South Moor Golf Club
Three stands of South Moor Golf Club’s identity – its famous architect, its mining history and its beautiful setting – combine to make it a heritage asset which draws visitors to our area.
It is a little known fact that a chance meeting during the horrors of World War One led to one of the true geniuses of the game leaving a lasting legacy on the course.
Initially, three holes were cut on the west side of the present-day course and players went round in a loop.
It took another year before a full 18 holes were created, stretching to nearly 5,000 yards, with greens laid out by the groundsman of South Moor Cricket club.
Major Sir Clive Morrison-Bell, an Eton-educated former Prisoner of War, Conservative MP and aristocrat, officially opened South Moor and Craghead Golf Course on April 26 1924 with a sporty drive over a burn.
To mark the occasion he presented the club with a silver claret jug and it is still played for to this day.
One of the greats
The club is proud to still bear the imprint of one of the game’s greatest architects, Dr Alister MacKenzie.
He had been a field surgeon in the First World War and amputated the arm of the father of Basil Sadler, a man with South Moor links. Mr Sadler was the mine superintendent and he appears on a photo officially opening the new clubhouse in 1939.
Mr Sadler’s father continued to play golf with one arm and his character won the admiration of Dr MacKenzie. That was the introduction which led to the architect to come to the club in 1925. He was invited to come for a site visit and following an inspection the supremo suggested major improvements to the course routing. He did so on the proviso that the club could get colliery board approval to extend westwards onto more promising land.
It required the removal of gorse and scrub to create fairways for the challenging holes that still wind their way through some of the most interesting contours of the current course.
Dr MacKenzie was already renowned in this country for his golf designs. He had put his landscaping know-how to good use in World War One, advising the Army on military camouflage, and he was skilled at tricking the golfer’s eye into misjudging distances to their target.
In the years after his visit to South Moor he took his expertise around the world, designing masterpieces in Australia and California. The course for which he is best known is the Augusta National – home of The Masters, the golf tournament which heralds Spring for desperate golfers throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
Each of the 60 British clubs where Dr MacKenzie did his magic continues to cherish their link to the man dubbed The Course Doctor. Such is his renown that there is a society for clubs which bear his design, and fans come from afar to test their skills on his courses.
The club’s first senior committee roles were filled by colliery officials. South Moor’s heritage has been linked with the coal from the start.
The Stanley News reported that the president T.Y. Greener said at the opening ceremony he hoped the club “would have a prosperous career and it would be a source of pleasure and satisfaction to the members and the colliery staff and to those members outside the staff”.
It was noted at that opening ceremony that golf was a “sound and healthy recreation” for workers.
World War Two and its privations caused the club to bring in big changes. It was renamed Holmside and South Moor Collieries Officials Recreation and Golf Club and it became a condition of employment that all colliery officials had to contribute one shilling per week for the club, which also boasted tennis courts and a bowling green.
This was eventually scrapped in consultation with the unions and once South Moor Golf Club was finally formed, some miners were allowed to join. It must be said, there was not a sudden influx of pitmen and most players were still mine officials or private members.
It was not until the mid 1980s that non-NCB employees were given full voting rights.
In 1995 the club bought the freehold of the course from British Coal Estates for around £200,000, with the help of National Lottery money.
To this day retired former NCB employees are entitled to pay reduced membership fees.
South Moor Golf Club is committed to encouraging junior golf, both in developing its own young players, and by staging top competitions for aspiring stars of the future.
In 2011 it hosted the prestigious McGregor Trophy – the English under 16s Boys tournament. It attracted players from around the world and brought in an estimated £100,000 to the local economy as 132 players battled it out over four days to compete for the title.
Since then the club has gone on to host the annual North of England under 14s Championship, again bringing in visitors from far and wide.
The club continues to encourage juniors to try golf, with school visits and popular weekly teaching sessions, indoor and out.
The club is committed to bringing in more new players to the game, being part of the Get Into Golf programme, and has a range of membership deals including a lifestyle package which aims to make the game affordable for people from all backgrounds.
The club strongly supports the view that golfing is a excellent way to unwind away from the pressures of every day life. Golf provides good exercise, with a walk of around five miles, is social, and cerebral.
It can be played in cut-throat competition, or for the simple enjoyment of hitting a ball with friends.
Golf allows players aged nine to ninety and beyond to compete together in friendship and we want it to be be enjoyed at South Moor for many years to come.