Worplesdon Golf Club is one of the prettiest and most delightful of Surrey’s many heath and heather courses and it’s arguably the best of the trinity of “Ws” (West Hill and Woking being the other two); all three courses virtually border each other. It is set amongst glorious heather, chestnut and pine trees. John Abercromby’s inaugural design dates back to 1908; greens and bunkers were constructed by Willie Park Junior. Little has changed after more than 100 years.
It’s not a long course at just less than 6,500 yards, but it’s supremely challenging and driving accuracy is far more important than length. The front nine plays across stunning undulating terrain, so expect some awkward stances. The back nine is sited on relatively even ground. The greens are always in fabulous condition and are lightning fast with some subtle borrows and undulations.
Every autumn since 1921, the celebrated Mixed Foursomes competition takes place at Worplesdon. Joyce Wethered won this event no fewer than eight times between 1922 and 1933, with seven different partners. Bernard Darwin lists Joyce’s victorious partners in his book, Golf Between Two Wars: “Mr Roger Wethered, Mr Tolley (twice), Mr J.S.F. Morrison, Mr Michael Scott, Mr R.H. Oppenheimer, Mr T. Coke and an elderly gentleman whose name for the moment escapes me”. In 1933, Darwin (aged 57) partnered with Wethered and won!
It’s a real privilege to play this quiet and elegant course. The springy fairways roll gently up and down, flanked by many mature trees. The profusion of heather provides stunning seasonal colour and a real challenge in finding the wayward golf ball. The clubhouse is one of the most pleasant in all the land and very welcoming.
“And so farewell to Worplesdon,” wrote Darwin, “but not I hope for long. If I can once again see the dahlias in the garden by the side of the fifteenth fairway and once again read The Moonstone under the kind roof which has so often sheltered me, I shall be almost perfectly happy.”
Worplesdon was the missing piece in my 3W jigsaw, so obvious comparisons were made during the round with nearby Woking and West Hill. One immediate area where Worplesdon holds the upper hand over its neighbours is the wonderful view from the clubhouse. A beautiful morning taking in breakfast from the patio whilst overlooking the course was the ideal way to start the day.
The clubhouse overlooks the first few holes and whilst it’s lovely to view from afar, it wasn’t until the 4th where I felt the course started to shine; an uphill par three played in front of the clubhouse that brings a close to the opening loop. The remainder of the front nine generally had a good flow, the 8th with its murderous two-tiered green and the 9th, a beautiful medium length dogleg of a par four probably being my highlights of the first half.
The 10th is a pretty hole and often marketed as the course’s signature, but I’m yet to be convinced by large amounts of water on a heathland layout, I had similar feelings about the pond in front of the 16th at Woking. But again we have another exceptional green on this hole with some great undulations to keep you guessing as the green slopes towards the water. Then comes the wander across the road, introducing you to probably the best stretch of land across the course. There is an element of taking your life into your hands as cars speed around the bend, but the crossing is worth it. Whilst the short, 173 yard 13th gets many accolades with a green that emerges above the ground, and the sand that surrounds it like a moat, the 12th was my personal pick. The 12th is a par five that’s reachable in two but has the narrowest of entry points to the green with mounding and a bunker to the left and another large bunker guarding two thirds of the green from the other side.
Onto the final stretch and the 16th reminded me of the same numbered hole at Hankley Common. It’s only a short hole but plays straight uphill over heathery bunkered humps and completes the set of fine par threes at Worplesdon. The bunkering on the 18th provides character to a quality closing hole where a well positioned tee shot would then suit a soft fade into the green to take the sand out of play. Sandwiched in between these holes is another magical green on 17, again two-tiered providing complexity to the approach shot, particularly if the pin is located on the front edge of the upper tier as it was when I played the course.
Generally, the condition across the fairways and greens is excellent, but the bunkers were sadly a bit of a let-down. Some courses in the area are undertaking bunker refurbishment so Worplesdon seems behind the curve here. The sand is full of stones and in need of some love and attention. It does look like they’ve already refurbished the bunkers around the green on 18, so there may be an upgrade programme already planned?
I’ve only given Worplesdon a 4-ball rating which may seem a little harsh. It's very close to a 5-ball course for me, and I'd rate the course as equal to the likes of Royal Ashdown Forest and Sherwood Forest in terms of quality which I’ve also given 4-ball ratings, so I’ll try and be consistent. However, if those bunkers were upgraded, the course would be a shoe-in for a higher rating but it’s also for that reason that my vote on the best of the 3Ws goes to Woking. Having said that, I hear plenty of tree-clearance has been carried out in recent times at West Hill, so I must head back there before I formally nail my colours to the mast.
Worplesdon was the morning course on a 36 day tour of two of the "W's", with a round at West Hill in the afternoon and the challenge of Woking two days later. My wife Ruth and I met and played with top 100 editor in chief Keith Baxter and editor Jim McCann. We were just off a round at The Addington the day before, and I was interested to see the difference in the two J.H. Abercromby designs.
