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.
Architect Ken Moodie has been responsible for design work on the course in recent years, advising the club on smaller scale improvement work since 2014. This has resulted in the alteration of mowing lines for greens to reinstate their original shapes, the introduction of new tee positions, and the further development of heather areas around the property. A new state-of-the-art irrigation system was also brought in to remedy problems with the old borehole pump, water storage tank, pump house and controller.
MacKenzie's first solo design, and home of the 1929 Ryder Cup, Moortown is a fun, well-designed Moorland lay out. The opener gets you interested straight away, with width on offer but bunkers always seeming to be in places where you want to hit it. The 5th is s short par 4 that dog legs left massively, players can go for the green but it can bring in all sorts of trouble. The 9 is the opposite, a dog leg right, albeit a longer hole that has a fun approach that encourages a run up shot.
The 10th, ‘Gibraltar’, is the most famous hole here. With a crazy, large three-tiered green and deep bunkers surrounding, this hole is always lots of fun to play. Some argue that the routing from 11-14 can become slightly disjointed to the rest of the course, playing just forwards and backwards up a hill, and I can understand where they are coming from. The 12th, aptly named ‘Long’ is a brutal par 5. Having said that I enjoy the 13th and the approach into the par 4 14th is always a fun shot.
The finishing hole is a strong par 4, similar to a lot of courses in the UK that have ‘championship’ pedigree, bringing you back to the clubhouse. I would strongly recommend a visit here to anyone who is near the area.
Moortown is great. The bunkering is amazing as expected, and the holes are really good. If you're in town playing Alwoodley, then don't miss Moortown. The best holes are 4, 5, 8, 10, 12, 18.
Great clubhouse and history too, so soak it all in.
The club is rightly proud of its association with the Ryder Cup, dating back almost a hundred years, but it’s also moved with the times in recent years, improving the playing experience by clearing trees, renovating bunkers and upgrading the irrigation system. Unfortunately, it suffers from direct comparison with the higher-ranked course at Alwoodley, which is located only half a mile up the road – that’s only understandable but a little unfair at the same time.
I was surprised to learn that Alister MacKenzie’s brother, Charles acted as a consultant at the club for five years, ending his association the year before Alister’s death in 1934, but that’s perhaps just another case of somebody living in the shadow of a more famous sibling and not getting the credit they fully deserve for their accomplishments.
Today’s course plays to just over 6,450 yards from the gents regular tees, with par set at 71 and it’s a demanding track, even if only one of the three par fives on the card measures in excess of 480 yards from the yellow tees. “Gibraltar,” the famous par three 10th hole, gets most of the attention here and rightly so as it’s a fantastic short hole.
The four holes that follow, from the 11th to 14th, are laid out in parallel within a separate compartment to the south of the property, and I can see why some might think they give the routing a rather disjointed feel, though I thought they were actually very good holes, especially the par five and par four (rated stroke index 6 and 2) in the middle of that little sequence.
Moortown teams up with Alwoodley to offer incredible monthly Open deals during the winter for a very affordable green fee, playing in a 4BBB stableford format from November to March, and there are some nice prize vouchers to be claimed at these events. For those who want to play outwith the summer months on a layout that’s still very playable then this is an ideal way to experience one of the most historic courses in the country.
Moortown is a nice facility but overall I found it a slight letdown. As my first Mackenzie design and a bouncy heathland, I had high hopes but it fell short of similar courses I’ve played in the south. The heath designs I’ve visited have either been extremely well manicured or wild and adventurous. Moortown, as a moorland layout felt a bit bland in comparison. The slopes are steady and predictable, the bunkers looked dirty and there are some ugly perimeter fences.
That’s not to say it’s a bad course or experience, I’m just surprised it’s rated so highly. There are obviously some fun and strategic holes, plus a lot of lengthy ones – from the yellows only four par 4s are under 400 yards. My favourite of these was the 5th where you should draw the ball on to an angled fairway, taking on as much of the heather as you dare.
I chose Moortown and Leeds as a stop-off on the way to Scotland and to be honest, to someone planning the same trip I’d say pick another course en route. If you are local anyway, sure, go for it. In the summer I’m sure it’d be a different and better prospect compared to a dreary, soggy Autumn day. My Saturday twilight rate was also decent value, so I feel bad rating Moortown relatively lowly but I don’t think it’s the same course as Mackenzie left it.
I played Moortown in August, 2019. I wonder whether this golf course will survive given its condition. It is obvious there is a limited maintenance budget and needed improvements are not being done, particularly to the bunkers and on several parts of the fairways.
For a course with so much history (Alistair Mackenzie's first solo design, the first Ryder Cup on UK soil with an England victory, etc.), it is a pity that it finds itself in this situation. The Alwoodley, which sits about a mile away, seems to be thriving, although it too seems to have opened itself up to more visitor play.
The course is inconsistent. It begins with a way too easy short par five followed by a long, slightly uphill par four with a tremendous green. It is a special golf hole.
The third is also very good, another long par four slightly dogleg with another excellent green. Then the course gets a bit too easy until the long uphill par third eighth hole which has a terrific green on it and is also well bunkered. The ninth is a very nice dogleg tree-lined right par four. It is a nicely routed hole, but has a relatively simple green.
