Moortown GC may have been just Dr Alister MacKenzie’s second design but its genesis resulted in the formation of a hole that continues to resound worldwide.
The name Gibraltar conjures images of a mighty rock, steadfast in the ocean, smashing ships that may be thrown against its sides in a storm. Since its creation in 1909, many a good round at Moortown Golf Club in Leeds has similarly been dashed upon the rock that is the Gibraltar hole. It was Alister MacKenzie’s first famous hole, and while certainly not his last, it was one that he was particularly remembered for. – Neil Crafter
Genesis of Moortown
The creation of the Moortown Golf Club by Dr MacKenzie marked the first time his services were sought out for a golf design commission after his successful work at Alwoodley. In his book ‘The Spirit of St Andrews’, written in the years from 1931 to 1933 and published some 60 years after his death, he wrote about the genesis of the Moortown course:
“The second course I designed was Moortown… After the success of Alwoodley a group of men, principally consisting of tradespeople, approached me with a view to making a course within a mile of Alwoodley, on ground on which they had obtained a long lease with an option of purchase.
I asked them how much money they had raised for the construction of the course and they informed me one hundred pounds.
I told them that they would not be able to make more than one hole for this sum but I thought there was an opportunity of making such a good hole that it would attract new and richer members. They agreed to my suggestion and we made a hole which since has become world-renowned, namely the eighth or the Gibraltar Hole, as it has come to be known.
The committee took visitors to see it and told them that this was a sample of what the course was going to be like. They said, “This is wonderful,” and asked to be put up as members of the club. In this way, sufficient money was obtained to construct the remainder of the course.”
MacKenzie’s account of building just one hole at Moortown, being the Gibraltar short hole, was consistent through the years as he repeated the same story in an article he wrote for Fairway magazine in America for their March 1927 issue, entitled ‘Moortown and How to Play It’. His account is also supported by a much earlier one from JH Stainton, the golf writer from the Sheffield Daily Telegraph, who had spoken to MacKenzie himself about the course’s genesis, and wrote in his book ‘The Golf Courses of Yorkshire’ (1912) that, “… the land when it was first walked over seemed impossible, but a group of hardy enthusiasts met and formally agreed to create the Moortown golf club and formation of the course, no easy task as they all realised, was kindly left in the doctor’s hands. He himself told me that he almost gave up hope but studied the land day after day, being more and more bitten by its possibilities, until at last he asked permission of the members to make one hole and one only as an experiment. Consent was readily given, he built the seventeenth which is to-day named ‘Gibraltar’ and that hole alone, as the creators of the club declare, promptly brought in something like sixty members.”
The men that MacKenzie had described as “tradespeople” were Frederick Lawson-Brown, JR Greenhalgh, H Leach and JH Mountain, who were determined to find land in the Leeds area for a new course equal to that of Ganton. Supported by FJ Turner and J Norman Casson, they began a search for a site in early 1908, but it was not until October that they came across land at Black Moor, just east of the Alwoodley course. They had good reason to believe this would eventually make a fi ne course, but it was a heathery and boggy site with streams and pools. The land belonged to the estate of the Lane-Fox family of Bramham Park near Wetherby, and they were able to negotiate a fair rental for the land of £100 per annum for 10 years, free of rates and taxes, with the option of renewal for a further 10 years.
In the meantime MacKenzie was invited by the men to inspect the land at Black Moor and he visited on 30th October 1908, according to records held by the Alwoodley Golf Club, to give them his opinion of it, feeling that he could make a fi ne course on this land but that it was not without its difficulties. At a meeting of the founders on 7th November at FJ Turner’s house they decided to proceed with establishing a golf club, leasing the land and forming a company to facilitate the endeavour. MacKenzie was asked to design an 18-hole course on the land, with the intention of playing nine holes as soon as possible. Later that month at another meeting they decided to send out circulars to 100 prospective members, noting that the annual subscription would be set at two guineas. The founders also settled on a name for their new venture – the Moortown Golf Club.
