The Alwoodley Golf Club
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Due to the prominence of Augusta National, Dr Alister Mackenzie is probably more famous than any Golden Age architect, however, it is often forgotten that along with Willie Park Jr, HS Colt and Herbert Fowler, Mackenzie was at the forefront of an inland architecture revolution which forever changed how courses were designed and built.
While not the first course to spring from this well of talent, Alwoodley was an early effort built in 1907. Not completely trusting to Mackenzie’s instincts, the club hired Colt to inspect the design. It isn’t known if Colt made any suggestions or if The Good Doctor acted on them. It is however, known that Mackenzie took advantage of poor weather during the winter of 1907/08 and with co-founder Arthur Sykes and “were able to disregard their (the Committee) views entirely and make the course exactly as we wished.”
In many ways Mackenzie’s maiden design is born of his architectural convictions. If we peruse the 13 General Principles layed out in his book, Golf Architecture, there are several tenants of design to which Alwoodley adheres, but never in a dogmatic manner.
#2: …large proportion of good two-shot holes and, at least four one-shot holes.
#3 …little walking between the greens and the tees…slight walk forward from green to next tee…holes sufficiently elastic to be lengthened in the future…
Alwoodley has increased its yardage dramatically over the years yet in the main retained this principle in the design.
#4: The greens and fairways should be sufficiently undulating, but there should always be no hill climbing.
Due to many of the fairways being designed on rig and furrow farming land the vagaries of the odd bounce are very much in play. The course is generally fairly flat with exceptional moments.
#6: There should be a minimum of blindness for the approach shots.
While there are a few blind/obscured drives, there is only one truly blind approach, #17.
#7: The course should have beautiful surroundings, and all of the artificial features should have so natural an appearance that a stranger is unable to distinguish them from nature itself.
There can be little doubt Alwoodley is a handsome course and that the humps, the odd bold feature on the greens and the bunkering are shaped very well. It does help that the bunkers now feature gnarly grass surrounds which enable them to tie into the rough.
#9: There should be an infinite variety in the strokes required to play the various holes…
Given the often wild and woolly Yorkshire weather, Alwoodley can offer an incredible diversity of styles and lengths of shots.
#11: …even the scratch man is constantly stimulated…
Alwoodley provides a very good test from blue tees with a total yardage of nearly 6900 yards to a standard scratch of 73.
#12: The course should be so arranged that the long handicap player or even absolute beginner should be able to enjoy his round…that he loses strokes because he is making wide detours to avoid hazards.
Despite the preponderance of bunkering the course generally provides ample space to avoid trouble. There are a few exceptions which rightly provide that extra challenge for the more accomplished player, such as the carry required on the 10th and the longish carry off the tee of #13.
Holes to Note:
The short two-shot second is just about drivable, but a dangerous play because of the blind tee shot. The rig and furrow funneling between the bunkers continues in a saddle depression through the middle of the green.
We now cross a wee lane for the main part of the course, holes 3 through 16 and the tee shot on 17. With prevailing wind in the cards the two-shot 4th plays harder than the previous par 5. Indeed, this may be the toughest hole on the course. It is very easy to be left with a wedge third shot over a concealed large dip shy of the green.
The lovely down n’ up fifth makes an about face on #4 and is one the few holes with any measurable elevation change. The rig and furrow lines are a feature which must be taken into account.
At a neck of the property two par threes bisect the course, #s 7 & 14. Essentially, cross-ove rare created over 8 & 15 without actually having the danger of crossing holes. Its a clever solution in dealing with a narrow part of the land. This section of the property features the tee for the fabulous 8th, a reachable three-shotter swinging left off the tee. A sweeping hook gains the best position on the far left of the fairway, but perhaps the most memorable aspect of the hole is royal panorama after turning the corner.
15 and 16 are both blind off the tee. The 15th is a bit more constrained than the 16th due to OOB down the right and heather left, however, it is the approach which provides the interest. There is a steep fall-away front right and a bunker either side of the green which makes the approach to a forward hole location quite difficult. The cross bunker obscures a clear view of what awaits.
Not surprisingly, top to bottom, Alwoodley is a very well designed course and all the holes require at least a minimal degree of thought to play well. In short, Alwoodley comes together in an exceptional manner in that it is a classic example of the whole being better than the sum of its parts. The ebb and flow of the design works well in offering birdie opportunities to create a highly admirable balance between challenge and playability. While not daring, the greens are interesting and where a bold feature is utilized it is done so with purpose. There are few more inspiring views from a clubhouse veranda than Alwoodley’s and one can’t help but to want to stick a peg in the ground in begin the journey. Unusually, this inviting and beautiful sense of grandeur is present throughout the 18 holes.
There are a few courses nearby, but I am not aware of any that should command enough attention to detour the discerning golfer from another day at Alwoodley – its that good!