Tucked away on the outskirts of Wakefield, Low Laithes is a thriving members '92 club with lots to be proud of. Danny Lockwood reports.
Low Laithes Golf Club is hardly the county's best kept secret, but for a course that rubs shoulders with the nearby M1 motorway – without the golfer ever being aware of it – it's one that strangers might need a satnav to find.
Tucked into a sheltered valley between Wakefield and Ossett, literally just a minute from junction 40 of the M1, this Alister MacKenzie-designed members club has been quietly going about its business for over 90 years.
The club has a friendly and thriving membership of close to 600, and while new professional (of 12 months) Adrian Ambler says they would like to attract more junior members – and who wouldn't – their youngsters won promotion to division one of the Leeds & District league last year and lifted the Ken Romaine Salver into the bargain.
This year's Junior Captain Alastair Bagnall has also made the Leeds & District team.
The 18 hole, parkland course was first played on in 1925 and it has developed over the years into a challenging test for golfers of all abilities. Not long by any means, as usual the great Doctor found plenty of ways to challenge anyone taking it on.
Because the bottom of the course is low-lying, the club has been busy through the past winter putting in new drainage ditches and also removing trees and bushes as part of its ongoing maintenance and improvements.
The course is undulating without being hilly and has a variety of outstanding features which make every hole different. As usual, MacKenzie put the landscape first and let perceived wisdom about how courses should be laid out take a back seat.
That's why the course is only a par 34 going out, with seven par 4s and two par 3s, but a 38 back with three par 5s in the last six holes.
MacKenzie also saved the very best for last, because the sweeping uphill 18th provides a test to anyone trying to keep their card together, or get over the line in matchplay.
The closing hole sits alongside the 1st tee and any right handers with a bit of a hook problem need to be on their guard as you are taken literally around the boundary of the course in a clockwise direction, all the way to the pretty, short 8th, before turning inside to explore the heart of the layout.
The club is proud of the consistent quality of its greens and several of them – the 11th, 12th and 18th spring immediately to mind after my recent visit – getting above the hole can be costly indeed. And that was at the end of March – imagine the end of August after a hot spell!
With excellent bar and dining facilities, Low Laithes also prides itself on its event and conference hosting.
1) 364 yards, par 4
Everything is before you on the 1st, a gentle, downhill start that really shouldn't need a driver. The church tower is the perfect line off this elevated tee to set this up and a big, flat welcoming green awaits. Enjoy, because the pressure soon gets turned up.
2) 400 yards, par 4
The first of three completely different par 4s measuring 400 yards, this is an intimidating drive, with trouble visible both left and right, out of bounds, ponds and a ditch. Straight is paramount, although favouring the left half opens the approach to a green which is defended by bunkers to the right.
3) 390 yards, par 4
There's a new ditch on the 3rd and another 75 yards short of a slightly elevated green, defended by a bunker some 25 yards short. This is one of the few flat greens that you will encounter.
4) 162 yards, par 3
The first short hole takes you over the water hazard. Baling out right could find one of three bunkers above the putting surface which also falls away to the left.
5) 300 yards, par 4
Risk or reward. Or in other words, play smart to the corner of a sharp dogleg leaving yourself an uphill approach to an angled, two-tier MacKenzie green which can really hurt you, depending on how benevolent the greenkeeper has been with his pin placements.
6) 346 yards, par 4
Two tough par 4s, even this shorter one, with a big tree-line tight to your left – but the slope runs away down to the right and it's easy to fade down there. Quite a narrow green with a banking above it and bunkers below.
7) 424 yards, par 4
Stroke index 1, the longest par 4 on the course is often into the prevailing wind as well. Again, everything is tight to the line of trees on the left. It's a nice big circular green – a good target for higher handicappers (third shots probably) with three greenside bunkers.
8) 154 yards, par 3
A pretty hole and the shortest of the par 3s but again often into the wind, and ever so slightly uphill. You must carry the front bunkers defending a long, narrow green, with the added protection of a blind trap for anyone too long.
9) 400 yards, par 4
A sweeping, downhill drive that angles slightly right once over the road. No sand traps on this fair green, but there are steep run offs to the left and back, making club selection paramount.
10) 281 yards, par 4
Short, but very tricky and fraught with danger. Uphill from the tee but the clubhouse and car park forms the out of bounds right side of the hole until it turns sharp right and uphill to an angled, well protected green. Your approach really does have to be below the hole.
11) 282 yards, par 4
This is a classic MacKenzie, an inviting, wide open, rising fairway leading to a two tier sloping green which is well protected by two deep bunkers. Even a good drive will leave a mostly blind second shot, and if your putting's out of touch you could be going backwards and forwards for a while.
12) 177 yards, par 3
Playing from an elevated tee across the valley, this could be a tough green to hold in summer and running your tee shot in from the right might be a better option. A very attractive hole, but try to avoid the copse of trees to the right and rear.
13) 563 yards, par 5
Finally, a par 5 and the longest hole on the course with distant views of Wakefield Cathedral, City Hall and St John's Church. Try to stay right on the dead straight fairway between an avenue of mature trees. The hole is bunkerless but the green entrance narrows and there's a steep run-off left and behind.
14) 400 yards, par 4
Straight on again, back towards the far end of the course. A ditch 40 yards short shouldn't come into play, but if you get left-sided there's a big tree to navigate.
15) 391 yards, par 4
Straight back parallel to the last two holes, probably into the wind. Trees frame the hole but there is plenty of fairway to hit. Try to stay left side for the best line in to this long narrow green which falls away to all four sides.
16) 421 yards, par 4
Another tough, long par 4, tree-lined all the way and a sloping fairway. One of the smaller greens is protected by a hidden ditch short and right, plus swales and run-offs if you miss the target which slopes from the back. If your approach is from the right you might have to negotiate the overhanging tree.
17) 468 yards, par 5
It's difficult to pick the line from the elevated tee as you go over a pond, stream and trees to a right-to-left sloping fairway that also angles round to the right. Not the longest par 5, but more than enough trouble if you're off line.
18) 540 yards, par 5
A cracking finishing hole, up there with the best. Long, uphill everything's in front of you, but there are ditches and bunkers lurking. When you do finally hit into the green you'll find a two tier Mackenzie masterpiece with deep bunkers to both sides and a real test of putting nerves. Oh, and quite possibly an audience too!