The first notification in the local press was a brief mention in the Yorkshire Evening Poston 12th November under the heading ‘Another Golf Club for Leeds: It is proposed to lay out new golf links on the land which extends from Green’s Nurseries to Alwoodley Lane, near to Eccup, Leeds. The club will be known as the Moortown Golf Club.’ Arrangements were then made for a meeting of the original and prospective members to be held on the evening of 16th December, 1908 at the Hotel Metropole in Leeds. The Yorkshire Post in its report the following day noted that “… work had already been commenced. An expert view which had been obtained was to the effect that the ground was undulating without being hilly,” a phrase that would be utilised in many of MacKenzie’s reports on golf courses for years to come. The land “… possessed many natural hazards, and although the soil was heavy it was well drained. The existing turf was at present rough, but could be developed into true golfing turf. In short the ground was suitable for a first-class course.” The report noted that the meeting was advised that the first 100 members were quickly enrolled with a one guinea entrance fee and a two guinea annual subscription, which was increased to three guineas for subsequent members.
Between its first meeting in November 1908 and November the following year it is recorded that the new committee met 47 times, nearly once a week, and in January 1909 the club was incorporated as a limited company. MacKenzie arranged for George Franks from Alwoodley to be appointed as the club’s new greenkeeper to build the new course and he began his duties on 30th November, 1908, laying out the first nine holes with the assistance of three men. Construction was slow and drainage was an ongoing problem, but by May 1909 play was possible over a temporary course.
The Yorkshire Poston 8th May, 1909 reported that next to Alwoodley the best course in Leeds promised to be the new Moortown course, but “to the inexperienced eye it certainly does not look like it at present. One big fi eld is covered for the most part in heather… and the absence of grass will suppose some people to ask how golf is ever to be played there.” It reported that nine temporary holes were now in use and that Dr MacKenzie, as the “architect” of the course, must have been a humorist to have laid out holes over three dyke-intersected fields. By Whitsuntide it was hoped to have 12 holes in use. It also noted that “this short temporary course” should not be taken as a guide of what the ultimate course would be like and gave the first description of the new hole being constructed which would later be known as Gibraltar, “… probably in a few weeks, however, a permanent hole will be in play which will be hailed as probably one of the best short holes to be found anywhere. It has a green which is roughly the shape of the striking face of a tennis racket, though somewhat longer in proportion to the breadth. This is built on the slope with the narrow end leaving the ground level and rising to a height which permits of several deep-faced bunkers to be built into the sides of the green. From the tee 140 yards away a particularly accurate shot will be required if the ball is to reach the green. A straight ball will run up to the pin without impediment… but a pulled or sliced ball – O! to be there on a windy day to see the fun! This, if one does not mistake, is to be the seventeenth hole, and the turf has knit together so well that the undulating green promises to be a thing of beauty and a joy forever”. The writer suggested that it was too early to write off the rest of the course, “but to walk round the land is to be convinced that the club is in possession of fi ne golfing country”. This report would indicate that the Gibraltar hole was in fact constructed initially, in the first half of 1909, but sometime after the first 100 members were signed up.
By the end of November 1909, when the club’s first Annual Dinner was held at the Hotel Metropole, it was reported that the membership, which now totaled some 200 men and 60 women, had been playing over a 12-hole course and it was hoped that the full 18 holes would be in play by June 1910. Dr MacKenzie gave the toast to the club, and he was reported as saying that “… there were few clubs which had commenced their careers under more favourable auspices. The two essentials of accessibility and turf of a favourable golfing character were well provided at Moortown. A famous golf architect who had recently been over the course with him assured that the Moortown soil was very similar, and in some respects better than, that of Sunningdale, which as they all knew, had the reputation of being one of the best inland courses in the country. Not only had they an ideal golfing soil at Moortown, but what pleased him the best of all was that they had a body of members who showed the best sporting spirit. (applause)”. Clearly the famous architect who toured the course with MacKenzie was Harry Colt, and the club’s history book in fact records that both Colt and Herbert Fowler inspected the course at the arrangement of the committee and expressed their approval of the course’s design and construction.
