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Stereotypes of Sheffield as a grim, dark place dominated by industry are horribly outdated.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.

Alwoodley: MacKenzie masterpiece a place of loyalty and sanctuary

Alwoodley Golf Club is a place where loyalty is par for the course. 

Ever since the great Dr Alister MacKenzie – the man who would go on to design Augusta National – became a founder member here in 1907, there has been a sense that devotion has been sewn into the springy fairways and perfect greens at this Leeds golf club. 

Not only is that the case out on this truly wonderful Yorkshire golf course, where the club has gone to great lengths to retain the hallmarks of strategy, variety and natural beauty that were cornerstones of Mackenzie’s design. But it’s also the case among the people working here.

On the day we visit, secretary Julie Slater stops to say hello just as she is showing her successor around after 25 years at the club. She is not leaving –  no-one really leaves – only changing roles. In the pro shop, where we receive a warm welcome, John Green has been head professional of Alwoodley for 31 years. It’s a story replicated throughout the club.

There’s a sense among them all that, once you’re here, why go anywhere else? “Long before the Covid-19 bubble, there was the Alwoodley bubble,” says Julie.

The 18th at Alwoodley Golf Club

“We are in a busy city but once you are through the gates, all that disappears. You feel like you are transported to a more peaceful place. That makes Alwoodley a unique experience for members and visitors alike. There’s a stillness to it. It’s something we all feel here.”

Alwoodley doesn’t need to shout loudly about anything. This golf club exudes a quiet confidence in everything it does, safe in the knowledge that it’s home to a truly majestic inland course – undoubtedly one of England’s best. And as you pull in past the imposing clubhouse you feel delightfully cut off. The pace slows, as does the pulse. No-one rushes, no-one needs to. 

Much of that may stem from the people who work here. Happy people, lots of them. There is a togetherness about Alwoodley which is noticeable in the warmth of everyone you cross paths with. 

“The staff almost feel like family and that is partly because so many of us have been here for so long,” Julie adds. “We really are a team. You leave your family at home. And come here to your Alwoodley family.

A view across the par 5 3rd hole at Alwoodley

“Before Covid we held regular staff barbecues out by the course. It was a way of everyone understanding what each other does and doing it on the course meant those who weren’t always able to get out there could see what we were doing, the small changes we were making and ultimately the reason we are all here. That has bred an attitude where everyone is prepared to turn their hand to everything.”

Dr Alister MacKenzie

John in the pro shop is a case in point. He’s open and friendly, not just to us but to every visitor who appears at the door of his shop. The course record here at Alwoodley has been broken twice in recent years. It was lowered to 64 by Walker Cup player Stiggy Hodgson in Open qualifying and then to 63 by Harry Hall en route to second place at the 2019 Brabazon Trophy. What about John’s best round over the past 31 years?

“I’ve shot 64 twice,” he says with a smile. “The first time was with a lady playing her very first round of golf. She must have wondered why I was paying so much attention to every shot as we got further and further into the round,” he says with a chuckle. 

It’s a sunny day and I’ve forgotten my trusty cap. John patiently helps me pick one out. And then another. None fit my frankly enormous bonce. John explains that each one I try will need to go into Covid quarantine for a week. I call it quits, partly because I feel a bit guilty that hats will get lonely in quarantine, but partly because no hat here is going to fit, no matter how hard I try.

Despite the cap tomfoolery there is no sense that this pro shop is only for those ‘in the club’, it is simply a nice place to be. As is the sprawling practice ground, which is the kind of place you dream of spending a summer’s day getting better. 

And what of the course? Well, this is the place where Mackenzie first turned his hand to course design, having been both secretary and captain here. For all my talk of loyalty here, perhaps it’s ironic that it turned out there would be no lifelong relationship between Alwoodley and Mackenzie. He left the club under a cloud in 1930, having been told he was no longer welcome following the breakdown of his marriage to Edith, who served as the ladies’ honorary secretary from 1914 to 1936.

