At last, Silloth on Solway Golf Club’s reputation is becoming recognised more widely, thoroughly deserving its position in the Top 100 and one of England's best links courses.
Founded in 1892, with the help of Railway Company money, it was originally designed by Davy Grant (with a little help from Willie Park Junior). Silloth is famous for its affiliation with ladies' golf.
The famous Leitch sisters learnt to play golf on the Silloth links. Charlotte Cecilia Pitcairn Leitch (or Cecil as she became known), went on to be the best lady golfer in the world, winning a record four British, five French, two English and one Canadian titles. In 1910, Cecil played a match against Harold Hilton (one of the greatest male golfers of the time) over 72 holes, 36 at Walton Heath and 36 at Sunningdale. Sportingly, Hilton gave Cecil nine shots per 18 holes and found himself five holes up in the last round, with only the last 15 holes to play. Cecil, showing true grit, fought her way back and ended up winning on the 71st green 2 up and 1 to play.
Silloth has parliamentary connections too. Viscount Willie Whitelaw was the President of Silloth on Solway Golf Club until his death in 1999.
You have to make an extra special effort to get to Silloth because it is located in one of the most remote and isolated places in England, at the mouth of the Solway Firth. When you get to Silloth, it’s a surprise to see the nearby industry that slightly blots an otherwise perfect landscape.
With heather and gorse adding brilliant splashes of seasonal colour, this is a cracking links golf course. When the wind blows, it’s unlikely that you will play to your handicap. Even on a calm day, you’ll find it tough. "It is also the home of the winds," wrote Darwin, "when I was there the wind did not blow really hard, but hard enough to make a fool of me." Finding the tight greens is no mean feat and when you do, they are tough to read with their subtle borrows.
It’s well worth the time (and the money) to get to Silloth and once you get there, you won’t want to leave. You are at one of the best value golf courses in the whole of the British Isles.
We played Silloth on the way back from a trip to St Andrews, where we played the Old, Castle & Ladybank, and the consensus was that Silloth was our favourite of the 4, despite experiencing the worst of the weather.
If the Old Course is a must play, then in my opinion so is Silloth. Unlike other courses that ease you in to the round Silloth puts up a stern test from the off. The fairways were brown/yellow and running ridiculously fast, just the way I like it, meaning club selection was very difficult when approaching the green. The greens were as good as anything I've played on previously and for me there wasn't a weak hole on the course, although the front 9 was probably the more enjoyable of the 2 loops. In fact, the front 9 of Silloth coupled with the back 9 of Hillside might have a shot of being one of the greatest links courses in the world!
Regardless of location, and this course is way off the beaten track, Silloth on Solway is a MUST play for those who like pure links.
One of my favorite courses in the world is Cruden Bay. It’s quirky, unpredictable, scenic and just plain fun. All those adjectives apply equally to Silloth on Solway. All but one green (# 9) offer a variety of approach shots. And don’t be put off by blind shots on the first four holes. Remember how much you enjoyed the miniature golf windmill hole…….the thrill of darting the length of the hole to see where your shot ended up? You’ll find the same experience in the numerous blind shots at Silloth. Some see these as a detriment and I acknowledge that is so if one is thinking of placing a course among the world’s top dozen or two. Likewise, its lack of strategic challenges from the tee keeps Silloth out of that esteemed group. But my first round here was one of the most fun golf experiences of my life. It can be a long drive, but it was worth every minute in the car from Southport.
It is a hell of a long way from pretty much everywhere BUT it is well worth making the trip.
Brutal when the wind is up ...and still not easy when it isn't.
As if the links is not tough enough, I played in a gale... even the Pro advised against going out! But its a bit off the beaten track to get here so... wrapped up and proceeded! Some wonderful holes but taken altogether, a bit the same to be honest. Enjoyable nonetheless. Whilst the course is very good, the local town seems caught in a time warp and the hotel I was pushed towards was fairly awful... stay elsewhere!