The full course was in play by Whitsuntide of 1910, although not complete. An official opening was scheduled for 21st May but this was cancelled due to the death of King Edward VII and was rescheduled for 24th September. At 10.15am that day a brief opening ceremony was performed by the President The Hon Rupert Beckett, and he was introduced by Dr MacKenzie, who presented the President with a scarf pin as a memento of the occasion. An exhibition match followed at 10.30am between the two pre-eminent golfers of the day, Harry Vardon and James Braid, with Braid defeating his great rival by two holes with one to play, scoring 77 to Vardon’s 79. After the luncheon Braid teamed with the club’s professional Horace Fulford in a fourball match against Vardon and Walter Toogood, the Ilkley professional, with Fulford setting a course record 74. The course card at opening day indicated that the front nine was 3,127 yards long, while the back nine was much shorter at 2,739 yards, with an overall length of 5,866 yards and a bogey of 80.
November 1910, when the course at Moortown was first featured in Golfing magazine, brings the first reference to MacKenzie’s one shot 17th hole being called Gibraltar: “The seventeenth, 150 yards (also bogey 3), is known as “Gibraltar,” and is undoubtedly a short hole that will be hard to beat on any golf course. Indeed, many leading players who have visited the course say it is the fi nest short hole they have ever seen. Both Braid and Vardon expressed the opinion that this was the best hole on the course. It has a sloping green with bunkers all up the right side, and to the left of the green there is a drop of 6 or 7 feet converted into a long bunker, which is very difficult to get out of. At the back of the green there is rough ground and heather. This hole wins and loses many a match.” Who named the hole is not known with any certainty, although there are some suggestions it may have been MacKenzie himself. Later, golf writer Kolin Robertson suggested that the Gibraltar hole got its name from being built on a sheet of solid rock.
But this was not the first time in British golf that the name Gibraltar had been applied to a golf hole – the Seacroft Golf Club’s course at Skegness, laid out by Tom Dunn in 1892, featured a two-shot hole called Gibraltar that called for, as Bernard Darwin described in 1910, “… a really fi ne second shot to be played over a whole range of sandy mountains”. Clearly though, the hole at Seacroft shared only its name with MacKenzie’s short hole at Moortown.
Golf Illustrated magazine also featured the Moortown course in its 25th November, 1910 issue, and commented on the “… excellence of the one-shot holes”. Of the Gibraltar hole the magazine observed that: “It is claimed the 17th hole is probably the fi nest artificial short hole on any links; it is situated on the side of a hill, and the whole of the green and surrounding bunkers show up in a surprisingly striking manner from the tee. The green is, roughly, pear-shaped with the small end towards the tee, there is a large and rugged bunker of a most fearsome appearance running diagonally along the lower edge of the green. Out of the hill on the other side, irregular sand pits have been cut, and beyond is a most beautiful pine wood.” The article also contained the earliest known photograph of the Gibraltar hole.
In 1913 the Yorkshire Evening Post published a series of articles by Harry Fulford, the brother of the Moortown professional Horace, and entitled ‘Best Holes on Yorkshire Links’ which featured two of Moortown’s holes, with the 17th hole described in the 12th September issue and the 12th in on 17th October. Fulford suggested that the 17th hole was “… regarded by good judges as one of Dr MacKenzie’s masterpieces. For its length there is no finer hole in England”. He included a rather rudimentary sketch of the hole to accompany his description:
“The sketch below represents the 17th hole at Moortown, a hole that is regarded by good judges as one of Dr MacKenzie’s masterpieces… It is difficult, in a rough sketch, to show the sloping green, but from the edge of the rough to the back of the green it is uphill, with many undulations.
I cannot call to mind any other hole of 160 yards where the green starts at 97 yards from the tee, nor do I know any green 63 yards in length. The hole was made from start to finish; that is to say, every bit of the ground had to be prepared, but in doing this the architect was helped to a great extent by the formation of the land.
