- +44 (0) 1704 872164
On A565, 7 miles N of Liverpool
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Willie Park, James Braid, Harry Colt, Hawtree and Taylor, Donald Steel
Formby Golf Club is the prettiest of the eight top-notch links courses located between the seaside town of St Annes and the city of Liverpool. It is bordered on three sides by pine trees, giving the links a decidedly softer, heathland feel than the others. Set in 470 acres on a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Formby Golf Club is one of the few places left in England where you might catch a glimpse of the native Red Squirrel.
Founded in 1884, originally as a nine-hole course designed by Willie Park, and it was extended to 18 holes by the turn of the century. James Braid and Harry Colt remodelled the layout in the 1920s and Hawtree and Taylor added their changes in the 1930s. More recently, Donald Steel lengthened the course and it now measures 7,028 yards from the tips.
Formby is a unique course as the holes are routed in a huge anti-clockwise circle around the Formby Ladies’ Club which sits slap bang in the middle of the men’s course. The first three holes follow the railway line, the 4th turns and heads out towards the Irish Sea and at the turn, we meander back home, zigzagging up and down along the way.
Play Formby when you have been sufficiently beaten up by the other windy links courses around Liverpool and Southport, but don’t be fooled into thinking that this course is easy. It certainly is not. Bunkering is strategic, the undulating fairways are very much links-like, the rough is strewn with heather and the pines provide an element of park-like protection from the wind. Formby will suit both links lovers and the player who prefers the softness of inland golf; both these camps will arrive contentedly at the 19th watering hole.
Formby has hosted a number of important amateur events over the years and played host to the 2004 Curtis Cup. After an exciting finish, the United States successfully retained the trophy, winning 10-8. The Amateur Championship was played here on three occasions; José Maria Olazabal emerged as the 1984 winner and the event returned in 2009 to coincide with the 125th anniversary of the club. A certain sixteen-year-old Italian, Matteo Manassero, won the 2009 Amateur Championship, becoming the youngest ever winner of the event.
In Bernard Darwin’s book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles, he wrote: “The greens are beautifully green; they are likewise very true and keen enough, without ever being bare and hard. The lies, too, are excellent, and it is altogether one of those courses where the player’s fate is entirely in his own hands. If he plays well everything will conspire to help him on his way, but he has got to play really well – good, sterling, honest golf: there is no mistake about that at Formby.”
This is a relatively unknown course, primarily because many golfers head in droves towards the three big Royals in this area (Liverpool, Birkdale and Lytham St Annes). If you are planning a trip to the northwest and haven’t already played Formby, we thoroughly recommend that you do. You will get a warm welcome and a unique and exciting experience.
I had visited Formby GC in 2014 nd walked some holes but had not played it. I went to the area again in early June and again missed it, but this time during The Open it was the moment to go there and experience it. I had received many good reviews and comments about it, but just needed to play it myself and really taste it. It is very close to Hillside and Birkdale, which usually gives you the same climate and wind, although here the piece of land is maybe more ondulated and tree lined in the front 9 at least and final 2 holes.
We played in a rainy day, which usually makes it a little bit nasty with literally puring rain when we played holes 12-15, but in the end after a very bad forecast we could complete the round and watch The Open at the Club House having lunch, which was really great.
About the course ... the first nice touch is to arrive to the 1st tee and have starter in jacket and tie welcoming you and giving the basics of the Club anb the Course to make it more enjoyable.
The course starts maybe with its 3 weaker holes, plain, tree lined and with nothing really special on them, maybe only the green design and complexes were special.
Then you arrive to the first great hole, short par 4 fourth were it is mandatory to lay up, there is no need to go for it and really no benefit. I went for it and paid with a very silly bogey. Par 3 5th has a great green and the wind across which really didn't show due to trees was the challenge. Par 4s 6-7 are amazing and totally different: the first one a typical old links hole with a blind second shot over mounds and a very tall flag (at least 3.5mts) while 7 is a tree lined dog leg right with a tough approach to a hidden green where it is very difficult to find the correct line. Par 5 8th is excellent again, reminding me of 5th hole at El Desafío in Argentina, where placing the tee shot is extremely important. 9th is another of the great ones, where fairway ends at 290 yds before heading to a very nice shot to a left to right breaking green and where you have your only views of the Ocean.
