Does England deserve more acclaim as iconic golf travel destination?

Trevose Golf Club

A new book, The Golf Lover’s Guide to England, explores 33 top courses and highlights the history and variety on offer

If Scotland is the home of golf, Ireland the luxury holiday villa you can’t wait to go back to, what of England? Scotland and Ireland are quite rightly lauded as mythical golf destinations the world over – St Andrews, Ballybunion, Royal Dornoch, Lahinch – the names trip off the tongue.

But a new golf travel book, The Golf Lover’s Guide to England, is seeking to redress the balance a little by paying homage to the quality, history and variety of 33 of the country’s best golf courses, highlighting the incredible richness on offer in a nation that can, at times, be overlooked. It also includes further details on an additional 59 courses close by.

“It’s a completely understandable why we all speak in such glowing terms about Scotland and Ireland,” author Michael Whitehead tells The Wandering Golfers. “But I think England deserves more of the plaudits than it gets, in terms of how it is seen as a golf destination.” 

The book covers 33 of England’s best golf courses

When it comes to quality, the likes of Royal Birkdale, Sunningdale and Royal Lytham more than hold their own with the very best offered elsewhere. And in terms of quantity? England boasts more than twice as many golf courses as Scotland and Ireland combined. 

“I have heard people say it sits in the shadows of Scotland and Ireland, but it is only when you dig into it as I have done, that you realise the sheer variety and richness on offer in England,” Michael adds. “Scotland and Ireland are, quite rightly, known for their incredible links , of course. But in England, you have sand-belt in and around London, the links experiences in the south-east and west, the stunning Golf Coast as well as moorland, heathland and inland courses.

“Writing this book, I have felt, at times, England is almost a hidden gem – hidden in plain sight, of course, because so much of it is so well known, but slightly hidden, nonetheless. And yet it has so much to offer and so much quality.” 

Michael either played or walked all 33 of the courses he so beautifully details in his book. What then were the memories that stood out above the rest? “When I started the England guide, Hollinwell was on the long list,” Michael says. “But on a number of site visits to other clubs, people said to me, ‘where are you going next? You have got to have Hollinwell in.’ 

Beautiful Hollinwell went down as one of Michael’s most memorable rounds.

“I had never been there, but I thought that if more than a few people are telling me this, then I have to go. And in the book, I say ‘If you’ve never played golf at Hollinwell before, everyone who has will tell you that you should. Everyone is right. Everything you’ve heard is true.’

“And that was very much my experience. I played with Martyn Bonner MBE, the secretary, on a lovely, sunny day. It is just such a glorious place to play – I described it as a sea of tranquillity.

“Another memory which stands out was seeing Sunningdale for the first time,” he adds. “In the opening paragraph I say, ‘whatever you know, or think you know, about this heathland paradise will almost certainly be rendered meaningless’, which was exactly how I felt.

“When you turn up and see the iconic oak, you know you are visiting somewhere special. It was one of the courses I wasn’t able to play, but I was shown around by one of the pros – Richard Andrews – and he showed me every tee box and I stood in awe at how great it was. 

The 18th green of Sunningdale Old course with the clubhouse behind and the pro shop under the branches.

 “Richard spoke in such glowing terms about the course, it was infectious. I say in the book the you need to listen to what the course is telling you and craft your way around. Those are Richards words. I was blessed to be shown around by a group of articulate, passionate people, who were able to sum up so eloquently what made their courses to special and who were so happy to be where they were. I hope that comes through in my writing.” 

At The Wandering Golfers, we know better than most that golf travel has a special mystique to it. The experiences, when you go to the right places with the right people, leave an imprint on your soul, with golfers able to remember each hole, shot and story in extraordinary detail years’ later.

“It’s easy to write about something you love,” Michael adds. “In order to capture those emotions while they were still on surface, I tried to write as soon as I could after my round. The book is much richer for the anecdotes or stories I was able to accumulate. When I think of Royal St George’s I think of the Ian Fleming/James Bond story that the club secretary, Tim Checketts told me. To him it was a throw-away well-worn tale, but to me it was gold.

“Fleming was a member of the club, playing to a handicap of 9. But in Goldfinger, he changed the name to Royal St Marks to avoid an increase in membership at his beloved Royal St George’s after the book was published. In the book Bond and Goldfinger are about to start their round. Goldfinger uses the practice putting green while Bond walks straight to the 1st tee. Members chuckle at the homage by Fleming, as the speed of the practice green at Royal St George’s historically bears no resemblance to those out on the course.”

“At Burnham and Berrow I played with a member, Stuart Norton Collins, and we were coming off the 8th green and he said, ‘do you want to see if we can see the shipwreck?’ I said, ‘of course I do!’ And it was the SS Nornen. From the 9th tee on a clear day, when the sea is out, you can clearly see it. It is only a small wooden ship and it has been there for over 100 years but it is detail like that makes the book that much richer.” 

Even well-travelled golfers and members of the clubs which feature will find nuggets of information that they may not have heard before. “I had Georgie Bingham, the sports broadcaster, tell me that the piece I wrote on Aldeburgh Golf Club in Suffolk had actually taught her something new about a club she knows inside out.

“She was referring to the section on Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and how husband, Skelton Anderson, was the main figure involved in forming the club. And hearing that is a huge complement to me. I hope everyone who reads it has those little moments of discovery as they thumb the pages.”

We certainly did, which is the highest compliment we can pay Michael and his excellent book.

Go and buy it. 

The clubs primarily featured in the book are:

Silloth On Solway Golf Club

Ganton Golf Club
Alwoodley Golf Club
Moortown Golf Club

England’s Golf Coast
Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club
Royal Birkdale Golf Club
Hillside Golf Club
Southport & Ainsdale Golf Club
Formby Golf Club
The West Lancashire Golf Club
Wallasey Golf Club
Royal Liverpool Golf Club

Woodhall Spa, The National Golf Centre – Hotchkin Course
The Belfry Hotel & Resort – Brabazon Course

East Anglia
Royal West Norfolk Golf Club
Hunstanton Golf Club
Royal Worlington & Newmarket Golf Club
Aldeburgh Golf Club – The Championship Course

Woburn Golf Club
-The Duke’s Course
-The Duchess Course
-The Marquess Course
West Sussex Golf Club

Surrey/Berkshire sandbelt
Swinley Forest Golf Club
Sunningdale Golf Club
-Old Course
-New Course
The Berkshire Golf Club
-The Red Course
-The Blue Course
St George’s Hill Golf Club
-Red & Blue Course
Walton Heath Golf Club
-Old Course
-New Course

Kent Coast
Prince’s Golf Club
The Royal St George’s Golf Club
Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club

Burnham & Berrow Golf Club
-The Championship Course
Saunton Golf Club
– East Course
The Royal North Devon Golf Club,
-Westward Ho!
St Enodoc Golf Club
– Church Course

Hallamshire Golf Club: warmth and wonder at heart of Yorkshire gem

The par 3 6th at Hallamshire Golf Club

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.

The view from the 5th tee across to the 8th fairway in the distance with the Peak District beyond.

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.

“This is the course on which Matthew Fitzpatrick, world No 20 at the time of writing, honed his craft…”

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.

Matthew Fitzpatrick learned the game at Hallamshire

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. 

Hallamshire Golf Club sits right on the cusp of the Peak District

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.

The 12th green with views across to the 13th fairway

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 Walker is a member at Hallamshire Golf 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.