Moortown has a reputation as being one of the most challenging inland heathland championship courses in the UK. It was founded in 1909 after being designed and built by the now famous and renowned golf architect, Dr Alister MacKenzie.
In 1908 Dr MacKenzie was asked his advice on renting (with an option to purchase) an area of land called Black Moor north of Leeds from a local estate. He thought it could make “a fine course but would not be without its difficulties”. He then offered to design and lay out this new course on a green field site. Whilst he had worked so successfully with Harry Colt at Alwoodley, this was the first time his services were sought out for a golf design commission. So, accordingly he helped to “persuade” 100 Leeds “tradespeople” to give him a guinea each (equating to GBP £1.05p in todays money), as a down payment for membership. He would then build one hole for them to look at before making any final decisions on designers.
As a result he famously built the now historic signature par 3, 10th hole ‘Gibraltar’, so called as the green sits on an outcrop of rock. The hole was originally the 17th but now the 10th due to necessary re routing over the years. The hole cost £35 to build. How it should be played, is described perfectly by MacKenzie in his book, “The Spirit of St Andrews”. It was opened early in 1909 but the exact date is unknown. (Darwin, writing in 1925 describes Gibraltar as having “an alarming excellence”.)
The Leeds “tradespeople” were impressed. The hole had immediately attracted a further 60 members, so they immediately requisitioned the building of the other 17 holes for a little under GBP £4000. Initially the course was 12 holes as described at the first Annual Dinner in Nov 1909 and the full 18 holes were open by Whitsuntide 1910.
Of course after this, MacKenzie’s reputation started to blossom and his design of Moortown was one of the key reasons why Samuel Ryder and others, awarded the club the first Ryder Cup on UK soil in 1929, which Great Britain won 7-5.
Since then, Moortown has been regularly used for professional and amateur events over the years, hosting over 60 competitions. Our honours board includes many famous names but we are privileged to have 5 Major winners on this board in James Braid, Harry Vardon, Alison Nicholas, Sir Nick Faldo and Danny Willet.
More recently, Moortown was ahead of its time when it embarked on a tree removal plan in 2008-2011 to restore the course back to the original MacKenzie heathland design. Following other design input we very recently employed the expert design services of Clyde Johnson, Cunnin Golf Design in 2020. He is part way through a 10 year MacKenzie re vamp of the course, going back to original design work from aerial photographs dating back to the 1940’s.
In 2021 we completely redesigned and built our 5th dogleg hole, creating a drivable, risk reward par 4, a typical MacKenzie feature. In addition we have restored our 3rd hole with a MacKenzie hump on the right side of the green approach – a feature you can also see at Titirangi and Pasatiempo.
Further ambitious plans are in place for additional MacKenzie design changes leading up to our celebration of the 100 year anniversary of the Ryder Cup in 2029.