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.
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Alister MacKenzie was born in England, but his parents were Scottish and the family holidayed every year close to where his father was raised in the traditional Clan MacKenzie lands of Sutherland.