COURSE REVIEW, by YG Publisher Danny Lockwood
THESE are good days, very good days at Leeds Golf Club – Cobble Hall, to its many friends and patrons. The course is looking immaculate, the oldest professional trophy in golf – the Leeds Cup – is back home where it belongs and the grassroots of the junior section is flourishing again after a few fallow years.
It’s all so much brighter than six years ago, when the club that can trace its heritage back to the very origins of golf in Leeds, faced desperate times and was on the verge of folding.
“We had to go to the members and ask them to put up lump sums to keep us afloat,” said club secretary Paul Mawman. “We needed at least 75% of them to dig deep for the club. We got 75% of them. It allowed us to turn the corner.”
Since then the club has gone from strength to strength, but Paul is keen to thank neighbours who stood by Cobble Hall when times were tough. It would be a blow to any club to lose 25% of its membership but he praised local clubs who said they would delay processing new applications until Leeds GC got back on its feet.
“Headingley, Wetherby, Garforth golf clubs, they were really supportive,” added Paul. “That speaks volumes about the people in our sport.”
Indeed, such has been the upturn in the club’s fortunes that former members, hearing the great things being said about the reinvigorated Cobble Hall, are back knocking on the door. Membership is growing, thanks in large part to the innovative approach to flexible packages that mean golfers don’t pay the full fee until the age of 40. Junior play for free until they’re 12 – and it’s only a modest £85 to age 17.
A flexiplay, points-based offer that makes the perfect gateway to golf has been successful for Leeds GC, and the arrival of new head professional Adrian Newboult and his assistant Andrew Rigby has also had a real impact.
“The juniors are doing fantastic now, under Andrew,” explained Paul. “We had to drop out of the Leeds and District competition because we were down to three or four juniors. Now we have 20-plus and we’re back in the league, and you can see their confidence growing.”
The Wilkinson Sword Junior Championship, once a leading county event, has been reborn and is symbolic of the general positivity in the air at the club, just four miles from Leeds city centre and part of the Roundhay estate.
“Like any club we’re in the market for new members and more visitors and we have a wide range of attractive packages to build on that,” added Paul.
The club currently has a great winter deal – £22 for 18 holes and a meal, while new members can take advantage of an 18 months-for-12 deal running from January 2019 to June 2020. Anyone interested can check the club website for details.
Ady Newboult has has also created a fantastic swing studio in some old outbuildings, and stages a winter league, with visitors coming to use it too.
BUT any golf club is really only as good as its course, and 2018 has been a landmark year for Cobble Hall, with the recruitment of new Course Manager Ian Pullan from Slaley Hall.
“It’s been a massive plus for us,” added Paul Mawman. “The plaudits just keep flowing … the greens have never been so good, and both members and visitors have been delighted with the condition of the course.
“Ian has had an immediate impact and we’re now getting into a winter programme of improving the bunkers. That’s not to denigrate our previous staff, but Ian’s fresh eyes and ideas have been excellent. We’ve invested in new machinery too.
“We consider ourselves a really friendly club – the friendliest in Leeds, we think! – but you can have the best hospitality, bar and restaurant facilities, but they are ancillary activities because your bread and butter is the golf course. You have to get that right.”
The off-course part of the deal is a given, because Leeds Golf Club has won national club, catering and steward of the year awards in recent times.
If the club has a challenge, it is perhaps in its location somewhat off the beaten track – despite being nestled inside the Leeds ring road. “We’re not surrounded by chimney pots,” said Paul, “so it isn’t as though we have locals to use it as a pub or restaurant – but when we get them here, we want to make sure they’re keen to come back!”
And speaking of ‘coming back’ the return of the Leeds Cup in 2017 after an eight year absence has cemented the new-found confidence in Cobble Hall’s future.
Enthusiasts knocking balls around the horse pastures in 1890 that became in turn Leeds GC in 1896 and then a separate Roundhay club – they merged in 1900 – had a certain Dr Alister MacKenzie amongst them.
He was a member at Leeds from 1900 to 1910 and gave advice regarding the bunkering and layout, before he went on to create some of his masterpieces, starting locally with Alwoodley in 1907 and Moortown.
In 1901 the Lord Mayor of Leeds presented the newly formed PGA with the Leeds Cup, the first professional trophy in golf to be played for annually, and it was inaugurated at the club in 1902. Winners included Open champions and first Leeds Cup winner Harry Vardon, Ted Ray, Sandy Herd and George Duncan. With the Leeds Amateur Cup and Cobble Hall Scratch also part of the club’s proud calendar, the sport’s history is firmly back in safe hands.
