For twenty years I wanted to play Formby. Since I had recently played two others high on my list to play, Formby also represented the highest ranked course in the UK I had yet play. I had also recently played with a good player from one of the top 40 courses in the UK + Ireland who told me that it was his favorite in the area as well. He also recommended to try to play Formby Ladies.
Unfortunately Formby Ladles was unavailable on the day as they were holding a competition.
As for the men’s course, I have mixed feelings about it which hopefully writing this review will help me to clarify. It is a fine course with several memorable holes and a very fun walk. But it is also an inconsistent course due to 1. the more rolling land in the middle of the course, 2. it is almost parkland at times on holes 1-4, 6-9, and 17-18, and it is links-like on the remaining holes. 4. It has a weak start and weak holes finish bracketing ten holes of high quality.
We played the course on a hot day, very little wind, and dry conditions due to a lack of rain. The tees and greens were in excellent shape. The fairways were as good as one could expect given the recent weather. They have a very fine greens superintendent and team at Formby.
I mention this because the group behind us had several of their players reach the par 5 seventeenth with gap wedges into the green on the 485 yards hole (yellow tees). On 18 one player drove the green on the par 4 listed at 384 yards but the hole was playing 400 yards due to a back pin. His ball rolled through our group on the green and came to a rest 6 feet beyond the flag. We had no issue with it as the ball landed well short of the green. Sadly he missed his eagle try. I suspect the course plays differently in the late fall/winter/early spring. So this review is influenced by our playing conditions.
The greens are interesting, never overly undulating or unfair. A few greens have tiers. The same description applies to the bunkering which is well placed, shaped and not overly deep to offer a reasonable chance of recovery. The green surrounds are straightforward. The majority of tee shots are played to a fairway with sufficient width. Straying from the fairway quite a lot will result in a likely dropped shot.
Holes one through three are essentially straight and offer a chance to get off to a good start as long as one stays away from the trees and out-of-bounds on the right. Central cross bunkers are on the first hole but should not be a factor due to being 70 yards short of the green. The second hole features double fairway bunkers on the right. The third hole, is a slight dogleg left with five fairway bunkers left is the first par 5 offering a more interesting green. The fourth hole, a short par 4 of only 311 yards has deeper heather down the right and left, 5 scattered fairway bunkers and the first angled green going left. This is also a well shaped green complex with fall-offs more to the right and rear. I’m not as effusive in praise as the reviewers regarding the fourth as my game called for a lay-up off the tee. But it’s a fine hole.
The five is the first par 3 set uphill playing 162 on our day. The two bunkers left front of the green are to be avoided. The green has fall-offs on all sides and the green is crowned at its edges. A back pin is likely a blind shot from the tee. It’s a fine hole.
The fun begins on the sixth due to the punchbowl green with approximately seventy yards of higher, rougher grounds before the drop. Possibly the only real mistake our caddie made on the day was informing us the pin had to be missed to the right as he felt it was placed too close to the left. When we arrived at the green the cup was more left center. Nevertheless all of us liked the hole and the decision one had to make with their approach shot as to length (fly it on the green or bounce it off the hill) and direction.
You walk up a slight hill to play the very fun seventh, perhaps the most memorable hole on a course with five very memorable holes. It is a somewhat short par 4 at 428/378/368 playing to a fairway that has a hill to the right and fall-offs and trees down the left. There is a rise in the fairway that you want to clear to have your ball release downhill to a plateau at which point the hole turns right and begins to climb uphill. Bigger hitters might be tempted to cut the corner but the reward is likely not worth the risk as the fairway is narrow and now there are dunes on either side all the way to encircling three sides of the green. For bigger hitters if they hit it too straight they could end up on the side of the hill that is beyond a valley with their view of the green also blocked. The green is nestled on higher ground between these dunes with a long slant towards the front contains nearly halfway into the green. There is good movement in this narrow green as well. It is a delightful hole.
