The Best Golf In England
By Peter Hellman
What countries do you think of when you're creating your short list of places to visit on your golf vacation? I'll bet a mulligan Scotland and Ireland are on your list. But England, does it even make the cut? Probably not!
England has the reputation of being the haughty neighbor of the "home of golf". Its courses tend to be private and the stiff lipped club secretaries protective of their traditions and privacy. Encouraging visitors has not been part of any club secretary's job description. How sad, how truly sad! For years golfers have been denied access, if not in fact at least by reputation, to some of the greatest golf available anywhere.
Well I have news! Wonderful news! There is a new attitude among many English courses and you are the beneficiary. On a recent trip I found these stately traditionally private club house doors open, welcoming and eager to show off their outstanding courses. On my trip during the later part of April 2007, I played three of England's finest Royal courses that also are British Open Courses. I also played Formby Ladies Golf Club a fabulous test of golfing skill. ( I plan to write more about it in an upcoming article.)
First, I played Royal Liverpool, the site of Tiger Wood's 2006 Open triumph and Bobby Jones 1930 Grand Slam. I played it on the day I arrived. (I believe in staying physically busy on the arrival day. Staying up until my regular bedtime makes acclimating to the time difference much easier.) Unlike at Tiger's 2006 Open, it rained and I used my woods. If you remember the tournament, the course was parched and Tiger used his irons almost exclusively.
Next came Royal Lytham & St. Annes. It's the site of two Ryder Cup tournaments and ten Open Championships including David Duval's last big victory in 2001. The course is quite unique in that the course has 197 bunkers, starts with a long par 3 and has a public walkway/bike path crossing the 4th and 15th fairways.
Finally, there is Royal Birkdale, voted the best golf course in Britain. It is the host club to the 2008 British Open and to eight prior Opens and is the kind of course that if God were a golfer, He would make Royal Birkdale heaven for His very best and most pious players. Like all British Open courses, this is a links course (built on the sandy soil near the sea) but unlike Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Royal Birkdale has hundreds of high sand dune hills that punish slices and hooks but rewards even the "unpious" golfer with beauty and pure fun. .
There is even better news to share. Surrounding these Open gems are many lesser know courses of exceptional quality. Take the Formby Golf Club, site of the 2004 Curtis Cup or Hillside Golf Club an Open qualifying course with a back nine that Greg Norman described as the best nine holes in Britain and the finest links course never to have hosted an Open Championship. Hesketh Golf Club and Southport & Ainsdale Golf Club are two other private clubs with fabulous golf and open doors. Wallasey Golf Club, which was home club to Dr. Frank Stapleford the inventor of the Stapleford Scoring System, and Caldy Golf Club are but a few other worthy course near Royal Liverpool.
Well, if the quality of the golf and the friendliness of the invitation to play are not enough to get you to try English golf, here are some more things to consider:
1. The area is easy to get to. There are daily direct flights to Manchester, England (close to the courses) from several US gateways.
2. You can play Royal Liverpool just like Tiger did, but with a few more strokes.
3. You can tell your friends how you played Royal Birkdale when you watch the British Open on TV in 2017.
You can visit the Beatles Museum in Liverpool.
All this means that it is time to rethink your list of international golfing destinations and put England and particularly the Liverpool area at the top. You will find the best of Scotland and Ireland in England. See you there.