Lancashire's hot-pot of golf gems

July 24, 2007
David Brice, Golf International, Inc.

The land that is home to England's Royal Family of links courses, Royal Liverpool, Royal Birkdale and Royal Lytham & St. Annes, is also home to a dozen more outstanding layouts, with a special emphasis on the word outstanding. Were these "other" courses located elsewhere, fame and attention would surely be theirs, but this is one of the world's richest pieces of linksland, where every course is described in superlatives and excellence is the norm.

Royal Lytham & St. Annes is a 10-time Open host
Royal Liverpool came back as an Open venue in 2006
Formby is ranked No. 30 in the British Isles and a unique Lancashire test
Hillside is Royal Birkdale's neighbor and of a similar high caliber
Southport & Ainsdale was twice a Ryder Cup venue
West Lancashire Golf Club keeps a low profile for such a high quality links
Hesketh Golf Club dates from 1885
Wallasey Golf Club where Bobby Jones qualified for the 1930 Open

The best of the very best receive top billing and the remainder, resigned to being overshadowed, content themselves with only a supporting role. Don't be misled, there is a greater concentration of superb courses along this brief 40 miles of Lancashire coastline than anywhere else on the globe. Many of the names will be less than familiar, but that detracts not one iota from their consistently outstanding quality and challenge.

Formby Golf Club is ranked number 30 among the top 100 courses of Britain and Ireland, according the Britain's, Golf World Magazine. This is high enough to make the course a headliner in other parts of Britain, but this is Lancashire and Formby receives the scant attention of an "also ran".

Dating from 1895, Formby's layout was originally designed by Scotsman, Willie Park, with later improvements, particularly in the bunkering department, made by the great H.S. Colt. More recently Donald Steel has added length, bringing the layout to more than 7,000 yards of penalizing excitement.

The blend of links and heathland, sand dunes and tree-lined fairways, make Formby quite unique and well worth playing. It's easy to understand why this is regularly used as a qualifying course for The British Open and a much sought after venue for top amateur events.

Hillside Golf Club is another championship layout in its own right, forced to play second fiddle to its prestigious next-door neighbor, Royal Birkdale.

Sharing the same sand dunes as its auspicious neighbor, Hillside remains one of the most under-rated courses in England, a fact that is hard to imagine considering it holds a ranking of number 40 in all Britain and Ireland. This layout should be at the very top of any visitor's list of must plays in the region.

Fairhaven Golf Club is yet another overlooked gem deserving of far more attention than it receives. This is a James Braid design dating from the 1920's, brimming over with Lancashire character and a no nonsense, pureness of style that results in a top quality links and an exciting round of golf.

Southport & Ainsdale is one more local golf club overshadowed by its towering neighbors and this, despite the fact that it has hosted The British Ladies Open and even The Ryder Cup, not just once, but twice! This elegant layout is one more from the drafting board of the great James Braid and shouldn't be ignored.

Just a few miles from Royal Liverpool is the wonderful downland course belonging to the Caldy Golf Club. Anyone looking for a pleasant change of pace from the often grueling test of Lancashire links will be hard put to find a more pleasing layout.

From the picturesque rolling hills of the inland holes to the links-like character of the seven holes that skirt the shoreline, this is a layout filled with variety and the assortment of challenges come thick and fast -- mature trees, perilous rough, water, sand and of course, the omnipresent wind blowing in from the Irish Sea.

The West Lancashire Golf Club, located midway between Liverpool and Formby, is a links that has mysteriously managed to avoid hosting much in the way of major tournaments, yet it measures up in every way to other courses in the area.

Hesketh Golf Club, founded in 1885 is the oldest club in Southport and a delightful combination of links and parkland with one of the most memorable finishing holes you will find in these parts. Another layout deemed to be good enough to be used as a British Open qualifying course when The Open is being held at nearby Royal Birkdale.

And there are more -- Wallasey Golf Club, an original design from Old Tom Morris with improvements made by James Braid, is a links layout that can't fail to please. This was the home club to Dr. Frank Stableford, who developed the Stableford points system of tournament scoring.

Formby Hall, St. Annes and Heswall, round out the list of 15 excellent golfing opportunities that share this brief 40-mile stretch of coastline.

You could spend a month on this blustery coast and still not have time enough to play all of the outstanding courses that demand to be played once, then call out to be played one more time. With so many highly ranked courses located so conveniently close together, England's Golf Coast is a golfers heaven that no aficionado of the game should miss.

For suggestions on playing some of Lancashire's outstanding courses, click here.

© 2007 David Brice / Golf International Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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