Sand Moor Golf Club lies close to the Moortown and Alwoodley Golf Clubs all situated to the north of Leeds and their histories are much interwoven.
Dr Alister Mackenzie, Alwoodley’s first secretary and later a partner of Harry Colt, designed all three courses and with his brother Charles, Kolin Robertson, a journalist who brought the Ryder Cup to Moortown in 1929 and Ted Barnes, the first of a family line of golf professionals and greenkeepers, comprised the Sand Moor Green Committee in its early years.
Founded in 1926 the Sand Moor membership soon increased to 650, many hailing from the Leeds clothing trade, including Henry Barran, the club’s principal founder. Henry had definite leadership qualities and advised that the best policy in dealing with a rude person was “if you meet a pig coming along a passage, you stand aside and let it pass”!
The club is proud of its strong Ladies’ Section and of the many top Amateur gentleman golfers it has nurtured; the most famous was probably Alex Kyle, a textile designer with Burtons, who won the Amateur Championship at Hoylake in 1939. Though his career was interrupted by the Second World War, he appeared in two Walker Cup sides in 1947 and 1951 and dominated Yorkshire golf in the 1950s.
Two other members, Iain Pyman and Stuart Cage, were Amateur and English Amateur champions respectively in 1993.
Kolin Robertson said in 1935, when comparing Alwoodley, Moortown, Moor Allerton (since moved to a parkland setting) and Sand Moor, that “technically Alwoodley may be the best of the four and Moortown may be the best conditioned, but when we take into account the question of layout, of natural surroundings and of the general difficulties, I feel certain that the Sand Moor course would receive a great majority of votes.”
Writing in 1962, Frank Pennink, one of the founding influences on FineGolf, describes Sand Moor as “One of the most beautiful courses in the north of England, with wonderful, moorland turf laid on a subsoil of sand and sandstone. Clumps of firs, patches of scrub with heather and gorse and the ‘lake’ which is Eccup reservoir make this undulating course exceptionally picturesque, with moments of the most exciting golf. This is, indeed, ideal golfing country.”
The course has evolved with Ted Barnes (38 years in post) and his son Bobby (35 years) who always had his dogs with him, being influential as head greenkeepers. Ted, highly respected in the locality, once received the following reply when he asked for a rise, “The members could not understand why the best dressed man in the club wanted an increase!” It is true that all photographs do show him resplendent in tie and suit.
One can see from early photographs that originally the course had an open heathland aspect but by the 1980s many trees had been planted along the fairways and around the greens. This obscured the views but more importantly the quality of the grasses consequently suffered from the lack of sun and free flow of air.
When Tony Jacklin, the 1970 USA and British Open champion, played the Car Care Plan Tournament in 1983 following recent heavy rain, he described the Sand Moor greens as “Yorkshire puddings”.
I doubt if any modern tournament pro would be so openly critical of modern greens, as most of the greens they play on today really are target-style puddings! This observation reminds us that in Jacklin’s day, when the majority of pro tournaments were hosted on the finest courses, the British pros preferred playing on fine grasses where the running game was needed and playing well wasn’t primarily about distance measurement ‘through the air’.
Jim Arthur, the world’s foremost golf agronomist, when consulted about Sand Moor’s greens in the 1980s at the time, declared that he had encountered relatively dry soil located below two inches of very heavy thatch that was holding water like a sponge.
I am glad to report that over recent years a policy of returning to firmer and truer greens with a higher percentage of fine indigenous bent grasses is succeeding. The annual meadow grass (Poa Annua) is being put under stress and its domination being drastically reduced thereby producing the further benefit of a reduced need for costly inputs of fertiliser, pesticides and water.
Prior to 1968 the course spanned Alwoodley Lane, with its first and last holes and clubhouse abutting Moortown Golf Course on the south side. This area then had to be abandoned for a housing estate, but thanks to the acquisition of farming land to the west, space for today’s second to fourth holes was made, albeit on land that is more of a parkland nature.
The new clubhouse is sited on the top of the hill with the first, fifth, sixth and eighteenth holes running up and down the hill. Indeed the use of the movement in the ground is a prime factor in giving the course four quite outstanding short holes.
The eighth, played 180 yards across a ravine with the green protected on the right-hand hillside by bunkers, is best played with the ball held up with a fade. The tenth is the most picturesque with the next drive from the scenic eleventh tee being one struck over the tenth green down towards the lake.
What a pity there is now a screen of tall trees hiding the lake along the twelfth hole! Indeed to my mind the whole course could be immensely improved if a heathland regeneration policy, with a lot of tree felling, was adopted. There is still some heather to be found in places but it doesn’t like
having to compete with deciduous trees and their falling leaves.
It gives me much pleasure to have received recently the following note from the Chairman of green. “Last year saw the start of a policy to remove the self seeded silver birch, which has opened up views of the reservoir – just thought you would be pleased to know that we have acted on your advice!”
The thirteenth is a short par four right-hand dog-leg with a high green attractively set with large deciduous trees behind. One has to add, however, that to open the backdrop to a view of the lake might be even more attractive and this hole might be better signposted on the tee for visitors, which is best played with two irons. Our three ball in a recent Golf Society of Great Britain competition lost two balls at this hole following what we thought were three excellent drives!
The fourteenth needs two good running shots to get home and the testing fifteenth of 160 yards is tucked up under the hill.
The sixteenth is the longest hole at 550 yards and threads its way around the left-hand hill giving a hanging lie for the approach shot across a valley to a plateau green.
At the last par three (150 yards) the advice is to take an extra club, as it is deceptive both in its innocence and in its length.
Sand Moor has perhaps become overshadowed by its two more famous neighbours in recent years, whose marketing budgets and policies of stressing the Mackenzie connection may have something to do with it. With Sand Moor’s agronomy radically improving, a trip to this welcoming club will certainly give many aspects of a ‘joy to be alive’ feeling.
See “A history of Sand Moor Golf Club” by Sidney Richardson M.A.
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