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Northcliffe Golf Club Course Review

MY KNOWLEDGE of golf course architecture is probably not too unlike my golf game itself – occasionally-fair to generally-ropey.

I know a good golf shot when I see one (generally from someone I’m playing against) and I know a good or great golf hole when I see one.

I know very little about the great course designer James Braid other than what I’ve read about one of the game’s greats.

However I think I can say with some certainty, that when he settled on the final layout for Northcliffe Golf Club, in the hills above Shipley and the Aire Valley, he ‘started’ with the 18th hole.

Back of the clubhouse

The start and finish of this high quality members club must have provided Braid and the contemporaries involved with him over the first nine years of Northcliffe’s founding, with some interesting challenges.

After an initial nine holes on what was called the

Moorhead course was opened by local enthusiasts in 1921, Braid and another legend, Harry Vardon were commissioned to introduce a further nine the next year.

Several years later Braid was commissioned once more by the Northcliffe committee – reputedly at a staggering fee for the times of £1,000 – to re-work the entire layout.

Like all good courses, Northcliffe has gradually evolved over time, but it remains by and large as it has since 1930.

Current projects include new tree plantations – not that Northcliffe is short of trees at all, far from it! – and an ongoing scheme to rebuild all of the 37 bunkers on the course.

If that doesn’t sound a lot, don’t worry. This course, via the great Braid, has more than enough ways to keep the best golfers honest.

Not without good reason did the Northcliffe scratch side win the Bradford Team Championships recently, while member Mark Cooke lifted the Bradford Open earlier in July, at Keighley Golf Club.

Standing on the site of what is now the clubhouse, Braid could only have looked out across the daunting, steep sided ravine at his feet, and ‘seen’ his 18th tee and green, and decided that the rest of the course was all about getting back to that point.

Back then, the challenge of playing Braid’s masterpiece would have been all the more physically demanding because the current steel footbridge, which spans the ravine, wasn’t constructed and opened until 1933.

Negotiating the short par 4 opener is difficult enough without having a calf and thigh burn before you even reach your opening tee shot.

JAMES BRAID is widely credited with, if not inventing, then at least making the craft of the dogleg hole into an art-form.

Certainly what might look like ‘short’ par 4s around this course are given far greater complexity by Braid’s scheming. He loved risk and reward in his designs and there is an abundance of that at Northcliffe, starting with your opening tee shot.

What might seem an obvious go-for in mid-round is given psychological emphasis by the fact that it’s your first hit of the day you are contemplating taking over the tall trees on the opening dogleg left.

Playing for position is the sensible and, I suspect, the widely taken option for all but the best warmed up and the most confident.

It’s a shame to start off with a seven or an eight on a 250 yard ar 4, but get that first swing wrong, and that’s what you could be looking at.

That said, if you are going to put a good round together here, it’s important to start well because the majority of scoring ‘chances’ are on the outward nine.

Get your nose in front of the car going to the turn and then it’s all about keeping the card together.

The James Braid Society’s motto is ‘the Essential Distinction’. Their hero was a golfer, as opposed to someone who hits golf balls – a thinker, first and foremost.

Still, when the wind is coming over the tops on the index-1hole, the 13th, and then the 16th, index-3, you need all you’ve got off the tee, and as much again on the long, uphill par 4s.

All of which before you wind your way back to the 18th. I’m a big fan of courses where. Once you’ve left the clubhouse behind, you can get ‘lost’ within the journey the topography takes you on, and more than once I had to check what direction we were playing, and where the wind was coming from.

But when you get to that imposing 18th, suddenly that opening drive across the ravine is as far as it could possibly be from your mind. Because however good a card you’ve got going, it could all change.

The steep descent from the tee makes a fool of your yardage, the plethora of Bs – as in B for bother – in front of you narrows the entire round to one good swing. Bunkers, bankings, bushes and a winding beck all beckon enticingly, making the target look incredibly small.

Hit the green and the walk down to the hole with a jaunty stride. As James Braid himself would no doubt have said, you’ve deserved it.

1 – 250 yards par 4

A tough opening shot, usually with an audience. Choose either a utility/iron to go straight across the ravine or hit over the trees if you’re feeling particularly bold and ambitious. Either shot leaves you a tough pitch or chip to an undulating green surrounded by a front bunker and mounds.

2 – 491 yards par 5

Dogleg left with a tricky, bunkered fairway. You can cut the corner with a drive of at least 200 yards carry, but disaster awaits if you don’t get it. Given that you might need to lay up short of the ditch with your second anyway, the conservative right side drive might appeal. The green slopes back to front, with a steep run off at the back.

3 – 300 yards par 4

Good driving hole with quite a narrow fairway, and too far left could block you out. Choose the right type of shot for your approach to a narrow green, which slopes away from you and is well guarded by bunkers.

4 – 144 yards par 4

The target is all in front of you, within an enclosure of trees that leaves little margin for being wayward off the tee. There are bunkers in front, guarding the front of the green which has a subtle bowl in it.

5 – 522 yards par 5

Drive towards the marker post, and then keep up the left side of the fairway. A good three shots required to reach this green in regulation. Green slopes from back to front.

6 – 440 yards par 4

Good tee shot required favouring the right side of the fairway as it will feed left once it bounces. Testing second shot to a green, which slopes away from you.

7 – 478 yards par 5

Tough uphill double dogleg. Testing second shot with large tree in the centre of the fairway. Reachable in two good shots if the wind is behind. Tricky third shot to a narrow Mckenzie green watch out for the bunkers guarding either side.

8 – 171 yards par 3

Uphill par 3 with out of bounds left and a raised green guarded by bunkers. Take a club extra with all the danger short of the green.

9 – 334 yards par 4

Testing tee shot. Aim down the left side, as everything runs off to the right. Leaves a tough approach to a green which slopes left to right & front to back. Take your par and move on.

10 – 393 yards par 4

Tough tee shot through a shoot of trees with out of bounds left. A short tee shot leaves a blind second to a green which slopes from right to left.

11 – 318 yards par 4

Drive down the left side of the fairway to leave an easy pitch to a green guarded by two bunkers at the front.

12 – 124 yards par 3

Drive down the left side of the fairway to leave an easy pitch to a green guarded by two bunkers at the front.

13 – 425 yards par 4

Hardest hole on the course, it requires two very good shots to reach this hole. It's uphill all the way. If you make par you will have picked up a shot on most of the field.

14 – 372 yards par 4

Dogleg left. Drive down the right side to leave the best angle in. Bigger hitters can cut the dogleg to leave a short pitch to a large green with a bunker protecting the front left of the green.

15 – 310 yards par 4

Drive towards the marker post to leave a short iron to a long green protected by multiple bunkers. Bigger hitters can have a go at the green off the tee by taking it over the trees on the left but beware getting blocked out if you miss hit it.

16 – 427 yards par 4

Out of bounds left. A good tee shot over the marker post is required to leave a long testing second shot to a well-guarded green. Play to the left half of the green as it slopes to the right.

17 – 437 yards par 4

Out of bounds left. A good drive down the right side so you dont get blocked out will leave a long mid-iron to a green which, slopes towards you and off the left. Toughest green on the course and very easy to three putt.

18 – 177 yards par 3

Northcliffe's signature hole with a raised tee to a green in the bottom of the valley. There are hazards all around - a stream right and bunkers left and front. One of the best Par 3's & finishing holes in Yorkshire!!

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