Sand Moor was originally designed in 1921 by Henry Barran and the course opened for play in 1923. However, it would take another three years (1926) before the golf club was founded.
The club claims “the major influence in the creation of the course was Yorkshire born Dr. Alister Mackenzie, who chaired the first AGM on March 7th, 1925.” When additional land was acquired in the 1960s, the layout was modified by Henry Cotton, resulting in the loss of the first two and last two holes and the construction of four new holes on the other side of Alwoodley Lane.
In recent years, Andy Watson has carried out an extensive audit of the course, recommending a number of improvements to the golf club committee, and this has resulted in him carrying out a sensitive mix of renovation and restoration work.
As the architect says, “some of the original MacKenzie features are no longer relevant to the modern game, whilst others have been removed or covered by encroaching tree lines. In places, I have gained approval to restore some of the classic features of this layout, and in other situations, create something of a similar ilk to challenge the modern golfer”.
A newly refurbished clubhouse sits at the top of a hill, to the south of Eccup Reservoir, where holes 1, 5, 6 and 18 run up to and down from this elevated position. The first par three at Sand Moor is not played until the 8th hole, which is played across a gulley to a green that’s guarded on the right by bunkers. The other three short holes on the card are all played on the back nine, at the 10th, 15th and 17th.
Listed in Frank Pennink’s Choice of Golf Courses, he believed Sand Moor to be: “One of the most beautiful courses in the north of England, with wonderful, moorland turf laid on a subsoil of sand and sandstone.”
Additionally he wrote: “It is a moot point as to whether Sand Moor or its neighbour Moortown is the better course – they are so different scenically. But it is certain that Leeds is indeed fortunate to have them, and Alwoodley, three courses of the highest inland calibre.”
Let me start by saying, this course is THAT good I.e. 5 golf balls. As part of the sand belt on the North side of Leeds, it shares the same swathe of land as it’s very nearby neighbour, Moortown, with The Alwoodley, just a few hundred yards down the road.
It is in the midst of an upgrade by Andy Watson Golf Design and the changes I saw today whilst playing, including bunker reshaping, additional mounds, tree clearance will be welcome upgrades to this quality course.
Arriving at 8am for a 8.15 tee off, we had the course to ourselves as 1st starters for the day. The clubhouse is modern, large, beautifully decorated and welcoming.
We played off white tee markers, albeit they were placed more where yellow tees would be. At just over 6,000 yards, the course is hugely enjoyable and short enough to be able to post a good score. The fairways were running and the greens immaculate for this time of year, true to putt on and reasonable in speed. As a sand based course, exactly what I was hoping for with January golf.
The 1st hole is a nice start to your round. At 475 yards off the yellows it’s a reasonably short par 5, played from a blind tee (there are steps near the tee box so you can get a sight of the hole). A drive down the left hand side, leaves a 2nd shot in top the green for the longer hitter. I played a 2nd and then left a short gap wedge on to the green. 2 putt and a nice start to the round. Trouble on the hole is down the right, where trees can block out your approach shot.
If I have any criticism of this course, it’s the short par 4 2nd. At 256 yards it’s a short hole with the green tucked away to the left. A long iron leaves a relatively straight forward shot into the green. It’s a two tier Mackenzie green, but a par or birdie should be the order of the day. The Design team are adding a bunker to the left and have added some mounds at the end of the fairway to catch the longer hitters (and probably hold up the ball from the 3rd tee) so giving a less than ideal stance for your 2nd.
The 3rd plays down the hill with the green blind below you, even on your 2nd shot. It doesn’t feel like the 5th hardest hole. There is OOB behind the green and I suspect in Summer balls could easily roll through the green and into OOB, but as it’s Winter you could confidently pick your club and land the ball on the soft green knowing it will stop.
The 4th plays back up the hill, a gentle right to left to a long and narrow green. Bunkers to the front protect.
The 5th then plays another short par 4 at 358 yards across a valley leaving a 2nd shot to a green above you. Throughout the greens were magnificent. As it was cool, an extra club plus one for the hill proved right and another birdie attempt (duly missed!)
The 6th is a beautiful hole, playing 476 yards and sweeping left to right, with new bunkers being built down the left hand side and the green heavily protected on the right side for the approaching 2nd shot. Like many of the greens here, multi tiered.
The 7th is then played back across the valley and again uphill to a green (not too dissimilar to the 5th), is relatively straightforward.
