In 1914, the legendary golf course architect Dr Alister MacKenzie provided a lay-out for a 9-hole course for immediate play while continuing to develop the 18-hole course. The course was opened on 1st August that same year. Dr MacKenzie has since become a legend in golf course design the world over. His designs famously include Royal Melbourne, Cypress Point and Augusta National, home of The Masters.
At Oakdale there have been modifications to MacKenzie’s design over the years as the town has expanded but the essence of his original principles has been preserved.
While we’re a modern and relaxed club, we believe that heritage is important and celebrate our long-held traditions. Visit the club and you’ll find evidence of our rich history on display, such as the competition honours boards which can be admired from inside the clubhouse.
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1914 - 1939
Few golf clubs can have been faced with a less auspicious start. The course was officially opened on Saturday, August 1st, 1914 by the Mayor of Harrogate, Ald. Joseph Sheffield, O.B.E., and J.P. Three days later the country was at war and the Harrogate Advertiser of August 8th devoted its picture space not to the opening of the new golf club but to Harrogate’s Territorials marching to the railway station.
It is recorded that with little knowledge of the game Ald. Sheffield did not disgrace himself when driving the first ball off the first tee. He missed completely at the first attempt but his next shot sent the ball 'fair and square' across the beck. In a sense, Ald. Sheffield was proving himself a man with a sporting spirit in giving this private club a civic send-off, for the fact is that the Corporation had been disappointed in its efforts to found a municipal golf course at Oakdale. Those were the years of Harrogate's great prosperity as a Spa and holiday centre and though the Harrogate and Pannal golf clubs were already established, the need for a third and if possible, a municipal course, had become apparent, though visitors could make use of the two established clubs.
Unfortunately, in 1878, when the Improvement Commissioners (who later, in effect, became the Harrogate Corporation) bought the area of land known variously as Killinghall Moor Farm, Ripon Road Farm and Corporation Farm it was for irrigation purposes to do with sewage disposal. Nearly 40 years later this original intention was still fresh in the minds of the Local Government Board (now the Department of the Environment) and when the Town Clerk, Mr. J. Turner Taylor, approached the Board at the end of 1913 with a view to getting permission for the setting up of a municipal golf course he was sharply reminded that it was not becoming for a local authority to change its mind about the usage of an asset it had bought with public money.
He had taken with him a list of nearly 450 local people who were willing to become foundation members of the new club at the rate of 25 shillings per year and it casts a strange light on the mental processes of government departments that while refusing the Corporation powers to form a municipal golf club the Board intimated that it would not be averse to the idea of the Corporation's leasing enough land from this site for use by a private golf club.
A 'nod was as good as a wink' and no time was lost by some leading Harrogate sportsmen in issuing the prospectus for a proposed golf club under the Captaincy and Chairmanship of Mr Herbert Raworth. The club would be formed by registering a company limited by guarantee under the name of Oakdale Golf Club (Harrogate) Ltd and the guarantee contribution would be three guineas; one guinea entrance fee and two guinea subscriptions. The entrance fee waived for officers of the army, navy and ministers of religion.
The Local Government Board had approved a lease for 21 years, including an option to the club to purchase two acres of land within five years for the building of a clubhouse. The prospectus was issued on May 21st 1914 but it is obvious that by then matters were already moving.
Happily, support was forthcoming in the generous measure the founders had expected and in next to no time Dr. MacKenzie, of Leeds, a leading authority on the design of golf courses had provided a layout for the Oakdale course. A temporary nine holes were hastily laid out for the first season while work began immediately on the first half of the permanent course, the intention being that the second loop for the 10th to 18th holes would be completed by the spring of 1915.
The original layout of the course, as proposed by Dr. MacKenzie, was published in the Harrogate Herald on Wednesday June 3rd1914. A reconstruction of the layout is shown based on the Herald publication. Note the outward nine is shown to proceed around the perimeter of the course and the inward nine around the inside of the course. However, apparently, the final design adopted switched the two nines with some adjustments to holes 12/13 & 17/18, the revised course layout was developed. (Oakdale’s records for the early period unfortunately were lost during flood damage in the cellars of the Clubhouse).
