From Royal Lytham & St. Annes in the north to Royal Liverpool (Hoylake) in the South, England’s Golf Coast offers one of the most exceptional golfing experiences you are ever likely to find. Every few years the golfing world descends on this small stretch of the Lancashire and Cheshire coastline when one of its three Open Championship venues of Royal Birkdale, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham & St. Annes plays host to golf’s oldest major championship. Together they have hosted The Open Championship on 33 occasions, most recently in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, where Jordan Spieth was crowned the Champion Golfer of The Year. Notable winners of The Open Championship in England at these three venues include Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros, Bobby Jones, and Peter Thompson. Bobby Jones won at Royal Liverpool during his grand slam year of 1930 and a couple of decades later while in the process of winning 4 Open Championships in 5 years, Peter Thompson notched victories at Royal Birkdale in 1954, Royal Lytham & St. Annes in 1956 and Royal Liverpool in 1958.
It is easy to focus solely on the three royal courses, but you will not have to scan much further down any ranking list to find a string of excellent courses that are situated on this fantastic piece of golfing terrain. In fact, seven courses on England’s Golf Coast are currently ranked in the top 100 courses in the UK & Ireland. In a recent poll of over 240 golf course architects from 28 different countries, four courses within England’s Golf Coast were ranked in the top 80 in the world. This is no wonder, as for any aspiring golf architect a visit to this area of England’s north-west is almost a pre-requisite to learn from the greats such as Old Tom Morris, Harry Colt, James Braid, George Lowe, Herbert Fowler, JH Taylor, and Fred Hawtree.
England’s Golf Coast can undoubtedly claim a rich golfing heritage beyond the Open Championship. Over the years, they have hosted about every major event in the British golfing calendar including The Ryder Cup, The Walker Cup, The Curtis Cup, The Senior British Open, The Ladies British Open, The PGA Championship, The British Amateur, and The Brabazon Trophy. In May 2019, another first will be achieved, with the British Masters being played at Hillside GC, hosted by local lad Tommy Fleetwood.
England’s Golf Coast starts in the north with Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club. Nestling between two busy seaside resorts, it is one of the most unique courses in the rotation of the British Open. Despite being set within the confines of a Victorian housing estate, it is a links in every sense of the word, with sandy soil and the wind blowing in from the Irish Sea. 1926 was a significant year for the club, not only did it host its first Open, but King George V gave his approval to adding the word ‘Royal’ to the club’s title just in time for the championship to start. The legendary American, Bobby Jones, won the 1926 Open before going on to win the Open twice more and also claim the amateur title. The course opens with a Par 3, the only major championship course to do so. The first four holes and the last five are said to be amongst the trickiest in Britain. Holes 16 to 18 have produced some of the most memorable moments in major championship history, 16 being the scene of Seve’s famous ‘car park’ shot in 1979. Standing behind the 18th green, the grand Victorian Clubhouse, with its oak-paneled dining room, offers a haven from the elements. It is a place to soak up the history of previous championships and admire the skills of the past and present golfing heroes. An evening spent in the dormy house followed by breakfast in the Clubhouse overlooking the 18th green is a treat for any golfer.
The Southport area is home to the most significant collection of courses within England’s Golf Coast, including the venue for this year’s Senior Open Championship, Royal Birkdale. The links measure 7173 yards from the championship tees and although the distance itself is a test even for the most accomplished golfer, the wind, whistling down the fairways when it comes from the sea, adds to the challenge. Each hole runs through a landscape of high dunes, the fairways are flat and fair, and from the tee, there is generally a clear view of the task ahead. Each hole is memorable, from The Open Championship tees the 6th and 13th holes both measure 499 yards and are two of the longest par 4s in championship golf. The Clubhouse was built in the 1930s in a distinctive art-deco style and stood overlooking the 18th green. The large bay window in the lounge gives a spectacular view over the course, and it is the only place to be on the last afternoon of The Open.
Formby Golf Club is one of the classic courses of the Lancashire coastline. Although somewhat protected from the elements by pine trees that line several of the holes, the course is a tough one, particularly when the wind does break through. Such is the profusion of wildlife and plants at Formby that it has been declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest with the magnificent, fragile dunes a designated conservation area. Formby has hosted many prestigious national and regional amateur golf events, mainly three Amateur Championships. It was on this course that Jose-Maria Olazabal beat Colin Montgomerie to win the final of The Amateur Championship in 1984. Formby also served as a qualifying venue for this year’s Senior Open Championship.
Founded in 1896, Formby Ladies’ is the only truly independent Ladies Golf Club in Britain. Gentleman, do not let this put you off as the club offer a very warm welcome to both male and female visitors alike. While only 5374 yards in length, this Harry Colt design with narrow fairways, heathery rough and greens well protected by pot bunkers provides visitors with a unique and challenging experience. Former Open Champion Greg Norman said of Formby Ladies ‘Over a hundred years old and still your course can stand the test of time. What a beautiful course. It clearly shows that courses do not have to be 7000 yards plus to be formidable’. If that isn’t enough, the course was recently ranked the 62nd best in England by Golf World magazine.
