Reddish Vale Golf Club
Cheshire, England, United Kingdom
Tenth hole, 345 yards; By the early 1910s bold interior contours within putting surfaces of the sort found at Machrihanish and The Old Course had yet to be embraced on inland courses. There were a few exceptions such as MacKenzie’s fifteenth green at Alwoodley and his famed Gibraltar green at Moortown, but in general, interior green undulations were subdued. Therefore, the golfer is surprised – and delighted – to find this bold green punctuating the end of this short two shotter. Of great interest, member Duncan Cheslett found evidence that Mackenzie originally saw this hole as a par five with the green another hundred and ten yards on and to the right. Apparently, MacKenzie was torn and eventually decided that the merits of today’s fine natural green site outweighed the downside of a subsequent lengthy green to tee walk.
Eleventh hole, 460 yards; MacKenzie famously had thirteen commandments for good golf design. It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his personality that MacKenzie would violate several of his own tenets here! The nines don’t return, the Home hole brazenly ignores his no ‘hill climbing’ rule, and his tenet calling for a minimum of blindness on approach shots gets pushed to the side, especially here and at the all-world thirteenth.
Twelfth hole, 190 yards; Variety, which is comprised of the range of clubs required and the diversity of challenges, is the critical factor when considering the merits of a course’s set of one shot holes. Reddish Vale scores extremely high with the latter. This hole, for instance, skirts along a distinctive twenty foot ridge the likes of which the golfer has rarely seen. This superlative one shotter kicks off a tremendous five hole stretch.
Thirteenth hole, 455 yards; Proof of MacKenzie’s innate genius can be found in this one-off punchbowl green complex built beyond the brow of the hill. Inland courses rarely see such wild green complexes because nature tends to doll out broader landforms there than it does with sandy soil found by the sea. Such Dell complexes are found on the west coast of Ireland at Lahinch and Brancaster on England’s east coast but what a delight to find one near the Manchester International Airport! Finding two greens (e.g. here and the ninth) that measure less than a combined 4,500 square feet is highly unusual and is another reason why all golfers need to see Reddish Vale: you are guaranteed to find things that you’ve never encountered before.
Fourteenth hole, 340 yards; Today’s general surrounds of Reddish Vale are industrial and yet who would think that standing majestically high on the fourteenth tee looking at the fairway and river below? James Braid is given credit for pushing the fairway farther left and creating today’s bunkering pattern and angled green.
Fifteenth hole, 475 yards; This and the fourth epitomize Reddish Vale today. Both require good stout golf yet are now devoid of the drama that they once possessed in spades. In MacKenzie’s day the play on this dogleg left with hickory was to the base of the hill and then the golfer had to choose a line and fire his second shot on a diagonal over the river; the more courageous the carry, the shorter the pitch to the green. Today’s tall growth along the river bank negates those playing angles as well as the thrill of playing tight beside a steep river bank.
Sixteenth hole, 320 yards; MacKenzie built a long one shotter from today’s tee. In 1934, the club followed the sage advice of James Braid by remodeling the fourteenth and this hole where the green was moved some 150 yards to the right onto a peninsula. A short par four was born whose approach shot can be counted among the nerviest in the game. Its construction caused quite the controversy at the time but Henry Cotton was a big fan and wrote, “This hole of 320 yards is the best looking, most fair, and at the same time probably the most difficult hole I have ever played.” In the same 1940 Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News article he added that any course with two such lovely holes as the fourteenth and sixteenth should ‘tell the world.’
Before moving on, it must be noted that a peculiarity of the course is the walk from Braid’s green to MacKenzie’s seventeenth tee – over 250 yards in length that retraces some of the sixteenth hole. Given that the second nine has just a single one shotter, is there a way to construct one between the today’s sixteenth green and the eighteenth tee which is some 180 yards away? The River Tame is between the sixteenth green and eighteenth tee and its presence could be utilized somehow. Regardless, rounds routinely at Reddish Vale are had in under three hours thanks to all the other short green to tee walks.
Eighteenth hole, 355 yards; Love it or hate it, the Home hole at Reddish Vale is one of the game’s most distinctive closers. The author chooses to love it. The almost incomprehensible ascent to the green from the fairway (a 150 yard shot climbs nearly 70 yards; a crazy ratio!) creates pressure to find the short grass off the tee because muscling a ball all the way up to the green is problematic. Despite the severe climb the hole manages plenty of playing charm thanks to its bowled out green complex. Big bounces from the left or right of the green occur and support MacKenzie’s belief in bold play (i.e. shots that get well up into the green can be rewarded but weak shots die into the hillside).
There you have it. It is hard to fathom finding such a diversity of shots and hazards on a course that measures 6,100 yards on 120 acres. No wonder that Mark Rowlinson, the keenest judge of courses in the United Kingdom, has long championed golf at Reddish Vale. There is no higher endorsement for a course than that and his words were the impetus for this course profile on GolfClubAtlas.com.
Near the start of his career MacKenzie worked magic here on a small parcel of land and went on to set the standard against which all other architects are measured. His future masterpieces like Royal Melbourne and Augusta National are characterized by a sense of scale. At one time Reddish Vale possessed that but, alas, no more. The growth that obscures the river robs the course of a dominant natural feature that MacKenzie highlighted when he routed the course. The thrill of the upland holes has been similarly muted because of unchecked vegetation. Sadly, Reddish Vale is no longer viewed among MacKenzie’s second tier of courses (which is of a higher caliber than 99% of all other architects) as it certainly was when he passed away in Santa Cruz in 1936.
Still, especially given that Manchester International Airport makes for an ideal gateway to the United Kingdom and Reddish Vale’s proximity to it, only a fool would pass up the opportunity to play this MacKenzie gem. Once touched by greatness, all the bones remain and the club is on the proper track to restore its luster.