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 have to confess that pre-round research of Silloth through websites, books and photos made the place look a bit austere. I am very happy to report that although tough, it is a very fair and aesthetically stunning outpost, a sublime course of dells, gorse, challenging drives and pulpit greens, it is wonderful. I have mentioned the carries from the tees, some quite considerable, and many into a prevailing wind so, if you are struggling off the tee, this may not be the place for you. In fact, if I had visited last year when I couldn’t have driven Miss Daisy never mind a golf ball, it may have been too much for me. However, the Big Dog was in a benevolent mood so I shouldn’t have been such a big girl’s blouse.
Favourite holes? That is tough as I don’t think that there is a weak hole but holes 4,9,12 and 15 are a wee cut above. I must also mention the fantastic treatment from the catering staff, who couldn’t have done any more for us and further thanks to the ordinary members we encountered during our round and afterwards in the clubhouse who were as friendly as I have ever experienced on an away day. So if you fancy a day by the sea with an abundance of quality holes Silloth is the very place for you. It will challenge and delight in equal measure and you will not regret, for one solitary second, the time it took to get there. If I may I would like to leave the last word to the masterly Bernard Darwin who summed up Silloth far better than I ever could “Never in my life have I seen a more ideal piece of golfing country. There is everything that a golfers heart can desire”. MPPJ