Alwoodley is regarded as one of the finest inland courses in Britain as well as being of great historical significance. Alwoodley’s world-renowned architect, Dr Alister MacKenzie, created a layout of rare subtlety and sophistication on a swathe of moorland to the north of the city of Leeds. It enjoys natural heathland characteristics, with firm, Alwoodley is regarded as one of the finest inland courses in Britain as well as being of great historical significance. Alwoodley’s world-renowned architect, Dr Alister MacKenzie, created a layout of rare subtlety and sophistication on a swathe of moorland to the north of the city of Leeds. It enjoys natural heathland characteristics, with firm, springy fairways lined by heather and occasional outcrops of gorse. Among many distinguishing feature are the eye-catching, irregularly shaped and naturalistic-looking bunkers as well as large, often undulating, greens.
Dating back to 1907, Alwoodley is a course of subtle angles and great strategic interest. Rarely is driver taken out of the skilled player’s hands but discretion is often the better part of valour. Wider landing areas are often available at the expense of longer approach shots. MacKenzie loved to tease the golfer with shots that were partially but not completely blind. On holes like the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 12th, 15th and 16th you can see some but not all of the fairway and the golfer must therefore play on trust. It is a test of nerve as much as skill in places.
The course runs almost straight out and back. The inward nine is the tougher as most holes are played into the prevailing wind that blows fresh off the Yorkshire Dales to the west. Alwoodley is famed for its closing stretch that begins, in earnest, from the 13th tee. From here, there are no fewer than five par-4s in excess of 400 yards and a long par 3 before you are able to take solace and refreshments in the handsome clubhouse. Stand-out holes include the 10th, on which the 13th at Augusta National was modelled, where the golfer must navigate a fairway that sweeps left and then tumbles downhill before rising again to a green built into the slope. There are few more satisfying sights than watching your downhill approach shot here soar straight and true into the heart of the green with a delightfully rural backdrop. The short 11th is famous for its devilish green – those familiar with Alwoodley make every effort to leave their tee shot below the hole. Otherwise it is not uncommon to find oneself aiming at something approaching right angles to the target.
The discerning golfer tends to hold the par-4 13th in the highest esteem, perhaps more so than any other hole at Alwoodley. It is the purest of heathland views from the tee, particularly later in the day when the sun is lower in the sky. At such times, the stylish bunkering and every last ripple of the fairway is visible. Standing sentry to the right of the huge green, which slopes from right to left more than most give it credit for, is a lone oak tree, in silhouette. A special hole indeed. Now well over a century old, the Original MacKenzie remains true to its architect’s original intentions.
However, new championship tees extended the course to in excess of 6,900 yards against a par of 71. In 2019, when Alwoodley was proud to host for the first time the English Open Amateur Strokeplay Championship – more commonly known as the Brabazon – only 12 players finished under par. At Alwoodley, the Stroke Index does not always equate with degree of difficulty – the indices were devised when the course opened in 1907. In these days golf was mainly matchplay so instead the low and high numbers are spread evenly around the course. It works surprisingly well, with, for example, a nine-handicapper, receiving a shot at every even-numbered hole and a four-handicapper stroking on each of the 4th, 8th, 12th and 16th. Another traditional feature is the simple wooden blocks as tee markers and dark-green tee boxes with their painted inscriptions. At Alwoodley, the club’s rich history is deeply treasured and forms a significant part of what is a timeless golfing experience.