Golf Article


England's Golf Coast

By Peter Hellman


There is a part of England called the Golf Coast.  This is not an area defined by a body of water (a Gulf Coast), but a stretch of coastline known by the number and quality of its golf.  England's Golf Coast stretches about 150 miles from Carlisle near the Scottish border to Chester near the Welsh border.  It is an area that includes England's Lake District, the resort town of Southport and major cities such as Manchester and Liverpool.  In addition, for golfers, it has 19 of the best courses in the U.K. 


I previously wrote about the three Royal golf courses in the area (a golf course is a Royal by designation of the Crown).  Royal Liverpool, Royal Lytham & St. Annes and Royal Birkdale also happen to be three of the four English courses on the British Open rotation.  Scotland has five.  In 2006, Royal Liverpool played host to Tiger Woods' dramatic victory.   This year the Open returns to Carnoustie in Scotland, but in 2008, Royal Birkdale plays host.


A trip to the Golf Coast should naturally include playing the Royals, but it should also include some its fine but lesser known courses.  One of my favorites is the Formby Golf Club.  This is a club with tradition and like most English golf clubs, it is private though friendly and welcoming.  Though the course is a links course, many holes are sheltered from the Irish Sea by stands of pines.  Pot bunkers add to the challenge and landing in one of these will certainly cost you a stroke.  Being in the middle of a designated conservation area adds to its beauty.


The comfortable clubhouse has walls lined with trophies, paintings and photos of past club Captains and notable players.  One of my favorite trophies is the Hippo Trophy.  Though details of its origins are sketchy (it has something to do with a member's safari), the annual competition is spirited with numerous members vying to have their names added to it.   


A visitor to Formby should seriously consider staying at the club.  The Dormy, which is part of the clubhouse, has four twin and two single rooms available at reasonable prices.   As a Dormy guest comes temporary membership in the Formby Golf Club and access to the Derby bar, dining room and snooker tables.  As a member, you may make new friends in the bar or billiard room and on the golf course, you will even have member access to the best tee times.  


One of the unique aspects of Formby is that the course surrounds a shorter course called Formby Ladies Club.  Like Formby Golf Club, Formby Ladies is pure challenge and hosted many important competitions.   Its small clubhouse sits across the parking lot and many of its all female members are spouses of the Formby Club next door.


Formby Ladies is not a powder puff golf course.  Greg Norman, after playing the course, wrote in a letter to the club, "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 7,000 yards-plus to be formidable."


It was fortunate to put Formby Ladies to the test.  After a hardy lunch of soup and sandwiches with members of the Club, we headed to the first tee with our host Jean, the club Captain.  From the tee, the first hole did not look too challenging.  The Club Captain, however, was the only one to put her ball in the fairway.  I dribbled off the tee and into the heather, which borders both sides of many of the fairways.  (I am sure it was nerves and not a lack of talent.  Now, I have always loved the name Heather and I do not think that I have ever met a Heather I did not like.  The problem with this heather was that she liked me a lot more than I liked her.  It took several attempts to escape her grasp and clear myself of her passionate embrace.  (Please do not tell my wife or the guys at the club!) 


Well, Greg Norman was right.  Formby Ladies is indeed unique, a worthy track at only 5374 yards, and though men are welcome visitors only women need apply.  However, like Formby Golf Club, Formby Ladies is more than just golf.  It is a charming club with over 110 years of fascinating history and one of the few all ladies clubs in England or possibly anywhere.  The traditions that make this wonderful game special are all evident at Formby Golf Club and at Formby Ladies.  Even the tea and cakes after our round on Formby Ladies were both delicious and appropriate.  We went next door to the Formby Golf club for our pint.