Formby - Lancashire - England

Formby 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. 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.

Formby Golf Club was founded in 1884, originally with a nine-hole course in play for the members. In 1912, Willie Park Junior established the original 18-hole layout and it was altered by James Braid in 1922 and Harry Colt in 1933. More recently, in the 1980s, Donald Steel revised the course due to coastal erosion and extended its yardage. Today's layout now measures more than 7,000 yards from the tips.

Mackenzie & Ebert commenced a 6-year development plan for the course at the start of 2020, with modifications intended to add to the playing aesthetics with a little re-shaping and the installation of some new bunkers and new tees. Changes include widening and re-bunkering the 1st fairway, realigning the 6th fairway to make it more of a dogleg, lengthening and reshaping the 8th, and creating some dune slacks around the 16th.

Formby is a unique course as the holes are routed in a huge anti-clockwise circle around the Formby Ladies Golf 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.

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Description: Formby 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. Rating: 8.5 out of 10 Reviews: 57
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Steve Caldwell

I love this golf course, one of my favourites for sure. A tough challenge, always in super condition, makes you think of how best to tackle each hole. Pretty good value for money, excellent quality turf and golf!!!!

October 13, 2021
9 / 10
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Alex Bentley

Our group got lucky and played Formby on a bright sunny day with hardly any wind. It was a track we’d all been keen to play and we weren’t disappointed. The par 5th 3rd got it all going for us with colourful heathery rough edging the fairway and tall pines framing the green.

For the next half a dozen holes you’re in for a treat with a wonderful mix of holes of varying lengths as the course gets better and better. Our opinion was the quality drops off on the 11th a bit but only based on what you’ve just played. 16 and 17 were two fun holes and the conditioning was great all the way round. It’s a challenge but if your short game is dialled in you should score well.

The clubhouse and service at Formby is extremely friendly and helps complete the overall experience. Traditional not stuffy, classy but not brash. Some good ales too.

While waiting to tee off on the first a member had asked us if we’d played the course before. When we told him we hadn’t he proclaimed it was the best track in the area. I’ve not played many of the courses in the North West but they’ll need to be v special to better Formby.

July 05, 2021
8 / 10
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Greg Watson

So lucky to play here with a member a couple of weeks ago. The course and club oozes class, immaculately groomed and the recent subtle changes to the course for me look great. A perfect round on a mid summers evening with great company I felt so blessed.

For those yet to play this great course be sure to take the time to take in the scenery and enjoy the ambience, my advice for what its worth is choose an appropriate tee to play off to get the most out of it. Looking forward to my next round here already.

June 24, 2021
9 / 10
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Chris Wanless

The stunning Formby is unique in many ways, not least because it is a blend between Heathland and Links golf, but also because it’s routing traverses anti-clockwise around the shorter Formby Ladies Club. In fact, so good is the routing and so big is the property in which the course sits (470 acres), that despite working your way around the Ladies, you barely even see a hole.

Another unique quirk is that it is protected from the sea breeze by thick trees, but that certainly doesn’t make it any easier. The fairways play firm and fast, they undulate and contour like some of the best Links strips and when they aren’t extremely narrow, well positioned bunkering is waiting to swallow any wayward shot. The greens are firm and fast and creative shots are well rewarded here.

Formby takes you on a ride from the off. The first four holes play along a railway and you’ll wonder where this North West Links gem is. In fact, the first four holes are heathland and reminded me of Walton Heath. Suddenly from the excellent Par 3 5th, the dunes arrive, the fescue introduces itself and the trees narrow a little and you are off on your Linksland journey. Formby then throws one good hole after another at you. The 9th is a stunner, offering you a tantalising glimmer of the Irish Sea from an elevated tee box. The green is framed by trees and small fairway dunes interrupt the approach. The 11th plays through fescue clad mounds on either sides of the fairway with the green encased within circled dunes. The 13th has the best fairway on the property. It contours wickedly with 7 fairway bunkers to contend with. The 15th is another superb Par 4 with a downhill approach shot played through a narrow dune entrance. Holes 17 & 18 then return to Heathland to take you home along some huge properties, including Steven Gerrard’s, where you can see his stone European Cups adorning the top of his house.

Formby probably flies a little under the radar when it comes to his more renowned ‘Royal’ neighbours, but every tour to the North West should include this stunning rollercoaster of a course. You will not be disappointed!

For all photos of reviews, please follow Chris’ Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/top.100.golf/

June 23, 2021
8 / 10
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Phil Ree

There are a few links-heath hybrid courses but I think Formby owns its own unique piece of real estate in that group. At first glance it’s flat and heathery like Walton Heath, then some sweeping, dramatic holes like St George’s Hill, then nearly pure links land and dunes, before returning to the flatter area.

