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5 miles N of Leeds
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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.
Moortown is a Golf Club steeped in history. Not only was it one of Dr Alister MacKenzie’s first designs (he arguably went onto bigger and better things), but it was the venue for the first Ryder Cup to be held on British soil and the first attended by Samuel Ryder.
The superb clubhouse does a wonderful job in showcasing this history and it’s a great place to while away a few hours pre and post round, with a lounge overlooking the 18th green and a snooker room neighbouring the members bar.
The course itself is a Moorland course, with a few Heathland holes thrown in. It’s an amenable 6746y off the Whites and most of that length comes on the front 9. The opening half requires distance off the tee and offers generous fairways to compensate for this. The back 9 requires much more accuracy and asks you to plot your way to a score and this was certainly my preferred half.
The course opens up with a scoreable short Par 5 which should be a great confidence builder to your round. I then found the next stretch from 2-7 a little straightforward with the routing heading back and forth, albeit with an enjoyable short Par 4 5th which doglegs over a creek that runs across the course.
The course then really comes alive from the halfway hut. The 10th is a cracking one shotter and the best hole on the course for my money. Called “Gibraltar” it plays up to an elevated green which contours wickedly from all angles with a huge bunker front left to catch any timid approaches.
The next four holes are heathland holes and although it could be claimed they are a little out of place on a Moorland course, are an excellent run using elevation to their advantage. The long Par 5 downhill 12th in particular is a great hole. The finishing stretch from 16 to home shows brilliant design and really makes you think about how to play them with the 18th being a fabulous finishing hole requiring a long straight drive down a narrow fairway and the approach being played over some superb bunkering.
In fact the bunkering throughout is a real strength of Moortown. Large, strategically placed, with none wasted. They force you to think strategically, especially on the back 9.
This is a lovely members club with good facilities, friendly staff and a course that improves throughout the round. Moortown really is a great place to spend the day, both on and off the course.
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I played Moortown 3 times in a few days for a college tournament a few years ago. It was a great venue and in great condition.
Whilst it doesn't offer the most spectacular entrances like other courses of a similar calibre do, it certainly makes up for it with the condition, layout and clubhouse.
I love a snooker in a golf club, maybe biased because I enjoy playing but it does show an element of tradition and the rest of the clubhouse certainly maintains that atmosphere.
The course itself isn't incredibly difficult, but well positioned gorse bushes are ready to swallow any stray shots. The overall layout is very pleasant and offers a variety of different holes all routed sensibly and isn't overly difficult to walk.
Although I played horribly in the competition, it was great to see the club being such good hosts. I'd certainly love to return one day
Very good course. Excellent condition and a plenty of interesting holes. The par 3 at the turn in particular stands out. I'd recommend a trip to play Moortown without hesitation. The clubhouse is wonderful and the Ryder Cup memorabilia on display provides great insight. Personally I rate Moortown higher than Alwoodley just next door.
Unlike the gentleman below, we couldn't have received a warmer welcome in the pro shop. He explained that the green staff has decided to hollow tine the greens the day before (due to the good weather) and that he'd reduce our green fees because of this. He talked through the Covid restrictions and we had a chat about the course and which tees to play from.
The course itself eases you in with a gentle par 5, although the green is quite undulating so beware of a 3 putt to start the round. Despite the warning I actually found the greens to be in excellent condition and I actually called in to the shop after our round to mention this. The 10th is probably the stand out hole but in general we found Moortown to be a solid course, with an interesting layout, that was in great condition. I didn't feel like there were any weak holes and I really liked the stretch from 11 to 14 that others seem to suggest are out of place.
We finished the round with a couple of beers sat overlooking the 18th green, watching the players behind us coming in, and once again received a warm welcome from the staff in the bar.
I'll hopefully come back and pair it up with Alwoodley.
Has Moortown lost its way in the last few years after the trendy 'returning it to how it was' landscaping? There is no escaping that there are some cracking holes, a par 5 starter and devilishly tough long 2nd. The stretch from the 11th, in the heather, are strong holes needing a tip top game. I'm afraid to say I missed the isolation of tree lined holes where you could lose yourself in solitude. Indeed, around the half way house, it was akin to the M25 in rush hour, as so many tees and greens are collected in a small area. Once away from there the closing holes are fun. The 16th with a tactical call to make off the tee, the 17th a gentle par 3 and the last with an iconic approach to the clubhouse.
First can I say I wasn’t impressed with the stuffy and rude reception we received when arriving at the pro shop. It wasn’t needed and set a sour tone for the day. Also the fairway and tee conditions for July were quite poor for the stature and reputation that comes with a former Ryder Cup venue. The fairways on the front 9 were thread bare, cracked in places, very dry and lacked grass. Having played Alwoodley the day before and with it being in immaculate condition i’m not sure there’s can be any excuses, especially with the £10 difference in summer green fee.
On to the course rating. Firstly the driving range was exquisite. Free range balls included in your ticket and probably the the most scenic practice facility i’ve seen. It was stunning, a huge positive and perfectly situated next to the first tee.
The first hole is a standard par 5 and a relatively easy start. I felt holes 2-10 were the strongest stretch of the course with holes 5 and 7 being my personal favourites. Holes 11-14 I felt were a little weaker, however still interesting and certainly a good test. 15 and 16 were strong requiring strategic drives and 17 a short par 3 probably the weakest of the par 3s on the course. 18 is an excellent finishing hole requiring a long drive avoiding the many bunkers down the right leaving a mid to long iron firing straight at the original clubhouse where seated guests can enjoy (and heckle) final shots of the day. A great finishing hole befitting the course.
We stayed and had an excellent meal in the bar and debated on where the course rates within the uk and the region. We agreed that it was an enjoyable, fair test for all handicaps. There was no real signature hole but there wasn’t a weak hole either. The condition of greens and bunkers were top notch. For me the rolling land, gorse and picturesque nature of the course highlighted its rightful place as one of Yorkshire’s finest.
I loved this course although some may find the tight layout and holes close together not for them. Lovely condition and really in green in late July. Rough was fair with a nice 18th in front of the clubhouse to finish. Definitely value for money on the evening rate as well.
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.