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11 miles N of Liverpool
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Only the Belfry has hosted more home soil Ryder Cups than Southport & Ainsdale Golf Club. But everybody flocks to play S&A’s royal neighbour, Birkdale. If only they knew what they were missing a couple of miles down the road.
Southport & Ainsdale Golf Club was originally founded in 1907 with George Lowe laying out the first course. At that time, golf was played across a stretch of links land between the railway line and the main Liverpool road. In 1922, the council decided to build another road into Southport and they decided to route it across the links, splitting the course in two. Fortunately, some new land was identified and James Braid, the greatest golf course revisionist of all time, was called in to sort things out. By 1924, Braid had built six new holes and updated the remaining twelve.
So, in the scheme of things, Southport & Ainsdale is a relative youngster and it is set amongst exhilarating dunes and tangly heather. S&A has a very natural feel to the layout, although it is somewhat old-fashioned with some blind drives and obscured approach shots. This is not your traditional out-and-back layout. In broad terms, the course is laid out in two loops, with holes 2 through to 6 forming the inner loop. The fairways wind their way through gaps and valleys between the dunes and many of the greens are raised on tricky-to-hold plateaux. S&A is a serious golfing test, the layout measures over 6,800 from the back tees with par set at 72 and from the yellow tees, the length drops to 6,396 yards, but the par also drops down to 71.
There are many memorable holes at S&A and the 8th is a bunkerless par three, measuring 157 yards. The green is sited on a raised table and only the best tee shot will stay on the putting surface. The 16th, measuring 506 yards, plays directly into the prevailing wind and when the wind’s up, three solid strikes will be required to reach the green. The hole is called “Gumbley’s” and it has a fine example of a sleeper-faced bunker. It’s a monster, set into the face of a large, tussocky sand ridge. Avoid this one like the plague.
Southport & Ainsdale has hosted many important amateur events over the years and the good old Dunlop Southport and Swallow Penfold professional competitions were held here in the 1940s and 1950s with Max Faulkner, Fred Daly and Christy O’Connor emerging victorious. But S&A will be remembered for the 1933 and 1937 Ryder Cups. Britain won in 1933, but 1937 heralded the first American Ryder Cup victory on British soil, but it wasn’t their last because the USA retained the Ryder Cup for the next 20 years.
Southport & Ainsdale should be played not only from a historic perspective but because this is a very natural and challenging links course, one of Braid’s finest seaside examples. It stands up remarkably well against its regal neighbours.
The course at Southport & Ainsdale hosted the 4th and 6th editions of the Ryder Cup back in the 1930s so it’s an historical golfing track, with lots of photos on the clubhouse walls to remind you of that. The man who redesigned the layout, James Braid, was rather fond of installing bunkers on his courses (he was often called in by clubs to advise specifically on bunkering) so it’s no real surprise to stand on the first tee and see there are no fewer than eight sand pots surrounding the green on the opening hole, a long par three.
The revetted sand hazards are a recurring theme for the remainder of the round, as are rumpled fairways, heathland elements of heather and linksland patches of gorse. It’s a superbly routed, with holes laid out in two loops, and enough movement in the landscape to keep things interesting without overtaxing the walking golfer. The par five 16th, running alongside the railway that separates the course from neighbouring Hillside, is the star of the show at S&A with its famous sleepered cross bunker but there are many fine holes to be played here.
England’s “Golf Coast” is blessed with as fine an array of links courses as you could wish for and S&A isn’t all that far behind the world-class standards set by its Royal counterparts. Along with the likes of West Lancashire and Fairhaven – which are also overlooked by visiting golfers playing the gig-name venues – Southport & Ainsdale is well worth including on a golfing itinerary to the northwest of England.
As said in other reviews, it is definitely a mistake trying to compare this S&A to Hillside and Birkdale because it is different golf. Southport and Ainsdale plays as a links course however has a much bigger parkland/heathland element to it unlike its neighbours. Unfortunately we hit Southport and Ainsdale on a blustery day which made it very difficult to score well with the 143 bunkers that they have. The condition of the course was top notch, good greens, well maintained fairways and bunkers and lovely heather.
Some of my favourite holes would be the par 5 2nd which had heather both left and right and multiple bunkers plotted all the way up the fairway. The 5th hole was a tough par 4 playing straight into the wind making it an even SI 1 hole! Make sure you hit the fairway as missing it left or right may find you in the ditch or in their awfully thick rough that they have. The 6th hole was a great links hole but also playing tough with large dunes on either side of the fairway and 3 deep bunkers to the left and right of the green.
