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3 miles S of Southport
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There are eight top-notch seaside courses between St Annes and Liverpool and many people believe that this is the best stretch of linksland in the British Isles. It is certainly England’s links golfing Mecca and Hillside Golf Club is perhaps the best of the non-royal commoners.
Hillside is an underappreciated gem, separated only by a footpath, but hiding in the shadow of its regal next-door neighbour, Royal Birkdale. The railway line separates Hillside from Southport and Ainsdale, another quality but relatively unknown links.
Today’s layout is very different to the original Hillside that was founded in 1911. The club acquired some new land in the 1960s and Fred W. Hawtree extensively remodelled the course, making major changes to the back nine. The front nine has always been highly regarded and plays over relatively flat ground, but it’s the homeward nine that is really special and is frequently bracketed alongside Ballybunion because the holes ripple and undulate through the giant dunes.
There are many strong and individual holes but it’s the 11th that has everything going for it, a reachable par five of just over 500 yards that doglegs left; the elevated tee provides a panoramic view of the hole in play and many other holes too, not only at Hillside but also at Royal Birkdale and Southport & Ainsdale. A well-struck drive to the dune-flanked fairway will tempt the big hitters to go for the raised green in two, but watch out for that cavernous bunker lurking on the right.
Although Birkdale is a regular Open host, Hillside has staged numerous big events, both amateur and professional. In the 1982 PGA Championship, Tony Jacklin tied with Bernhard Langer. Jacklin went on to win at the first play-off hole; this was to be his last professional title and Hillside’s most significant event until 2019 when the club hosted the British Masters.
Mackenzie & Ebert were commissioned to carry out course improvements in early 2020. Modifications included significant dune reconstruction on the front nine and the introduction of sand scrapes and new dunes on the 18th hole.
Hillside was a course that had escaped me before this year, and a large amount of improvement work had already taken place on the front nine ahead of my visit. But on the evidence of my solitary visit in May, the widespread critique that the back nine is vastly superior to the front nine was one I thought was largely unfounded. A huge amount of work has been carried out and seemingly no expense spared over the last two years with an attempt being made to provide more parity to the two nines.
Even from the first tee shot, the course provides an excellent challenge of your ball striking. Alongside Alwoodley and Burnham & Berrow, I now have Hillside to add to the list of England’s most intimidating opening tee shots. The tee on the 1st practically snuggles up amongst the onlooking golfers watching on from the patio. It’s also a tee shot that’s now easier on the eye since dunes have been constructed between the 1st and the 9th to improve the visuals, so you now face the daunting task of threading your drive between these newly created dunes and the railway track to the opposite side. Further dune construction has also taken place between holes 9 and 18 adding more definition to what I assume were previously deemed less striking holes.
Typical hallmarks of Mackenzie & Ebert design have been added on the par three 4th hole where sandy wasteland has been introduced whilst wetlands have been created ahead of the back tee on the 5th. Holes 7 and 8 however were my favourites amongst the front nine. The 7th is beautifully framed by a copse of trees that sit behind its green whilst my fondness for the 8th comes from how it arcs like a brush stroke against the side of the large dune that backs onto the 11th hole.
Admittedly, there is a stark contrast when you enter the back nine. I dare say it’s the most dramatic links land in all of England. It should therefore come as no surprise that the large dunes dictate the play on this returning nine as the fairways are cut through the valleys. Each hole here is beautifully isolated, and whilst it’s a shame that the fairways themselves don’t have the classic rumpled appearance, each hole is as pretty as a picture. The snaking par five 11th is often cited as the favourite hole of visitors, and it’s a gorgeous golf hole, but I did also have a soft spot for the short 10th that provides the gateway into the duneland with its raised and tilted green, embedded into the back of one of those dunes. In fairness though, you could probably pick up any of the holes between 10 and 18 and place it amongst many other links courses where it would automatically become the course’s signature hole.