The flow of par 4s from 11 to 15 is maybe the toughest part on the course, where wind, cross bunkers and greens will make it a great strech of holes to be challenged. It is then when we found the heavy rain and it was maybe the toughest part of my 10 days trip, specially 15th where blind second shot into the wind was a nightmare. The last 3 holes are kind of soft and not tough, where you can aim to recover a couple of shots you will for sure have lost in the previous holes.
As many courses in the UK it will never be as famous as The Royals, Sunningdale, Wentworth or other Tour Venues but Formby is a great challenge and very nice design. Greens rolling at very good speed even in the rain, course maintenance even better than Lytham and Hoylake. Don't miss it if you are there, it is really good.
We were fortunate enough to play Formby GC on the famed stretch of England’s Golf Coast the week of the Open Championship at nearby Birkdale.
It was a warm welcome in both the clubhouse and ProShop before finding the first of many bunkers down the left wing of the 1st hole.
Standing on the 1st green you got that feel of old school links with the Liverpool to Southport railway breathing on the green.
Links? Surely yes but there was pine trees aplenty in view from the 2nd tee and heathland to avoid when not finding the bunkers which I managed to do on the second.
Stay out of the bunkers whilst avoiding the heather and this course is playable – the par 5 third yielded two birdies and a par amongst our three ball. Do not take driver on the short 4th hole unless you are both long and straight, even then it’s the wrong club. Also on the 4th be mindful of a smelly little runoff over the green that cost our group a couple of bogeys.
The first standout hole for me was the par 3 fifth, it had Colt written all over with a typical raised green ala 5th hole on the New at Sunningdale. This picturesque short hole had sandhills holding the ground right of the green and miss it left at your pearl.
7, 8 & 9 had a different feel to them which were designed by Donald Steel in the early 80s and care must be taken to know both the best lines and run outs.
Actually the course in general had a feel of a few hands making up the course design which makes sense given, Willie Park, Braid, Colt, Taylor, Hawtreee and Steel all have had a hand in the layout.
The prevailing wind is usually off the Irish sea making the back 9 the easier of the two nine’s – NOT today!
We turned for home with a strong two club wind on the kisser and it was test off the white tees with some quality two shot par 4’s. The approach to eleven green tucked into the sand dunes was an effort!
A lover of a short par 3 the 16th came into its own at 127yds on the day. Make the green and have a good chance for birdie, find one of the bunkers or worse and its bogey at best.
What sets this links course, yes it is a links (!) apart from others in the area is the mix of majestic pine trees that run along many of the fairways. It is beautifully bunkered yet very penal and if at all possible the sand seems heavier! Don’t get greedy trying to advance your ball, take your medicine by playing out sideways and fight for your bogey like I did on at least half a dozen holes. As if the tress and bunkering isn’t enough to get you thinking the heather also comes into play making the rough a constant challenge.
By the time I had visited two more bunkers on the 18th it was time to reach for the Head & Shoulders to help get the sand from my hair, lovely showers here by the way, followed by a much needed Peroni!
A snippet of advice if I may, aim at arriving a touch early for your tee time and ask the front of house lady, Julie Strange for a tour of the clubhouse. She gave us an early feel of the great history connected to the club. It ticks a lot of boxes from Open Qualifying to Amateur championships, (won in 1984 by Jose Maria Olazabal) through to Curtis and Palmer Cups.
Formby has it all, if you haven’t yet played it I cannot recommend it highly enough – just stay out of those bunkers!
Playing at Formby was one of my earliest links golfing experiences and I will therefore always have fond memories of what is undoubtedly a hugely memorable and top quality golf course.
The course is a fair and fine test of golf and although it is set quite away from the sea, with heather and trees featuring on many holes, it’s clear that Formby plays every inch of the championships links that it is.
