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On A565, 7 miles N of Liverpool
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Willie Park Jr., James Braid, Harry Colt, Donald Steel
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.
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 the good fortune to play at Formby this Autumn, 2018. I should say also that I played here the day after playing at its near neighbour, Southport and Ainsdale. Both were tremendous experiences, but Formby was particularly special. I have never had the chance to play the 'great' links course of the UK and Ireland, but have played at some super tracks, such as Hunstanton, Burnham and Berrow, Liphook and West Sussex. The last of these snicks into the world top 100, but in my view, Formby is significantly better. OK, I found it on a gorgeous sunny day, when 36 holes of sun-kissed golf was pure heaven, but I am equally sure that my estimation would have been the same had it been blowing a gale.
Firstly, the condition of the course was absolutely fantastic: superb tees and fairways, wonderfully maintained bunkers, and slick and true greens. In fact, I am pretty sure that it was in better condition than in the middle of the summer, when the UK sweltered through it long, hot drought.
Secondly, the welcome was warm and friendly. Booking was a breeze, getting on the course for 36 holes worked out perfectly (even though it was a busy day), and there was a great selection of food and drinks in the bar lounge for lunch.
Formby has an excellent course-matching putting green just in front of the clubhouse, nets for quick practice, a chipping area, as well as a full range area, so no deficiencies there at all.
Of course, you will be able to find out much more than can be told here about the quality of the holes. What I can say from my perspective is that I really enjoyed the varied character of the course. Some might not like the fact that there's a mixture of heathland and links in this layout, but in my view, that just adds to the enjoyment of the whole experience. The heather and pines on the first few holes start to disappear from the 5th, as you start to get into holes that snake up and down through dunes and towering pines from the 6th to the 8th. The ninth has a simply stunning raised tee, from which you can glimpse the sea in the right distance, and there are indeed some real linksy holes from the 11th to 15th, particularly the 11th itself, where you hit up from a fairway depression to a raised green nearly encircled by raised dunes.
One of the features that really stood out on this course, for me, was the bunkering. There are a considerable number of deep to very deep bunkers, both in fairways and around the greens. They wrecked the end of my second round, but, I still have fond memories of them: pure, quality sand, and the depth, shape and intimidation factor of a true links bunker. This is how bunkers are supposed to be: proper hazards that cause you to lose shots if you make the mistake of putting your ball in the wrong place. What's more, at Formby, the fairways are mostly relatively flat, so there are very few 'unfair' bounces that will carry your ball into a bunker. If you're there, chances are, you made a significant error, and will pay for it!
All in all, a day's golf at Formby is close to as much enjoyment as you can get on a golf course. I will treasure the memories for a long time. If you're thinking about courses to visit this late autumn/winter, get down there! I am sure you will still find it in superb condition, and you're sure to have a fabulous experience.
I played Formby earlier last month when two months of hot sun had proceeded my visit and baked out the course to a parched brown colour. Through a combination of these course conditions and the narrow fairways found on a selection of Formby’s holes (some of which are as little as 15 yards wide), there was a premium on accuracy. I don’t quite understand the ecological and environmental conditions that need to exist to have a treelined links, but Formby seems to stand on its own in this regard. Since this is the only time I’ve played Formby, I’d be intrigued to see how it plays in the off-season, but at this time of year every hole played like a genuine links.
Formby has a wonderfully varied layout, some holes played amongst dunes whilst others are flat and treelined with a few areas even having clusters of heather scattered amongst the rough. Train tracks accompany the opening holes whilst combinations of long and short holes of varying pars are enough to keep an amateur like me on my toes, but it’s the holes around the middle of the round that make Formby a “must” if visiting this region. The 6th is the start of this great run of holes. This is where the course really changes complexion as you start to approach the woodland. Strategic bunkering greets you along the right hand side of this hole, placed just where you want to hit your tee shot before dunes and mounds lay in front of the green making it semi-blind. The 7th, played into a meandering valley fairway that is less than twenty yards in places is a unique dogleg where the raised green sits enclosed within more sandy dunes. The 8th meanwhile is bizarre and I mean that in a positive respect, played to a table top fairway with sharp ledges on either side, it’s a par five that’s well short of 500 yards making it easily reachable in two, but is well guarded by the natural land formations that will punish an offline golf shot. The 9th is a beautiful hole played into a copse of trees and only one of probably two holes where you get to view the sea whilst the 11th also proved to be one of my favourites with a half obscured shelf-top green circled by mounds.
Whilst it probably lacks the consistency or wow factor to be a genuine World top-100 contender, it’s a very strong golf course and hugely worth fitting into the itinerary of England’s premier golfing region. For Formby represents somewhat of a hybrid between links golf and its parkland cousin making it a perfect starting point for any visitor to the Lancashire coast hoping to ease themselves into links life before taking on the more wind-exposed links courses in the area.
Having played every links in the UK and Ireland I have no hesitation in saying that if I lived in the Liverpool area I would make Formby my first choice were I to join a club in the area.
And the Ladies Course is nearly as good -just a shorter version.
I absolutely agree 100% I think it would be my 1st choice too.
An absolute gem and I’ll review it in the next few days.
I played Formby about 20 years ago and, to be honest, I'd forgotten what a good course it is. The first few holes are relatively flat and gentle, giving you no clue as to what lies ahead. Every hole asks you questions from tee to green. Most of the holes are separate entities, with no view of other holes. It played fast and firm - exactly as was intended. I boldly stated to my playing partners that they should remove 75% of the trees, which I believe would enhance the course. Heresy! Especially as the club logo is fir tree! By the way, Formby Ladies is fantastic fun; proof, if it were needed, that bigger isn't better.
My first ever time playing a links course and of course it was during 'Storm Hector'. Absolutely brutal winds reaching 50/60 mph and it was fantastic.
First 3 holes are very nice, tree lined down the right and lots of whispy rough down the left, crucial to hit the fairways or else it leaves impossible shots in. The wind was blowing hard off the left for us so end up in the trees on the first two holes then manage to find the fairway on the 3rd. As mentioned by others, the 4th is short and driveable but there is really no point, hit a 4 iron down the right and you'll have an easy wedge in.
It felt like every hole on the front 9 was into wind, the 5th, a par 3, was 143 off the tee, playing about 190, hit my best shot of the day, 5 iron to 12 inches.
8 and 9 are the two holes you get to see the sea, and you also get battered by the wind from the sea so that was pleasant.
The back 9 is also fantastic, the stretch of par 4s are brutal and, the 12th was into a strong wind, and felt like it played about 600 yards!!
The finishing 3 holes are a lot nicer, in which you can recover a few shots. The walk down 18 is fantastic with the clubhouse on the right and the green right outside of it.
Best course i've played during my short golf career so far, greens were perfect and fairways ran a mile, really enjoyed it and hope i can get back one day.
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 were 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 it 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 peril.
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.