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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.