The routing is also unique in that the course plays mostly in an anti-clockwise direction, around the inner Formby Ladies course, and therefore, in a similar manner to Muirfield, the wind changes slightly on each subsequent hole, albeit you are not as exposed to the sea breeze as you are at other courses in the area.
Like virtually all links courses Formby plays at its strategic best when the course is firm and fast, when approaching greens from one side or another is strongly preferred. I have played Formby many times in these conditions and it can match all the other courses on England’s North-West coast, in terms of challenge, under these circumstances. It’s also certainly the most visually appealing of the many high-quality neighbours on this stretch of superb golfing coastline from Hoylake to Lytham.
My only slight niggle with Formby is that during the Autumnal and Winter months is that it plays much softer than I would prefer and is very much more akin to heathland golf.
Formby has a really nice beat to it and the course flows seamlessly, with perhaps the expception of holes 7 through to ten which do have a different feel and where the course dips into more wooded surrounds.
With three Open Championship courses in relatively close proximity Formby is often placed down the pecking order in terms of the various rankings and a visiting golfer’s itinerary but it can, and does, hold its own against all the big boys and is unquestionably one of England’s finest links.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Similar to Hillside in terms of mix of holes and landscape types with links like (mainly first few holes on the back 9), heathland and parkland holes (7, 8, 9, 10). Preferred Hillside but Formby is a very good golfing experience. I would have thought it must be on the cusp of Top 100 ! Standout holes for me were:- 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 14, 15 and 18.
Formby has always been biennially ranked within the GB&I Top 100 - lowest ranking #48 and highest #32.
Formby: This charming course was redesigned in 1980 and the routing changed, hence the player has two sorts of terrain- one open and truly links whilst the other part is in the pine forest. The opening five holes are wonderful with each fairway out in front of you inviting you onwards. After the fifth par 3 the player is taken on a journey through some dog-leg blind holes which are quite challenging including hole eight- a great par five index 1. On some holes you get a hint where to go while others leave you to do the guessing. The middle greens are now protected by staggered mounds rather than bunkers so running the ball in to the green is not an option. When you emerge from the pine trees the finishing stretch is very playable (par 3, 5 and 4) towards the fine club house which invites you home to the dormer rooms where we stayed whilst finishing our competition in the snooker room. Great designers left their marks including Park, Braid, Colt, Hawtree, and Steel although I would bury the hidden bunker short of the 6th green. Played it twice in October 2016 -rating 9 out of 10. Friendly and well worth the trip.
Having played Birkdale, RLSA and Hillside in the past few days I can confidently say that the conditioning at Formby was the best. The fairways and greens were in great touch. The course is a beauty and really does need to be played twice as the approaches to numerous green are a bit tricky and sometimes quite blind.
The fairways undulate very naturally, more so than neighbours Birkdale & Hillside and they are quite generous. On more than one occasion after pulling my tee shot I found the ball in behind a dune in either light rough or edge of fairway when I thought it would be hard to find. The rough is not as penal as neighbours as the majority of mishits should be found. Although after pushing my drive on the 8th I went looking for it and walked away with 7 balls in amongst the gorse. ( 3 Pro V1s if wondering).
The reviews below generally suggest that the opening holes and the closing holes are the blandest, probably true with the par 3 16th a weak hole. In between though there are some great links golf be played with the stretch from the 11th to 15th in 6 ball territory but overall a solid 5 putting it not that far behind Hillside and Birkdale. Warren from Australia.
The course enjoys an excellent routing and really feels like a heathland in the beginning with significant areas of heather present. Starting on the flatter section of the property the course gradually winds it’s way into some pretty wild and hilly dunes which give way to some dramatically routed holes which are brilliant. My favorite section of the course would be the stretches from 5 - 7 and 11-14. The Par 4’s 6 and 7 may have been my favorite holes. 6 with it’s green hidden in undulations and 7 which is a dogleg right par 4 with a tricky uphill approach to a sharply back to front tilted green.
I definitely enjoy the original Colt holes and would of liked to see the seaside holes that were lost some time ago. I’d highly recommend a visit to Formby and personally love to head back in the summer or fall when the course is in top shape.