Ken Moodie is under way with the first phase of a renovation project at Sand Moor Golf Club. Its course was originally designed by Dr Alister MacKenzie and lies alongside his Moortown and Alwoodley layouts in Leeds, England.
MacKenzie chaired Sand Moor’s first AGM in 1925 and was the major influence in the design of its early holes, which previously began and ended near to Moortown’s clubhouse. By the 1960s the entire course was located on the north side of the Alwoodley Road, with the four holes closest to Moortown lost when the area was redeveloped for housing, and replaced by the current second, third, fourth and thirteenth holes.
Prior to the start of Moodie’s work, the club hired John Nicholson Associates to propose a woodland management plan.
“Sand Moor was originally an open heathland course and like many others had suffered the ingress of natural regeneration of trees as well as well-intentioned tree planting schemes,” said Nicholson. “Politically, since the seventies, the country has been subjected to a barrage of publicity as to the benefits of trees — the ‘Plant a Tree in 73’ campaign is one such example. Problems occur when the site has more valuable ecosystems such as heath or infertile grassland that will be detrimentally affected by tree establishment. Sand Moor fell into this category as it is a heathland course and trees are detrimental to that ecosystem, which is always trying to revert back to woodland.
“The club realised that it needed to attend to the woodlands and trees if it was to achieve its true potential aesthetically, agronomically and strategically. Trees are part of a heathland system but should not dominate the landscape, which should have a feeling of space. Part of the plan was to reinstate the more open aspect — this would safeguard the agronomics by increasing light and air to both the playing surfaces and the heath. It would open the views that had been lost to the Eccup Reservoir and would create the necessary space required to create a strategic design in keeping with MacKenzie’s principles.”
Views to the reservoir have been opened, and the quality of the heather has improved through careful management of the trees and woodlands. Greens and tees, which remained wet all winter, now dry out more quickly and disease has been reduced. Space has been created to allow Moodie to introduce a more strategic design.
“We were initially commissioned to look at how the weak eighteenth hole, which features a blind second shot to a green just over a ridge, could be improved,” said Moodie. “We recommended the lowering of the ridge to provide a view of the flag and to rebuild the green to give it a more interesting shape — in keeping with MacKenzie’s design style.
“The green was not an original and was built when the four holes were lost. We produced detailed earthworks drawings for the fairway and green, and had a computer-generated video produced that helped to show the members how the new hole could look. Although it was favourably received, for cost reasons the work has been pushed back in the programme of work.
“Following acceptance of our recommendations for the eighteenth, we were asked to produce a course-wide course improvement report, focusing special attention on certain weaker holes the club had identified. This was so that the club could plan a longer-term project which could be costed for implementation over a number of years.”
The first phase of work began in November 2019 on the second, sixth, eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth holes, and will be completed in the next month. This phase includes new and remodelled bunkers and mounding, and some heather planting.
“Hole two was a rather weak, short par four with a forced dogleg, but it is now being improved by a combination of tree removal, which John has overseen, a new bunker on the inside of the dogleg, and mounding beyond and to the right of the drive landing area,” said Moodie.
“On the sixth, two new bunkers are being built to the left of the landing area on this short, downhill par five, to challenge the low handicapper who is seeking to reach the green in two. On the eleventh, we are remodelling the mounding at the rear of the green to give it a more natural form and to reinstate the heathland grasses where trees and gorse were removed.
“The twelfth tee is being raised and extended a few yards further back to provide a better view of the fairway,” continued Moodie. “A mounded ridge has been lengthened to the right of the twelfth fairway, to cover the landing area of a longer drive and slow a running ball that might otherwise kick into the trees on this side. Hole thirteen is a short par four which is driveable by the long hitters. The trees that used to force the dogleg have been cut back to allow a new bunker to be introduced on the direct line to the green, which requires a carry of 270 yards from the back tee, to tempt players to take on the risk for the chance of running close to, or onto the green.”
Construction work is being undertaken by C & C Golfscapes, a local firm which has also completed work at Moortown and Alwoodley. Moodie expects Sand Moor to be a five-year project with the lowering of the eighteenth fairway and reconstruction of the green as the last phase of work.
“The next phase is likely to feature the widening and realignment of the raised fourth tees, which are very narrow and unnatural looking; the lengthening of the sixth, with a new back tee and introduction of a strategic bunker and mounds to the left of the drive; and redeveloping the tee and the green surrounds on the fifteenth hole,” said Moodie.
“We might also look to lengthen the seventeenth and remodel the green to provide a two-tiered putting surface with an entrance for weaker players to feed their balls into it. One of the features of Sand Moor is that the par threes are of a rather similar length, and we want to make the fifteenth the shortest of the par threes and the seventeenth the longest, to provide greater variety of club selection. Also, all the par threes have a bunker at the front of the green and the seventeenth used to have a more open entrance so removing the frontal bunker on this hole will add to the variety and return it closer to the original MacKenzie design.”
Moodie says the highlight of the work so far has been the woodland management project, which has brought back many views that had been lost as well as regenerating heather in areas where it was on the verge of disappearing.
“Sand Moor is very fortunate to have much better views than its close neighbours, Moortown and Alwoodley, which MacKenzie also designed,” said Moodie. “The vista from the elevated ninth tees, over Eccup Reservoir, is particularly striking now as a result of the tree removal.
“I’m excited for the more ambitious improvements that are yet to come. However, the changes on the second and fifteenth holes will transform the two short par fours, which had forced doglegs and provided limited options from the tee. The tee shot on the sixth will also be more visually dramatic with the construction of the two new drive bunkers.”
Sand Moor is hosting the English Men’s Open Mid-Amateur Championship from 3-5 July 2020.