Alister MacKenzie let his imagination run riot at Sand Moor and now the club is at work recreating the architect of Augusta National’s design principles
Sand Moor was Alister MacKenzie’s final hurrah on these shores. Shortly before the good doctor boarded the boat to relative fame – but certainly not fortune – as the visionary of Cypress Point, Royal Melbourne and Augusta National, he laid down one more marker in his native Leeds.
It was replete with the tiered greens and wild bunkering that the golf world would swoon over in Australia and America and it continues to be a much-revered staple of the northern scene today.
When luminaries such as Tom Doak proclaim the one-shotters at Sand Moor to be some of MacKenzie’s best, we must sit up and take notice.
And so we took the short hop from NCG Towers to see what all the fuss was about…
What can we expect from Sand Moor?
Like tough par 5s that demand accuracy? There’s three of them. Enjoy a risk-and-reward drivable short 4? The type where a heroic shot is tempered by disaster with a mis-step? The 2nd and 13th holes will be right up your street.
Want long two-shotters that will test every ounce of your ability? Try the 14th. Sand Moor is a hugely varied course, not only in its yardages, but also in its terrain.
Steep elevation changes – both from the tee and during holes – will examine your capacity to hit from a multitude of different lies.
There are clear MacKenzie echoes wherever you look and the pine and perfect bunker sand gives it something of an Augusta feel in places.
Architect Ken Moodie and John Nicholson have been carrying out a renovation and woodland management project, which is having a big impact.
Sand Moor is heathland by nature but the proliferation of planting that has been so common through the decades on golf courses had largely robbed it of that.
But now it’s far more open in places, while the work Moodie did last winter on five holes has been hugely impressive.
Nowhere is that seen better than at the 2nd. This always felt like a forced dogleg but the tree removal and a new bunker placement, along with some mounding to right of the landing area, has not only opened it up but has given players far more options from the tee.
Where once it was take-it-on or lay up, now there a whole range of clubs you can employ. My group ranged from mid-iron to 3-wood.
What were your favourite holes?
It’s hard to get away from the short holes. Their magic results not only from the fact they show off the full range of MacKenzie’s creative ambition but also because each manages to be appreciably different in style.
You have to wait until the 8th for the first and it’s worth it. The tee box and green are level but the hole runs through a dip and so distance has to be perfect.
Anything that doesn’t hit the green is in trouble, with a steep drop off the left and the front. You can get away with being a little right but, even then, it’s a treacherous chip. From the back of the green are stunning views of the course, the Leeds countryside and Eccup reservoir.
If eight sets the standard then 10 moves it up a notch. Out of bounds is waiting for anything that’s a little out of the socket and even a touch right can see the ball nestled in a steep bank.
With the green falling off a veritable precipice from the left – the putting surface almost feels like it is carved into the side of a hill – anything that doesn’t hit the dance floor is probably a bogey at best. And don’t forget the five bunkers that guard it.
The 15th feels like the hole affected most by the tree clearing work. If my memory doesn’t fail me, I remember the backdrop being surrounded by foliage. Everything’s now opened up and the views are much improved.
The slightly angled green is treacherous to find and anything that’s not well struck is going to end up in a trio of bunkers that protect the front like a triangle.
I almost aced 17 the last time I was at Sand Moor. In terms of design, it’s the most straight-forward of the short holes but if you manage to negotiate this lot with a quartet of 3s you should be having a round to remember.
Tell us about your best bit?
An outbreak of golf was threatened when I somehow found three straight pars from the 12th but the catalyst for that nice little run came as a result of my drive from the 11th.
This is a really attractive hole that slides from left to right and you hit from an elevated tee close to the 10th green. As lovely as the view is – and it really is lovely – it’s trouble for a player who draws the ball like me.
That’s because out of bounds runs all the way down the right and so I had to flirt with disaster. But I crushed my driver, a rarity in itself, and left myself smack in the centre of the fairway with little over 100 yards in.
Will you do anything different next time?
Apart from start a bit better? The semi-blind tee shot on the opener always does for me. I’ll spend more time checking out the honours board and trophy haul in the clubhouse. Sand Moor’s a club with great history and some proper players – like six-time European Tour winner Simon Dyson – have written their names into lore here.
Finally, where is Sand Moor?
To learn more, visit Sand Moor’s website.
Have you played Sand Moor? What were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.