The only drawback that I can suggest is that there is no provision for the perfectly straight topped stroke. It might be argued that with an opening of only 14 yards any cross hazard becomes unnecessary, but the unexpected often does occur.
The stroke required is either a run-up with an iron, or a full mashie tossed well up – the latter for preference. Straightness is essential, for the green is guarded on each side by sunken bunkers. The undulations of the green are excellent, and to leave a long putt “stoney” requires no little amount of skill.
I know of no better one-shot hole in Great Britain, and it is only one of the many excellent features of the Moortown course.”
What is interesting, according to Fulwell, is that the green extended forward in 1913 much further than it does today, into an area that is now the approach, giving a massive green length of 63 yards or about 58 metres. The earliest photographs appear to show this area as putting green too.
In 1925 the golf writer for the Yorkshire Evening Post, known as ‘The Dormy Man’, suggested that the Gibraltar hole presented “… something out of the ordinary to the golfer who stands there hesitating between his mashie or mid-iron, ‘Gibraltar’ hole is one of those which stand apart, and will always invite criticism”.
A photograph of the Gibraltar hole at Moortown was included in the 1926 book ‘The Links’, written by MacKenzie’s Californian partner Robert Hunter, and was captioned as “GIBRALTAR AT MOORTOWN. (MacKenzie.) A green of the Redan type. 165 yards. Bernard Darwin speaks of it as a hole ‘of alarming excellence’. It is a severe test for the scratch player but an easy four for the less ambitious.”
The recorded length of the Gibraltar hole was something that varied quite a deal across a number of different accounts. The Yorkshire Postdescribed it as 140 yards long in 1909, while the club’s Opening Day scorecard from 1910 puts its length at 150 yards. Fulford recorded its length as 160 yards in 1913, MacKenzie in 1920 suggested it played at 170 yards, and in 1926 Robert Hunter put its length at 165 yards. By the time of the Ryder Cup played at Moortown in 1929 the hole was again listed as 150 yards long and this is considered to be most likely the length it played at through the first 20 years of its existence.
Gibraltar in MacKenzie’s Writings
MacKenzie featured a photograph of the Gibraltar green at Moortown in his 1920 book ‘Golf Architecture’ – by this time it was playing as the 8th hole – along with a sketch he had drawn of the green. He also wrote about the hole in the chapter on ideal holes, noting that there were few if any ideal short holes in existence. He did though happily include the Gibraltar hole in his short list and waxed lyrical over its visual appeal:
“Another good example is the eighth at Moortown (formerly seventeenth, or, as it is known locally, Gibraltar). Its length is 170 yards, and it has been entirely artificially created at the small cost of £35.
The green has been constructed on a slight slope. The soil has been removed from the lower portion of the slope to make the bunkers and to bank up the green. The natural slope has been retained at the entrance to the green, and, like the eleventh at St Andrews, it is these subtle slopes which lead a ball which has not been correctly hit, into the adjacent bunkers, and in reality have very much the same effect as a cross bunker without the hardship to the long handicap player.
The hole also shares with the eleventh at St Andrews the necessity for an infinite variety of shots according to varying conditions of wind, position of flag, etc. One day it is a comparatively easy pitch with a mashie, normally it is a straight iron shot, sometimes a full shot with a trace of pull is required, and, again, it is necessary to slice so that one’s ball is held up against the slope of the hill.
The green is extremely picturesque. It is extremely visible against a backdrop of fi r trees – it stands up and looks at you.
The contrast between the vivid green of the grass, the dark green of the first, the whiteness of the sand, the purple heather, and a vivid background of rhododendrons, combined with the natural appearance and extreme boldness of the contours, gives one a picture probably unsurpassed by anything of a similar kind in nature.
It is not only a delightful hole to see, which at any rate appeals subconsciously to the dullest of minds, but it is equally delightful to play. It is less diffi cult than it appears. You feel you are taking your life in your hands, and it therefore appeals, as Mr. Bernard Darwin says, to the “spirit of adventure” – yet a well-played shot always gets it due reward.”