Worplesdon has a lovely classic heathland with is an entirely different look and feel from the Addington, but in both cases Abercromby made excellent use of the terrain and contours of the land. The course does not have many severe slopes, but it is rarely flat at any point along it's routing. I think this is one of the most wonderfully strategic courses I have ever played. One of my early favorites comes early on at the par 4 third. The hole is slightly downhill and only 387 yards from the white tee. A diagonal cross bunker lies about 285 off the tee, but it can quickly come into play for many golfers when played down wind and with the fast running conditions we encountered. A properly placed tee shot left and short of the bunker opens up the green, which is guarded by two bunkers to the right and a significant right to left slope funneling to the left side bunkers. The approach shot has to properly gauge the run and the slope and really has to come perilously close to the right bunkers to have any chance of finishing near most pin positions. 5 is another great hole, with the dog leg right covered by a mass of heather daring the player to bite off as much as possible. A fairway bunker is off the left near the landing area for most players. The bold drive to the right opens up the approach to the green with a large swale in front as well. This may be the most difficult hole on the course. 10 is a beautiful short par 3 over a pond, and then comes the crossing across a busy road to 11 through 14, a collection of 4 outstanding holes. 11 is a fine strategic par 5 with well placed bunkers and slopes that require a clear plan and steady play to negotiate. I hit two solid shots to wind up about 40 yards short of the green in two. Keith was about 10 yards behind me and used his putter! Not be to outdone I putted as well and I was able to negotiate the shot to within 10 feet of the hole and secure a birdie. This may have been my favorite shot of my 9 day trip.
13 is a great par three with a long narrow green and difficult bunkering as well. I enjoyed the par 4 17 where the green has a steep front slope that demanded a precise approach to get anywhere close to the pin.
This course was tremendous fun. No two holes were alike and each hole presented a unique challenge. The greens had a variety of slopes and contours and like the holes in general each green offered it's own challenge. What a great course to play as a member since every round would likely offer up something new and exciting. My wife Ruth enjoyed the natural beauty of the course but struggled some with the forced carries over the heather on her tee shots. There was something about this course which reminded my of West Sussex in Pulborough, which is high praise from me. Read my story: Diamonds of the heather - golfing London's heathland
What a delight – Worplesdon in the morning followed by West Hill in afternoon! How good can a day’s golf get? I thought the opening loop of four holes was a terrific “warm up” with the routing returning players to the clubhouse before they set off again for the rest of the round.
The greens alone were really interesting on the opening par fours: sloping back right to front left at the 1st, canted left to right at the 2nd and slanted right to left at the 3rd. And an uphill par three at the 4th over heather to a plateau green is always a challenging hole to play early on.
The remainder of the front nine was marvellous, starting at the 5th, with an incredible double dip in the fairway immediately in front of the green. The second uphill par three at the 7th was even more heavily bunkered than the 4th and the pronounced two-tiered green on the 8th has to be seen to be believed!
On the back nine, the par five 12th and par three 13th are standout holes. The 12th narrows noticeably on reaching an offset green that angles to the right, protected to the front by a deep bunker. The following hole then plays from an elevated tee to a green fronted by an enormous expanse of sand.
I also liked the final par three at the 16th – again, another short hole played uphill, which is never easy to make interesting – where there’s far more room around the green on top of a ridge than you imagine from the teebox. That’s just the sort of simple design feature which sets Worplesdon apart from others.
Currently, the course is ranked between the other two “Ws” of Woking and West Hill, which is probably about right, though there’s not much to separate them. Imagine if you were a club member with reciprocal playing privileges for all three courses – now that would bring real meaning to the expression “spoiled for choice”.
Start is gentle, which is good and holes 2 and 3 are possibly the least scenic on the course. 4 is a super par 3, uphill and tough to hold the green. The back 9 is better than front in terms of strength of holes and visuals. The best stretch is 9 to 11. Hole 13 is best par 3 on the course, although apart from the 10th, the other 4 par 3s all play between 156 and 164 off the yellows, so a bit “samey”. Better than Woking, but less “pretty” than West Hill.
Quite a joy really. In fantastic nick considering we were playing at the end of a long winter, always a great sign. The course has no poor holes, but the front 9 perhaps doesn't knock your socks off either. However it all changes at the 10th! A great fun short par 3 which is all carry over water, then 4 absolute belters in the section over the road. 2 stunning par 5's, another cracking one shotter whose green is surrounded by bunkers, then a magnificent beast of a par 4. Then back over the road for a really strong finish. Really welcoming club also, seemed remarkably unstuffy compared to some of its neighbours!
Lucky enough to play the third or the three W's today and Worplesdon is - in my humble opinion - by far the best of the three !!
13th is a stunning par 3 - with a potentially lethal pin position back right. Green is 3 clubs long and plenty of sand.
A great hole to play and/or photograph.
Similarly the 8th 9th and 10th is one of the nicest three hole stretches imaginable.
Whole course in very good condition, greens excellent. Some great holes - an absolute pleasure to play it
I am very fortunate to be a member at Worplesdon and despite having now played it many, many times, I still enjoy the challenge. Its a scenic, old fashioned, classic Surrey heathland course with some beautiful holes. The best portion of the course (in my view) is the stretch over the road from the 11th to the 14th, but in truth all 18 are interesting and when put together represent a good challenge and an excellent course.