Hillside’s an incredibly strong course that doesn’t always get the attention it deserves as visitors to the area go about hunting Open venues, but it should be recognised as one of the crown jewels amongst this most absurdly strong golfing region. Any golfing itinerary to England’s Northwest coast should include Hillside, and I’ll be very keen to observe how the course will be judged once the work is completed and fully bedded-in. There’s a strong football connection at Hillside with ‘King’ Kenny Dalglish and Alan ‘you can’t win with kids’ Hansen both being members; Hillside might previously have been deemed a game of two halves, but the club is now taking big steps towards scoring a worldy.
As you play the 18th hole one looks to the left and there is Hillsides illustrious bigger North West Coast Brother. Alas Hillside will always be looked upon, perhaps unfairly, in Royal Birkdales shadow. For here is one of the finest golf courses you would wish to play. It certainly isn’t particularly long and arguably requires some more length. I played it from the blue tees and it wasn’t always easy to see where the back tees were hidden. On some holes they didn’t exist.
However Hillside truly is a fabulous golf course. The back nine especially is an absolute delight to play. The par 3 10th hole up the hill then the par 5 11th with the hills either side to start. Then a walk through the pines to one of the many dog legs. It just got better and better.
Is it better than Birkdale if you take out the title of holding an Open Championship? I really don’t know… but it’s closer than one thinks!
I played this in the Robert Rock Junior tour, what a great course!!! A great variety of hazards and quite challenging. Watch out for those bunkers they are a killer... The whole experience here was great such a friendly club I would love to go back
I've been to Hillside on several occasions but each time I go it gets better. The areas surrounding the course, paths, clubhouse are all 10/10.
Yesterday the greens and bunkers were smooth despite the challenges of 2020, the fairways and tee beds were in excellent condition and the course was extremely playable for all levels of golfer with plenty of room on the fairways but well positioned bunkers to gather anything not struck well.
With a warm welcome from the shop and the bar staff as well it was a very pleasant day out.
The North West is blessed with many great courses and Hillside is up there with the best. The course is very much a tale of two halves but both are excellent in their own ways. The opening couple of holes run adjacent to the railway line which is a feature of the front 9. The 2nd is a nice par 5 which has a brook and bunkers to negotiate from the tee before threading the second shot through a corridor of bunkers to reach the putting surface. Hole 5 is another excellent par 5 asks plenty of questions from the tee, is well bunkered and demands accuracy from the players approach. The 9th is an interesting par 4 with a split fairway and a green again well guarded by bunkers. Hole 11 which many people feel is the signature hole is a brilliant par 5 teeing from an elevated platform to a fairway framed by huge dunes….this is a spectacular hole. The closing stretch at Hillside does not let up, 16 is a long tough two tired green par three with no bunkers and 17 is a majestic long par 5 playing back towards the clubhouse. The course finishes with a good left to right dog leg par 4 to a green well protected by deep pot bunkers. Hillside is very much a tactical course asking plenty of questions of the golfer. The nearer you play towards danger invariably leaves a better angle to the green but anything slightly errant could end up wrecking the scorecard.
Hillside is great. Located next door to Birkdale and S&A, it is a must play if visiting on a trip. The course is often praised for its back-nine, which is great. However, I wouldn't go as far as saying it's the "best back-nine in England" like a lot of people do. 10 11 14 16 17 18 are all really good holes, but my so are 1 2 3 5 and 7.
Don't overlook how good the front nine is. Play here and you'll have a blast.
Hillside has a much heralded back nine but I have to say that although flatter I also thoroughly enjoyed the front nine and the opening holes had plenty of interest and strategic features. I thought the 3rd was a cracking dogleg, just under 400 yards with ditch across the fairway and a well protected green with bunkers left and pond right. Also a couple of good par 5's, nice par 3 at 7, strong par 4's at 6, 8 and 9 and I think it is a very good front nine.