In his 1929 ‘Moortown and How to Play It’ article in Fairway magazine, MacKenzie gave the following description of the 8th hole:
“Many golfers consider this the best short hole in England. It is good because the shot varies so much according to where the hole has been cut. When the flag is placed immediately over the bunker on the left a high lofting shot is desirable, or a pitch and run with slight pulled spin. When the hole is cut on the plateau on the right it is desirable to play the shot with a slight slice so as to hold it against the slope.”
MacKenzie wrote again of his Gibraltar hole in his book ‘The Spirit of St Andrews’, repeating much of what he had previously written about the hole in 1920. He did add that, “… Robert Hunter cites the Gibraltar hole at Moortown as one of the best of the ‘Redan types’ of hole. When this hole was constructed, however, I had not seen the Redan, and I regret to say, had never even heard of it”. He concluded by saying that,“… the members get more pleasure and a greater thrill out of it than any other hole on the course. It is the favorite topic of conversation in the clubhouse, and it is the one hole above all others that remains in the memory of visitors, yet, strange to say, during the last 24 years we have had the greatest difficulty in preventing it being reconstructed”.
Presciently, in light of what was to happen to the Gibraltar green in 1935, he concluded, “Now that I am a resident in America and my restraining influence so far removed, I should not be surprised if it were altered. Some of the committee, backed by leading professional players, although admitting it is the best hole on the course, suggest that if the unfair tilt of the green was flattened out it would become still better. It wouldn’t – it would become as flat as ditch water and just as uninspiring.”
Gibraltar in the 1929 Ryder Cup
In 1928 Moortown member and prominent Yorkshire golf writer Kolin Robertson was instrumental in bringing the 1929 Ryder Cup to Moortown, the first time the matches were played in Britain. Dr MacKenzie’s brother Charles was appointed as the club’s advisor in regards to course preparations and improvements. The matches were an outstanding success, with the home team victorious and much praise garnered for MacKenzie’s Moortown course, and he was there to witness the matches in person. When the great Walter Hagen, the American captain, played his first practice round at Moortown and came to the Gibraltar hole, “… he took a good look at it and hit a mashie shot to within a yard of the pin. Ninety-nine golfers out of every hundred would have tried the short putt for a two to make a nice introduction to that hole, but Hagen picked up his ball, went 12 yards back down the green and putted from there. But he sent it into the hole just the same”.
The Gibraltar hole was a feature of the course for the visiting team, with one later Leeds press report noting that “When the American players came to Moortown last year for the Ryder Cup, the newcomers were more anxious to see Gibraltar than any other hole on the course, because it had been widely discussed and copied in America. The Ryder Cup players all fell in love with it, but here again one heard some criticism of the feature which sometimes made it impossible for a good first putt to leave the ball near the hole. Hence we get another concession to golfing opinion and to the modern demand that a player shall have a reasonable chance of laying his first putt dead.”
Altering the Gibraltar
The Club wasted little time after MacKenzie’s death in January 1934 before altering the Gibraltar green. A few years prior in 1930 the green had been “slightly altered” and as a result had “lost some of its terrors by the removal of the ridge across the middle”. In November 1934 though, around 10 months after MacKenzie’s passing, the club announced that it was remaking the green of its famous Gibraltar hole. The Yorkshire Post, despite mistaking the location of Troon’s ‘Postage Stamp’ green, reported that:
“The whole of the turf (except a small patch at the foot of the green) has been stripped this week, and the severe undulations which have been a feature of the hole will be seen no more. The 8th at Moortown has been one of the world’s famous golf holes. It is as widely known both in Britain and America as the “postage stamp” green at Muirfield; the Maiden at sandwich; and the Eden hole at St Andrews. Some golfers have gone into rhapsodies about Gibraltar; others have reviled it as the worst short hole they have ever played.
