Time to Discover England’s Golf Coast

Royal Liverpool (Image: Royal Liverpool Golf Club)

The Open Championship returned to Royal Liverpool in 2014. (Image: Royal Liverpool)

With more than 200 courses — including three Royals that feature prominently in the Open rotation — England’s Golf Coast is challenging Scotland and Ireland for the attention of North American golfers. Best to beat the crowds and go now.

 

Despite the best efforts of Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods and other luminaries who have left their marks, England’s coastline from Cumbria in the north to Chester in the south — an area so thick with outstanding layouts that golfers can sometimes walk from one to the next — is often overlooked on this side of the Atlantic.

By far the biggest draw of the more than 200 courses along England’s Golf Coast is the trio of officially designated Royal layouts — Royal Liverpool, Royal Birkdale and Royal Lytham & St. Annes, which together have hosted 32 Open Championships and are open for public play.

Fly in for a long weekend (an extended long weekend — four days at least), make the lively tourist town of Southport your home base, and start swinging the clubs.

Ideal for a post-flight warm-up round is Hesketh Golf Club, a classic links dating from 1885 that twists around the Victorian villas of one of Southport’s most posh residential neighbourhoods.

Royal Lytham & St. Annes (Image: Royal Lytham & St. Annes)

The 18th at Royal Lytham & St. Annes during the 2012 Open. (Image: Royal Lytham & St. Annes)

And just a short taxi ride south of downtown Southport is a cluster of exceptional layouts rich in golf history: Formby (host of the 2004 Curtis Cup), Hillside (site of the 1982 PGA Championship), Southport & Ainsdale (host of the Ryder Cup in 1933 and 1937), and Royal Birkdale, widely regarded as England’s premier course.

It was at Royal Birkdale, a seaside links carved through majestic sand dunes, that Arnold Palmer famously battled gale-force winds to capture the 1961 Open Championship. This was also the site of the 1969 Ryder Cup, when Jack Nicklaus graciously conceded a two-foot putt to Tony Jacklin to produce the first tie in the Cup’s history.

One of England’s most eerily fascinating tourist attractions is found nearby at Crosby Beach. Scattered across 3.2-kilometres of sand are 100 life-size cast-iron figures of people looking out to sea as if in search of salvation — or lost golf balls. As the tides ebb and flow, the sculptures by English artist Antony Gormley are gradually revealed and then submerged again.

Turn any corner along the coastline and a hidden gem of a layout or yet another hallowed links seems to appear out of the sea mist. About a 45-minute drive north of Southport is Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Surrounded by suburban housing and some distance from the sea, this constantly demanding beast is regarded as the ugly duckling of the three Royals. In 1926, the immortal Bobby Jones won the first of the 11 Open Championships played here.

But the majority of the top courses are found along the 35 kilometres of sandy beachfront from Southport south to Liverpool, a once gritty yet now resurgent port city. Liverpool’s old downtown warehouses have been converted into stylish hotels, shopping arcades, restaurants and cocktail bars.

Close to Liverpool are two more must-play links: Wallasey and West Lancashire. Laid out by Old Tom Morris in 1893, Wallasey is idyllically set on gently undulating land close to the crashing Irish Sea. And overlooking the Mersey River is the underappreciated West Lancashire, which rambles seamlessly through the humps and hollows of the most natural piece of linksland on the coast. Established in 1873, West Lancashire is one of the 10 oldest clubs in the British Isles.

Tiger Woods 2006 Open Championship (Image: Royal LIverpool)

Tiger Woods accepts the Claret Jug at Royal Liverpool in 2006. (Image: Royal Liverpool)

Even older and just as ideally situated is Royal Liverpool, the scene of Tiger Woods’s memorable triumph in the 2006 Open. Established in 1869, the usually wind-battered links (also known as Hoylake) stretches toward the Dee Estuary of the Irish Sea and the vaguely purple hills of North Wales on the horizon.

Woods, then at the peak of his game, put on one of history’s most dazzling displays of precision golf, using his driver only once in 72 holes of play in winning his third Open.

Watched by a vast television audience, Woods’s virtuoso performance is credited by golf packagers with finally putting England’s Irish Sea coastline in the vacation plans of discerning North American golfers.

Just two years later, England’s northwest coast returned to the spotlight when Padraig Harrington won the Open at Royal Birkdale. In 2012, Ernie Els hoisted the Claret Jug at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and in 2014 Rory McIlroy won his third major at Royal Liverpool.

Next up: Royal Birkdale in 2017. Best to go now and beat the crowds.

 

Comments

  1. Secretary says:

    Ormskirk Golf Club is seven miles inland from Royal Birkdale and is rated in the top 10 in Lancashire. We have held Open Qualifying events.
    Please see website http://www.ormskirkgolfclub.com.

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