Jonathan Gaunt, Senior Golf Course Architect writes about his old stomping ground ….

Jonathan Gauntin Golf

onathan Gaunt, Senior Golf Course Architect writes about his old stomping ground ….

I've been very patient with regard to my work at Leeds Golf Centre: I began my golf in Leeds in 1971 and as a boy played at Rawdon GC, then moved on to Woodhall Hills GC until I left Leeds in 1985 (after qualifying as a landscape architect at Leeds Metropolitan University) to work in London.

As a junior I played lots of golf on the great North Leeds courses: Headingley, Scarcroft, Alwoodley, Moortown, Sandmoor, Moor Allerton, Cobble Hall, Ilkley, to name but a few. All these courses were designed by illustrious golf course architects such as Alister MacKenzie, Harry Colt, Robert Trent Jones snr..

The newest of these, Moor Allerton - built in the 1970's with bulldozers, following an American design style, never really reached it's potential . It was not until the early 1990's that the golf course at Wike Ridge was developed on open, exposed farmland, just across the road from Moor Allerton.

I was asked to submit an initial proposal to the original owner (of Wike Ridge GC) in 1991, but was beaten to the commission by one of the most respected British golf course architects, Donald Steel. To return here in 2011 to be involved in what is one of the most significant golf course redevelopment projects in the UK, is a delight and a great honour to be given the opportunity to create a classic North Leeds golf course, which, I hope will prove to be an excellent challenger to its well-known neighbours.

The Donald Steel course was built to a good standard, but to a limited budget - in this respect, it could be said that certain opportunities were not taken during its development. The greens and tees were constructed following United States Golf Association (USGA) principles and the shaping was done well - with gently undulating greens and large teeing surfaces. What I found when I returned to the course in early 2011 was a course that although busy and well-maintained, had lost its way in design terms.

Fairway bunkers were now out-of-play due to the advances made in ball and club technology in the past 20 years, greenside bunkers were showing signs of heavy usage and wear (some had been filled in), the tree plantations throughout the course were so dense as to create not only maintenance problems for the greenkeepers, but also problems with lost balls and associated delays/long rounds of golf.

Added to this there were safety problems on the 1st/2nd and 8th/9th/11th holes. The 2nd and 11th holes were both par-3's that were causing bottlenecks and further delays. I mentioned that there were opportunities missed during the course development - this related mainly to the fact that streams flow through The Wike Ridge 18-hole course which never dry out, however, they barely have an impact on play, apart from on hole #6, where the golfer plays over a small pond.

Our brief was to undertake an in-depth study, looking at all aspects of the course to deal with the problem areas mentioned above and to investigate opportunities to make it one of the best golf courses in the region. This didn't necessarily mean lengthening the course, although this was to be considered also. The strategy of the design was the main focus and we looked carefully at how to answer all the demands of the brief. Removing hole #2 completely enabled us to lengthen hole #3 (now par-5, hole #2) to be 601 yards from the backtees.

By re-aligning (new) hole #2 and widening the landing area and taking out of play existing green #4, it enabled us to eradicate the internal out-of-bounds that had previously been in play between holes #3 and #4.

Hole #3 (existing hole #4) was re-aligned to play o the practice green on the members practice area (which was used very little and 400 metres from the clubhouse). We then created a new left-to-right, dog-leg par-4 hole of 409 yards, playing the length of the practice area to a new green set in amongst a new woodland block of oaks, silver birches and field maples. A new downhill par-3 hole (to replace original hole #2), would then be created by building a new tee complex on the hill above the new 4th green, playing parallel with the out-of-bounds to the existing 5th green.

The routing then reverts back to the existing course for hole #6 - an enlarged lake, hole #7 - new tees and carry area, hole #8 - retained as a par-4 with a new green to increase the safety margin on tees #9, #11 and #13, #9 - with new tees and lake and hole #10 - new bunkers. In order to improve (golfer) traffic movement on the course we renumbered holes #14, #12, #11 and #12 as #11 (par-4), #12 (par-4), #13 (par-3), #14 (par-5), which makes more sense and is a more logical progression through this part of the course. Plus, on these holes we've extended the water features dramatically to create lagoons, cascades, open "Scottish" burns, and swales to increase challenge and improve strategy.

Hole #15 was always considered an overly tough par-4, especially if you couldn't get your drive past the big oak on the right-hand side of the dog-leg, so we've taken the tees back slightly and elevated them to extend it to 500 yards, a par-5 - which should be fairer to play, cancelling out the need for golfers to cut the corner (across new hole #14), so we can eradicate the internal out-of-bounds here too.

Hole #16 remains a tough par-3 played into the teeth of the prevailing wind. Hole #17 is extended to 551 yards from the backtees. Hole #18 will now be a real climax to the round - at present a hole considered to be a bit of a dull finish. The view from the tee will be down the sweeping fairway to a lake that will only come into play for the longest of hitters, but will have to be played over for all second shots. A truly dramatic finishing hole in full view of the clubhouse bar and restaurant.

The overall course length has increased from 6482 yards to 6506 yards.

Other exciting improvements are planned for the driving range and short Oaks course in the years to come, together with additional short game practice facilities.

Construction started on site in January 2012 and is expected to be completed by May 2012. The new facilities will be brought into play in Autumn 2012.
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