South Moor – a class act

Andrew Mair, a celebrated course designer and a keen student of Dr Alister MacKenzie’s creations, samples a taste of Augusta in County Durham

Dr Alister MacKenzie is best known for creating Augusta National and his courses include Royal Melbourne and Cypress Point, dramatically overlooking the Pacific on the Monterey Peninsula in California.

But how many golfers know that South Moor in Stanley, County Durham – founded as a National Coal Board “miners only” club in 1923 – flies the MacKenzie flag in the North East?

Nowhere on this fascinating heathland course is his influence more evident than in the free-flowing greens which were to become his trademark on future courses, including Augusta.


Fast and mainly vast, the speed adds to the challenge of negotiating the contours, swales, crowns, tiers and terraces with which MacKenzie has endowed the beautifully shaped greens of South Moor.

Elsewhere, amid stunning natural terrain punctuated by gorse, heather and bracken, the sloping and undulating rig and furrow fairways encourage a sense of adventure.

As MacKenzie, a Yorkshireman born in Leeds, put it in his 1920 book Golf Architecture: “There are few things more monotonous than always playing from a dead flat fairway.”

At the par-three first, joy or sorrow mainly depends on avoiding the greenside bunkers, especially if the pin position is at the back.

The second, a par-five, is a double dog-leg where you need to land the ball far enough right of the bunkerless green to avoid rolling off down a severe slope.

The par-three third brings another outstanding example of a MacKenzie green, two tiers split 50-50 and surrounded by trees.

The first of six par fours in a row arrives at the fourth. When the going is hard and running, you need to carefully judge bringing your approach shot in from the right to hit the left-to-right sloping green.

At the fifth 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!

On the sixth, it is the tee which is high up. My playing partner, Guy Carr, pointed out that you can see seven golf clubs from this vantage point: Boldon, Birtley, Hobson, Houghton-le-Spring, Ravensworth, Roseberry Grange Community and Wearside.

You need to be accurate with your approach to clear the horseshoe of four brilliantly positioned bunkers guarding the front and sides of the green.

The seventh, also downhill, is a clear birdie chance although the fairway narrows into the green.

At the eighth it is best to fade your tee shot to the right side of the fairway given your approach shot will be at a green sloping left to right.

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.

The back nine starts with a thrilling downhill par-five which turns into an amphitheatre around the green.

Strategically, you need to know that since a ditch was put in across the fairway in front of the green and its bunkers during 2008, the hole has never yielded more birdies. The par-three 11th has bunkers front left and right of the green with  a stream right and  the stroke index one 12th is a par-five, a fine uphill hole where your blind second shot needs to be aimed along the left of the fairway.

The par four 13th has a 70-yard green, the longest in County Durham. This means a three-club difference for your approach shot depending on the pin position.


The long 14th is one of the finest par threes in the county. At 186 yards off the white tees there are all sorts of problems, especially for some players having to use their driver.

The 15th is the signature hole (see fact file) and the 16th is the last par-five, a tight dog-leg right which turns sharply almost at right angles around the trees.

The ideal landing area for your drive is a mere 15-square-yards and then your target is the smallest green on the course.

South Moor closes with two par fours. The 17th tee proves an expansive view disguising a tight driving hole and you’ve got the flattest green to look forward to once you have you carried the bunker.

The 18th is a right to left dog-leg downhill with the second shot crucial to reaching a green where you can bounce the ball in because it slopes front to back and left to right.

To sum up, members here clearly revel in a risk and reward experience as against a mean spirited slog with scorecard and pencil the only motivating factor.

First time visitors will benefit from a hole-by-hole guide by the club’s PGA professionals, Shaun Cowell and Mark Ridley, on the club’s impressive new website at

*Andrew Mair, a member of the Northumberland Club, is a partner with former Ryder Cup captain Mark James in the Cramlington-based course design business Andrew Mair Golf.