Over the next few years, since the formal opening of the course in 1914, many improvements were carried out but still following the MacKenzie ideals. In 1923, nearly ten years after Dr MacKenzie had shaped the contours, James Braid was called in on an advisory mission and on his advice a number of holes were revised or reconstructed. Common usage and a wealth of practical experience of the varying course conditions combined to make intelligent improvements to challenge the player’s skills.
Even the clubhouse was necessarily a temporary arrangement. It was established at 34 Kent Road, formerly a school for young ladies but it was realised that the inconvenience of having a clubhouse 200 tortuously ascending yards from the first tee was not to be tolerated longer than necessary. In the event, members had to put up with the situation until 1926, such was the delay imposed by the war. What might have seemed a comparatively easy job in the optimistic days of 1914 was to prove a considerable proposition in the post-war period. A new clubhouse near the first tee involved a lot of problems. In the first place, a road link would have to be built from Kent Road and this would be the more costly because the terrain was very steep and rough.
However, the officials who had brought the new club successfully through the difficulties and uncertainties of the war years had no fears and both road and clubhouse were opened by Lord Hawke in the spring of 1928, at a cost of £12,000. The club could look to the future with high hopes which gradually have been realised.
If the founder fathers ran into unexpected difficulties, their choice of professional, happily, was not to be one of them. During his 44 years' service to the club, from 1914 until his death in 1958, Archie Yates was to become one of Oakdale's foremost and best-loved personalities. Born within 100 yards of the first tee at Wimbledon Common Golf Club (he never lost his southern accent) Archie served his apprenticeship under the great Harry Vardon, six times winner the Open Championship. Although Archie never professed to top tournament aspirations, he was a fine player and first-class teacher whose gentle manner made him beloved and respected. In 1954 in recognition of 40 years' service, he was made an honorary member, the trophy named in his honour and played for annually by Oakdale members is a wonderful link with the past and a reminder of the traditions of Oakdale.
Over the years, many improvements had been made both to the course and the clubhouse. The billiards room was added just before the 1939-45 war thanks to generous donations. With its acquisition the club became immediately more attractive and members came without reference to the weather. The small and active committee formed to deal with the project gently overcame much objection to the scheme and without doubt their foresight laid the foundations of the present high level of social activity which has long been the envy of other local clubs. In the event, the original billiards room was added without calling for a penny from club funds and the official opening in 1939 was by the Captain, the late H. E. (Bert) Ellis.
1939 - 1947
The war of 1939-45 brought its own problems, however in favouring Harrogate, fortune also favoured Oakdale Golf Club. The evacuation of Civil Servants to the town brought a host of new members and although the club suffered the inevitable wartime privations golf was still played and enjoyed. It was, in fact, years later before the backlog of work was dealt with, but as usual members proved more than willing to help and there were those ready to make funds available as the need arose. The financial wind did, in fact, blow cold during the Fifties and in May 1958 a special fund-raising event in the form of an exhibition match was described in a message from the Captain, the late Sam Brostoff, as “a sign of the times''. But the spirit which inspired the first major project of building the road to the new clubhouse and the clubhouse itself, has persisted through the decades.
'House' improvements have included the provision of new bars and a purpose-built billiards room at the rear of the clubhouse, permitting the former billiards room to be transformed into lounge extensions with dance floor, panoramic vistas over the course and a bird's-eye view of the 18th fairway and green, described by the late Henry Longhurst as "one of the best finishing holes in the country from a spectator's point of view".
The feature, to which Oakdale owes much of its charm, as well as some of its most interesting holes, is Oak Beck, a beautiful little stream flowing at the foot of the wooded hill on which the clubhouse stands. The beck has to be crossed four times with the chief excitement coming at the 9th and 18th holes. Here, where the stream forms a hazard guarding the whole front of both greens, many a promising score has gone to a watery grave.
The memories of but few members will stretch over the many decades of the clubs existence but those that do will be the first to stress the vast improvements which have been made to the playing of the course since the early days. There has been a complete drainage of the course and the laying of water to every green; trees have been planted in strategic positions and all the bunkers better shaped and trimmed. Oak Beck itself has received a lot of attention, it has been cleared of most of its obstructions and allowed to flow unhampered by decaying collections of small plant life. A practice ground was constructed and the 10th 11th and 16th holes re-modelled with the advice of Mr. C. K. Cotton, a professional consultant, extended the course to over 6,000 yards. See diagram for the new layout.
