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5 miles N of Leeds
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Moortown Golf Club hosted the second “official” Ryder Cup match between the USA and Great Britain in 1929. Team Captains were Walter Hagen (US), George Duncan (GB). It was a close match, which the British won, GB 7 - USA 5. The Ryder Cup was inaugurated two years earlier at the Worcester Country Club and the 1931 Ryder Cup was played at Scioto Country Club.
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.
Marvellous Moortown; the kind of examination only the Doctor would devise. It is unrealistic to think it is possible to write a review of Moortown without mentioning Alwoodley and vice-versa. Linked intrinsically by their shared architect, the two clubs located within a mile of each other are one of the greatest inland double acts in British golf and they are both stronger for their association with each other. We played Moortown the day prior to playing Alwoodley (which I believe is the optimal way around to play them) on a beautifully clear September afternoon.
The clubhouse and surrounds are atmospheric and ergonomically pleasing in that all the amenities are close at hand. The green carpeted and wood panelled locker room has the smell of a place that could tell a lot of stories and the assortment of Alister Mackenzie memorabilia adorning the walls of the clubhouse illustrates the clubs pride in its place in the back catalogue of one of the architectural greats.
Viewed from the 1st tee located beside the charismatic starters hut, the opening hole is a kind one to get your feet under the table, with the chance of two well struck shots reaching this modestly distanced downhill par 5. That’s where the charity ends however and the remainder of the front nine is a supreme test of golf in all areas. The drives at holes 2, 3 and 6 ask exacting questions of both your accuracy and length from the tee. The slippery greens on the short holes 4 and 8 will reward an ability to hit the ball the correct distance and those with the deftest of short game touches.
The star of the show is undoubtably the par 3 10th hole; a magnificent and dramatic spectacle that elicits feelings of both excitement and trepidation from start to finish. The green is severely sloped and bordered by sand and at the back, by an all too proximate boundary wall. The main feature of the green is its apparent happiness to reject all but the most well struck golf balls. Named ‘Gibraltar’, this seems particularly apt when assessing the hole retrospectively. I visited the cavernous left hand bunker and even though it is an extremely deep hazard, depending on your ability from the sand, it is one of the kinder places to miss this green as it at least leaves you playing up the slope for your second shot. There is no doubt in my mind this is one of the best short holes I have played anywhere in the world. I have played both the 7th at Pebble Beach and the Postage Stamp at Royal Troon and I think this hole has the pedigree to be considered in that elite collection of truly great short holes.
The rest of the back nine is slightly kinder than the front in that the pure length from the tee required is less and the questions asked in general are more geared to rewarding good play with birdies rather than pars. Accuracy is still required though and offline forays into the gnarly rough borders will continue to be severely punished.
The 18th is a charming par 4 finisher featuring a wonderfully rippled fairway, that turns up the difficulty right when a scorecard aware golfer would least want it to. Both shots require length and accuracy and the green is again a large and well sloped surface that will need surveying carefully to avoid disappointment. The clubhouse is only a few steps away from the green and it frames the final approach shot perfectly. It also provides an opportunity for some post round spectating while enjoying your well earned beer of choice.
Moortown is an absolute pleasure of a golf course to play and rewards good golf while punishing erratic play. The moorland style of this course suited my eye and it was presented in superb condition throughout. The comparison between Alwoodley and Moortown will always be there and what I would say, is that when I walked off of the course at Moortown, I did it with a huge smile on my face. It stands on its own as one of the finest tests of inland golf in the U.K. and rather than focusing on the competition between the two neighbours, I think it better to focus on the remarkable quality on offer in this quiet suburb of Leeds.
As a member of a different MacKenzie course I can say that Moortown had a real familiarity to it, and whilst it might not be the best golf course in the region I sensed it was by far the best club.
Moortown is firm and playable with classic bunkering and multi-tier greens throughout. It’s perhaps limited by being a heathland-parkland hybrid, this might not to be to everyone’s taste. But it is a fantastic course with elevation, texture and one of the best sets of par 3’s anywhere in England.