The undulations start on the 5th, with an elevated green and drop-off to the left that leaves a nearly impossible recovery. 6 has a blind approach, 7 is long, hilly, narrow and scenic, 8 is similarly so… This is not a course to have a bad ball striking day. At 6500 yards in a sea wind, it’s also very long from the visitors’ tees.

Holes 8 to 15 have the more links vibes, with fewer trees and bigger dunes. 11 may be the pick of the bunch, its dunes and slightly raised green looking like a hole at Birkdale. With all of the changing vistas and directions, it feels like an adventure, especially as it will wear you out. Only the very best will survive 18 holes unscathed.

There isn’t really a weak hole, just maybe a couple you’d say are good or very good instead of excellent. If you’re planning a northwest trip, Formby is worth an extra night.

May 27, 2021
8 / 10
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Tony Daley

Our trip to Formby golf club was part of a fantastic summer weekend earlier this year. We were lucky enough to sample the delights of Royal Lytham & St Annes dormy house and the dormy house at Formby. Whilst the accommodation at Formby can’t quite live up to the newly kitted out Lytham, the experience of staying in the stunning clubhouse and playing this brilliant course is one that will stay with me for a very long time.

The course itself is a blend of styles. The first few holes play down parallel to the train line and are framed by tall pines. Heather comes into play here as does the public pathway down to the beach on holes two and four. Hole five is a great par 3 to an elevated green and it is from this point that the elevation changes become much more marked. Six has a high dune to the left, the other side of which is part of the Ladies course. Seven is a fabulous, narrow par 4 played uphill between tight fir trees to a severely sloping green. A brilliant test. You turn out towards the beach on the par 5 eighth. Another elevated green which is a tough test.

The ninth is the most picturesque hole on the course. You can see the sea from the elevated tee box and it truly is a special spot. I’d have loved to have played down further towards the sea on the original layout (there is a course map of this in the bar) but this is as close as you now get. The back nine is more traditionally links-style. Some tough holes play between the dunes, especially when the wind gets up. The fourteenth was a particular highlight – another elevated tee shot with the clubhouse in the distance. The par three sixteenth was also a cracking hole.

All in all a truly special course which, whilst not quite in the same league as Royal Lytham, I would play again in a heartbeat. The famous snooker room is also worth a look-in if you get the chance.

December 26, 2020
8 / 10
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tamas

A links / heathland hybrid course. The front nine looks very much like classic heathland. The links giveaway, stepping on to the first tee, was the strong left to right breeze off the sea, with a host of fairway bunkers and out of bounds down the right side. The second follows a similar formula, but after these two opening exposed holes, the remainder of the front nine moves more into the trees, with the holes set between avenues of pine and birch. I really enjoyed this undulating section of the course.

When you climb up to the elevated 8th green with its tricky fall offs (beware of a back pin!), you get your first glimpse of the sea. The 9th then plays from an elevated tee and feels like a proper links hole, heading straight towards the sea and into the wind.

The 10th then plays back away from the sea, although the back nine is flatter, more open and definitely has more of a links feel. The wind played a greater role and careful navigation was required to avoid the round pot bunkers scattered across the fairways.

Formby has a friendly closing stretch which enables you to finish on a high: 16 is a short and fun par three measuring only 127 yards, which tests your distance control with a short iron into the wind. 17 is a par five under 500 yards, downwind this is a real birdie opportunity. Then 18 is a longish par 4 but is fairly open and with a favourable wind, a good drive down the left opens up the angle into the green.

Formby doesn't have a royal prefix, but the magnificent clubhouse is packed with its illustrious history, including pictures of the old holes by the sea which were lost to coastal erosion. Apparently, many Liverpool and Everton legends live nearby, and Formby is definitely in the premier league of English golf courses.

December 01, 2020
9 / 10
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Will

I played Formby back in June on the hottest day of the year, on a perfect day on which you are lucky to play a links style course. However whilst Formby is often described as a links, you are never really next to the sea and the only real sight you get of water is on the 9th and 10th tees, which both provide a beautiful panorama across the course to the dunes and sea beyond. Upon arriving at the club you become very aware that you are somewhere steeped in much history - the famous clubhouse (that we were not allowed to enter due to COVID) is imposing and stands adjacent to the 18th green - I had seen pictures before of many great championships hosted here with the clubhouse in the background, but in the flesh it truly is something to behold. The golf course here is nothing short of sublime and in an area blessed with great courses, I could only believe that it is tough to get any better than this. I haven't yet had the opportunity to play at any of the other 'big' courses nearby but if they are all on a par with (or, alleged to be better than) Formby, then the West coast of England must truly be the golden triangle of links golf in the UK. This is a tough golf course, no question, and it is easy to see why the course has championship pedigree - hosting the Curtis Cup, the Amateur Championship and the Female Amateur Championship previously. Bunkers are the main defence of the course as well as its length (the course is over 7000 yards from the tips). I was fortunate to play on a still day but I can imagine the wind could wreak havoc if it were to really get up. I won't go through a hole by hole review here but I would have to give notable mentions to the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th holes which are brutally difficult but equally stunning, as well as the 16th hole which is an absolute gem of a par 3; short but well protected by deep bunkers, it is the epitome of a classic links par 3. The 18th too is a great finishing hole and putting for the last time under the watchful eye of the clubhouse, I paused and reflected on what a great day's golf I had just had. This is indeed a very special place to play golf and worthy of a 5.5 rating, minimum. Top marks all round and *definitely* include it in any West coast golf trip.