1947 - 1983
Over the years 1947-54, the North British and Swallow companies sponsored a series of major tournaments, featuring some of the world’s top players including Peter Thompson, Dai Rees, Bobby Locke, Roberto de Vicenzo and Harry Weetman, in Harrogate for which the Council undertook the arrangements and the Harrogate, Pannal and Oakdale clubs shared the play and took turns to stage the finals. It was during the 1951 North British final at Oakdale that the great Australian Peter Thompson, four times winner of the Open, set up a world record at the time with a round of 62 on a full-length course, although the yardage was significantly shorter than it is today. Apart from the Americans, most of the international stars played at Oakdale in these events and it is recorded that the South African Bobby Locke won the £250 first prize in the Swallow stroke-play final with rounds of 69, 72, 66 and 69 for a total of 276. The North British professional tournament in July 1948, where spectator grandstands were used for the first time in Great Britain, attracted the largest entry in a major professional event that year. The first prize of £500 was won by a certain Roberto de Vicenzo with a score of 277.
The course was carefully maintained through the sixties and seventies keeping the layout largely untouched but paying due attention to the impact of tree selection and placement. A great deal of time was spent on course drainage during this period which benefited members by being playable for longer periods. It was not until the late seventies that a major alteration was planned in collaboration with the council, the then landowners, to release part of the course for housing development in exchange for other adjacent land. This gave the Club an excellent opportunity to extend the course and plan seven new holes. Over a period of 4/5 years consultation with Hawtree golf course designers produced a new look to the course but following the style principles of Dr.MacKenzie. The new section was opened on August 13th 1983, a significant landmark in the Club’s history. The pre 1983 course is shown followed by the post 1983 design in overlay showing the seven new holes.
1983 - 1989
The 'New' 1983 Oakdale
“Our seven splendid new holes represent the latest benefit of a cordial relationship between Oakdale Golf Club and our "landlords" spanning the 70 years since the Mayor of Harrogate, the late Ald. Joseph Sheffield, officially opened the course. It is therefore with special pleasure that we welcome our civic guests to share in the celebration of yet another important advance in the club's continuing development.
With the course and facilities we now enjoy, Oakdale has a unique opportunity to take its place among the leading golf clubs of Yorkshire. It is an objective well within our grasp so long as the membership remains determined to sustain and build upon the standards and example established in the past”
Viv Venables, President 1983
On the eve of Oakdale's 70th anniversary, August 13th 1983, the opening of seven exciting new holes marked the most recent stage in a continuing process of development and improvement which has characterised the life of the club.
Oakdale now takes yet another historic forward step with the opening of the seven magnificent new holes designed by the distinguished golf architects Hawtree and Son, on land sweeping towards the Yorkshire Dales in the west. It is perhaps appropriate that they should occupy an area which still bears traces of the first golf played in Harrogate nearly a century ago and which the late Archie Yates always dreamed would one day become a part of Oakdale.
Although relatively short, measured by modern standards, Oakdale with its many sloping greens and fairways has never been shown to be an easy course. Introduce a monster par-5 hole of 580 yards, four long par-4 holes ranging from 360 to 460 yards, two long par-3 holes each close to 200 yards and finally surround these seven holes with 22,000 trees, and the new Oakdale becomes a formidable test of golf for players of all categories.
" No doubt there will be some who, after experiencing the new challenge will long for the old. There will be few, however who will be critical of the many other fine features our new course offers.
Probably the most welcome will be the reduction in physical effort required to play the course. By thoughtful use of natural contours, only one of the new holes, the 13th, runs uphill to any noticeable degree.
Add to this the present 2nd and llth holes and we shall have only three which will present any significant climb. Regrettably, the final climb from the 18th green to the clubhouse cannot be avoided but at least one should be fresher to tackle this last hurdle.
