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On A565, 7 miles N of Liverpool
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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.
Upon reflection Formby left a pronounced impression on me. Variety would be the word I use for Formby, as the 18 hole layout takes you on quite the journey. Providing a great escape from reality. Looking forward to returning to the course and affirming my enjoyment of the course.
Played this during an invitational and greens were emaculate.
Really enjoyable track.
Why is Formby loved by so many and why should you play there rather than try to squeeze in Birkdale, RLSA and Hoylake into one trip?
Immediately, I can think of two reasons. (If you take the trouble of reading some of the many Formby reviews on this site, I am sure you find a few others...)
First, the variety of golf (and views) on offer during a round here is beyond what most top courses in the UK can offer. A links golf trip can become a bit same-same after a few days unless you mix it up, so Formby belongs on the schedule for that reason alone.
Second, the tranquility/seclusion on offer is of a rare quality, more often found on top heathland courses like Sunningdale and Swinley Forest. A round at Formby can probably convert most people to the links version of the game, so starting (or finishing) the trip at Formby is always a good plan, especially if you can book a stay at the Dormy House as well (have tried and failed twice, so still have that on my personal bucket list).
My recommendation is therefore to anchor any trip to the area around Formby, then add a more classical/austere links course like West Lancs and then take in one of the more "dunesy" courses (Birkdale, Hillside or S&A). An extra plus is that all of these courses can easily be reached by rail.
Would have hesitated between 5 and 6 balls before, so 5 1/2 feels right.
One quick way to assess the quality of a links course is by looking for a rail line nearby—so many great ones have one (or did as in the case of the Old Course). At Formby one needn’t look long as the Merseyside line borders the entire right side of the first hole. (Formby does lack the other telltale feature—the caravan park, but that’s about all that’s lacking here.) The course can play over 7000 yards and so can challenge longer hitters. But be sure to bring your short game as well as there’s plenty of challenge at the green complexes. The routing is a real strength as it ensured the wind will be encountered from every direction. There may be plenty of trees, but they don’t come into play and the land is clearly of the links variety, including a nice view of the ocean and the Snowdonia Mountains from the tenth tee.
Stunningly good 18 holes (and the ladies course is better than you expect) with a great variety of holes. Well worth a visit
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.