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  • Steve Baker

South Moor Golf Club – Augusta of the North

There have been many famous golf course designers who have made a name for themselves around the world but is there any more celebrated than South Moor Golf Club designer, Dr Alister MacKenzie? He is probably most well known for being the designer of Augusta (home of the US Masters), Cypress Point and Royal Melbourne. However, not so much is known of his earlier creation in County Durham, England.

Nicknamed “The Course Doctor“, Alister MacKenzie was born in Yorkshire to Scottish parents in 1870.He studied at Cambridge and Leeds Universities with degrees in Chemistry, Medicine and Science, he joined his father’s medical practice in Leeds.

Away from work, he was an active member of the Leeds Golf Club but his club participation was cut down when he went on to serve in the Boer War 1900-01. Upon his return MacKenzie took up medicine again but then abandoned his medical practice in favour of golf course architecture. His decision to do this was in part down to his strong conviction that golf had very real benefits for patients, and he was quoted as saying…

“How frequently have I, with great difficulty, persuaded patients who were never off my doorstep to take up golf, and how rarely, if ever, have I seen them in my consulting rooms again!”

He then emigrated to the United States and nine years after his work in County Durham, his fabulous Augusta creation staged its first Masters.

South Moor Golf Club’s motto ‘nil nisi optimum’, roughly translated from the Latin meaning “Nothing but the Best!”. And we can see why…

The layout of the course is as good as any we have played in recent times, each and every hole is different and you can certainly see where some of the Augusta layout was born.

The course starts with a simple Par 3, but don’t assume it’s an easy start, the green has more breaks and borrows than you can see. Once away, the course meanders through parkland and undulating fairways but none of the inclines will leave you gasping for breath just some of the stunning views of the Durham countryside.

All of the fairways are beautifully manicured and credit should be given to the greenkeepers, who clearly love the course. All the tee boxes were immaculate and the yellow gorse (in full bloom on our visit) make the place a delight to walk around.

So, to the stand-out holes, the 4th is a challenging Par 4, a dog-leg left finishing to a tiny green protected by bunkers – a real treat to play. The 6th is a perfectly straight downhill, a Par 4, simple enough but you will need a measured shot to ensure you hold the green.

The 10th is again a testing downhill hole which requires a conservative drive (in fact most holes do), allowing you to plan your second and third shots to the green, over a ditch and combating a bunker protected green.

The 18th… is there a better finishing hole in the north of England? The 450 yards par 4 isn’t easy to conquer with its right to left terrain always pulling at your pull and away from your intended target. Your second shot is bore down on by the members of the clubhouse, a sweet yet conservative strike is required, get it right and you’ll win your match, get it wrong and the penal green surroundings will have you heading for the bar to drown your sorrows.

Finally, we mention the Par 3’s, as everyone requires a different club! Ranging between 140 yards and 180 yards, you will enjoy everyone.

Did we like the course? No, we LOVED it!

In addition, all the staff were incredibly welcoming and all the members we met were very keen to know what we thought of the course.

Which tells you, just how much they do!

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