Then you get to the 1st of the par 3’s. The par 3’s are all beautiful holes, similar to each other to be honest in design apart from the 8th i.e. all the others are built into the hill side, with trouble always to the left hand side. This par 3 is played across the valley, with the bunker to the right. A sand save enabled me to walk away with a par.
The 9th then plays along the top of the plateau, the views you get across to Eccup Resevoir and the course below you are wonderful. The green is protected by bunkers left and right. The bunkers by the way are beautifully consistent throughout the course, with quality sand.
The 2nd of the par 3’s then follows on the 10th and is the longest (just) of the remaining par 3’s. Trouble to the left i.e. the hillside falls away from the green, but bunkers to the front right and right. A long thin green. Needless to say myself and my playing partner both found the bunkers. He managed a sand save this time.
Then you head down the hillside with the 11th, a lovely sweeping left to right hole. Avoid the bunkers to the right and and leave a nice 2nd shot into a sloping back to front green, which again has some additional mounds added to the back of the green. The view onto the reservoir is beautiful.
The 12th is a par 5 played blind alongside the reservoir. Aim your tee shot to the left hand side of the markers to leave your ball on the higher flat ground. Anything right feeds down to the reservoir. Banking ensures your ball stya in play. This is a long par 5 at 529 yards but can easily be reached in 3. Sloping back to front green again.
A short walk back towards the 13th and a beautiful short but tricky hole. Aim should be left leaving a short item into a downhill green. Too far right and you need to up and over a large tree. Bunkers protect to all sides but one of the flatter greens on the course.
The 14th is a lovely long par 4 at 458 yards. Played back onto the plateau it is straightforward as long as you indeed are straight!
Then another par 3 again with trouble short and left to a 2 tier green.
The 16th is another par 5 and after your drive the hole really opens up and the view to the green and how it is built into the hillside is a wonderful looking hole. There has been tree clearance to the rear of the green so it has really opened up. Conditioning throughout was wonderful. The fairways ran well given how much rain we have had and as mentioned before the bunkers were immaculate and greens ran very true.
Then the last par 3, almost a replica of the 15th, playing similar yardages, Last par 3, both par’s.
The final hole plays back to the clubhouse and is an hill. However at 378 yards, a straight drive away leaves a 2nd over the brow of the hill and to a green that has started to fall away on the other side. 2 good shots and you should be putting for birdie and settling for a par at worse.
This is a beautiful course and in my opinion (and Frank Pennink’s) adds an excellent additional choice when playing in North Leeds. I would say I enjoyed it better than Moortown - that’s probably because I scored well (shot 8 over off a 12 h’cap) and from chatting with a Moortown member, he likes Sand Moor for the same reason - it’s a very fair course, where good shots are rewarded. Moortown and Alwoodley you are simply up against it all round. The views at Sand Moor are beautiful, the par 3’s to die for and the general aesthetics of the course lovely to view. The only negative is the short 2nd and possibly the blind 3rd but that really would be nitpicking. At £30 Winter rate this represented excellent value for money as well. A coffee afterwards in the equally impressive clubhouse finished off a most wonderful morning.
Sand Moor Golf Club, located in the golfing-haven of North Leeds, was developed under the guidance of the famed Dr. Alister MacKenzie in the mid 1920s.
Situated close to two other famous MacKenzie courses, Alwoodley and Moortown, this venue also boasts many of the Good Doctor’s trademarks and has a particularly strong set of short holes.
A major change to the course took place in the late 1960s when the first two and last two holes were lost and land to the west of the original course was purchased for three new holes. A fourth hole was also then created between the current 12th and 14th.
A few years ago The Club began a project to update the course, to stay abreast of modern day equipment but remain loyal to the original design concept, and the fruits of this labour are now starting to reap its rewards.
The collection of par-three’s often get the plaudits at Sand Moor and rightly so because they are all superb. The only minor criticism is that they all tend to play a similar yardage and the severest danger on them all is to the left. However, individually they are things of beauty and a real joy to play. The angle of the greens, the borrows of the putting surfaces and the visually striking bunkering all add up to create wonderful golf holes. In my view the clearance of many trees around the holes would make the contouring and features of each hole stand out even more and take them to the next level.
There are a lot of good things going on during the round at Sand Moor and you are required to be able to play a number of different shots; sometimes you can open your shoulders with the driver whilst at other times placement is crucial. The greens have the perfect amount of slope and keep it interesting until you have holed out.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Really good fun course. Not too challenging. Very entertaining layout and the greens are excellent. Will be back.