Many great golf courses feature water in some shape or form – the Barry and Swilken Burns at Carnoustie and St Andrews, for example – but no course is more influenced by a river than Ilkley Golf Club. River, Bridge, Island and Kingfisher are some of the names of the opening holes. The scene is set from the off – the River Wharfe is dominant for the first seven holes.
Founded in 1890, Ilkley is the third oldest golf club in Yorkshire. In those days Ilkley was a nine-hole course, located on Rombald's Moor. Harry Vardon won his first prize as a professional on this course and his brother Tom was an early professional at the club. As golf grew in popularity, the club needed 18 holes and in 1898 work started on a new course alongside the River Wharfe. Today's course is mainly a tribute to the combined architectural skills of Alister MacKenzie and Harry Colt. Ilkley comes with a very high pedigree.
“On Ilkley Moor baht 'at” is Yorkshire's unofficial anthem, which is sung to an old Methodist tune. The song tells the story of a lover courting Mary Jane on Ilkley Moor. Mary Jane wasn't wearing her hat, and as all good Yorkshire folk know, you'll catch your death of cold on Ilkley Moor without one. The reason we mention this song is that Ilkley is one of the most beautiful places in the country and if it was pretty enough setting for courting Mary Jane, it's also a perfect setting for golf.
Measuring 6,276 yards from the medal tees, Ilkley is no championship challenge, but with a lowly par of 69, it's tougher than it first appears. Colin Montgomerie learnt his trade here and holds the current course record of 64. "Although I have played golf on the finest courses in the world, Ilkley Golf Club will always have a special place in my heart," he said.
The course is blessed with many fine holes and the most memorable are the openers adjacent to the river. The 4th, called "Long", is the first of the two par fives and requires a drive over the river's tributary. From the 8th onwards, trees become the principal hazards, but the sheer scenic beauty remains until the very last putt drops.
Ilkley is a delight and a must-play course. Mark James (alongside Colin Montgomerie) is also an honorary life member here and we'll let him close: "Nestling in the shelter of the Wharfe Valley, Ilkley is one of the most enjoyable courses in the North of England." How could any serious golfer overlook Ilkley?