The back nine starts with a glorious looking par 3 and then hole 11 is just one of the best par 5's I have played, threading it's way from an elevated tee through the dunes with the occasional pot bunker and ending at a green set in front of some tall conifers. This is essentially the feature of the back nine, very much winding it's way through the dunes with isolated fairways (a bit like Saunton East), elevated tees and several dog-legs. Thought hole 13 was into the wind a brute and well worthy of being Stroke index 2. The finish is strong with a long par 3 at 16 (with two tiered green), the dead straight uphill par 5 at hole 17 once again threading it's way up the middle of the dunes, and a good dog-leg par 4 to finish.
So overall a very good front nine and an even better back nine. Hillside was for me memorable and with memories enhanced after watching the 2019 masters on TV I was looking forward to returning in August this year .. looks like I might have to rely on my memories for a while longer.
Having visited Hillside in May when the British Masters was held, I have been looking forward to returning and playing the course and yesterday I did just that, playing the course before the major Winter improvement works start on several of the holes.
And what a course this is. Right from the off you are welcomed into the excellent clubhouse and the practice facilities I thought were also excellent, with long and short game area to try and hone your game before teeing off.
The course is laid out in almost 2 distinct loops of nine. Both are of real quality, but the back nine overall stands out more for me as you head through some visually stunning holes amongst the towering dunes, many with pine trees adding greater visual attraction.
The 1st tee shot requires an accurate straight drive as the railway line tucks tightly down the left hand side and with rough out to the right. The rough throughout the entire round was penal. A good drive though sets up a par or birdie chance. The 2nd is a strong par 5, early in the round. Again an accurate tee shot is required as you have a water ditch and oob down the left and bunkers strategically placed to catch a wayward drive down the right.
The 3rd is a shorter par 4, dog legging to the right and surrounded by a brook to the front and pond to the right for any over ambitious 2nd shots in.
You follow this with a straightforward par 3 and then another excellent par 5 with the 2nd shot played through huger dunes to left and right. The wind was blowing towards the sea yesterday so the 6th was a tough par 4 back into the breeze, before you play what I think is a delightful par 3, surrounded by dunes and pine trees to the left and rear of the hole. And then you head back towards the clubhouse and half way hut with 2 par 4’s of shorter length before you enter the stunning back 9.
The 10th is a gem of a par 3, around 140 yards with again superb bunkering and run off areas. A feature throughout is the quality of the bunkering which are so cleverly placed to catch even the best amateur shots.
The 11th is the best hole in my opinion. It like most of the holes on the course is laid out in front of you and you get breath taking view of it from the high tee position. It reminds me on some of the hole styles at Hollinwell (perhaps the 17th, with pine trees surrounding the green) and it is a standout hole. You then follow it with a gentle dogleg right short par 4. I loved the 13th, again from an elevated tee with a 2nd shot back up towards an elevated green. The greens were a little bobbly but we are in mid October and they otherwise ran true and still quick.
The 15th starts a great little stretch, a severe dogleg left where accuracy off the tee is essential to avoid the bunkers placed across the fairway. A safer shot to the right leaves a long 2nd into the green however. The 16th is a tough par 3, even off the winter yellow tees with the wind blowing hard from the left and then the 17th, which we played off the back tees, is simply stunning as you look down the full 550 yards of the hole towards the clubhouse, with Royal Birkdale clubhouse also in view. A truly wonderful hole.
And then back to the clubhouse on the 18th which gives you a chance to finish your round with a par.
We long debated the ranking of Hillside after the round and compared with Ganton, Birkdale etc. We all felt that it could easily deserve a higher ranking as we all felt that this course stands up with the best of the quality links/inland links courses we played. Highly recommend
Hillside Golf Club is in the middle of the famous trio of golf courses in Southport (S&A and Birkdale). It really is a fantastic traditional club and a great test of links golf. I believe it is a course of 2 nines with the front nine being a lot flatter and plain, but the back nine is outrageously good and arguably one of the greatest nine holes of golf I've played. The condition of the fairways and greens were great and the bunkers were challenging, just as you would expect for links golf.
The first hole is a fairly short par 4, but is littered with bunkers all the way down the fairway so if you walk away with a par then you are doing well. 3 is a great par 4 with a ditch running about 290 yards up across the fairway, when the wind is behind you it definitely comes into play there. After that there aren't any notable holes on the front nine other than the 7th which is a fantastic 150 yard par 3 with the trees in the back and beautifully designed bunkers around the green.
