Golf began at Wortley in 1894 on the old deer park in the shape of a rudimentary 9-hole course, which was extended to 18 holes in 1908 by Alfred Ernest Turnell, Wortley Club Captain and an associate of Alister MacKenzie, who worked on several Sheffield projects with the good Doctor.
According to club records, Harry Colt redesigned Wortley’s course in 1930 at the request of the 3rd Earl of Wharncliffe. Therefore the 6,025-yard, undulating parkland course that’s in play today has more than a modicum of Golden Age architectural heritage.
During World War II, the course was requisitioned for the war effort and sheep were allowed to graze on the fairways. A couple of holes were also used for open cast coal mining. In 1945, four new greens were laid and fifteen holes brought back into play, with the remaining three holes following shortly after.
Today, the course extends to just over 6,000 yards from the back markers, playing to a par of 68; out in 33 then back in 35. There’s only one par five on the scorecard, at the slightly right doglegged 511-yard 10th, and the pick of the par threes is the shortest of the one-shotters, at the 125-yard 9th hole.
I got an invite to play Wortley in a shotgun start competition recently, and was pleased to see this course creep into Yorkshire's Top 40. An old/ancient clubhouse welcomed us, reminding me of the now defunct West Bowling club in Bradford, that had a wonderful Grade 2 listed home. A short walk down a path in the trees lead to the first tee, and the course beyond.
Course design stands out here, and it was a pleasure to play each hole. The variety kept one's interest and tested one's game. The par 3s were of differing lengths and played in different directions, bringing the breeze into play, although five par 3's is one too many.
That said, I did think the front nine was the pick of the holes, design wise. Course condition was adequate. The course could benefit from a little more definition in places, but perhaps a dry spell was the reason for that being lacking. The greens were consistent and fair, and the course is well worth a re-visit.
I will say upfront that I am a member of Wortley Golf Club but will endeavour to be as objective as I possibly can. Earlier in the year I made contact with the editor of the Top 100 Golf Courses and discussed Wortley as I was surprised not to see it in a Top 30 listing when there were certain other courses in the locality on there which I felt didn't merit their ranking. I am therefore delighted that this gem of a course has now made it's way into the new extended Yorkshire Top 40.
Wortley is a traditional members club, set on the outskirts of Sheffield in the middle of the Wharncliffe Estate. The traditional clubhouse is set someway away from the 1st tee. You access the course down a driveway that is shared with the Wharncliffe Estate and as you make your way down the wooded driveway you are entering a course that is in total seclusion from the outside world.
This is a tight, short by modern standards, golf course where accuracy off the tee is paramount over the distance hit. Strategic play is key.
The 1st tee gives you a great visual across the property and you can see the 2nd, 16th, 14th, 13th, 17th and 18th holes in front of you.
The new Greenskeeper appointed in 2019 has made some significant improvements already, not only to the fairways, providing greater definition, but also the bunkers where sand is now consistent throughout and general tidying up around the edges.
The 1st is a great starting hole which sweeps a gentle right to left downhill. Big hitters can take the corner off skirting with the woods to the left, but there is ample landing area leaving a short to mid iron to a green that slopes back to front. It is better to be short and putt uphill than be left with a tricky downhiller, which when the greens are fast can run back off the front.
The 2nd is a tough hole early in the round with oob down the left hand side and banking and trees to the right to catch errant tee shots. The green slopes front to back and stopping the ball on the green can be difficult to say the least. A par is an excellent score here
Then comes the 3rd, a tough par 3 through trees on either side and from the back tees around 185 yards where carry is generally required all the way. The par 3's are excellent at Wortley, this being the toughest of the 5.
The others are the 5th, 9th, 12th and 16th. All holes are different with the 12th being the signature hole, where you play a similar yardage to the 3rd but across a ravine, over a cow shed and between trees on both sides. Bunkers left and right also protect the green.
Going back to the 4th, again trouble is on the left with oob as you attempt to play a drive down the left hand side to avoid a bounce of the ball into woods on the right. A straight drive sets up a nice downhill shot onto perhaps the flattest green on the course. At this point you are tucked away in a corner of the course surrounded by sheep fields.
The 5th is a delightful par 3 which plays harder than it looks given a large sloping green from right to left.
The 6th is a straightforward, but not necessarily easy par 4, uphill and often into the prevailing wind, whilst the 7th, if you are playing for the 1st time you could wonder where you actually play as you tee off blind over the edge of the woods onto a downhill par. A good drive leaves a straightforward 2nd into a green which will hold your shot.
The 8th is tough. Index 1 and uphill all the way with a tree catching many a drive 150 yards up towards the fairway, trees either side, hummocks and a long green, where an extra club or two is always required. You'll be plenty out of breath walking up here.
The 9th par 3, is an excellent hole from the white tees although gorse does block a lot of the view and I would prefer to see this cut down a little so you can appreciate your shot into the green more.
Then the 10th with fantastic views across to Worsborough, Barnsley and the only par 5 on the course. Whilst on this note I do believe the course could be enhanced by lengthening the 2nd and/or the 18th into par 5's by putting the tees back on both holes.
The 11th is a gem but again an accurate drive needed as you could end up blocked out behind a tree which sometimes appears very unfair in blocking your 2nd shot. Aim right off the banking to play safe onto the green.
Then the signature 12th followed by a beautiful looking 13th which again plays longer than its yardage and again a shot up the left hand side provides a flatter stance and better access to a treacherous green.
The 14th is a straight forward long par 4 but if you make the dip about half way down the hole with your tee shot the 2nd in is much shorter and an easier approach.
The 15th plays hard with woods up the right hand side so any slice you can wave your ball goodbye. Two bunkers, aptly named spectacles guard the approach and a long false front, which you cannot see from down on the fairway means again an extra club or two required to make sure you reach the green.
The 16th is a long downhill par 3 which is open in front of you and the 17th is a relatively straightforward par 4 to a relatively fast green, before you finish your round with an uphill par 4 18th with tight landing area, punishing any shots to the left, which whilst you will find them, makes playing your 2nd shot with ball above your feet in the rough so much harder. Hummocks also on this hole and a steep uphill final part before the green means for me a bogey is a good result and a par an excellent one.
This quiet wooded parkland course is secluded - you share the fairways with pheasants - tree or wood lined and most holes you feel you are in isolation. there is nothing same about the holes and with the new greenskeeper I expect the course will continue to improve in terms of conditioning.
The course really does feel like a hidden gem and I recommend playing. The clubhouse is friendly, there is a putting green and nets outside of it and the driving range is being brought up alongside the clubhouse in 2020.