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5 miles N of Leeds
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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) 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."
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.
The ball arched towards the fifth green - followed at frenetic pace by the head of my seven iron!
I mused that I have loved my 20-year-old Callaway Big Berthas rather too long as my go-to club literally fell apart.
At least it ascended to golfing heaven in style. A straight shot which ensured the green was hit in regulation on one of the best courses it has graced.
Thankfully, Alwoodley had many more memorable moments during our round in the club's mixed open.
The stunning view from the putting green which takes in the parallel sights of the 1st and 18th prompted keen anticipation and it fulfilled our hopes.
There are echoes of Woodhall Spa and Walton Health but the course has a very defined character of its own with some fascinating quirks and 18 holes which test thoroughly but also offer chances.
Indeed, I scored best on the hardest - the par-five eighth - according to a rather eccentric stroke index.
Actually, from the start, the index is baffling - the opening hole being an incredibly tough S.I. 14, followed by the much shorter second - an S.I. 6.
We realised that we shouldn't be too disappointed with bogeys because point-scoring opportunities came when the card promised least.
My favourite holes were the 10th - a dogleg which rises from the tea and then drops into the green from its right angle, the 17th - the first time I have teed off over a public road whose Tarmac and verges are out of bounds - and the 18th - a truly beautiful hole with a backdrop of one of the most handsome clubhouses I have seen.
Every fairway was lush and I found the greens - although pacey - easier to read than my previous experience of a McKenzie course at Hadley Wood where swirls and multi-layers are the order of the day.
I should also make mention of the welcome at Alwoodley, both in the professional's shop and by the starter. It really was special.
Indeed, the whole experience was superb - despite a third of the round being played in teeming rain.
Both Mrs W and I agree, we will be back.
I arrived at Alwoodley with mixed expectations given that it was my first foray into heathland golf and also that it was Mackenzies first go at course design. I needn’t have worried. The day was magnificent. The course, facilities and greeting from members and staff were of the highest quality, and whilst the course layout felt like it hadn't changed since creation everything else felt modern and up to date.
My main memory will be the arrival to the first tee. Unparalleled pressure awaits as up to 50 members and guests are sat in a cauldron behind the first tee, heckle at the ready. The clubhouse was also excellent. I especially liked it’s modern design and it’s use of light coloured wood, I presume to match the colours on the course.
After playing the first hole you get a feel for the strategy needed to play well here. Staying out of the rough and especially the purple heather is paramount. The course requires you to plot your way around the and at times shape shots to avoid run outs and hazards. It’s certainly requires a lot of plotting your way around and the requirements can be too much for mid to high handicappers. You’ve got to bring your best golf to the course to survive and the demand can and did overwhelm my golf game on the day. It is one of the hardest courses i’ve played and not one for the faint hearted.
I thought the stand outs were holes 7,9,10,17 and 18. All of which had spectacular views and design. The condition was of the very highest standard that i’ve been fortunate to play. I’d played Turnberry two days before and I thought that Alwoodley was in just as good if not maybe even slightly better condition (sorry Donald).
My only gripe on the day were with holes 4 and 5. The fourth was too difficult off the yellow tees for all but the lowest handicap golfer and hole 5 fairway didn’t allow shots onto it. All our group who hit the fairway ended up in thick rough down the right hand side due to the severity of the slope and it felt unfair and must be something the management are looking to change.
All in all Alwoodley is a perfect destination for premium golf. It’s picturesque, is of high difficulty, has a world class course and is very well priced (in my opinion). If you’re looking to play the best courses in Yorkshire Alwoodley has got to be in the equation. A true hidden gem.
I played Alwoodley again yesterday, thankfully we had good weather, warm, whilst overcast and only moderate breeze. The layout is one of my favourites, endless purple heather lining fairways catching every so wayward shots, clever bunkering and undulating greens.
Despite playing the course a number of times the sharp dogleg 10th still catches me out, great par 3s and a challenging closing stretch provide for a great test of golf.
A brilliant and very tough course on the outskirts of Leeds. Tremendous layout and a lot of tee shots not for the faint hearted. I played this in late July and the fairways were still green but very hard with the ball running into the rough several times! Stroke indexes would be the only criticism with some definitely needing review
A real classic heathland course just north of Leeds, Alwoodley has Dr. Mackenzies touches present throughout. The way the 1st tee is directly in front of the clubhouse is a intimate start. The 2nd is a short par 4 where the green is hidden if you go for it, but the safer lay up means no blind shot. The 3rd has an interesting two tiered green, and then the 5th gives players lots of options off the tee, but is always a hard approach shot. It just seems the interesting features keep coming throughout.
The 8th could be my favourite hole here, even despite it not suiting my natural ball flight as it dog legs left, there is lots of subtle strategy. The 10th is another good long 4/short 5, and asks all sorts of questions to the player. The 11th is a particularly picturesque par 3, but it’s the sloping green that makes this hole so interesting.
This leaves the brilliant 15-18 closing stretch. 17 in particular has a blind approach to a green with a steep drop off the back, and the quirk of this hole in particular reminds me of somewhere like Cruden Bay. The 18th is a classic British strong par 4 closer, and shows some of the courses teeth and its championship pedigree. Some bunkers have recently been renovated on this hole so I look forward to hopefully seeing them soon. An absolute English gem.
Theres a lot to love about Alwoodley. The first thing is the opening tee shot, where you tee off no more than 10 yards from the members eating their lunch on the patio. MacKenzie offers a gentle first 3 holes offering birdie chances. From the 4th hole and in it is a proper test, and requires lots of different shots. Standout holes personally were 2 (drivable blind par 4), 5, 7, 8, 16 (the 3rd hole tees off over the 16th fairway which is a cool feature), 17 and the monster 18th. A fantastic heathland layout which is well worth the visit. Make sure you pop into its neighbour Moortown when in the area.