After the 9th hole it gets very fun. 10 is a great par 3 playing about 140 yards to a narrow undulating green. 11 is one of the best par 5s that you may play in Lancashire with a fantastic view greeting you when you hit your tee shot and a large number of trees behind the green making it a beautiful approach shot. The 13th and 14th are 2 tough but marvellous par 4s playing amongst the sand dunes, both fantastic holes. The 17th and 18th holes are a great way to finish your round as well. The 17th is a long par 5 with a difficult drive as you will find a ditch on your right and lots of bunkers down the start of the fairway. The approach shot is again pleasing to the eye as you hit towards the green which is surrounded by the dunes. The 18th is a great hole to end with, an elevated tee shot with the clubhouse in the background and many fairway bunkers to contend with, probably best not to hit driver off the tee as I learnt this the hard way!
As you can tell by the review, there is an awful lot more to talk about on the back 9 than the front nine but nonetheless the course in general was fantastic and definitely a great inks experience. Well worth it to play there if you get the chance. I feel harsh giving it 5 balls, but I gave Silloth-On-Solway a 5 1/2 rating and in my opinion I think Silloth was better. Regardless, Hillside was a quality course and I definitely will aim to play there again in the future.
I’ve played all three courses on this adjoining tract of linksland multiple times and I’m still undecided which is my favourite. You could also throw in Formby, located just down the road, and even stretch to Hoylake on the Wirral up to Lytham on the Fylde Coast, and all that lies in-between. Hillside keeps fine company and holds its own.
In the not so distant past I have played at Hillside at its sternest, from the tips on a brutal day in the Pines Trophy, but my most recent visit was on a benign late-June morning with a brilliant blue sky overhead and just the slightest of breezes not even capable of stirring the flags. Hillside plays magnificently in all conditions.
Routed in two returning loops of nine, the front side wends initially its way out alongside the train line, which slices the links of Hillside and S&A, out to the fifth green before turning back to the clubhouse. We momentarily switch back on ourselves at the third and also play perpendicular to the other holes at the short seventh but otherwise we are mostly moving out and back. There is a noticeable tightness to the turf on the more open outward half which requires plotting as opposed to brute force.
The inward half, for which I’m sure Greg Norman must still be claiming the royalties from his famous line, “The back nine holes are the Best in Britain”, transitions from modest sandhills to monumental dunes as we are continually moved towards different points of the compass. At times the hills must run close some of the dunes on the Irish coast in terms of size but here we almost exclusively play through the valleys; from elevated tees, to flattish fairways, up to raised greens. We rarely, if ever, have to go cross-country and traverse the sandhills which means each hole is perfectly framed.
I must admit I really enjoy the subtleties of the first nine where we find some excellently sited green complexes with clever greenside bunkering. The second, third, sixth and ninth are all particularly noteworthy amongst a strong collection.
There is no denying that the back-nine is dramatic with the two par-fives (the 11th and 17th) both visually stunning; the former is a truly sensational hole which curves around the dunes before rising gradually to the green which is very similar to the 9th at Formby.
A grandstand and entertaining finish is guaranteed over the final three holes with a brute of a par-three, played to a massive two-tiered green, followed by the visually impressive 17th and a tough finisher back down to the clubhouse. Into the wind a par-par-par finish over these closing three holes is some accomplishment.
As you would expect from a championship links the fairway bunkering is just about spot on throughout. There is at least one trap for every club in the back from Driver to 3-iron so you must really be on your game off the tee or alternatively lay well back and leave yourself a long approach. A number of the fairways also kink, bend or in some cases significantly turn which also adds to the difficulty. Whatever strategy you choose Hillside is a solid test of golf.
There are many similarities to bordering Birkdale in so much that you get what you deserve on this very fair links whilst it lacks the quirk of neighbouring S&A. Regardless of personal preference Hillside does its job very efficiently.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.