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3 miles S of Southport
Contact in advance – not weekends
Fred Hawtree, Donald Steel
Visit Golfbreaks.com for a golf holiday at Hillside
There are eight top-notch seaside courses between St Annes and Liverpool and many people believe that this is the best stretch of linksland in the British Isles. It is certainly England’s links golfing Mecca and Hillside Golf Club is the best of the non-royal commoners.
Hillside is an underrated gem, separated only by a footpath, but hiding in the shadow of its noble next-door neighbour, Royal Birkdale. The railway line separates Hillside from Southport and Ainsdale, another superb but relatively unknown links.
Today’s layout is very different to the original Hillside that was founded in 1911. The club acquired some new land in the 1960s and Fred Hawtree extensively remodelled the course, making major changes to the back nine. The front nine has always been highly regarded and plays over relatively flat ground, but it’s the homeward nine that is really special and is frequently bracketed alongside Ballybunion because the holes ripple and undulate through the giant dunes.
There are many strong and individual holes but it’s the 11th is a hole that has everything going for it, a reachable par five of just over 500 yards that doglegs left; the elevated tee provides a panoramic view of the hole in play and many other holes too, not only at Hillside but also at Royal Birkdale and Southport & Ainsdale. A well-struck drive to the dune-flanked fairway will tempt the big hitters to go for the raised green in two, but watch out for that cavernous bunker lurking on the right.
Although Birkdale is a regular Open host, Hillside has staged numerous major events, both amateur and professional. In the 1982 PGA Championship, Tony Jacklin tied with Bernhard Langer. Jacklin went on to win at the first play-off hole; this was to be his last professional title and Hillside’s most recent major event.
I have been waiting 8 months to play the course and the climate was very bad that day. Havy rain the first 3 holes, more rain but lighter until 9 and then it went down until not rain the last 4 holes, but we were already very wet!
It was a sort of disappointment not to be able to enjoy it better and take more pictures, but I was able to admire and confirm that the back 9 are some of the nicest links golf holes in the UK, specially both par 5s and par 3 10. But despite this I enjoyed a lot the round and have to highlight par 4 6th, par 3 7th, the great 11th and 17th-18th for a really grand finale.
Club House is not as traditional as maybe Lytham or Hoylake, but there is charm as in most of the UK courses.
I am so lucky I will be back during The Open week and hope to be able to type a deeper review and share better pictures!
Played on a lovely sunny day with light winds which always helps the experience. Nice gentle start which I support as a good design feature. Holes 2 and 3 use the stream nicely rather than punitively. The 6th is an excellent dog leg left par 4. Although not a great fan of trees on golf courses generally, the pines in the background frame the par 3, 7th hole beautifully. 10 is a stunning par 3 into an amphitheatre of dune and trees. 11th is a dramatic downhill par 5. Not keen on the water hazard on 12, a little too manufactured. 13 and 14 remind me a “Birkdale” holes where dunes surround the fairways. The finish of 16, 17 and 18 (par 3,5,4) are very tough. In my view 18 is the best hole on the course with the slight move to the right and a vivid bunker complex on the right framing the hole beautifully. In summary, a really good golf course with a brilliant variety of holes, landscape and design.
Wow.. What a fantastic course. Played in some of the worst weather you'll ever get but still enjoyed the brilliant layout. As you step on the 1st tee you realise you're in for a treat. The railway frames the left side of the opening 2 holes. The front 9 is relatively flat but still very challenging. The 7th a great par 3, well bunkered small green framed by the huge dunes and pines behind the green. The back 9 really does live up to expectations as being one of the best in the UK. The 10th a stunning short par 3 surrounded by deep pot bunkers, huge dunes and forest on either side. You then step onto the 11th, a beauty of a par 5 from an elavated tee where you hit into a valley, then up the hill to a sloping green framed by the dunes and pine forest. The 13th to the 18th are where it really gets challenging. Each hole framed by the 30 foot high dunes, sweeping doglegs, elavated tees and well bunkered greens create a fun/fair challenge. As for the condition of the course it was sensational for November, greens running fast and true, fairways firm and fast. The final 2 holes border it's famous next door neighbour Royal Birkdale, as you step on top of the dunes at the 17th green, you realise you are standing in the middle of a golfing Mecca! Hillside really is an underrated gem and I would highly recommend to all links lovers to play it!
