Where to play during the winter months and still get to play a decent course that does not have you putting your waders on to get a good round, is always a problem?
Don’t worry, here at County Golfer HQ we have gone before you to find three great courses that laugh in the face of rain and winter tees, in fact we have sourced three courses that between them have hosted the Ryder Cup, Curtis Cup, R & A Open Qualifiers just to mention a few, and have all been designed by the famous course designer Dr Alister MacKenzie. Dear fellow golfer, I introduce to you Moortown, Alwoodley and Ganton.
Moortown has always held a richly deserved reputation as one of the country’s finest Championship Golf courses. Originally designed by Dr Alister MacKenzie, Moortown is set in 175 acres of dramatically contrasting, mainly level woodland and moorland. From the opening par 5 there are many fine holes to enjoy including the new 6th, rated the most difficult, and the famous Gibraltar par 3 10th with its sloping plateau green, the Club’s signature hole.
The day we chose to play was after 48 hours of torrential rain with many golf clubs in the area closed, but not Moortown, they were not even playing off winter mats, a testament to how well the course drains. Before you start you must look around the club house as it is steeped in history. Having been the club to host the first ever Ryder Cup on European Soil, the memorabilia is fantastic and there are some great golf stories to be heard and seen, such as the golfer Nigel Denham who was playing in the Brabazon Trophy competition. Visit our Facebook page to see the story and see why he has a brass plaque on the floor of the Club House bar! The place oozes history and you know you are about to play somewhere special.
Let’s get on to the course, which is 6452 yards off the yellow tees, par 71, and off the red tees it’s 5939 yards par 75. From this yardage you know your in for quite a test. The first is a nice hole to get you warmed up, a 488 yard par 5. You tee off from a nicely elevated tee looking down a sloping fairway. The only problem here is, for most golfers like myself, there are several fairway bunkers sat just about where you would drive to. I did as all good golfer do, ‘hit and hope’ and managed to miss them all! From this point the fairway narrows with a ditch either side to catch a wayward ball. Negotiate through this successfully, you will then have a shot at the green which is well protected by bunkers. Somehow I managed to miss all the hazards on this hole and got a par. This games is easy!!
Moving onto the second you get to see across most of the course. It did remind me a lot of Sherwood Forest Golf Course in the way it looks, with well placed trees and open spaces where the hummocks can grow, and some gorse bushes dotted here and there. I felt quite at home. This hole, a 440 yard par 4, needs a nice straight drive but not too far as a ditch lies diagonally across the fairway. I laid up short of this but I still needed to hit the elevated green. Coming up short I managed to skip the ball up to the hole for my third, and in for another par! I was on fire….,but would this run continue? I was about to be humbled by the 4th a long par 4 at 436 yards. They have cleverly put a cross bunker here which most of us will struggle to get over, but because I think I’m a better golfer than I really am, I tried to drive over it, and failed. If you managed to get over this you would still need a well hit wood to get any chance of a par, as I struggled to get out of the bunker. I was hit with my first 7 of the day.
You find on a championship course that sometimes only a good, well struck drive will do. Hole 5 is a good example of this as it’s a relatively short par 4 at only 340 yards, but it’s a true dog leg left, and from the tee there is a wilderness of gorse and heather bushes between you and the fairway. Many a golf ball has been sacrificed to the golf gods here! Avoiding this it’s a 5 iron to the green, fortunately we all managed to get away. I rattled the hole for a birdie, so it’s all about the drive.
Hole six is the first of the new holes introduced when changes to the course were made in 1989 and more recently altered in 2012. Once etched out of the woodland, the hole has been modified to represent the heathland feel that MacKenzie initially designed. Many of the birch and rowan trees that once lined the fairway have been removed, to be replaced by bunkers and areas where the natural heath will again return. You can see that Moortown have repeated this around the course, just like Sherwood did themselves some years back, the result of this is that it keeps the shade off the greens and fairways, stopping them getting boggy and attracting unwanted diseases that attack the greens.
One of my favourite holes has to be the 10th or ‘Gibraltar’ as it’s known to the locals. A very picturesque hole to look at and play. It’s 172 yard Par 3 teeing off up to an elevated green which sits on top of steep banks and nestles into a rocky slope at the back, hence the name ‘Gibraltar’. There are bunkers scooped into the side of the slopes, so either you hit the green or you end up trying to chip out of a bunker with the green above your head. Fortunately both Newby and myself hit the green, but even putting here is a challenge as the green slopes back toward the tee. Even with the rain the day before they were playing fast. I managed a par but I can imagine that if the greenkeepers were in a bad mood they could really put the flag in some very challenging positions.
You now head out to the furthest point of the course where you will have to face some blind tee shots and clusters of fairway bunkers hidden from view. The course here really opens up with the moorland coming through.
The course starts to tighten up as you approach the 15th. . I decided to play this hole with an iron, which was the right choice especially with my sometimes wild slice. Accuracy is needed here, in fact both this hole and the 16th will punish a wayward drive with ditches and fairway bunkers and trees waiting to catch you out. My advice is, if like me you hit a wayward drive then stick to your ions.
The 18th is an excellent finishing hole, you can just imagine what it was like back when the Ryder Cup was played here, holding your nerve as crowds of people watched. After Newby and myself got two nice tee shots away we could see the club house welcoming us home. Visually it’s a nice approach shot to the green but now is not the time to duff your shot as you are being watched from the club house. We both managed to miss the windows unlike Nigel Denham, (check our Facebook page for his story), and sink our puts for a couple of pars.
Sitting in the club house surrounded by golfing history we both agreed that Moortown is a special place, you feel at home here and we were in no rush to get away. The course was in excellent condition. I would say that this course is an honest course, if you go in the rough you still have a chance of finding your ball and getting out. The greens run so true they are a joy to put on, and, in true MacKenzie style, the bunkers are well thought out and dare you to go for the risk to reap the reward.
We would like to thank all at Moortown for making us feel so welcome and I’m sure they will show the same hospitality to you when you visit and play their great course.