Like Rome, Sheffield is built on seven hills. High on one of them, on the cusp of the Peak District National Park, you’ll find the beautiful Hallamshire Golf Club.
Perhaps you haven’t heard of it before now – unlike Italy, this has never been a part of the world comfortable shouting too loudly about itself – but rather like the city of Sheffield itself, this is a golf club with so much more to it than first meets the eye.
Stereotypes of Sheffield as a grim, dark place dominated by industry are horribly outdated.
With 30% of the city in the Peak District, it has more trees per person than any metropolis in Europe. It’s now a place of genuine colour and creativity, with artists, designers, top chefs and craft brewers coming together to forge a charming, vibrant new version of Sheffield.
Fortunately for us, it also boasts a truly wonderful golf course. And Hallamshire Golf Club really does reflect the modern city it so proudly represents. Situated three-and-a-half miles from the city centre, the club still feels very much part of Sheffield as you pull off a busy suburban street and into the club with little hint of the magic to come.
There is no long, winding driveway and the clubhouse, while beautifully-appointed, could not be described as grand. But Sheffield is a place which has always prioritised substance over style and from the moment you set foot in the Hallamshire you begin to feel that.
There’s a rare brand of kindness here. Sheffield was once described as a city of people who immediately behave as if they’ve been putting up with you for years – like a warm hug that never judges you. And that feels like a fitting description of the Hallamshire experience – which on and off the course, is nothing short of a delight.
As we enter the pro shop, we’re welcomed like friends. The highly-respected head professional, Joe Froggatt, is talking us through Hallamshire’s stellar list of former pros whose footsteps he is following in – John Jacobs and Pete Cowen both started their careers here – when a member comes in wearing shorts on what is a pretty fresh autumnal day.
“Whatever the weather, however cold it gets, I wear shorts until the clocks go back,” he says with a smile and a spring in his step. We found that warmth and good humour the rule, rather than the exception – a warmer welcome you’ll be hard pushed to find.
The Hallamshire experience is, however, so much more than a friendly smile.
Like the people of Sheffield, the course gets straight to the point. The first four holes is the toughest opening stretch in Yorkshire: from the black tees you’re faced with a 468-yard par 4, a 196-yard par 3, a 428-yard par 4 and 460-yard par 4 – all into the prevailing wind.
But then you remember this is the place where Matthew Fitzpatrick, world No 20 at the time of writing, honed his craft. And you realise it must provide even the best with a stern test. Matthew remains actively involved with the club and clearly cares about its continued success.
In recent years he put forward the idea for a new back tee on the par-4 11th, which the club did once they saw what Matthew had envisioned for the hole. His tour bags and many trophies, including a replica of the historic US Amateur, add a unique sparkle to the clubhouse. His brother Alex, a Walker Cup star in his own right, also grew up on the fairways. So too Alison Nicholas, the Solheim Cup captain and former US Open champion.
No wonder then, the hand-cut greens are as true and quick as anything in Yorkshire – Ganton and Alwoodley included. We could have written a piece purely about the putting surfaces, which add another dimension to the challenge. They should never be taken for granted, as we found to our cost on the first green. They are, however, consistent, fair and delightfully true – nothing short of a joy to putt on, once you gauge the pace. Course manager Gordon Brammah, who retires later this year, deserves enormous credit.
The land on which the course is built, once part of the Duke of Norfolk’s estate, ebbs and flows from the relatively flat opening to a truly wonderful run of holes beginning with the 193 yard, par-3 6th which takes you to the edge of the Peak District, with views across the wide-open spaces towards Loxley and the legend of Robin Hood.
This part of the course, taking in the 6th, 7th, 8th and short 9th, is Hallamshire’s Amen Corner – beautiful, challenging, memorable. The 11th and 13th are also highlights and just as you think the course becomes a little more predictable towards the end of your round, the 134 yard par-3, 17th – named Quarry – delivers a delightful and unexpected surprise.
The history of the club is rich and fascinating too. In 1899, six-time Open champion Harry Vardon played Alexander ‘Sandy’ Herd, himself a winner of the Claret Jug, in an exhibition match which put Hallamshire on the map. The history of that match and of this club, warrants another article all of its own – next time, perhaps. But what then of the present?
That connection with Sheffield itself is more than just words. Dan Walker, the BBC TV presenter and my former colleague at BBC Sport, is a member at Hallamshire. He has felt the support of the club in staging his hugely successful ‘Walker Cup’ charity golf days over the years, raising hundreds of thousands of pounds for the wonderful Sheffield Children’s Hospital and bringing the great and good from sport and entertainment to the club.
Dan is out on the course on the day we visit and stops to chat on the 3rd fairway as he tunes up for another charity golf day, this time for the cancer charity Weston Park. He is very much like everything else about the club – genuine, friendly and passionate about his golf and the city of Sheffield. Nothing here is done for effect or show. There is a tangible sense of authenticity to the experience – on and off the golf course.
Sheffield isn’t Rome but this isn’t a city or a golf club trying to be like anywhere else – it simply wants to be the best version of itself and that might just be the secret at the heart of the Hallamshire experience and its unquestionable allure.