Hostile criticism has outweighed praise, and, after several months of consideration, the Moortown Club has decided to raise the green on the left side, and to eliminate the more severe undulations, as far as practicable in view of the rocky nature of the site. In short, Gibraltar, which was so named because of the rock under the green, will revert to its original formation. The officials have a photograph of the hole as it was in the early days of the club, and I understand they intend to be guided by it in their new work.”
While the author is unaware of any evidence to suggest the Gibraltar green had been modified in the years prior to 1930, this notion runs contrary to MacKenzie’s statement that he had been actively preventing its alteration for 24 years from 1909. Further, the club’s view that it was restoring the green to its original formation is countered by its own 1935 Annual Report which stated that, “… in consequence of the subsidence of the left side of the eighth green, the Gibraltar hole has been reconstructed”, although characterising the reason why the green needed reconstruction as subsidence seems rather dubious given the green’s rock base.
Gibraltars in Australia
Australia seems an unlikely place to fi nd any Gibraltar holes, but as Dr MacKenzie visited here in 1926 we should perhaps not be too surprised. The Metropolitan Golf Club’s course at Oakleigh in Melbourne’s sandbelt was redesigned by MacKenzie during that visit, and the ensuing implementation was overseen primarily by club stalwart Dr Barclay Thomson. In 1929, Adelaide golf course architect Herbert L Rymill, reviewed the Metropolitan course in the Sporting Globe newspaper, noting that the remodeled 13th hole was “… equal to the Gibraltar hole at Moortown and as good as anything I have seen in the shape of one shotters… there is a bank on the right, and deep bunkers on the left”. Thomson wrote to the newspaper after this review appeared and commented that “some years ago the second hole at Metropolitan was remodeled, and vastly improved, on my suggestion, after having seen a plan of ‘Gibraltar’ in Golf Monthly. Dr MacKenzie said the second was a good hole, but not a bit like Gibraltar! I told him I would make no such claim, for, judging by the plan not of ‘Gibraltar’ only, but of many other holes I have seen, our holes are far behind many in Britain and America in beauty of design, however good they may be as a test of class golf.” Tellingly, Thomson went on to suggest that the course would have been better if the work had been undertaken under MacKenzie’s direct supervision, and he felt “certain that he would have made it more attractive and natural looking”. Interestingly, although Rymill asserted that the remodeled 13th was equal to the Gibraltar at Moortown, MacKenzie’s report stated that this green “should be made so that the surface is absolutely visible, and it should be bunkered and constructed as detailed on special plan on somewhat similar lines to the Redan hole at North Berwick reversed”. Sadly the 13th hole was lost in the 1960 course modifications.
At Kingston Heath though Mackenzie certainly intended that the only new hole he planned for that course – shortening the 15th from a short par-4 back to a par-3 – would be modeled upon Moortown’s Gibraltar. In his report to the club he wrote, “I would also suggest that the fifteenth hole be changed and that it be converted into an iron shot hole of a somewhat similar character to the famous Gibraltar hole at Moortown, England.” In October 1927 the Sporting Globenewspaper suggested that “Kingston Heath members are waiting eagerly for their new 15th hole to be playable. It promises to be one of the most interesting short holes in Australia. Allastair McKenzie (sic), the famous Scots golf links architect, conceived the idea of placing a duplicate of ‘Gibraltar,’ Moortown, an 160 yard hole, deemed one of the greatest in Britain, on the top of Kingston’s highest hill… M. A. Morcom, Royal Melbourne’s expert greenkeeper, has constructed it, and he is to be congratulated on his splendid work.” Today the 15th at Kingston Heath holds a rightly revered position as one of Australia’s fi nest short holes, but not many would be aware that the concept of the Gibraltar hole was at its heart.
