave yourself above the hole - the green is exceptionally quick.
Another personal favourite is the reachable par five 3rd hole, which tips out at just 514 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 those 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. 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.
This review is an edited extract from my Blog titled: An Architect Abroad. The full review can be found at: http://wp.me/p6l5Ih-bL along with photographs taken of the course. Please also note that my rating of the course here has been done specifically against the other courses which I visited on that trip, many of which rank very highly in the top 100 listed on this website for the United Kingdom. For that reason some ratings of courses may be lower than that given by other reviewers.