Out of the way, but if you like links golf, don't miss this! Browned out in a very dry summer, it was tough to control your ball but the holes themselves are very well designed, and the greens were green. This is the essence of "hidden gem", and a very good value. M
Some of the best links layouts in the UK start with a familiar pattern, steady as she goes for the opening holes as you get away from the clubhouse before you then start to approach the more prime land further into the round. Not so with Silloth, the drama starts immediately to the point where I was verging on being giddy with child-like excitement through seven holes, such was the quality of the opening stretch. The front nine as a whole is world class and has some of the best green sites I’ve ever encountered. Some greens sit within hidden dells, most notably the 1st and 7th which are played into sunken punchbowls. The 3rd is nearing perfection with its delightfully sweeping curves playing up to a plateau green, whilst the fourth green, hidden from view from the tee but sitting amongst sand dunes, is a table top structure that punishes any misses left or right due to the deep hollows on either side of the green.
The 5th is the most classic looking hole, similar in appearance to the 7th at Royal St George’s, it hugs the shoreline playing out along the firth from a raised tee with two well positioned bunkers guarding this reachable par five. Silloth is a rustic course with blind holes aplenty and 6 through 9 continue in the same vein, all high in quality with the 9th tee having views of the Scottish hills across Dumfries and Galloway.
After the heady heights of the front nine, the back nine was always going to struggle to maintain this momentum. Indeed, the 10th feels like a connector hole and in general, the back nine never quite reaches the same standards as the first half of the course. That’s not to say that the second half is poor. 13 and 14 are excellent consecutive par fives; the former tempting you to go for the green in two with its putting surface standing proud above the rest of the course providing picturesque 360-degree views. The final holes then have bite, particularly the 15th which plays well over 400 yards and is heavily lined with gorse, whilst 16, a long one-shotter, is a genuinely top-notch par three to a raised green. Despite the backdrop of the docks surrounding the clubhouse giving the 18th an industrial appearance, it was one that I personally admired and felt added to the club’s character.
It’s fair to say that Silloth on Solway Golf Club is pretty isolated. Sitting on the northern border of the Lake District, it takes dedication and devotion to the cause to take the long drive to Silloth, but I can confirm that it’s well worth the time and energy to make the journey. Whilst conditioning isn’t perfect, the greens roll well and true. But it’s the layout that is the star here, and at £55 for a full unlimited day’s golf during peak season, Silloth must represent the best value course in England.
Played my second round at siloth on a beaming 25 degree June day having battled my way through the worst of the elements on my first last winter, finally getting to see the course at its very best - and with it dispelling any doubts about quite how good it is.
The outward nine, running along the coast, is right up there with any stretch of holes I have played anywhere. Dramatically carved out of the rolling dunes and surrounding landscape, each asks a different set of strategic questions and tests of skill to the last and retains its own individual aesthetic character, yet flows beautifully as part of a wider unit, no single hole feeling shoehorned in to make up the numbers. 1, 4, 5 and 7 are all fantastic, but I have never come across a better use of natural topography as the 3rd, a simple but brilliant short dogleg par 4 playing onto a raised green. Sublime.
The back nine doesnt quite reach the heights of the front, the terrain becoming a little less interesting as you run back inland, but is still a quality set of holes with a handful of belters. Both par 3’s and the par 4 15th are excellent, but the highlight comes at the SI 1 13th, a short par 5 giving the choice of a layup or running a gauntlet for your approach to a second fairway elevated a good 30 feet to the first, with a relatively small green perched at the top and a nasty drop off either side. A lot easier without a siloth wind!
The only holes I didnt feel lived up to the rest came at the turn, 10 feeling a bit of a makeshift hole to link the two nines and 11 squeezed in with OOB on the right, the only two where you are really aware of the architectural limitations of the land. While by no means a bad hole, I wasnt completely sold on the pebble beach like 9th either, which felt unnecessarily short, too penal and a bit gimmicky, missing the potential for a cracking longer par 3 playing towards the sea.
It is difficult to argue the other question marks - its inaccesability, the slightly run down town and (especially) the industrial port shadowing it - don’t detract from it, but they far from stop this being a top drawer course. For me, Siloth is world top 100 material, surpassed only by sunningdale new and a handful of open venues in England as well as the most underrated course I have played and by far the best value.
If you are up in the lakes make this top of your bucket list, because its well worth going out of your way.
I played this course with a long time member and that halped. This is propers links golf as it should be. It’s not straigthforward; it has idiosyncrasies and blind shots and long holes and short holes but lots of variety. All in all a course that you will want to play again and again because you will never beat it.
