Situated half way between Bognor Regis and Brighton, close to the Iron Age hill fort of Cissbury Ring in the South Downs National Park, Worthing Golf Club dates back to 1905, when Harry Vardon designed an initial 18-hole layout for the club.
Shortly after the First World War, Harry Colt was commissioned to redesign the course, creating the No. 1 (Lower) largely within a valley and the No. 2 (Upper) on the ridges above, with each of these tracks extending to eighteen holes.
The Lower course is the more challenging of the two layouts, featuring a demanding stretch of holes played just before the turn in a valley known as Deep Bottom, while the Upper course enjoys wide panoramic views, from Beachy Head to the Isle of Wight.
Highlight holes on the Lower include the 122-yard 9th (the shortest of the par threes with a heavily sand-protected raised green), the 447-yard 12th (rated stroke index 2 with out of bounds left of the fairway), and the 394-yard 18th, which plays to a bowl-shaped home green.
The Lower, or Colt course at Worthing golf club was a tough ask on a windy and later wet and windy day. There are some long par 4s, some long par 3s, some big climbs (compensated by some spectacular tee shots) and, like downland courses should be, hard greens (not just difficult to put on, but also the very antithesis of the receptive target golf greens of East Sussex National, my venue a few days earlier.)
The first of the climbs is to the gentle dog leg left first. The skyline bunkers are the target to be avoided, though, as is often the case the best line can be as tight as possible to them, or for the bigger hitters, over them. The green slopes back to front and is protected by left and right bunkers. As became a theme don’t leave yourself above the hole.
The second is a big par four. The drive is down into the valley, with the best line being a draw to keep the ball up the slope, or at least in the middle of the fairway. Bunkers down the bottom protect the longer straight drive and the fade will require a long second shot. As became apparent there was almost always a way to run the ball into the green, something needed as my golf was nowhere near good enough to hold a long iron in. Again big slopes on a big green made putting difficult.
Three was the first of the short holes. Played across a valley the way in, with a back pin position was to land to the left and let the ball roll down the green. As with many of the holes there was room all around the green, but that room came at the price of a nasty chip and a vain attempt to stop the ball.
Four was something of a relief. All downhill, with a line of bunkers to catch the sliced drive. The second shot set you the “how short do you land it” question as the approach and the green ran away.
Five was the first of the marker post holes. 250 yards needed to get over the crest of the hill and bunkers right to gather a shorter shot which slid away to the right. From there all downhill, but this time a left to right green. The run in was provided for, but left and right were bunkers.
Six was a long, narrow par 5 with the first set of troublesome trees, though I do wonder whether they had been there 80 years ago. The hole climbed gently to another sloping green. It was here that I realised that, while the approaches from the fairways were often tightly cut any missed shots long, left or right were on much longer grass which felt to me a lot more like the recreational park type than the tightly cut fescues of the fairways. Thus chip and run as an option was generally only from one of the four directional quarters as opposed to the four which I’d expected.
Seven was another par three to a raised green (something of a theme for the front 9). The low chaser was very much in play, indeed in the wind probably the best shot as anything high was at mercy of a stiff crosswind. A big green mean that being on was very much not the end of one’s troubles.
Eight continued the theme of bunkers down the right and a fairway sloping right to left to encourage the ball into them. The second shot was very much a positional one so that the pin could be attacked by the aerial or ground route with the third. A rolling green broadly sloping back left to front right meant any approach had to be long enough to avoid getting sent back to the front of the green, but woe betide the long shot from the back bank to a green sloping away.
The final raised green of the front nine was the par three 9th. From an elevated tee to a further elevated green this shorter par three demanded a shot to the heart of the green before taking ones chances with the put. As ever getting high side was not to be recommended.
A further climb up brought a wonderful drive down into a wide bowl from where ones approach was to a shelf green and, thankfully, as shelf approach area on the left. Find the green or the shelf left a relatively easy chip or put, miss and bunkers awaited right or a nasty chip left.
Eleven was something of holding hole. Plenty of room for the first shot, but then a little unusually loft was needed to carry a fairway bunker and bank. Another sloping green demanded being short and right (I was long and left).
Twelve was perhaps the best driving hole of the course. Get it right and a long shelf fairway awaited, get it wrong left and the second would easily find the line of three bunkers to the right of the green (again at the bottom of a slope). Go right and the grass was longer and the land 30 feet lower. Not lost ball territory, but the green would not be visible. Again this felt and example where direction was more important then sheer length.
Thirteen continued downhill. But even here missing the two fairway bunkers did not make one’s second shot easy. My member companion said the shelf leading from the left to the green had been the preferred entry point, though the leatherjackets of Sussex had put paid to that for a while.
The downhill theme continued with the par three 14th. A big open green with four protecting bunkers but lots of room either side of them. Distance control important. By no means and easy par three, though I suspect a rather easier hole to bogey.
Fifteen, from the back tees was down and then up, with a fairway sweeping right to left in support of the dog-leg. Tiger line down the left, but if there don’t be stupid, aim right with the second to use the slope to gather the ball to the tee. I was stupid.
Sixteen is the last of the big climbs. Try to get as high up the hill with your first, try to get over the ridge on the climb with your second, stop a while to get your breath back and contemplate the approach shot. This was best hit from the left, ie not going over the front right protecting bunker.
Seventeen and eighteen were a little incongruous. The sixteenth green was not that far from the clubhouse, but the seventeenth tee was off to the left. A domed fairway (front to back) meant the marker post was very much needed. Trees and out of bounds left. A decent drive would leave a gentle downhill second.
The same could be said for the eighteenth. Played parallel to the previous hole the drive over the hill left a downhill approach to the most dell like of the green. Straight line in, try not to go too far and what felt a less nasty green gave me a finishing par.
As I said earlier a tough ask, with the most solid greens I’ve played to in many a year. Some great views and a definite sense that this was a course whose designer had enjoyed the sight of the ball flying up into the sky, being called to earth and bounding away, hopefully forwards to fairway or green. Despite often wide fairways and first/second cuts this was a course which rewarded being straight, for only the straight shot allowed the running entry to the green. Length mattered, as ever, but the hard ground meant that low shots bounded on. Having to go over hazards was to be avoided.
I have to say I’m surprised to have been the first reviewer of the course on this site. It’s well worth a play and, with the Vardon, or Upper course, can offer a challenging 36 hole option. Just remember to take your climbing boots and your two iron, especially if it’s windy.