Danny Willett is not the only Yorkshireman to make his mark on the US Masters. Augusta National was created by Dr Alister MacKenzie, born in Leeds and the son of a Scottish doctor.
The course at South Moor in County Durham opened in 1923, having been designed by MacKenzie, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. MacKenzie’s portfolio also includes Royal Melbourne and Cypress Point, dramatically overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the Monterey Peninsula in California.
Who better to tell golfers about the South Moor experience than Andrew Mair, a course designer of 45 years’ experience and a keen student of MacKenzie’s work? A member of the Northumberland club, Andrew is in partnership with a former Ryder Cup captain, Mark James, in the Cramlington company Andrew Mair & Mark James Golf Design.
We invited Andrew to play South Moor and write about the course. This was the result of that invitation . . .
‘A fine example of MacKenzie at his best’
By ANDREW MAIR
NOWHERE on the fascinating heathland course at South Moor is Dr Alister MacKenzie’s influence more evident than in the free flowing greens which were to become his trademark on future courses, including Augusta National.
Fast and mainly vast, the speed adds to the challenge of negotiating the contours, crowns, tiers and terraces with which MacKenzie has endowed these beautifully shaped greens.
It is slopes on greens of this kind which are so often overlooked in designing a golf course and it is one of the most difficult things imaginable to construct them really well. Subtleties of this nature make all the difference between a good course and a bad one.
South Moor is set in 187 acres of stunning County Durham countryside and started life as a miners only Coal Board club in 1923. Given the “Made by MacKenzie” connection with the Masters, here is a course which has gone from miners to majors.
Amid a natural terrain punctuated by gorse, heather and bracken, the sloping and undulating rig and furrow fairways on the par fours and fives encourage a sense of adventure.
As MacKenzie put it in his 1920 book Golf Architecture: “There are few things more monotonous than always playing from a dead flat fairway.”
At the fifth, for example, there is a huge drop from right to left around a towering green up high and hewn out of the side of a hill, with massive trouble down to the left. Talk about the wow factor!
At the ninth, failing to clear the mounding at the front of a green hidden above you – MacKenzie was the British Army’s camouflage expert in World War I – means the ball will run back down towards you.
In golf architecture and camouflage psychology is of enormous value. It enables one to judge what is likely to give pleasurable excitement to the golfer and improvement in moral to the soldier.
The tenth has the awesome feel of an amphitheatre and, like so many other parts of the course, the gorse and the heather around the turn add to the charm.
This is a reminder that when men like MacKenzie, a protégé of the great Harry Colt, designed courses, they did so with nature in mind as well as the golfers.
The 13th has a 70-yard green, the longest in Durham County. This means a three-club difference for your approach shot depending on the pin position.
Overall, members here clearly revel in a risk and reward experience as against a mean spirited slog with scorecard and pencil the only motivating factor.
South Moor is visual proof that the ideal course designer needs the soul of an artist, the brain of an engineer and the heart of a golfer. Each hole is individually designed and not only are there are no replicas, but also what you get here you can’t get anywhere else.
You never see any MacKenzie green repeated anywhere. Every green he ever created is different yet a lot of modern course architects roll out a template. So their fourth hole on one course might be a ninth hole somewhere else.
As you part company with this course, it’s worth reflecting on how much poorer golf in County Durham would have been if MacKenzie had not been a friend of Basil Sadler, managing director of Holmside & South Moor Collieries.
Although, like the coal mines, both men are sadly no longer with us, the name MacKenzie is forever enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame. The club motto at South Moor, nil nisi optimum, is appropriate. Translated from the Latin, it means “nothing but the best”.
South Moor Golf Club, Craghead, United Kingdom