In one direction I could see Liverpool Football Club and in the other was Blackpool Tower and the Big One, the huge roller coaster at the famous Pleasure Beach. And yet, as I stood on the 11th tee at Hillside Golf Club, it felt curiously far away from the bustling big cities.
Hillside is one of the rightly acclaimed golf courses on England’s Golf Coast which stretches just over 60 miles between Royal Lytham & St Anne’s and the host of this year’s Open Championship, Royal Liverpool.
Beyond the fence on its back nine is another Open venue, Royal Birkdale and beyond the railway which runs along the opening holes is Southport & Ainsdale.
Don’t be surprised to spot a sporting celebrity in these parts – former Liverpool European Cup winner Alan Hansen was in the bar at Hillside.
Meanwhile, before I played at Lytham, ex-England Rugby Club captain and TV personality Bill Beaumont began chatting to me on the driving range. The latter was keen to hear of my experience at his club which clearly goes all out to impress its visitors.
This is the Open venue which wears the great old competition most obviously on its sleeve with some wonderful displays in its clubhouse and a particular homage to the great Seve Ballesteros.
We could feel the great man’s presence as we walked down the 17th from where he played his famous chip from a temporary car park. Meanwhile, we could also imagine Ian Woosnam’s infamous frustration at discovering he had 15 clubs while standing on the second tee in the final round of the 2001 Open.
And we tried to mimic Gary Player’s most memorable shot, a left-handed with a putter with the ball resting against the clubhouse, in the 1974 championship. We failed… obviously.
Wonderful Royal Birkdale is another course on the Open rota and this is where Jordan Spieth launched his tee shot on the 13th hole into the driving range, somehow extricated himself after a 20-minute debate about the rules and went on to win. My playing partner followed suit when we visited the wonderful old links and even though he was very very wide, he was 100 yards inside Spieth’s ball!
Royal Birkdale with its fearsome dunes was a Ryder Cup host in the 1960s while its very near-neighbour, Southport & Ainsdale was the venue in 1933 and 1937. Southport & Ainsdale tends to be in the shadow of its neighbours but a journey to England’s Golf Coast should definitely include it.
Maybe memories of the past could be rekindled by trying a stymie. This was the rule – before the days of marking - where players could block their opponent’s route to the hole and was used famously in the Southport & Ainsdale match when the Americans recorded their first Ryder Cup win on foreign soil.
The rules of golf scoring were changed forever thanks to the inspiration of one of the members of Wallasey – a corking links on the Wirral, just south of Liverpool.
It is on the long par-four second hole that it occurred to Dr Frank Stableford to create a system which meant players could still be competitive or even win, despite recording a terrible score on one or two holes.
Wallasey’s near-neighbour is one of the most trumpeted in the region and is the host of this year’s Open. The history of Royal Liverpool, aka Hoylake, dates back 154 years and is punctuated with myriad magnificent moments.
For example, on the 14th hole in 2006, when eventual winner Tiger Woods saw his four-iron shot from 200 yards hop, skip and jump into the hole for an eagle.
The most exciting development ahead of this year’s competition is the creation of a new par-three 15th (it will be the 17th at the Open). It is a mere 134 yards from the white tee but has a huge sandscape in front and a deep bunker to the left of its plateau green with the beautiful Dee estuary as its backdrop.
Having fallen foul of the left-hand trap myself, I can imagine the drama which will unfold around that hole in July.
The big-name courses speak for themselves but some might argue that the best is none of the above but can be found at Formby. Founded in 1884, it is the epitome of tranquillity and are links peppered with unforgettable holes with stunning scenery.
It is remarkable because the old course runs around the outside of Formby Ladies – a much-acclaimed track in its own right that has been host to the British Ladies’ Championship and the British Girls’ Championship.
Just to be clear, both genders are welcome on either course.
Down the road in Crosby, West Lancashire Golf Club celebrates its 150 years in 2023 and also holds a place among the UK’s top 100. When the wind blows in from the Irish Sea, there can be fewer more challenging tracks, especially with its fiendish pot bunkers.
Leading Courses is delighted to announce that rounds on all these fabulous venues can now be booked through the website.
That also includes Delamere Forest, another top 100 track, which is just outside the historic city of Chester, one of the prettiest in England. This beautiful golf course is deceptive. There isn't much heather and the fairways seem wide but I can testify that a lack of precision around the greens can be very costly.
Hesketh is also much admired – the oldest club in Southport, having been established in 1885, it has an agreement to host regional qualifying for the Open up until 2026.
Amid such fabulous history, none is more impressive than Ormskirk. A battery of Cromwell’s forces is believed to have been sited near a brook on its 16th hole before attacking nearby Lathom House.
Such tales are not uncommon in north-west England where tradition meets modern head-on and the vibrant cities of Manchester and Liverpool provide the gamut of night-time entertainment after a day on some of the most hallowed links in the UK if not the world.
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