Located within the wonderful wooded St Ives Estate, a 550-acre Country Park on the edge of Bingley, the course at Bingley St Ives dates back to 1931, when an initial 9-hole layout was fashioned.
The fairways of the modern day 18-hole layout are routed across a number of different landforms, taking golfers on a journey from parkland to woodland to moorland and back again.
Many regard the short par four 15th as one of the best holes on the card but don’t overlook the closing hole, a testing par three where many a golfer has come to grief within sight of the clubhouse.The course hosted the first three editions of the Lawrence Batley International – a European Tour event that was held in the early 1980s – and Sandy Lyle claimed the first two titles before Nick Faldo won the 1983 competition.
Continuing my pursuit of playing all of the Top 40 courses in Yorkshire, today I visited Bingley St Ives. What had enticed me was the prospect of playing a course with parkland, woodland, moorland and even heathland holes. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Starting at the lowest point of the course, we decided to play off the white tees at just over 6400 yards to get the full experience this course had to offer.
The 1st few holes are distinctly parkland; the 1st a short par 4, certainly drivable for longer hitters. This uphill hole is not difficult, avoid the bunkers left and right on the fairway and a par or even better awaits.
You then climb up the hill and across the lane, playing the next 2 holes, straight par 5 and 4’s gently uphill. Nothing too dramatic but the 3rd gives you 1st look at what are quite a few longer par 4’s on the course. At 421 yards long, the backdrop are the woods that will feature throughout the round.
The 4th, the 165 yard par 3 is the best of the initial holes, playing from an elevated tee along the wood line, which intrudes quite a lot into your line of sight, This hole gives a 1st glimpse of some of the moorland holes you will encounter further into your round. Played to a green 50-60 feet below and bunker to the front right this a good early test.
The 5th and 6th holes complete the early parkland holes. The 5th, a 450 yard par 4 plays gently downhill (parallel to the 3rd). Links style approach shots worked well, but as throughout the course, watch out for some strange bounces!
The 6th heads back up towards the woods and is dog leg left. A tee shot over the left hand side bunker opens up the approach to a quick back to front sloping green.
There are hundreds of trees being planted between the 3rd and 5th fairways and also between 5th and 6th and when these mature it will provide greater definition and solitude to each hole.
The 7th starts the woodland cum heathland part of the course with 3 excellent holes. The 7th is a short par 3, where the green is raised to the front and right hand side, so accuracy is key. Anything a fraction too right or short leaves a tricky chip to the raised green to save par.
I really liked the 8th and 9th as they wend through silver birch and pine and bracken; the 8th a blind tee shot up the hill and the 9th an excellent looking par 5 which gently bends to the left, with strategic fairway bunkers. The wind eased in this section and with the leaves starting to turn this was a very picturesque part of the course.
Then you step out onto the moorland section, which covers holes 10 - 14. The 10th is a long par 3, at 190 yards, played into a stiff breeze, club selection is crucial with water hazard at around 170 yards and bunker to the front right. Heather lines the route to the hole. The hole plays to a high stone wall which edges the Bingley St Ives estate and then lines the excellent 11th, another long par 4 at 454 yards. The saving grace is that the 2nd shot is downhill, shortening the hole. Heather lines the left hand side and has markers in it, which I can only presume is to help golfers get a line on their shots as they hurtle towards the purple stuff! The green slopes front to back making the approach shot tricky.
You then step up to the 12th, another long par 4 at 467 yards. This part of the course is very open, reminding me in parts of Moortown, narrow fairways lined with heather, although this has been kept to a reasonable playable height. The 13th is a delightful par 4, played with the woods frisking the right hand side and heather to the left. It gently swings to the left, this is a good looking hole. You then cross in front of the 12th tee to walk to the 14th, a 484 yard par 5. Not long, but with the white tee right up against the wall, it has a long carry off the tee but 2 well placed 2nd and approach shots to a long figure 8 shaped green will see par or better.
The moorland section ends as abruptly as it started as you once again submerge yourself into the woods and what is for me the one true woodland holes, the short par 4. At 241 yards, it is driveable but most likely as better score will be achieved by playing to short of the bunker 60 yards from the green and short gap wedge play into a Mackenzie green. If the flag is at the front, you can play the approach off the slope on the green and the ball will feed back towards the hole.
You then leave the woods (well after the tee shot on the 16th) and play back parallel to the 3rd and 2nd holes. I really like the gentle right to left shaping of the 16th, and at 449 yards another long par 4. The 17th is pure parkland and I was thinking it would have been better to have a par 3 here and then par 4 to finish but when you get to the 18th tee and you stand with a downhill 190 yard par 3, across the lane to a green which is surrounded by the 1st tee, putting green and clubhouse, it is a rather special par 3 ending taking a lot of focus, accounting for any car traffic, a good swing, hopefully the right club and then stand and admire your handiwork. Myself and my partner both made the green although stopping the ball on it as it sloped front to back was a different matter all together.
Overall I loved this course, its routing, the variation of the flora on offer, the clever use of the land, the mix of short and long par 4’s, the variation in design and length of the par 3’s, the greens (which I never really got to grips with all day) and at £25 for the round, an absolute bargain.
Another member of the Mackenzie designs in and around Leeds, Bingley St. Ives is unique in that it has a mixture of holes, some parkland, some moorland and even some heathland.
The opening parkland holes are thought provoking, including the 1st, a very driveable par 4, and the longer par 5 2nd with bunkers in play on the fairways and around the green. One of my favourite holes in this section was the 5th; a bunker less par 4 which doesn’t seem to offer much interest from the tee, but you realise when you get to the green, that angles strongly away from the player, that positioning is key.
The moorland holes are the most open of the course, but also seem to be much tighter than the parkland holes, which doesn’t make sense in terms of playability. The dogleg 11th is a strong dog leg left, where players can choose how much of the heather to cut off with their tee shot.
The heathland holes visually are like something you would expect to see in Surrey or at West Sussex, but again the fairways are extremely narrow, almost like they’ve tried to cram in as many holes as possible onto this piece of the property.
All in all, there are some fun holes here, and the greens ran fast and true meaning their subtle slopes were in play.
I’ve played at Bingley St. Ives several times over the past couple of decades but it had been a few years since my last visit. Little has changed in the intervening time, however, I must admit I’d forgotten just how good a golf course this is.
The exact origin of who created the 18 holes that are in play nowadays is not certain. The Club claim Alister MacKenzie, who passed away in early 1934, was heavily involved in the early development meanwhile other research states that it was most likely his brother, Charles, who did both the design and construction or it was at least some form of collaboration between the two.
Regardless, the greens and their complexes are wonderfully crafted and the bunkering is exceptionally strategic; there’s nearly always a preferred side to be playing from on your approach.
The routing at Bingley is quite unusual too in that it is formed by a single loop leaving the clubhouse and moving through parkland, woodland and moorland before retracing those steps and returning to where you started.
Sprawling across the St. Ives Estate the park holes, on the lower part of the property, benefit from firm turf and elegant green complexes whilst the woodland holes crank up the quality as they roam through mature trees, bracken and gorse. However, it is the more open and exposed moorland-cum-heathland holes that define Bingley and set it apart from the glut of most other Yorkshire golf courses.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.