Alwoodley Golf Club
Ninth – 11th holes, 190, 475, 165yards, respectively; In terms of routing a course, MacKenzie later wrote in The Spirit of St. Andrews that’ It is true that there are certain general considerations which should influence us in routing a course. It is an advantage to start off with three or four long holes to get people away. It is also advisable to arrange the short holes so that they will be a rest after playing one or more of the long ones.’ Sounds like a perfect description of Alwoodley.
Thirteenth hole, 395 yards; The author has played few courses with as fine a collection of two shot holes as Alwoodley. Their variety makes them special; no two are remotely alike. In the case of the 13th, the biggest green on the course at over 10,000 square feet is the standout architectural feature. Unlike the geometric greens being built by others at the time, this one is more free form as it widens in the middle before narrowing in the back. Also, MacKenzie believed that hazards were being built too far away from the greens and the four bunkers that circle the 13th putting surface are flush against it, creating numerous interesting hole locations and recovery shots.
Fourteenth hole, 205 yards; MacKenzie wrote in 1933 that Alwoodley ‘still has a more natural appearance than perhaps any other inland course.’ In part, what he was referring to was how well the man-made features blended in with the natural features of the property. In the case of the 14th, the green complex is completely manufactured(i.e. built-up)but it looks like it is a part of nature. Other than Park, Colt, and Fowler, no other architect was displaying such a talent in 1907 when course construction started.(Speaking of Fowler, Alwoodley’s present Chairman of the Green Nick Leefe notes that ‘it is not widely known that our Committee in the very early days called in Fowler specifically to look at and report on the bunkers.’ Leefe believes this was done in 1908).
Fifteenth hole, 410 yards; MacKenzie, a Scot, appreciated the design lessons on offer at The Old Course at St. Andrews as well as anyone before or since. Part of the lessons of The Old Course center around the use of out of bounds but unlike there, MacKenzie had the unusual opportunity on the back nine at Alwoodley to have the out of the bounds on both sides of the fairway. At the dogleg left 10th, the out of bounds is down the player’s left while at the dogleg right 15th, it is on his right. No one shot pattern is favoured and the player who can work the ball both ways has the advantage (as he should).
Sixteenth hole, 415 yards; MacKenzieis the undisputed master at building courses for all class players, another lesson that he learned from the Old Course at St. Andrews. One of his secrets was to keep forced carries to a minimum. Along with the tee ball at the 2nd where he takes the golfer to higher ground, the only other forced aerial carry shot on the course is here at the 16th.
Seventeenth hole, 435 yards; The club property line is left, so not surprisingly, the best angle into the 17th green is from left center. MacKenzie would later question the lasting merit of a blind approach shot as he felt it might lose some strategic appeal with time. Would MacKenzie have designed this hole in the same manner late in his career as he did at the start? One can only hope so! Judging the approach to take the slope and feed onto the green is one of the most fun approach shots on the course.
Consistent with other MacKenzie courses with which the author is familiar, Alwoodley lacks an indifferent or poor hole. In fact, the 10th and 11th holes which are not photographed above are often cited as being among the best in Britain. Some even credit the dogleg 10th as it sweeps left around the out of bounds as being the inspiration for the 13th at Augusta National.
In addition to its collection of holes, Alwoodley’s other great attribute is that it remains every bit as invigorating a walk today as it was in MacKenzie’s day. In recent years, the Green Committee cleared much of the scrub and brush that often grows on a heath if left unchecked. The picture of Alwoodley today is of an open, expansive course. The vistas and uncluttered nature of the course heighten one’s sense of being alive, of being well.
As uncovered by Richard Mandell in an upcoming book on Pinehurst, Richard Tufts wrote in 1898 about the game of golf that,
Everybody can play it – some excellently, others indifferently, still others very badly but all enjoyably. It keeps the player out in the open air; it keeps him moving over wide spaces; it exercises all his muscles and all his wits. It is an ideal sport for the maintenance of bodily and mental health.
Doctor MacKenzie often preached of the benefits of playing golf and of being outside. For instance,he wrote in The Spirit of St. Andrews that,
The chief thing to bear in mind is that golf is a recreation and a means for giving us health and pleasure… One of the reasons why I, a medical man, decided to give up medicine and take to golf architecture was my firm conviction of the extraordinary influence on health of pleasurable excitement, especially when combined with fresh air and exercise.
This is at the heart of why golf is such a great game and few places better underscore this point than historic Alwoodley.