These golf courses in Yorkshire are not only special, and not just among the best in England, they are among the best on the planet. Quintessential English golf? Apply right here.
Swathes of springy turf as far as the ball will carry – and it never stops when the sun kisses the firm grass. Glorious pine and bracken, bunkers that can be devastating hazards, and greens that roll perfectly but pose puzzles to the unwary.
I imagine you’re seeing those pictures right now. But how much do you really know about Woodhall Spa, Ganton, Alwoodley and Moortown? Visit and you’ll never forget what you’ve seen in this wonderful corner of the north.
Let’s begin with Woodhall Spa Golf Club. OK, we’re sneaking over the Lincolnshire border here, but it’s simply impossible to leave out when embarking on a golf break to this part of the world. If you’re heading from the south, it’s the perfect place to start your trip.
Woodhall Spa’s heritage is, after all, unquestioned. It is the home of English golf.
Harry Vardon and Harry Colt are among those who’ve made their mark on this wondrous site. But it was Colonel Stafford Vere Hotchkin who really sculpted the course that has become a haven in the heart of Lincolnshire. Tom Doak’s recent renovation has only lifted it to new heights.
The fairways may be wide, but the carries to reach them can be foreboding. The bunkering is notoriously deep and deadly.
Take the huge crater on the side of the 12th, a trap that’s simply extraordinary. It measures 12 feet below the green and is the deepest on the course. That green may be long and narrow but it looks tiny from the tee 170-odd yards away.
Woodhall Spa is carefully crafted, wonderfully flowing, and consistently excellent. But if it could be summed up in one hole it might be the 13th.
The most difficult drive on the course, it is the incredible complex of sand in front of the green that forms the biggest obstacle – lining up like a huge barrier to block your progress.
Perhaps the only other course in England with a reputation for bunkers as fierce as Woodhall Spa is Ganton Golf Club, a few miles from the seaside town of Scarborough.
It is in rare company, one of a handful to have held Ryder, Walker, and Curtis Cups. It exudes history.
A curious combination of styles, Ganton is neither heathland, nor inland, and it’s too far from the sea to be a links. Yet it combines the qualities of all.
The highlights never stop but the 16th is truly world class – starting with a brutal tee shot flanked by trees and gorse on both sides.
A massive cross bunker is only 180 yards to carry but dominates thoughts as it hampers the fairway view and the route to safe passage.
The approach is just as difficult with everything appearing to close in the nearer you get to the putting surface.
Then there is The Pandy at the 17th and 18th – a marvel that just needs to be seen to be believed. Restored to look exactly as it’s so famously painted in Bernard Darwin’s seminal book The Golf Courses of the British Isles, the great man himself referred to it as ‘the vastest and generally most gorgeous bunker that is to be found’.
You’ll adore the challenge, before walking through it on the way to that final fairway.
In the middle of these two giants of English golf is the thriving city of Leeds. Stay in Headingley, a vibrant suburb with pubs serving as many local ales as your taste buds can manage and restaurants offering all varieties of international cuisine. For those who want to party on, the city centre is only five miles away.
The Village Hotel has everything you need. Check-in using innovative touchscreens, head to the Pub & Grill, or sample the extensive gym.
You may have heard of Dr Alister MacKenzie. Every year, golf’s congregation gathers at his most famous church: Augusta National. Cypress Hill and Pasatiempo are just two other examples of his incredible work in the United States.
But Alwoodley was his first course and some on this side of the pond will argue it remains his best.
Described as a layout of “rare subtlety and sophistication”, firm fairways are lined by heather, the occasional outcrop of gorse, and large, sloping, greens.
You’ll find echoes of Augusta everywhere. Not least in the 10th, which served as the prototype for the famous 13th at the Georgia paradise. The fairway sweeps left before careering downhill and then rising to a green that’s carved into a slope.
Every hole here is an experience – just stand and take in the ninth, a 190-yard par-three from a raised tee and revel in the beauty of the wider landscape.
But it’s the closing stretch, from the 13th onwards, for which Alwoodley is really renowned.
What awaits is no fewer than five par-four holes weighing in at more than 400 yards and capped by a breath-taking closing hole that, with its length, carefully placed bunkers, and stylish clubhouse in the background, is one of the finest finishers in the country.
Alwoodley was MacKenzie’s original. Moortown was what immediately came next and cemented the doctor’s reputation as a golf architect of rare talent.
The two neighbours are so close you could almost hit a drive from one course to the other, but their characters are very different.
Here, where the first Ryder Cup was held on British soil in 1929, you’ll find rich moorland and one of the finest par-threes ever created.
It’s said that MacKenzie built Gibraltar, the present-day 10th, as a showcase of his skills when the founding members asked what he could do with the land.
His response was emphatic – a quite outstanding short hole set on an outcrop of stone.
At 175 yards, it plays slightly uphill and a large bunker on the left dominates the eye. That often leads golfers to forget about the three smaller enclaves of sand waiting on the other side to catch out the cautious player.
The 18th, meanwhile, has created more than its fair share of golfing folklore in Yorkshire, not least when a young Seve Ballesteros embraced his flair for the dramatic – clearing bushes, trees, and spectators to land his approach shot on the practice putting green during the Haig Tournament in 1980.
So if you’re planning your next golf trip, make sure Woodhall Spa, Ganton, Alwoodley and Moortown are on your list. A visit to Yorkshire will satisfy all your golfing desires and leave you with memories to last a lifetime.
Golf courses in Yorkshire
How to get there
The nearest main airport is Manchester, while Leeds Bradford serves Yorkshire and is the closest to Alwoodley, Moortown and Ganton. The nearest airport to Woodhall Spa is East Midlands.
If you are travelling by train, then you’ll need to take a taxi from Leeds to Alwoodley and Moortown, while Ganton is around 10 miles from Scarborough. For Woodhall Spa, Lincoln is around 12 miles away.
What you didn’t know
Leeds has always been a city of innovation. One of the very first steam locomotives was made in the city, while Leeds-born architects and constructors helped put together iconic buildings such as the Sydney Opera House and the US Capitol Building.
Where to eat and drink
Close to the Village Hotel is Salvo’s, an Italian restaurant that is a Leeds institution. Heeney & Mill, a superb bistro, is also within 10 minutes’ walk of the accommodation. For local beers, make sure to visit Woodies Craft Ale House.
What to do
The Royal Armouries, in Leeds, is home to the UK’s national collection of arms and armour and is free to visit. Nearby York has Europe’s largest Gothic cathedral and is a magnificent example of a Medieval walled city.