In my opinion, I preferred the back nine at S&A despite being much more challenging as it did have a greater variety of holes. The 10th was a short and slightly uphill par 3, the 11th was a tough par 4 with a blind second shot making it a lot harder. 13 is where it begins to feel a bit more like a parkland/heathland course as this is a short par 3 with trees on the right and a water hazard long of the green. Accuracy is important on this hole as the green is narrow. 15 is one of my favourite holes on the course although it is probably the hardest. On the tee it is very intimidating as there must be at least 10 deep fairway bunkers all in play off the tee and trees/gorse on your left. The 17th is also a great hole which is named 'heather' so as you can probably gather, it has a lot of heather. The elevated tee makes it a beautiful driving hole with the heather lined all the way down the left hand side of the fairway. A very good picturesque hole.
Overall, I enjoyed Southport and Ainsdale as it had a good bit of everything, I think it definitely deserves its place in the top 100 UK list and I reckon its quite harshly ranked on that also! Its a great golf club that is steeped with history so its definitely worth a visit if you get the chance.
Seriously, seriously good golf course. S&A has a really cleverly routed layout where the first six holes play in a loop, with the other twelve holes wrapping around the outside of that loop. Whilst its claim to be a genuine links can’t be questioned, there are heathland characteristics with heather scattered throughout some of the holes. Prepare yourself to also be attacked by bunkers from all angles. A critical reviewer could say that there are a few too many around the course, so undoubtedly the strategy to scoring well around S&A is one where you avoid those pot bunkers that are dotted up and down every fairway. This all makes for a great test of discipline from the tee, is it worth being aggressive with the driver or is a long-iron the smarter play?
With regards to the standout holes, whilst courses that commence with a par three are normally a pet hate of mine, the long first with five pot bunkers protecting the opening to the green, all coming in combination with a backboard and bowlshaped surround, is an absolute pleasure to start the round with. The second provides a better insight as to what’s to come as you face a climbing par five that’s dotted with no fewer than sixteen sandy coffins. Two great holes in quick succession to start the round. And the excellent holes continue too. After threading your drive between the dunes on the 6th, next comes a semi-blind yet right-angled par five at 7 where you’re forced to play around bumpy dunes that obstruct the direct path to the green. The par three 8th is another unique hole with its raised green. My ball landed a foot short of the putting surface here to only then be propelled unceremoniously to the bottom of the hill leaving me with a forty yard pitch back to the plateau.
The club have made some good improvements too, bunkers have been upgraded and re-revetted in many areas and they’ve removed the gorse in the middle of the 14th, something I expect will be a welcomed decision by members and visitors alike. Gumbleys, the long 16th is the star of the show on the back nine though, a hole that now makes it very close to the top of my all-time favourites list. The tee shot plays parallel to the railway line before you’re then faced with an intimidating sleeper walled bunker structure in the middle of the fairway that you have to clear, after which the fairway snakes and creeps up around bunkers to a wildly undulating raised green set into the side of a dune. A tough penultimate hole with a raised tee is negotiated at 17 before a fitting finale at 18 threads its way through a valley of dunes after which you’re then presented with an approach shot into a raised green set in front of the clubhouse. And what a clubhouse this is. Traditional in style from the exterior but one that oozes charm from the inside where the inner refurbishment captures the perfect balance between the plush and the charming.
All being said, I’d go as far to suggest that S&A is a must-visit if you’re making a visit to play the best courses in the North-West region. I’d also argue that the gulf in the rankings between S&A and its more esteemed neighbours is too wide, I’d make the argument that S&A should reasonably be 20 or even 30 places higher in the UK & Ireland rankings.
Not quite up to the caliber of its more renowned neighbors, but still a fine layout. The routing is not as ingenious as Birkdale’s, the tee shot demands do not rival Hillside’s nor are the green complexes as interesting as Formby’s. But the par 5s are outstanding and the overall experience is delightful. Not to be missed when visiting England’s Golf Coast.
Most people compare/contrast this outstanding golf course to nearby Hillside and Royal Birkdale – but I consider that a mistake. Review the course for what it is, and celebrate its own creation.
Southport & Ainsdale starts with a very demanding 180-yard par 3 that has no less than 8 bunkers guarding the green. This opener grabs your attention and lets you know that this tight demanding course is no push over. A beautiful par 5 second hole gives you a glimpse of surrounding dunes, gorse and charming quirk that oozes around this property. While the topography is mostly flat with smaller dunes, the fairways have plenty of natural undulation as they navigate through what feels like a landmine of bunkers.