Great course, a quarter of a ball behind Birkdale therefore rounds up to 6 balls. Friendly pro shop gave Hillside an immediate advantage. The course is a well conditioned, beautiful course. Much has been said about the back 9 being the superior, which is true, but the front 9 is still excellent golf. The rough was usually manageable, penal to the point of usually needing to club down a few to get it back to safety but not endlessly looking for balls. The 10th hole is a fantastic short par 3 that is a gateway to the magnificent back nine. If you have the time seek out the back tees, in one case about the size of a pool table (15th?) as the views are great and adds another dimension to a few holes.
A nesting bird had a lucky escape on the par 3 16th. I pulled my long iron into the deep rough on the side of the hill, pin high, and as I had a quick look for it in the knee high rough (atypical of the entire course but in patches), swiping away with my wedge, I almost took its head off but stopped short just. I apologised profusely and left her to it and my pro V.
The size of the dunes are noticeably larger than Birkdale and approaching Cruden Bay in size. I haven't played the likes of Trump, Portstewart, Enniscrone yet so I'm sure there are bigger out there but I walked away impressed. Hillside has joined Western Gailes, Old Course, Cruden Bay & Birkdale as my 6 ballers in amongst the 56 links courses I have played. For relativity 5 ballers include Rye, RCP, Formby, Lytham, Carnoustie. Warren from Australia
We had a very enjoyable round at Hillside, a friendly club in great location.
The par 3's are probably the best collection that I have played and even at some remove the highlight of the round, still a benchmark for other courses that we play
Coming onto the however, of course there was a however, for me the relative quality of the short holes is similar to Muirfield.
You can have too much of a good thing. In this case the long-ish par 4's in the back 9 snaking through high dunes.
They would be marvellous if leavened with a bit more variety but somehow felt like a bit of a slog when so many other lesser courses would be enlivened with just a couple of them.
Recommended, but only if you haven't played Birkdale yet.
Don't believe the hype that this is a cheaper (although much less so recently) yet equal quality alternative.
I was lucky enough to tee it up here last week for the third time in the last ten years. I know the two nines constitute something of a contrast in styles but I think they blend together beautifully.
On the front nine, I was pleased to reacquaint myself with the sneaky ditch crossing the 2nd and 3rd holes, the fairway that cuts through the sand hill to the green on the 5th and really pretty greensite flanked by trees on the par three 7th.
The back nine just raises the whole playing experience to another level, right from the off at the short par three 10th, with its wonderful back to front titled green. I loved the par four sequence that starts with the right doglegged 12th and ends with the left doglegged 15th then the closing hole with its elevated tee position and three fairway cross bunkers that have to be avoided.
I know there are some golfers (of the “hard to please” variety) who write about the bulldozed fairways on the back nine – remember, it was the same architect who laid out Royal Birkdale in much the same manner – but I think such criticism is just a bit churlish, considering the quality of a finished product that appeals to just about everybody who plays here.
I observed a few simple improvements around the course, like cultivating marram grass around some of the greens and sprigging some of the raised tees with gorse on the front nine. I also noted that fairways were now mown in two halves, rather than with the old striped pattern that was used before. Overall, playing conditions were as firm and fast as you could wish for so the club is obviously presenting its link credentials as best it can.
I also noticed the latest clubhouse development, where a new balcony has just been created at one end of the building, which will obviously be a big hit when we eventually get some decent summer weather. Hillside is certainly more of a cultured track than a raw links but it’s a course that many would be glad to play regularly as a member if they lived in the area.