The 16th tee at Alwoodley

Alwoodley’s loyalty was afforded to her, while Mackenzie boarded the boat to America in 1930 with his second wife, Hilda. He would go on to design 99 more golf courses during his life, in the UK, US and Australia. Three of them, Augusta, of course, Cypress Point and Royal Melbourne, are in the world’s top 10 golf courses. 

Alwoodley though, is the original. And the course has clues all through it of what was to come from Mackenzie. The par-5 10th here is the blueprint for the iconic 13th at Augusta, for instance. But this is not a course in need of a signature hole. It doesn’t need to try that hard. The fairways are framed by vivid purple heather and relentless heathland which runs for miles. It doesn’t have a bad hole. There are no weak links, it’s consistently excellent, never dipping below that to simply good. 

Red kites soar overhead and roe deer are regularly spotted running across the fairways. If you haven’t heard of Alwoodley, then those who have are probably happy for it to stay that way. Those in the know may not thank me for saying it, but this is a golf course that should be high on your must-play list. The golf course is, of course, the centrepiece. But in truth, Alwoodley has it all. 

As you walk off the magnificent par-4 18th and take it all in with a cold drink on the sprawling terrace overlooking the first tee and 18th green, it isn’t hard to understand where that deep-seated sense of loyalty to Alwoodley comes from. We were feeling it after 18 holes, never mind 18 years. 

Huddersfield Golf Club: history and celebrity on this Rolls-Royce course

In these parts, the story goes that during the 1950s Huddersfield was home to the highest number of Rolls-Royces per capita than anywhere else on the planet, save Beverley Hills

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the wool trade meant there was extraordinary wealth, prestige and opulence here. None of that is hard to believe as you drive through the gates of Huddersfield Golf Club and emerge from the woodland and onto the Fixby Estate.

In front of you lies a hugely impressive golf course and, at its centre, Fixby Hall, the imposing grade-2 listed manor house which acts as a grand clubhouse today. “It’s a magnificent sight,” says Eva Lambert, chairman of the club. “You see almost all of our wonderful front 9 right there in front of you on that drive into the club. It never gets old. It’s really special.” 

Views across the valleys around Huddersfield Golf Club. Credit: James Breeze

Huddersfield was at the heart of the Industrial Revolution – a genuine Northern powerhouse in its day. And the golf club shares an impressive history of its own having been founded in 1891.

Its first professional for instance, Alex Herd, was Open champion in 1902. Back then members would describe how the now lush green course would be turned black by the smoke pumped into the Yorkshire skies by the mills scattered across this valley. There were no showers for golfers to use in the clubhouse at the time but there were foot baths as so many would find they had black, ash-coated feet, when they came to change shoes at the end of a round. 

James Braid, JH Taylor and Henry Cotton – a trio who won The Open 13 times between them – were visitors to Fixby in the early days while another Open champion, Roberto de Vicenzo, visited a little later. The Argentine is a part of Fixby folklore having found the green in two on the par-5 5th from a fairway bunker some 220 plus yards out. “And the story goes that he got there with a 5-iron. I don’t think those who saw it will ever forget it.” says club president Mike Webb. Mike is our host and guide on our visit to Fixby.

Huddersfield President, Mike Webb.

He is naturally gregarious, warm and funny. He has seen it all and it’s hard to imagine a better ambassador for this golf club. He joined Huddersfield in 1967 aged 13. Both he and his younger brother Charles have been captain and president. Sport was always in the blood with their father Yorkshire tennis champion and their mother having appeared at Wimbledon. 

Mike recalls Gary Player various visits to Fixby, the first visit coming in the Leeds Cup in the 1950s. Player takes up the story. As I came to the last, I needed 5 to win the tournament. There was a stone wall and I thought that I could bank my shot off the wall on to the green. I went for it and the ball hit me in the jaw and knocked me down. They gave me some smelling salts. Dazed, I then chipped the ball on to the green. “I thought, great… four shots. I then holed the putt for five and thought I’d won, only to find out I was given a two-shot penalty for hitting myself!”

