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.
Date: September 15, 2020