The eighth is as equally fun beginning with an elevated tee over a cape-like fairway on this dogleg left. The fairway is a plateau that eventually narrows and drops before rising again to a green tucked between a higher dune on the right and a smaller one on the left. The question asked on the tee is how much of the fairway do you want to cut to gain distance. For most players the second shot has to carry a knob of higher grass and stay as left as possible as the fairway kicks right leaving a blind shot over that higher dune into the green. The green is titled back to front and to the right and has two tiers. It is a remarkable hole except for those who went left off the tee and did not make the fairway plateau have a high probability of not being penalized and actually might have a better second shot as long as they can navigate the few trees at the end of this lower ground. I did like the hole.
I loved the ninth. It was my favorite hole on the course and caps a run of four unique, difficult yet fun golf holes. From an elevated tee one sees a beautiful hole laid our below you running left then slightly back to the right. The left side has higher ground well off to the left with scattered pines trees on the flatter section. The right right side features taller grass and heather. The hole is backdropped by pine trees. This par 4 is long at 464/454/448 where the tee shot needs to thread two fairway bunkers. Bigger hitters will likely have to lay up as the fairway runs out with rougher ground filled with heather. The green sits in a vast open space with scattered dunes surrounding it but at least ten yards of short grass to the crowned green. The left side of the green has the single bunker. This hole goes onto my list of 500 best golf holes in the world.
The back nine kicks off with a long par 3 from an elevated tee. The left side features a taller dune that begins well before the green and snakes it’s way to the back. This dune can kick a ball toward the green or you can get stuck on it. There is a central bunker about 20 yards short of the green and two front corner bunkers. The green has short grass at the rear and right. The green has subtle movement. With a more interesting green surface this would have continued the run of four-five good holes.
The eleventh is a fine hole as a par 4 of 422/384/377 playing from a slightly elevated tee with scattered medium height dunes down the left side. The drive has to thread a single bunker left and three on the right at the exact point that the fairway narrows. The entrance to the green is framed by medium dunes on both sides of the entry. About 50 yards shy of the green the fairway rises to the green. The dunes continue down the left side and rear of the green with the right side having a sizable area of short grass as a fall-off. I felt this to be the best hole on the back nine.
One of my playing partners felt the twelfth to be the best hole on the back nine. You are now into the other “flatter” section of the course as the taller dunes now disappear and are replaced with smaller dunes. The green has a more slanted fall-off on the left where a single bunker awaits. If one gets their drive in the fairway the hole should be parred.
I preferred the par 4 thirteenth over the twelfth as well as I admired the placement of the five bunkers in the fairway as which three are placed inside the fairway. Two final bunkers are on the front corners of the green. The green is banked on both sides so balls can come back onto the green.
From here the holes seem much easier and less distinct. From an elevated tee the fourteenth par 4 plays to a reasonably wide fairway with gorse off to the right. A single fairway bunker is placed inside the fairway on the right about 25 yards short of the green. Two other bunkers are placed away from the green on the left. The green is placed slightly left and is on a rise with fall-offs to each side.
Fifteen is the last turn away from the clubhouse as a shorter par 4. It has the final tall dune about halfway down the fairway on the right. This hole has no bunkers. The entry to the green is flanked by smaller dunes. The green is long and raised with a back half higher tier.
Sixteen is the shortest par 3 on the course at 140/129/120 yards. Two bunkers guard the front with an additional one on the left side. The green features fall-offs on all sides and has decent internal movement. I thought to be an average hole.
Seventeen is a weak par 5 with the thick trees down the right and the two bunkers on the left . After these fairway bunkers the hole turns left. Two more fairway bunkers are scattered on the fairway but really should not be a thought. The green features a small bunker on the right front and fall-offs more pronounced on the right. The green is raised to the back with a second tier and has more internal movement than most of the holes on the course. Unless the wind is in one’s face, this hole is easy.
Eighteen has a lovely view of the side of the clubhouse and trees on the left and thicker trees on the right. The trees on the left end before the landing zone of the tee shot. Five bunkers are early on the fairway with the first three not really in play and serve more as a guide point. Two central bunkers are retention yards short of the green which then has two bunkers on each side. The green is long but disappointedly flat with a lot of short grass surrounding the green. Overall this is an uninspiring hole to finish on.
Formby is very much worth playing as it offers a good variety of holes. It has several memorable holes including one (the ninth) that I greatly admired. The weakness in the course is that it starts relatively weak for four holes and ends the same way over the final four. But in between those holes are ten holes that are very good.
Date: July 25, 2022