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South Moor Golf Club.(County Durham,England)

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  • South Moor Golf Club.(County Durham,England)

    If you are ever in my area you are assured of a hearty welcome at my beautiful club.
    In golf, the name of Dr. Alistair MacKenzie will forever be synonymous with the course that hosts the U.S masters. Though Augusta national is undoubtedly MacKenzie's masterpiece, it is widely accepted that his place in history as a legendary architect, was already assured. MacKenzie was hardly a prolific designer like a James Braid but his courses are typical of his vision, none more so than South Moor.

    Here, he has designed a course that winds between gorse, heather and bracken in a superb moorland layout. The large, slopey greens are a typical MacKenzie trait, guaranteeing that even when hit in regulation, the player will have to work hard with his putter to match par, harder still to make birdie.

    At 6,273 yards from the back tees, the course is hardly long by today's standards but with a premium on accuracy it would be foolish to try to overpower the course with the driver, particularly with out of bounds a factor on eleven holes.

    The course starts gently enough and though the first seven holes are no pushover it is widely accepted that barring the long par 4 fourth, they present the course's best birdie opportunities. It is from the eighth tee onwards that one really begins to appreciate the course's design. The way MacKenzie uses the contours of the land can at times, from the tee, make the fairways look pencil thin. And yet, look back from the fairway and one wonders how anyone could miss such a generous target. No more is this evident than on the par 4 thirteenth. There is out of bounds to the right as well as heather, gorse and a stream on both sides and when played into the wind this tee shot is not for the faint of heart. If safely negotiated the player is rewarded with a short to mid iron to a huge green which presents a generous target.

    It's difficult to pick the course's signature hole; it really could be any of the final eleven. Perhaps the par 3 fourteenth, almost 200 yards from the medal tees it plays much longer into the prevailing wind. As well as the three bunkers, the green is protected by a stream that wanders, hidden in a swale, just in front of the target. It is arguable though, whether protection is required, as a great shot to this fast green, which slopes sharply from back to front, far from guarantees par. However, for sheer simplicity, MacKenzie's design is best summed up on the very next hole. At 360 yards this par 4 is not long and plays much shorter with the prevailing wind behind. A long iron or fairway wood down the left hand side of the fairway will leave a pitch to a generous green which, again, slopes heavily from back to front.

    The dilemma for the golfer is, the further left he aims his tee shot the nearer he will be to the stream which runs the length of the fairway. Further right and he'll be left with a much more difficult approach, having to thread the ball between the bunkers at the front and leave a very fast putt back down the green.

    Perhaps the greatest testimony to MacKenzie's design is that, like all great courses, it continues to ask questions coming down the stretch. If you can protect a good score you can also improve it. It can be a tough test; the heather in full bloom is a wonderful sight but can be highly punitive and reluctant to release any balls that find it.

    Ultimately though, South Moor is a great challenge, a tough but fair examination of every part of the game. The clubhouse provides a great place for reflection. Take a drink into the conservatory, gaze out and up the eighteenth fairway and wonder how anyone could possibly miss such a wide-open area....