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, the course was originally designed by North Berwick professional David Grant. Willie Park Junior subsequently carried out some modifications to the layout between 1898 and 1902, primarily to remove a few blind shots and introduce new holes at the 4th and 5th. Alister MacKenzie submitted plans in 1915 to make further changes, but financial constraints after the Great War meant the club could only afford to proceed with installing a new green on the 3rd and a new tee on the 4th.
Silloth is famous for its affiliation with ladies' golf. The famous Leitch sisters learnt to play 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.
I returned to Silloth today - eight years after my last visit - in expectation of a decent winter’s day out on the links under sunny blue skies and I’m glad to report that neither the course nor the weather disappointed. In fact, the course was WAY better than I remembered it from June of 2006.
Silloth is most certainly the real golfing deal and I’m sure if it was located further south (even only as far as the Southport coastline) it would be lionized nationally to a far greater extent.
There’s so much to admire here – the frequent use of offset tees set at 45° to the fairway, the number of semi blind approaches to bathtub greens and the general ruggedness of the tumbling terrain, to name but a few of its attributes.
And what a tester the (stroke index 1) 13th is: playing steadily uphill from the tee, with an intimidating ridge that slashes diagonally across the fairway, this is one tough par five if ever there was one, even from the regular tees.
My only complaint (and it’s picky, I know) is the slightly cramped feel to the holes at 10 and 11, where out of bounds encroaches on the right of the fairways. I only mention this as I thought at the time: “all those unused acres to the left, between these two fairways and the Firth, and both holes end hard up against the perimeter fence?”
Don’t let that minor gripe put you off though as Silloth’s a mighty links that’s well worth a visit, especially when the club charges around 30 quid for a round in the close season – time to step in!!