At this point I was beginning to wonder whether the club had removed bunkers given their lack of a maintenance budget. As it began to rain hard and I had caught the last group of a society outing in front of me, I ducked into the halfway house for a fifteen minute conversation with the worker who told me more of the history of the course.
The rain let up and nearly stopped which was perfect because now I could see in front of me the magnificent par 3 10th hole. One could play this hole over and over and never tire of it. The front left bunker is deep, although not like the ones at Woodhall Spa, and there is also a set of well conceived bunkers to the right. The green is tilted like a redan. I saved par from the front left bunker. It is a visually perfect hole and splendid in its strategy.
What follows on the higher ground of the golf course are four pretty bland holes, although there are a couple of noteworthy fairway bunkers. What is disappointing are the greens on these holes, they just are not as interesting as most of the ones before it. But then for the last three holes the course comes back to life with another excellent par three 17th and a splendid dogleg left, very good green complex on the 18th.
Unlike the other courses in the area that I have played such as Ganton, Woodhall Spa, The Alwoodley, and Notts, the conditioning and the sameness of several of the golf holes made me not want to go around a second time, even though I had enough daylight to do so.
It is a golf course worth playing once, or perhaps once a year if one lives realtively locally. As a member, I think it is a good course for children just starting and indexes of 8 and above as it is a very playable golf course.
The question one must ask is whether it is worth spending 3-4 hours playing a golf course just to play that magnificent 10th hole.
Moortown is steeped in history and I have the pleasure of playing once or twice a year. It seems divide opinion as to how good it is and Alwoodley always comes up in comparisons. Moortown is a class act, the front nine holes certainly more attractively routed and shaped than the back. That is of course not putting Hole 10 in the back nine category - a difficult par 3 called Gibraltar. With bunkers, sharp fall away to the left, sloping tricky and quick green, this is a tough par 3.
Up to that point the round gets off to a gentle start with a par 5, before being followed by what I feel is a tough par 4 often played into the wind. The par 4 3rd is relatively straight forward before the 1st of the par 3’s. The 5th is a lovely short hole where position off the tee is all important. 6th is wonderful and then you have the 7th par 5 which again is pleasant without being over taxing. An uphill par 3 follows before you close out your front 9 with a gently sweeping left to right par 4 before you get to Gibraltar. Holes 11-14 are rather bland as the course heads out onto Blacker moor, but the closing stretch are a wonderful set of holes. The par 3 17th is straightforward looking but a cleverly designed green and the 18th is a wonderful sweeping finishing hole ending back in front of the clubhouse
Hospitality is always nice here and over the years much of the stuffiness has gone. Leeds is blessed with top quality courses around Adel and Alwoodley and Moortown is right up there.
Moortown Golf Club is proud of its Ryder Cup history and the hospitality couldn’t be nicer. Significant tree clearance has exposed pleasant views across the vast property. The opener is a gentle downhill par 5 which is reachable and is mostly defenseless on a calm day. The uphill approach to the long par 4 second hole is where golfers will quickly struggle to make par. Allow yourself 9 shots for the first two holes regardless. A diagonal tee shot onto the 5th fairway with a long iron is a highlight, as is the challenge of the difficult and undulating par 4 6th. The exciting dog-leg left par 5 7th hole prior to the long uphill par 3 8th hole playing the bones of 200 yards to a tiered green continue a string of strong holes. The routing of holes 5 to 9 brings you on a delightful journey and showcases how MacKenzie found the best piece of land on the opening half.
The bunkers across the course are well placed, mostly benign and simple in nature, and don’t add much memorable challenge or character to any particular hole other than the 10th. This is somewhat disappointing as the bunkering at MacKenzie’s courses in the US and Australia are typically so dramatic, relevant and breathtaking. It’s no secret that the ‘Gibraltar’ par three 10th gets all the well-deserved attention. The greenside bunker is deep and massive in scale, but it’s the green complex that is by far the deadliest feature that will only accept a perfectly positioned tee shot. No other hole on the property captures the attention like Gibraltar.
Holes 11-14 play up & down in parallel and are arguably the most anti-climactic stretch of the routing without much variety. After the 10th hole, the back nine offers limited architectural interest until the last hole which is a mighty challenge back to the clubhouse. The course boundary roars all the way up the left-hand side of the 18th, married with strategic bunkers down the right-hand side make it a pretty tight tee shot. As you progress towards the house, you quickly encounter perfectly placed prominent traps leading up to the closing green that will punish anybody protecting a score on this old moorland layout. The closing stretch is really demanding.
this is a classic heathland course and wow is it good. Every hole was lovely and was in great condition. The clubhouse was lovely and overlooks the 18th hole and the facilities were excellent. The back 9 was awesome with the 10th in particular being a lovely par 3. Would definitely go back to play it again as i really enjoyed playing it this time round!
Having played Alwoodly the day before, we were looking forward to the MacKenzie neighbour... but were very disappointed. The course was poorly presented on the day and the whole experience was underwhelming to say the least.
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.