September 23, 2020
9 / 10
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DG

My brother and I played two rounds at Formby in early August and stayed overnight in the dormy house and thought the course and the club were both wonderful. The condition of the course from tee to green was excellent, in particular the surrounds of the greens.

Formby starts with three holes close to the railway line on fairly flattish land. From the 1st tee it is evident the golfer is rewarded for accurate driving, needing to thread drives through well-placed fairway bunkers. The short par 4 4th has five fairway bunkers guarding entrance to the green. The par 3 5th hole sees a change in direction and heralds the start of a run of holes with much more movement in the land. The par 4 6th requires two good shots to find the green. I particularly liked the 7th which is a dog leg right to an uphill green. The 8th is a par 5 with a wonderfully challenging drive. From a raised tee the player must land on a strip of land reminiscent of the deck of an aircraft carrier with the deck being at an angle of maybe 30 degrees left from the tee. Hit a good drive and you can go for the well-contoured green. After the short 10th you effectively turn for home and the land becomes slightly flatter again. The stretch from 13 to 16 is the best part of the back nine in my opinion with a little more movement in the fairways on the 13th, 14th and 15th which are strong par 4s and the 16th is a lovely little par 3.

I thought Formby was an excellent golf course and a very nice club too. Strongly recommended and I would certainly return.

August 23, 2020
8 / 10
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RM61

Formby is somewhat over shadowed by the famous Open courses nearby but I feel is a little unfair. It is unusually tree lined for a links course and the turf feels a little softer than a true links.

The course eases the player into the round although the first hole requires accuracy from the tee to avoid the bunkers but the approach it is pretty straight forward. The 2nd again is all about avoiding the bunkers off the tee although missing the green will test even the best of short games. Hole 3 is reachable in favourable conditions and the placement of your approach shot to this two tiered green is important to giving the player a chance of a birdie. The 4th is a fun short par 4…if you fancy having a pop at the green you had better be accurate otherwise you could run up a high score. 5 is cracking par three…maybe the best hole on the course with its undulating green protected by three pot bunkers…again this hole will test your short game if you miss the green. Hole 6 dog legs from right to left with bunkers lining the right side of the fairway…the green has a ridge running through it which makes putting tricky. The 7th is another great hole teeing off in the trees it feels a little claustrophobic but once the player finds the fairway they must try and keep the ball below the hole with the approach. Like 7 the 8th you tee off through the trees although this tee shot is not quite as intimidating. A decent tee shot will give the player an opportunity to go for the green which sits across the player with a tier running through it….this green falls away at the back so better to keep the approach below the hole. The 9th is a brute of a par 4 which requires accuracy from the tee once the fairway is found a long iron is required to find the green. Hole 10 is long par three protected by three green side bunkers probably one of the less memorable holes at Formby. The 11th feels more open from the tee but fairway bunkers need to be avoided if the player wants to find this bunker less green. 12 is a really good par 4 that moves gently from right to left it is imperative that the player finds this fairway as the entrance to the green is tight and guarded by a deep bunker on the left. 13 is the third in a stretch of great par 4 holes again missing the fairway bunkers are key. This green runs away from the player so aim for the front third to allow the ball to run out. I really like 14..teeing off from an elevated tee this hole dog legs from right to left and unusually has no fairway bunkers to avoid. The green is protected by three bunkers one of which is set some 20 yards short of the putting surface which will catch the miss hit approach. Hole 15 is completely bunker less and ends a strong run of par 4 holes. The green is set between two dunes has a small shelf at the back third…club selection is key to successfully navigating this hole. 16 is a cracking short par 3 guarded by three deep pot bunkers and swale short right of the green. The 17th gives the player an opportunity to make a birdie….in favourable conditions! Like many holes at Formby avoiding bunkers from the tee is key if the player wants to go for this tiered green set in amongst the trees. The finishing hole requires another accurate tee shot which needs to be threaded through the fairway traps…this long green is heavily protected by numerous green side bunkers. If you are visiting this part of the world then Formby is a must…you will not be disappointed.

April 08, 2020
8 / 10
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