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White rose adventure - playing more than 150 courses in Yorkshire

27 July, 2017

White rose adventure - playing more than 150 courses in Yorkshire

Back in the winter of 2003 I was reading a leading golf magazine on a hotel sun bed in Cyprus while contemplating – in the words of Douglas Adams – life, the universe and everything. Four years earlier I won the Club Championship at South Leeds Golf Club off a handicap of five. Since then however I had become disillusioned with the game. A change of career meant I could only play one weekend in every four and when I did, the club competitions were won week in, week out by golfers whose handicaps were – putting it politely – not quite as low as they could have been.

The magazine in question featured its biennial ranking of the UK’s top 100 golf courses. Reading the article made me realise that what I loved most about the game wasn’t trying to win meaningless trinkets of silverware and cut glass, rather playing as many courses as possible. Golf is probably unique in that every one of its playing areas are different and there are so many of them that we owe it to ourselves as golfers to try and scratch the surface by travelling about a bit rather than playing the same course all the time.

With this in mind, having initially decided to play all the courses in my native West Yorkshire I needed to figure out what actually constitutes a golf course. I settled on 18-hole courses only, excluding those under 5,381 yards, that being standard scratch of not less than 66 based on yardage. This left 58 courses. My reason for doing so is that in West Yorkshire alone there are 26 nine holers, six courses under the above yardage – four of which are less than 5,000 yards – and a six holer. Only one of these 33 additional courses would have threatened the top fifty. I therefore took the difficult decision not to include these.

On an unseasonably warm April day in 2004 I began my quest at Baildon. Baildon is a bit of a hidden gem on the moors high above Bradford in Bronte country. The course plays 6,231 yards from the back tees which unusually I was allowed to play from. It had originally been my intention to play all the courses from the tips however given the look of abject horror this request usually elicited, I soon gave up and ended up playing the regular “yellows” in most cases. I do find it particularly irksome that courses are quite happy to advertise their 7,500-yard championship course but having taken your green fee, they send you out from the much shorter yellow tees.

By late 2008 I had played and ranked all the West Yorkshire courses. My criteria for ranking courses is similar to that used by in that 60% of my mark goes on the design, 20% on condition and playability and 20% on location.

My West Yorkshire top ten is as follows:

1. Alwoodley

While Alwoodley and Moortown are both great courses designed by my personal favourite architect, Dr Alister MacKenzie, I feel Alwoodley is the better of the two, not only because of its more rural location but because the holes somehow seem to have a better flow. Having said that I’m sure the members’ lounge at Moortown is full of people who will disagree with me. Shipley and Sand Moor are both excellent MacKenzie tracks, the latter having arguably the best set of par threes anywhere in the country. Moor Allerton has three sets of nine and my favourite 18-hole combination comprises of the Blackmoor and High loops, which makes my top ten. It is also notable as being (as far as I’m aware) the only UK course designed by the late Robert Trent Jones Senior. Cookridge is one of the better courses to come out of the late twentieth century golf course boom and was designed by Karl Litten, the man responsible for Dubai’s first two grass courses.

The remainder of the ten includes my own current club, Huddersfield, or Fixby as it’s known locally. Not hugely long by modern standards at 6,514 yards from the tips, but very strategic with penal rough.

Having completed West Yorkshire in 2008 I was contacted by a fellow “course collector” by the name of Paul Gardner with whom I've played most of my forays around the rest of Yorkshire, a task I’ve recently completed.

My top ten for the remaining parts of Yorkshire are as follows:

North Yorkshire

1. Ganton
2. Fulford
3. Pannal
4. York
5. Cleveland
6. Selby
7. Oakdale
8. Middlesbrough
9. Easingwold
10. Filey

Ganton is undoubtedly the stand out course in the whole of Yorkshire and though not strictly a links course has beautiful springy links like turf. The bunkers are fiendish as are the greens which I found particularly difficult to read. Fulford was made famous in the 1970s as the host course to the European Tour’s Benson & Hedges Festival. During one tournament, Bernhard Langer played an approach shot by ascending the upper branches of a large oak tree. The course is often wrongly attributed to Alister MacKenzie who designed the original Fulford course. His brother Charles was actually responsible for this 1935 replacement. Oakdale is the only one of Alister’s designs on this particular list, although Middlesbrough and Filey were designed by another golden age legend, James Braid. The excellent course at Cleveland is notable for being the only true links course in Yorkshire although its architect appears to have been lost in the mists of time.

South Yorkshire

1. Styrrup Hall
2. Hallamshire
3. Lindrick
4. Wheatley
5. Abbeydale
6. Doncaster
7. Wortley
8. Sitwell Park
9. Dore & Totley
10. Hillsborough

Styrrup Hall is perhaps the most controversial of my rankings. An extremely testing 6,745-yard course opened as recently as 2000 and featuring a signature par 5 measuring 712 yards. Unfortunately I have been unable to ascertain the designer despite calls to the club. Hallamshire and Lindrick would probably be one and two in most people’s South Yorkshire lists albeit in reverse order to mine. For me though Hallamshire is certainly the better of the two with Lindrick suffering from a couple of weak and rather strange holes, and relying heavily on its reputation as a former Ryder Cup venue, one of three in Yorkshire.

East Yorkshire

1. Hornsea
2. Hessle
3. Hull

I have only mentioned a top three in East Yorkshire as due to the flat nature of the landscape, many of the other courses are rather similar and not particularly noteworthy. Hornsea and Hull are both fine James Braid courses. Of note at Hornsea are the tough closing five holes which, with the exception of the par three 17th, are all in excess of four hundred yards. Hessle moved to its current location in the early 1970s when construction of the Humber Bridge meant a necessary relocation. The current fine course was designed by the short-lived architectural partnership of Dave Thomas and Peter Alliss.

Combining the above rankings gives my personal Yorkshire top fifty which is as follows:

1. Ganton
2. Alwoodley
3. Moortown
4. Fulford
5. Styrrup Hall
6. Hallamshire
7. Hornsea
8. Lindrick
9. Pannal
10. Shipley
11. Moor Allerton (Blackmoor & High)
12. Sand Moor
13. Hessle
14. Ilkley
15. York
16. Cleveland
17. Selby
18. Oakdale
19. Middlesbrough
20. Cookridge Hall
21. Huddersfield
22. Howley Hall
23. Wetherby
24. Wheatley
25. Abbeydale
26. Doncaster
27. Easingwold
28. Wortley
29. Sitwell Park
30. Hull
31. Filey
32. Scarborough North Cliff
33. Romanby
34. Dore & Totley
35. Bradford
36. Bingley St. Ives
37. Dewsbury and District
38. Bridlington Links
39. Knaresborough
40. Hillsborough
41. The Oaks
42. Hollins Hall
43. Leeds
44. Bawtry
45. Silkstone
46. Woodsome Hall
47. Scarcroft
48. Scarborough South Cliff
49. Renishaw Park
50. Hallowes

I am now looking forward to travelling further afield to sample the delights of Derbyshire, Lincolnshire, Greater Manchester and Lancashire.

Mark Jessop


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