A highly desirable feature for the purist is the total absence of any blind shot. Unless the player chooses to gamble heavily at the 10th and 17th holes by taking a short-cut over the trees, the landing area for every shot is clearly seen, as are all the hazards. Direction markers will be aids of the past.
With the advantage of modern earth-moving equipment, which transported many thousands of tons of soil, stone and sand during construction, all seven new greens are featured with reasonably level putting surfaces but with surrounds which are extensively contoured to merge with the natural slopes. This helps considerably to highlight the target area and add to its appearance and character.
Having successfully negotiated all pitfalls on the way to the green, the real quality of the new holes will be seen. All seven new greens have been constructed to the very best modern standards and technology. Their base is a network of plastic drainage pipes underlying a 10-inch deep stone carpet carrying water to a central large diameter pipe drain. Immediately on top of the stone carpet lies a 4-inch thick layer of fine gravel to prevent any ingress of soil into the carpet. Finally, on top of the fine gravel, a 12-inch bed of screened and fertilised mix of sand, peat and soil, analysed and tested by the Turf Research Institute at Bingley, is laid to provide a germination bed for the fine fescue/bent grasses with which all the new greens were sown. The result is a firm, dry and smooth putting surface which, in the absence of snow, will be playable all year round.
Players will enjoy, perhaps most of all, the aesthetic beauty of the new course. Looking from the 14th tee back towards the clubhouse, the view is truly lovely and is in complete contrast to the outlook which, alas, now surrounds the old 13th, 14th and 15th holes.
With construction complete, all we need is time and patience for grasses to mature and trees to grow. Problems will doubtless arise but we can look forward with certain knowledge and pleasure that when maturity is complete the new Oakdale will be among the elite of Yorkshire's many fine golf courses.”
T.C (Tom Cochrane script 1983)
The fifth and thirteenth greens are known as typical MacKenzie two level style, however original MacKenzie greens were known to followed the contours of the ground more, giving rise to subtle borrows.
The course was kept virtually unchanged and allowed to develop in tune with its contours and the greenkeeping naturally allowing the new holes to blend with the older structures as time progressed. Consultations with Hawtree were maintained over the years to ensure architectural continuity and minor adjustments to tees, tree planting, and bunkers continued. Much time has been taken up with attention to drainage of the whole course that has led to permanent improvement of the playing conditions with subsequent benefits to members and allows more open play on a regular basis.
1990 - 2009
A complete review of the course was undertaken by Hawtree in 1990 and a number of suggestions made to upgrade more in line with new technology and a trend to use indigenous trees and flora of the region. A ten year tree programme was introduced and progressed and some bunker modification followed, notably around the sixth green. However it was not until the early part of this century that a major upgrade of the course was contemplated, this was also directed by Hawtree and the first stage remodelled the bunkering of the first, fourth and eighth holes during the winter of 2007/8. The new designs opened for play in 2008, the very wet weather hampered the settlement of the ground and the benefits were not fully enjoyed until the 2009 when the full impact of the changes could be experienced.
The holes and associated greens on the current course which remain close to the original MacKenzie design are, 1 to 3, whilst 7 to 9 follow close to the original plan. Hole 10 uses the original 11th green and hole 4 is extended but uses the original 12th fairway and green. The 15th winter tee is part of the old 6th green and is played down the fairway of the old 6th but in the reverse direction and holes 16 to 18 also follow the original Dr. MacKenzie design.
2010 - To Present day
The course continues to be developed. In 2011 the remains of an old water tank and the mound covering it were removed from the side of the 17th fairway and the greenside bunkers were changed and reshaped. A new Green Course for the men at 5544 yards was introduced in 2013.
2014 saw the Club celebrate its Centenary. A new balcony was opened, construction of which was made possible by the generosity of the members who raised the necessary funds. A Centenary Dinner Dance was held at the Majestic Hotel in Harrogate attended by over 300 members & guests. Amongst the special events during the year was a Hickory Challenge, under the tutelage of the British Golf Collectors Society; an excellent Golf Trick Show by Paul Barrington and matches with Wheatley, Workshop and Eaglescliffe who also celebrated their centenaries in 2014.
2015 saw further work to the course with the 3rd and 17th teeing ground being switched.