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: 60
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Mark Lawrence

Formby has a lot of of outstanding holes. We really didn't know much about it before adding it to our itinerary and were so pleased we did. A bit of slow start as the 1st feels very ordinary. The 2nd I liked even though visually it doesn't pop but the course keeps building and really gets the blood flowing at the 6th.

Some terrific driving holes but nothing particularly easy or too difficult. One thing I really appreciated was that a few bunkers had clearly been filled it. Yes!! Almost every golf course in the world would benefit from filling in some bunkers. Not all of them, just the excess of which there are many.

Anyway, Formby has made that bold move and filled in a few which is great. Mind you the course still has plenty. Towards the end of the round things flatten out and become less memorable but still a top notch course and one we really enjoyed. Much more so than a number of its better known close geographical cousins. For a good practice round you can also play Formby Ladies which is contained within Formby. It has some fine holes of its own and the Ladies Clubhouse serves a mean cup of tea and cake.

June 13, 2022
7 / 10
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Dan

Top notch golf! Tees and greens in great condition and love the strategy presented to you on each hole. Must play!

April 29, 2022
8 / 10
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Michael Potts

Knowing someone who is a member of Formby is like knowing the lottery numbers the day before. I had the good fortune of being invited as a member’s guest to Formby recently. Reading the reviews on this site had me so excited on the first tee I could barely take my club away. There is one word to describe Formby and that is ‘class’. This was my first foray onto one of the great links courses in the north west and I was not disappointed.

For the time of year, the conditioning was sublime, tees were great as were the fairways. The greens were superb for the time of year (January) and ran very true all day. The standout feature for me though was the bunkering and trust me I can comment on them as a visited the vast majority of them. There are a considerable number of bunkers at Formby and each one is kept in immaculate condition. There was a lot of work going on, on the course and a lot of this centred around the bunkers they looked like they were renovating a few and adding yet more in! I cannot wait to return and see how this work benefits the layout. Some of the greenside bunkers are very deep and I am sure for some absolute card wreckers they are what bunkers should be penal and accrual hazards, too often bunkers are placed without much care and attention to how it might alter or affect the layout and the way the hole is meant to be played at Formby this couldn’t be further from the truth. Talking to my playing partners the new bunkers have made a significant improvement on the course.

Formby starts with three holes running along the rail line these are a gentle introduction to the round, miss the bunkers off the tee and you should score well. The third plays right up into the corner of the property where pines flank the whole right-hand side and the back of the hole framing the hole nicely. The 4th is a short par 4 that you really don’t need to go for as it a decent drive and flick and represents your first real good chance of an ‘easy’ bridie. The fifth is a lovely par 3 playing up hill to a sublime green complex that meanders and weaves along the crest of the hill. It is here you start to appreciate the beauty of Formby as you can see right through to Formby ladies signature par 3. I believe efforts have been made recently to enable golfers to take in more of the two courses visually through the clearing of trees some of the thousands of trees that are present at Formby. It is here that I realised why the courses logo is obviously a pine tree. The 6th starts a run of simply brilliant holes to finish the front nine. Strategic bunkering lines the right-hand side of the fairway ideally where you’d want your drive to finish up so hug the left hand otherwise a par will be tough to come by. Dunes and mounds make the second shot semi-blind (take an extra club) to a ridged green. The 7th absolutely wrecked my card, its a great hole. You play your drive into a valley fairway miss it and you are in trouble; in places it is less than 18yards wide. The approach shot is played uphill into an amphitheatre green surrounded by dunes. Come up short and your ball will roll some 30-40yards back down the hill. Ideally you want to be below the hole as anything past the hole can leave a tricky putt as the green slopes. The 8th will be a hole that divides opinion. I liken the fairway to a small aircraft carrier hit the middle and you will be fine, offline however and your ball will fall off the sharp ledges and the rough can be very punishing. The approach is guarded by natural land formations which will punish an offline shot, the green is a tricky two-tiered green. The 9th in my opinion is probably the toughest hole on the property. It requires two very good shots to get near the green, we played it into the prevailing wind which made this completely impossible, most will want to play this as a par 5 and will be happy walking off with a five! You also get your first glimpse of the sea on this hole.

The back 9 has a more linksy feel. 10 is a lovely par 3. Hole 11 with wind behind should be a good chance at birdie if you miss the fairway bunkers. 12 has a behemoth of a bunker end up in here and you might need a bucket and spade! From the 13th tee all’s you can see is bunkers. Personal highlight here for me was off the slightly shortened winter tee I managed to hit the green and tap in for eagle. Reading the reviews on here not many seem to be a fan of the short par 3 16th. However, I am a firm believer that a good little un beats a good big un and I thin this is a great hole. Hit the green and you might come away with a reward, miss the green though and some of the deepest bunkers on the course await. 17 provides a good chance at birdie, with some new bunkers going in this might not be the case soon though. Hole 18 provides a nice finish to the round, just beware the green is massively long I had a put of some 75ft!

Overall, I loved Formby. Yes, it doesn’t have a royal prefix so that sticks it in many eyes under its more well-known neighbours however its conditioning is brilliant, and it provides a very good test of your golfing ability. I like the fact it has a bit of variety with the fir trees and links hybridity and the many course designers who have put their own stamp on it over the years give it a unique feel. I think it is an absolute must to include it in a west coast golf trip! The clubhouse is magnificent and the reception we had was very welcoming. I definitely recommend the club sandwich. One thing of note which I love is the ball marker. I am an avid collector of ball markers, and I must say that Formby’s is one of the best. The simple fir tree logo looks stunning on the black enamel, it also has an incredible weight too it giving it a great feel of quality.

February 27, 2022
8 / 10
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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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