Despite that incident, Player famously said he wished he could take Fixby’s springy fairways with him wherever he played. “Gary always was prone to a bit of hyperbole,” Mike says with a wink. 

History is everywhere. On the putting green we meet John Chew who tells us he has been a member here for 40 years but that his stint pales into insignificance against a couple who, between them, have been members here for an extraordinary 150 years. Mike later says the club will be planting a tree close to the 10th tee with a plaque to honour the couple’s extraordinary anniversary at the club. 

Loyalty, in many cases lifelong, is not unusual at Fixby. But despite the wealth of history this is also a club that is both innovative and forward thinking. In 2004 the club re-laid every green on the course to meet the USGA’s exacting standards. While the club boasts some of the best young amateur golfers in the country, particularly among the girls – thanks in large part to the influence of Alex Keighley, the highly regarded female head professional. As we arrive, well before 8am, she is already on the club’s excellent practice facilities teaching. “I don’t know a single member who doesn’t like her,” Mike says. Alex led the field after round 1 of the 2003 British Open and enjoyed a stellar career as an amateur representing Great Britain & Ireland. Mike describes her openness, expertise and general charisma around the club as a breath of fresh air. 

Times have changed since the days of Johnny Fallon, who was the club’s head professional for 47 years. Fallon finished 3rd in the 1939 Open Championship and runner-up to the great Peter Thomson at the 1955 Open, on both occasions at St Andrew’s.

In the same year, he played in the Ryder Cup before captaining Great Britain & Ireland against a strong US side led by Arnold Palmer at East Lake GC. “He was a character,” Mike says. “I remember a youngster who came in for a lesson. He bought Johnny a drink before they went out and as he did, he looked up at the honour’s boards in the bar. 

A view of the 18th green at Huddersfield, with the 10th fairway curving away to the right. Credit: James Breeze

“He said to Johnny ‘do you think one day my name could be up there on those boards?” Johnny replied, “the only way your name will be up on those boards, lad, is if you are killed in action!”

Playing in the three-ball behind us on our visit is Dean Hoyle, the former owner of Huddersfield Town Football Club, who is a member here. Behind them is another three-ball which includes the former Welsh Women’s Amateur Champion, as well as the former Yorkshire Women’s champion, who kindly picks up and returns my 9-iron which, it turns out, I’ve left on the side of a previous green. After our round, Mike runs into the captain of the England Women’s over-80s tennis team who, it turns out, used to be his mother’s doubles partner. If the seniors are going strongly, the juniors are too, having won the national title in 2018. The men’s scratch team won the Yorkshire 1st division championship. No wonder then, the trophy cabinet here is comparable to Liverpool FC’s.

And what of the course? It’s as good as the history suggests it will be, a wonderful examination of your game that you will never grow weary of. There are so many good holes and constant variety of angels and lies. 

It’s pretty too. From the tee of the stunning par-4 12th, you can see Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire and Derbyshire. This hole and the devilish par-3 13th were added to the course in 1969, when Gary Player returned to officially open them alongside Peter Oosterhuis, Joe Carr and Rodney Foster (see insert image above). “We want people to leave here feeling that they have been presented with a rigorous test of golf but also an enjoyable one and we want them to have felt welcome. We firmly believe Huddersfield belongs in the conversation alongside the likes of Fulford, Moortown and Lindrick. Ganton and Alwoodley may be right up there in Yorkshire, but we are not far off.”

Having played all of the golf courses, mentioned, we at The Wandering Golfers feel well positioned to confirm Mike’s view. Fixby is unquestionably one of Yorkshire’s best golf courses. 

The rich history, the majesty of the golf course, the brilliant and challenging variety of holes which demand every shot in your repertoire and some that aren’t, the warmth of the people and the facilities – Fixby really does tick all the boxes. It may not get the acclaim or visitor footfall that other great courses in Yorkshire do, but it will as word spreads and it should. To call it a hidden gem is not befitting of a club of this stature. 

Huddersfield may no longer have the riches of days gone by, but hidden away on the beautiful Fixby estate, it still boasts a Rolls-Royce of a golf club.