Located to the south of the colliery town of Stanley, the South Moor & Craighead Course was officially opened on 26 April 1924 by Sir Clive Morrison-Bell, Member of Parliament for Honiton in east Devon. He presented the club with a silver claret jug to mark the occasion and this trophy is still played for annually.
The father of the mine’s superintendent had had his arm amputated by Alister MacKenzie and it was through his introduction that the architect visited the club in 1925 to suggest improvements to the layout.
According to the club, “the supremo suggested major improvements to the course routing. He did so on the proviso that the club could get colliery board approval to extend westwards onto more promising land.
It required the removal of gorse and scrub to create fairways for the challenging holes that still wind their way through some of the most interesting contours of the current course.”
The club has plans that show eighteen holes on its east side in 1924. The following year, MacKenzie developed holes 8-17 as new on the west side then used the east side land to create holes 1-7 and the 18th.
Today, the course extends to 6,293 yards from the back tees, playing to a par of 72 – 35 out and 37 in, with the inward half measuring almost 400 yards longer than the outward half.
Unusually, two of the opening three holes are par threes, at the 161-yard 1st and 147-yard 3rd. Back-to-back short par fours at the 5th and 6th offer reasonable birdie chances, with the 512-yard 12th a tough nut to crack, rated stroke index 1.
South Moor is a very thought-provoking golf course in County Durham with a handful of excellent holes that has ties to the famous Dr. Alister MacKenzie who had a hand in designing the course.
The Club started life as a miners only National Coal Board golf club in 1923 and with MacKenzie, the man responsible for designing Augusta, the members are fond of the term that he designed courses from miners to majors.
The first six holes are fairly standard tree-lined, parkland holes that gradually zig-zag their way up the hillside and you may wonder what all the fuss is about but please bear with the course. A par three-five-three start is somewhat unusual with the secluded green complex at the short third the highlight of this opening gambit.
Green complexes at both the tough fourth and blind sixth are very good; both long and although quite flat for the most part each having quarters towards the back left that have more pronounced slope. Indeed the greens and their surrounds are mostly very good throughout at South Moor.
However, the undisputed highlight of this section is the uphill and dog-legging fifth. At just 311-yards it may have bigger hitters tempted to have a pop at the green downwind but the sensible play is to hit to around the 200-yard mark for a pitch into the tiny shelf green which is one you don’t want to miss!
The remaining holes, save for the 18th, are played on far more interesting terrain on the other side of some sort of bridle path and contain a few fabulous holes.
Things really get going from the ninth as the land becomes much better for golfing. There is now a more moorland feel to the course. The ground is much firmer – not to say it was soft prior to this – and there are lovely hints of gorse, heather and bracken surrounding us on this part of the property which lasts for a handful of holes.
The only hole that didn’t really impress me in the stretch from the seventh to the 17th was the par-three 11th but a well struck mid-iron is still required to find the putting surface.
The two holes that really stood out for me were the par-five 12th (even though I lost my second shot after what I thought was a perfect 3-wood). The hole is quite unique in that it plays uphill but in two sections. The first 250-yards or so is quite flat before the hole rises sharply to the upper section which is then also quite flat. This means that the second shot is blind but it’s also quite possible to get too close to the start of the slope which would result in you having to hit a more lofted club to clear the escarpment. Lay back off the tee too far and you will have no chance of reaching in two. It’s quite an ingenious hole and one that impressed me greatly.
Each hole at this 6,293-yard, par 72 layout (SSS 71) presents a different challenge and with some fine green complexes this is a course that, although won’t blow you away in terms of quality, is very enjoyable and has some excellent moments. There had been lots of rain in the days leading up to my visit and after the round there wasn’t a hint of mud on my trousers so I suspect it plays well 12 months of the year too.
Whilst South Moor is not a course I would term as “championship” standard it did host the English Boys' Under 16 Open Amateur Stroke Play for the McGregor Trophy in 2011 and The Club are rightly very proud of this.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.