Fred Lawson-Brown, a non-golfer, was inspired by the beauty of Ganton and decided that Leeds should have an equivalent golf course. 175 acres of potential golfing terrain were acquired from the landlord of the Bramham Park Estate, and, as luck would have it, Dr Alister MacKenzie was in the area, busily working on nearby Alwoodley. And so, in 1910, seven years after Lawson-Brown’s visit to Ganton, the Moortown golf course on Black Moor was ready for play. To mark the occasion, an exhibition match was staged between James Braid and Harry Vardon.
Moortown Golf Club is classic moorland golf course with lovely peaty turf that provides the bouncy cushion-effect when walking, a course that is gentle on the feet. The fairways appear wide and inviting – many of the holes are flanked with silver birch, gorse and heather. But don’t be fooled, Moortown is no pushover; this golf course is tough and exacting.
It turned out to be a tough test for Walter Hagen, the 1929 Ryder Cup captain, and his American team. For it was here, at a cold Moortown, that Great Britain, with George Duncan as captain, beat the USA 7-5. This was the first Ryder Cup to be held on home soil. The competition had been inaugurated two years earlier at the Worcester Country Club in the USA.
In addition to the Ryder Cup, Moortown has hosted numerous important professional competitions, Nick Faldo and Bernard Gallagher emerging as winners. A host of important amateur events have also been contested over the moorland, and in the 1974 English Open Amateur strokeplay championship, Nigel Denham hit an over-zealous second shot into the billiard room of the then in-bounds clubhouse. Undeterred, Denham marched inside and chipped through the open window to within five yards of the pin.
Moortown measures almost 6,500 yards from the regular tees, but accuracy will reap more rewards than length. Whilst the fairways appear to be wide, it’s an optical illusion and the rough can be punishing. Moortown opens with a relatively short par five, so make the most of an early birdie opportunity before facing two testing par fours at the 2nd and 3rd, two of seven par fours at Moortown measuring in excess of 400 yards.
The 10th is MacKenzie’s signature hole, a cracking 158-yard par three called “Gibraltar”, so called because the green is sited on a rocky plateau. This par three was the first hole MacKenzie built and the cost of this one hole absorbed the entire budget for all eighteen.
Writing in Tom Doak's Little Red Book of Golf Course Architecture, the author commented as follows: "Dr. MacKenzie swore that his Gibraltar hole at Moortown was an original idea and that he hadn't seen the Redan, to which it might be compared. And that is most likely true. But if any of us today built a hole even passably similar. it wouldn't be considered original, whether we had seen the original hole or not."
As Patric Dickinson stated in his book, A Round of Golf Courses: “The site of Moortown was chosen with courage and vision.” There is absolutely no doubt that Moortown is an exciting place to play golf. The holes offer a great deal of variety, both in terms of look and feel and in shot-making requirements and as always with MacKenzie’s design, Moortown fits the land like a glove.
The 2016 Yorkshire Amateur County Championship brought me back to Moortown, a course I’ve played numerous times over the past couple of decades but not for at least half a dozen years.
With a bunker renovation and extensive tree removal programme completed in the intervening time I was hugely impressed with how the course, which has a nice moorland feel to it, now played following the recent changes.
It produced a real firm and fast heathland test and with a stiff breeze whistling over the now more open property there was a touch of linksy-ness to the course with many of the holes favouring the ground game. It will be interesting to see how the course plays in the shoulder season because on previous visits, often in late-September for the Moortown Masters, it has played quite soft.
It is testing from the tee but gives you plenty of options thanks to danger at differing distances and this is something I always like. With the firm conditions there was a premium on finding the relatively generous fairways and thus avoiding deceiving bunkers, a myriad of ditches, a plethora of heather and sporadic patches of gorse. Driver is not always the club of choice from the tee, especially for longer hitters, because quite often placement is king and increased length only brings more trouble into the equation. There is a really good variety of tee-shots - some ask you to move it one way or the other whilst there a couple of blind ones too - and generally speaking this is a definite highlight of Moortown. The only drive I find a little awkward is the 16th where essentially a large oak tree directly faces you from the tee at around 230 yards (from the blues) and pushes you towards a stream which cuts across the fairway on the angle; the ideal shot is almost to land short of the tree and run your ball under it!
It would be remiss not to mention the near neighbour just across the road, Alwoodley, because they are regularly compared and whilst I’ve no hesitation in saying that Alwoodley is the better golf course Moortown has certainly closed the gap over recent years and is a stand-out venue in the North of England.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Me and 3 others played in the AMAM here this Sunday gone. I had been looking forward to playing here for a long time and wasnt disappointed at the entrance to the course (almost magnolia lane like) and the big board with names and tee times on it. The practice range is also quality, with the free pyramid of range balls.
The Course however really really disappointed me. I had heard great things about this track but i found it all a tad bland and easy! The holes at the top of the course as you hit the back nine (11,12,13,14) are some of the worst holes I have played!! I did enjoy the look of the Par 3's though. The condition of the greens was ok, but just ok. I wouldnt be rushing back for £25 a man never mind £45pp!!
But.....Its another one ticked off and we always have a laugh wherever we play which is the main thing!
Excellent golf course, comparable to Notts, Woodhall Spa, Alwoodley and probably a level above Sherwood Forest. Gentle opening hole, which is a good design feature although 2 and 3 are long, tough par 4s. The aesthetics of the course come to life on holes 10 to 13 and these are world class holes. 17 is a beautiful par 3 and the last is a tough finish with the clubhouse worryingly close to the green on the left. Needs tree removal to boost the heathland feel.