It is said that Doc Mack spent his entire budget building the 10th hole “Gibraltar” to showcase the courses potential to prospective members before the full 18 was built. This is a fantastic hole but I wouldn’t need convincing to join this golf club - an absolute gem, only overshadowed by the Alwoodley in this region.
Played summer 2021. Enjoyed the challenge and it was in good condition with some nice drama added in. One I’ll definitely keep on my rota for opens.
Good fun golf course. Played it on the way into winter 2020, there was some wear etc from post lockdown game volume.
It was it great condition and was good to play.
Nice course, some nice holes. Very well maintained. Great welcome. Played it in May on a warm dry day and the first 3 holes were a little water logged! (Obviously had rained overnight).
Good test without being unfair. Wide fairways only punish really bad shots. Definitely worth the visit.
What do I have in common with Ryder Cup pioneer and one of the greats of golf, Walter Hagen?
We both discovered what it is like to lose at Moortown.
A letter from the first American captain on British soil pays tribute to the ‘gallant’ team which won the cup in 1929 and were presented the trophy by its founder, Samuel Ryder.
I confess my language was not quite as complimentary as I handed over the wager my partner and I had lost to pals during the pairs’ open at this wonderful old course.
To be fair, they had earned it after some top-notch golf, proving that birdies can still be shot at this historic venue.
I enjoyed the way in which Moortown has preserved its history - the lockers have altered little since Hagen hitched up his plus-fours alongside the quaintly named billiard room (is there anyone alive who has ever played billiards?).
Commemorations of its association with the Ryder Cup are plentiful and there are also portraits of the great players who have graced the Leeds venue such as Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo.
Moortown makes its guests feel special. The scoreboard with our names alongside other competitors was a lovely touch as were the complimentary balls on the practice ground.
It also eases players in gently - the opening hole, a par-five through fairway bunkers and across a brook, gives an early opportunity for success.
However, the second, a long par-four throws up arguably the toughest challenge of the course with water, sand and thick rough offering defence of an undulating green.
Attractively presented bunkers and streams are hallmarks of a track which one of my fourball and I agreed had echoes of Walton Heath.
It is not as fiendish as some MacKenzie-designed courses although I warned my partner that scoring on its par-threes was essential to our success. Sadly, I failed to heed my own words.
The pick of the short holes is the uphill tenth which is protected by heather and a hidden sand trap on the right and a huge bunker to the front left.
A par is almost impossible if the tee shot doesn’t make the steep, sloping green and not guaranteed even if it does.
I have played Moortown previously so expected the greens to be testing but I really struggled because they had only recently undergone maintenance leaving tiny parallel ridges.
Anyway, that is my excuse for a rash of woeful three-putts including two which were so short I could have kicked them in.
My form did not prevent enjoyment of a course which is one of the prettiest in England's top100 (sadly, it was a dull day, so my photos don’t do it justice).
It has many memorable holes – my favourite being the quirky fifth which has an almost 90-degree right-to-left dogleg, demanding a tee shot over an expanse of heather.
The second nine offers more potential tangles with the rough, especially the par-five 12th with its blind, downhill second shot where balls can easily be submerged beneath a purple haze if a route is taken down the left.
Keep the ball on the fairway, was the tip from the shy starter and, as our pals proved on almost every hole, there are plenty of opportunities if you do.
This was particularly in evidence on the stunning 16th which needs a straight drive to avoid a huge tree just off the fairway. We bore witness that an approach from position A can land within three feet of the flag.
The 18th has sharp teeth with its bunkers and bushes along the fairway and a green whose borrows made many appear foolish as we watched from the clubhouse, grazing on our post-match food.
While I have a tenuous link to 1929 American captain, Hagen, my compadres had more in common with future Ryder Cup captain Bernard Gallacher who said he played his best-ever competition at Moortown when winning the 1980 Haig Whisky Tournament Players’ Championship.
“Moortown is a beautifully manicured course in Leeds which is always in perfect condition,” he said.
I wouldn’t go as far as claiming it was perfect during our visit but it was very good and certainly picturesque.
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.
For all photos of reviews, please follow Chris’ Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/top.100.golf/
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.