The course itself is bordered to the north by the ring road and the east by Elmete Lane and is accessed from Wetherby Road. It’s a mature, parkland track with most of the holes tree-lined, and traversing land which falls away from the north. The signature hole is the 7th, a delight on the eye from the tee, culminating in a trademark MacKenzie green perched on the hillside above your approach.
Just as famous locally – or notorious more like – is the par 3 15th, which the club calls ‘Tribulation’ but gets called plenty of things beside! It’s a steep uphill test.
“The brewery gave us a guest beer called ‘Tribulation’ after the hole and 15 free pints were on offer to anyone getting a hole in one,” said Paul. None were won, although just recently at a North Leeds Ladies Alliance, an Alwoodley member aced it – the first this year, according to the secretary.
The test won’t get any easier with the passing of time, but the resurgent Leeds Golf Club can see only good times ahead.
Leeds Golf Club
1- 318yds, par 4
A short and straight opener, with a ditch tight down the right hand side, so it’s all about safety off the tee. The fairway rolls from right to left, and rises to the green so you might not be able to see the base of the flag on a double green, shared with the 16th.
2- 381yds, par 4
Back on yourself behind the clubhouse, a tree-lined avenue of a hole, but a good drive brings two lateral bunkers into play. Sand protects the approach and watch out for the road to the right which is OB.
3- 392yds, par 4
Reverse direction again, to a hole with a diagonal ditch, but it will take a good hit to reach it. The hole falls away down towards a shaped green with a bunker top right and below left, with a run-off at the back.
4- 400yds, par 4
Index 1 and a sweeping left to righter, tree lined. Position is vital off the tee. There’s a lateral front bunker and the green has another pot bunker mid left plus some tricky run-offs.
5- 370yds, par 4
Parallel back to the 4th so a slight dogleg right to left this time. So far everything has fallen away from the ‘top’ of the course.
A broadish fairway then downhill into a well protected green, which slopes from front right to back left, with tricky run-offs too.
6- 113yds, par 3
A short par 3 but very easy on the eye. Get it right though, because the green has plenty of challenges and it is ringed by bunkers.
7- 357yds, par 4
What a fabulous looking hole, a big downhill vista, with just the fairway bunkers to avoid. The hole then sweeps towards a typical MacKenzie, two-tiered green, with a narrow entrance protected by a big trap. It broadens out at the back.
8- 400yds, par 4
The 8th is uphill with everything in front of you. Trees are the major issue but a good drive leaves you going into a back-to-front sloping green with sand left and right.
9- 168yds, par 3
Uphill to the turn, a short hole which played longer than it looked for us. There are short left and right bunkers, then more traps beyond, protecting a big green with some devilish undulations.
10- 407yds, par 4
A wide open downhill par 4, which is 50 yards longer from the white tees, hence its index 2 rating. Stay on the short stuff and you’re going into a green with a bunker front right and run-offs to the sides and rear.
11- 514yds, par 5
The hole runs parallel to the ring road. Avoid the grassy mounds that traverse much of the fairway at about 260 yards. You’ve still a way to go before the hole drops away to reveal the green in the far corner of the course. It has bunkers above front right and below front left and is ridged, with steep run-offs.
12- 375yds, par 3
A daunting tee shot, with trees tight left and a fairway sloping away to the right. Your second is back up the hill.
13- 149yds, par 3
An attractive, downhill short hole with a big lateral bunker short of the front to make sure you club it correctly, and a green with some subtle slopes.
14- 485yds, par 5
Get your line right on this difficult hole because you won’t see the green until your third – or fourth – shot. There’s a dogleg, tree trouble both sides, before you go blind over a steep incline, then down to a narrow, sloping green tucked away.
15- 156yds, par 3
Did I say there was an incline on the 14th? It’s tough to correctly club the 15th ‘Tribulation’ first time round because it’s steeply uphill, with pot bunkers front and left, but at least the green slopes from the back towards you with a helpful banking behind it.
16- 377yds, par 4
Downhill with the fairway running away left to right, towards fairway bunkers and the boundary wall. The two lateral bunkers well short of the green shared with the first shouldn’t come into play – but there are more greenside.
17- 320yds, par 4
The drive looks a lot tighter than it is, but make sure you favour the left side, avoiding the sentinel oak tree, to get position into the green below on the right, that slopes away from you.
18- 162yds, par 3
All uphill to finish, so take plenty of club. There are traps and mounds protecting a green angled at 45 degrees, and which slopes back right to front left.