Jonathan Gaunt has returned to his roots - West Yorkshire - where he learned to play golf. In fact, his first golf lessons were with Bill Ferguson, professional at Ilkley Golf Club at the time. Jonathan is now advising Ilkley GC on long-term improvements to the course.
Of the courses designed or advised upon by Alister MacKenzie in and around the City of Leeds, probably the finest is Ilkley GC. It nestles picturesquely on the banks of the River Wharfe and in the shadow of the Cow & Calf Rocks of Ilkley Moor. MacKenzie designed so many courses in this region, it's difficult to find one that has not been affected by him.
The Ilkley GC Centenary Handbook states that MacKenzie was involved in providing advice (working with Harry S Colt) following a Special General Meeting held on 3rd October 1908, where some dramatic changes were authorised.
MacKenzie advised on changes to the 2nd and 3rd greens in particular, making their surrounds more natural to the eye, however, some of his other ideas were never implemented. In 1911, MacKenzie was called back to the club at the request of Mr H.B. McCarthy, previous Captain of the Club, to redesign the 15th hole. Up until then the hole was played as a par-4 from a tee which was on the current practice ground to a green which was in the field behind the existing 16th tee, making the second shot a tough uphill approach. In fact, one can still make out the surrounds, hummocks and featuring of the MacKenzie green.
MacKenzie, representing his home club, Alwoodley, played in team matches against Ilkley GC in July 1925, in May 1926 and again May 1927. No references state whether he enjoyed playing the 15th.
As it is, members of the club were never fully satisfied with the new green, which was brought into play in September 1912 and as a result MacKenzie was brought back in to further advise the club in January 1926. The hole was changed to be a stunning par-3 with the green at the bottom of the hill (almost as it is today). There were numerous bunkers surrounding the green, putting emphasis on an accurate tee-shot - see photo below, taken in the 1930's.
At the same time MacKenzie completed a comprehensive masterplan for improvements to the whole course. Sadly, some of the MacKenzie bunkers were removed in 1954, making the whole much less of a challenge and certainly less appealing to the eye.
|Photo of hole 15 taken in Spring 2010 by Jonathan Gaunt - with no bunker sand in view from the tees.||Photomontage of hole 15 by Gaunt Golf Design|
So, 57 years have passed since these changes were made. Ilkley GC is now committed to long-term improvements to the whole course. Jonathan Gaunt of Gaunt Golf Design undertook a course audit in Summer 2010 and then prepared a comprehensive masterplan advising upon improvements to tees, bunkers, greens, landing areas and woodland management.
Jonathan also focused his attention on hole 15 - using, as an influence, historic photos taken back in the 1950's to create an impression of what the remodeled greenside bunkers could look like.
A colour photomontage was produced by Gaunt Golf Design (see below) to show what could be achieved. All aspects of the design were approved for construction, except for the two right-hand flanking bunkers.
Phase 1 of the course redevelopment work has recently started on site - comprising the remodeling of the bunkers on hole 15 with a means to restoring some of the MacKenzie features. Having said this, drawings and pictures can only be the starting point. The real "hands-on" design work began on site in April 2011.
The construction work has been undertaken by a specialist shaper (Michael Green - who Jonathan has worked with since 1987) with Jonathan diligently overseeing all work on site, liaising closely with the Michael (who was not operating a dozer, but a small 360o excavator with tilt-rotator bucket), to ensure that the correct edges, contours and shapes were created. The result is impressive and it will set in place a template for future course improvements. See photo below of hole 15 taken in June 2011 by Ilkley GC Greens Chairman, Richard Patchett.
Further ongoing work includes a new back-tee and re-alignment of the 18th hole - a par-4 of 432 yards - bringing back into play fairway bunkers that had become less of a challenge in recent years. More importantly and adding greater challenge, the River Wharfe now flows right in front of the tee.
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