Hesketh is the oldest golf club in Southport, established in 1885. Part links and part parkland, it is set among the Victorian villas of a residential area at the northern end of South West Lancashire’s sand dune system. The course sets a testing yet fair challenge for golfers of all abilities. It is distinctive because half of the holes nestle between sand dunes, while the others border the Ribble estuary. The closing holes, from the 14th to the 18th meander between the sand hills and the Clubhouse and provide an exceptional finish. In addition to being regularly chosen as a Qualifying venue when The Open is played at nearby Royal Birkdale, Hesketh had hosted numerous national events, including acting as co-host when The Amateur Championship was played at nearby Hillside in 2011.
Hillside Golf Club lies a stone’s throw from Royal Birkdale, amid a stretch of sand hills on the outskirts of Southport, and has many of the attributes of its neighbor. A true championship links, overhauled in the 1960s by renowned architect Fred Hawtree, Hillside is regarded as probably the finest links golf course not to have hosted the Open Championship. The club has a track record of staging some of the highest profile professional and amateur tournaments including the 1982 PGA Championship (When Tony Jacklin defeated Bernhard Langer in a Play-Off) and twice the Amateur and Ladies Amateur Championships. A regular Final Qualifying venue for the Open, Hillside has recently been chosen by the European Tour to host the 2019 British Masters.
Southport & Ainsdale Golf Club is set amongst the dunes on the North West coastline and is another of course designer James Braid’s fabulous creations. The course is a great test of golf, especially with the sea breeze, profusion of heather and gorse combining to provide you with a challenging and immensely enjoyable experience. If one had to single out a signature hole, it would be the sixteenth. This famous hole has a high hill and bunkers, lined with railway sleepers and is a cunning trap, catching poor second shots. It is called ‘Gumbleys,’ after the gentleman who spent some time in there! The club has hosted two Ryder Cup matches in 1933 and 1937 and several other prestigious championships including The British Ladies Open and The British Amateur. The club has acted as a final qualifying course for The Open Championship on numerous occasions.
The West Lancashire Golf Club was founded in 1873 and is among the ten oldest golf clubs in England. It boasts one of the most natural and testing links in the British Isles, of which Donald Steel wrote: “Only in Britain can one savor the true flavor of seaside golf, of which West Lancashire is a perfect example.” Imaginative and varied in layout, the course has so much more to offer than the only enjoyable experience of classic links with stunning views of the Mersey Estuary and the Welsh Mountains. In 1885 The West Lancashire Club, along with Royal Liverpool and Formby contributed to the cost of the Amateur Championship Trophy and in 2009 co-hosted The Amateur Championship which was won by the Italian teenage sensation Matteo Manassero, during which he set a new amateur course record of 65. The club has served as a final qualifying venue for The Open Championship on numerous occasions, most recently when The Open was played at Royal Lytham in 2012.
Crossing over the River Mersey, or most probably using one of the two tunnels, you will find the Wirral, home to the final three courses within England’s Golf Coast. Celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2019, Royal Liverpool was founded in 1869 and has had quite a hand in shaping the amateur game. The club is a place of firsts: the first Amateur Championship in 1885, the first international match between England and Scotland in 1902 and the first international between Great Britain and the United States in 1921, now known as the Walker Cup. The Royal Liverpool course at Hoylake started life as the racecourse of the Liverpool Hunt Club, set on the shores of the Dee and with the Welsh hills in the distance. As a reminder of its previous life, the original saddling bell is displayed among the memorabilia in the Clubhouse. The golf course was built in 1869 and, except for Westward Ho! in Devon, is the oldest seaside course in England. While at first appearance the links may look flat, at 6,900 yards from the member’s tees it is a stern test, and like all links courses, the wind makes its presence felt. The summer breeze can be your ally and the icy gale a ruthless adversary. All the holes require your utmost attention. The Clubhouse houses one of the most beautiful displays of golfing heritage in the world, and it is well worth adding a bit of extra time to your day to soak it all in.
The Caldy Golf Club course provides a unique blend of seaside and parkland golf. 1906 saw Jack Morris, the nephew of the famous Old Tom Morris draw up plans for the club’s first 9 holes, with the course opening the following year. The current 18 hole layout, designed by James Braid came in to play in 1931. Situated on the estuary of the River Dee, the course straddles the Wirral Way – an old railway line which is now a country park. It is a picturesque setting with breathtaking views of the North Wales mountains and a rural outlook to farmland and dales to the South. With many of the fairways running parallel to the river, Caldy offers excellent golf all year round. One of the greatest attractions of the course is the variety of the holes, with the unpredictable nature of the wind giving each hole a different character from day to day. Most recently, Caldy acted as the final qualifying venue for the 2012 Ladies British Open, played 4 miles down the road at Royal Liverpool.
Wallasey Golf Club was founded in 1891 and, with its undulating fairways and sand dunes, it is a traditional links of 6,607 yards. The club has a great history in the game, not least because this is where a club member, Dr. Frank Stableford, first developed the Stableford system of points scoring. He became a member of the club in 1914 and, aware of the frustration of high handicap golfers, after a disastrous start in a medal competition he devised his point system. The first Stableford competition was played at the Club in May 1932. Wallasey has a beautiful collection of oil paintings in the Clubhouse, including an original portrait of Bobby Jones. In 1930 Jones won The Open at Hoylake, having qualified at Wallasey and sat for the painting at the request of the artist, a member of the club. The portrait became famous across the world with copies now hanging in the R&A clubhouse and the Augusta National clubhouse. The course itself is a true test of golf, due in part to the prevailing northwesterly winds and the variety of holes, made all the more enjoyable by the natural terrain. The final four holes are among the toughest, particularly the 18th which is a great hole to finish the round.