Don’t let the isolated location scare you away. Pound for pound, this is the best value for golf in the UK and arguably the most underrated course in the continent. Darius Oliver (Planet Golf) includes it in his Top 100 in the World ranking, and I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, I rate it higher than Darius does and would strongly suggest that Silloth is banging down the door for being included in the top 12 courses in England.
There is an incredible eye-opening abundance of beautiful turbulent fairways, sunken Dell greens, sensational scenery of the Firth and some of the most attractive yellow gorse in golf. I was so impressed right from the first tee all the way to the last green. The course keeps you in suspension with exciting sand dunes that hide the splendor that lies behind them without being too penal.
I thoroughly enjoyed the quirky challenge of blind tee shots, thrilling approach shots and especially how the yellow gorse frames the precious fairways and greens. There is a blind shot on each of the first 3 incredible holes which gives you a sense for the rest of the thrilling layout. The club should count its blessing with the volume of fantastic gorse they have at their fingertips. This gorse should be celebrated and never removed!
This golf course has more unique features than any other I can remember. Silloth is less conformist and full of hidden greens, blind driving zones, large central hills that obscure targets on par fives and small plateau greens on long downwind par threes. I particularly enjoyed the fun of blind greens hidden away from view by dunes or sunken punchbowls below the fairways. Davy Grant and Willy Park Jnr couldn’t have routed the course any better than what we play today. The awareness of the prevailing wind at this majestic links helps with longer holes and challenges with the shorter holes.
The playing conditions were world class, the change in elevation offers glorious vistas, birdies are plentiful and the hospitality alone is worth the long drive to get there. After experiencing the best holes here it is hard to believe that this charming golf club still manages to exist in relative anonymity. The abundance of appeal, strategy and architectural genius makes this course stand head and shoulders above the British Links that the world is familiar with.
I’d like to end this with a very strong opinion I personally hold as follows. I get so frustrated when people say “if X course was located closer to Y city/region, then it would be rated so much higher”. This lazy attitude is insulting to the course and the club should never suffer in the rankings just because of its location. If the course is worthy of merit and is architecturally superior to a list of overrated courses, then give credit when credit is due! Making the extra effort to find the best courses on earth is the exciting part! We frequently rank courses in Tasmania that are essentially at the end of the earth, so don’t tell me the northwest of England is too far out of the way.
PLEASE GO TO SILLOTH! You’ll be immensely rewarded! I will forever vote this course comfortably within the Top 100 courses in the World.
In my eyes Silloth is a golf course that has the ability to transcend your typical ‘championship links’.
It has charm, character, intrigue and an identity all of its own but at the same time presents the truest, and quite often, stiffest of challenges to the golfer. It's an inspirational golf course with an endless collection of brilliant golf holes.
And now for the reason why I personally hold it in such high regard… the fun element. In addition to being a true challenge the course has three key aspects which tick all the boxes that I look for in a truly great golf course; movement of land, unique and varied green sites plus the quality of the turf. Silloth scores top marks in all of these categories.
The lightly-bunkered fairways toss and turn like a crumpled duvet but not only that these billowing humps and bumps contain vast amounts of strategy as they wend their way through and over the large sand dunes. The seventh is perhaps the best example where the tee shot sets up a heroic drive over a mass of heather but it is the angled ridge that runs through the fairway that adds an extra dimension to the hole. Use it wisely and your ball will feed to the left and nearer to the green, but leak your drive right and you will land on the wrong side of it and face a much longer and tougher approach to a hidden and sunken green.
The green locations at Silloth are virtually second to none in my playing experience. The front nine especially exudes such a wide variety of shots required to find the putting surfaces. You play to a wonderful punchbowl green at the first - a hole which simply says "Welcome to Silloth, this is what I'm all about and this is what you're going to get for the next few hours" and then another at the seventh, a brilliant raised plateau green at the third, a terrifyingly long and narrow green at the fourth, with steep drop-offs at either side, and a deftly raised green at the exceptional short ninth with bunkers and deadly fall-aways defending it on all sides; one of the best short holes in golf.
If you are willing to embrace the quirky elements, Silloth is close to being a flawless golfing experience with a rhythm that is unmatched. It has so much variety within its 18 holes I can’t think of many courses that interrogate the golfer with a mix of eccentricity and challenge as well as this Cumbrian masterpiece does. You could play the course for a lifetime and continue to learn new things about it each time because it is never predictable.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.