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  • Neil White


What do I have in common with Ryder Cup pioneer and one of the greats of golf, Walter Hagen?

We both discovered what it is like to lose at Moortown.

A letter from the first American captain on British soil pays tribute to the ‘gallant’ team which won the cup in 1929 and were presented the trophy by its founder, Samuel Ryder.

I confess my language was not quite as complimentary as I handed over the wager my partner and I had lost to pals during the pairs’ open at this wonderful old course.

To be fair, they had earned it after some top-notch golf, proving that birdies can still be shot at this historic venue.

I enjoyed the way in which Moortown has preserved its history - the lockers have altered little since Hagen hitched up his plus-fours alongside the quaintly named billiard room (is there anyone alive who has ever played billiards?).

Commemorations of its association with the Ryder Cup are plentiful and there are also portraits of the great players who have graced the Leeds venue such as Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo.

Moortown makes its guests feel special. The scoreboard with our names alongside other competitors was a lovely touch as were the complimentary balls on the practice ground.

It also eases players in gently - the opening hole, a par-five through fairway bunkers and across a brook, gives an early opportunity for success.

However, the second, a long par-four throws up arguably the toughest challenge of the course with water, sand and thick rough offering defence of an undulating green.

Attractively presented bunkers and streams are hallmarks of a track which one of my fourball and I agreed had echoes of Walton Heath.

It is not as fiendish as some MacKenzie-designed courses although I warned my partner that scoring on its par-threes was essential to our success. Sadly, I failed to heed my own words.

The pick of the short holes is the uphill tenth which is protected by heather and a hidden sand trap on the right and a huge bunker to the front left.

A par is almost impossible if the tee shot doesn’t make the steep, sloping green and not guaranteed even if it does.

I have played Moortown previously so expected the greens to be testing but I really struggled because they had only recently undergone maintenance leaving tiny parallel ridges.

Anyway, that is my excuse for a rash of woeful three-putts including two which were so short I could have kicked them in.

My form did not prevent enjoyment of a course which is one of the prettiest in England's top100 (sadly, it was a dull day, so my photos don’t do it justice).

It has many memorable holes – my favourite being the quirky fifth which has an almost 90-degree right-to-left dogleg, demanding a tee shot over an expanse of heather.

The second nine offers more potential tangles with the rough, especially the par-five 12th with its blind, downhill second shot where balls can easily be submerged beneath a purple haze if a route is taken down the left.

Keep the ball on the fairway, was the tip from the shy starter and, as our pals proved on almost every hole, there are plenty of opportunities if you do.

This was particularly in evidence on the stunning 16th which needs a straight drive to avoid a huge tree just off the fairway. We bore witness that an approach from position A can land within three feet of the flag.

The 18th has sharp teeth with its bunkers and bushes along the fairway and a green whose borrows made many appear foolish as we watched from the clubhouse, grazing on our post-match food.

While I have a tenuous link to 1929 American captain, Hagen, my compadres had more in common with future Ryder Cup captain Bernard Gallacher who said he played his best-ever competition at Moortown when winning the 1980 Haig Whisky Tournament Players’ Championship.

“Moortown is a beautifully manicured course in Leeds which is always in perfect condition,” he said.

I wouldn’t go as far as claiming it was perfect during our visit but it was very good and certainly picturesque.

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