MacKenzie himself copied his Gibraltar hole in England on a few occasions, with the first of these at nearby Alwoodley in Leeds. The original version of the short 11th hole was only ever considered a temporary affair and in January 1913 the committee approved the construction of a new 11th green. On 17th May, the Yorkshire Postreported that: “Under the direction of Dr MacKenzie, a new 11th hole has been constructed. It is on a side slope, and is of the same type as the famous Gibraltar hole (the seventeenth) at Moortown. The old hole which it replaces was always regarded as merely a temporary expedient, and the opening of the new hole may be said to complete the course.” On MacKenzie’s early plan of the Alwoodley course, likely dating from late 1909 can be found his hand-written note stating “suggested new 11th hole of a similar type to 17th at Moortown”.
At Ilkley Golf Club in Yorkshire, MacKenzie had put forward his idea around 1910 to elevate the tee on the 15th hole and remake the green in a series of plateaux “as at the seventeenth at Moortown” but this failed to receive approval at the time.
MacKenzie made a version of the Gibraltar hole at the 4th hole at Shipley Golf Club, also in Yorkshire, where he designed a new course for the club at Beckfoot. By 1929 the hole had fallen out of favour and was remodelled, with a report of the day suggesting that, “Obviously Dr. Mackenzie set out to make a green somewhat after his model for the eighth at Moortown, which has attained wide fame under the name of ‘Gibraltar.’ It was hardly on the same bold, broad lines as the Moortown green, and many players at Beckfoot condemned it as almost an impossible one-shot hole, although only 140 yards in length. For a long time the hole has been played from a tee in a totally different place, so that a front attack was made on the green, and its two “shelves,” instead of the sort of flank attack originally intended. Now the old teeing ground has been restored: but an entirely different kind of green has been constructed on the site of the old one: It is an ordinary plain green, not exactly flat, but one which makes the play simple for those who can judge distances accurately and play a straight shot.”
The course at Southerndown in Wales was remodeled by Harry Colt in 1918, who at that time was in partnership with MacKenzie and Hugh Alison. Of the holes altered by Colt, the one-shot 14th, an uphill hole of 148 yards, is said to mirror the strategy of the Gibraltar hole.
In America, despite references to it being a well-known and often copied hole in that country, we have only been able to find two confirmed Gibraltar holes. The first is the 15th at Timber Point, a course designed by Hugh Alison, MacKenzie’s former partner, which opened in 1925. An exclusive private club, Timber Point was located in an affluent section of Long Island’s South Shore next to the town of Great River. The course involved the reclamation of 100 acres of marshy land and its construction was an engineering marvel for the day. Alison designed a version of MacKenzie’s prize-winning Country Life‘Lido’ competition hole at the 11th, while at the 15th Alison paid homage to MacKenzie’s Gibraltar hole at Moortown with a 200-yard version on the most exposed point on the course, that was also named ‘Gibraltar’. Sadly though the course was sold to the county in 1972 and converted into a 27-hole municipal golf facility, with Alison’s Gibraltar hole retained in the re-planning, and is now the 6th hole on the Blue course. The second Gibraltar was the 13th at the Pittsburgh Field Club – in 1919 this played as a 166-yard par three.
The Gibraltar Hole Today
Gibraltar still retains a revered place in Moortown memories and club folklore. The hole has been lengthened slightly from its opening day and Ryder Cup length of 150 yards and now plays at 175 yards from the rear tee. Following some routing changes to the course in the 1980s the Gibraltar hole is currently the 10th.
American golf architect Tom Doak has written of some of the differences between the Gibraltar hole and the Redan: “The Gibraltar green is terraced up at the back right so that you can put a pin up in that corner, and the ball will stay up there, bringing the bunkers on the right side of the green into play. In that sense, it’s a more difficult hole than the Redan. On the other hand, the back line of the green at Gibraltar does not run away from you at a 45-degree angle, so it is very difficult to put yourself in trouble at the back (other than giving yourself a downhill putt). In that sense it is much easier than the Redan.”
We will, though, allow the final word on the Gibraltar hole to go the incomparable Bernard Darwin, who, when writing of Moortown in 1925, suggested that he remembered “a certain short eighth of almost alarming excellence”.