The par 5 16th deservedly gets most of the attention with the famous sleeper cross-bunker that sits on a large dune and stares down at you. The second shot over this ‘Gumbley’ bunker requires a lot of courage and for first time players, this completely blind shot becomes one of the toughest shots on the course.
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Southport & Ainsdale isn’t all just about two or three epic holes, but to its credit, you walk off the 18th green and say Wow, that was really superb! I thought the strength of the course was the many demanding par 4s that move in many directions, and constantly demand accuracy off the tee – most notably the last hole with its blind dog-leg tee shot into a hugely undulating fairway that could kick your ball into the thirsty bunkers. The tee shots are tight, and the greens are rarely on the same level of the fairway. Players will thoroughly enjoy the stretch of holes 4 through 8 and 15 through 18 which stood out to me as Braid’s better holes. I enjoyed how the course often required less than driver off the tee in many places in order to relentlessly position your ball to safety or the best spot for the approach. While the greens are relatively tame, there’s plenty of blind tee shots that will remind you that you’re on a serious championship course that has hosted the world’s best for the past century.
When planning a trip to the “golf coast” of England, including Southport & Ainsdale is an absolute necessity. This James Braid masterpiece will quickly make you forget about its neighbours over the railway line.
I was lucky enough to visit S&A on a trip to the open at Birkdale this year. As the 1st of 3 courses played on the fabled England's Golf Coast we were certainly treated to some wonderful golf.
After 3.5/4 hours in the car the welcome at S&A was excellent, it had a lovely feel for a members club, a bag store to prop up your clubs and a terrace overlooking the putting green and 1st tee.
The 1st piece of advice is to hit the range...I love a putting green, but with the 1st tee viewable from the clubhouse there is pressure from the off at 200+yds into a prevailing wind. A strong start, if not for me, its certainly a par 3 you want to play well with 9 bunkers to catch a shot not quite struck in the grooves.
What follows is a lovely mix of links fairways, heather, gorse and strategic bunkering. My favourite of the 1st few holes is the par 4 5th, a strong hole which is great from tee to green. The hole narrows where you want your drive, and still have a long iron in, it felt great walking off with a par.
If you are a strong driver of the ball you can score well round this course, but need to know your lines off the tees, there are a few dog-legs, but most of the shaping is subtle, with the line important on all of the 6th, 7th and 9th, 11th and 12th. If negotiated off the tee you still need strong approaches, but the tee shots are key, and set up a score especially on the par 5's.
Interspersed in these holes are some lovely par 3's all requiring strong iron shots. The 8th perches on a hill, with anything short leaving a difficult pitch over the crest. The 10th a well bunkered hole after filling up at the halfway hut, and the 13th my favourite with a well shaped and sloped green.
The run-in follows the trainline that separates S&A from Hillside, with accuracy and course management essential. Its a lovely run-in to a clubhouse backdrop, and you can just see a 'sunday finish' whether it be for a club champs, knock-out final or the Ryder Cup in the 30's.
Definitely one to return to on a group trip.
Southport & Ainsdale offers everything that the other famous links courses on this fabled stretch of Lancashire coastline can… and the golfing connoisseur would perhaps argue it delivers even more than this.
As you might expect every facet of your game will truly be tested over this well-balanced James Braid creation. At a very firm and fast 6,836 yards (par 72) it isn’t the longest course on England’s Golf Coast, and there are several times when driver is not the club of choice from the tee, but the test is stern, true and most importantly engaging.
One of the first things you will notice is that the fairways are littered with bunkers. Indeed my only real criticism of the links is that there are perhaps too many of them; often there are two, three or four pits in the same area when just one would do. Regardless, this makes driving a real challenge because the sand traps can be found on both sides of the fairway and at differing distances. As you might expect the shorter two-shotters on the course are protected more heavily with sand, however, there’s a little bit more leeway on the longer holes.
From the tee you must also contend with several areas of gorse; sometimes it’s just the odd dab here and there but at others there are large areas of the prickly yellow shrub. Pleasingly a lot of this has been removed since my last visit a few years ago and this has really helped opened up the sight lines on many holes and they can now be seen it all their glory - the best and most telling example of this is at the 15th. Many of the holes are also lined with heather which makes finding the ball relatively easy but advancing it in the intended direction much more problematic.
In terms of the various golf course rankings Southport & Ainsdale never seems to get a fair crack of the whip in my opinion. Although it regularly features in the usual top 100 lists it is often left in the wake of near neighbours Birkdale, Formby and Hillside. I’d personally put it on a par with the first two and ahead of the latter but why not make a visit here and decide for yourself.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Very little to choose between S & A that makes the Top 100 list and Formby and West Lancs that do not reflecting the increasing competitiveness as new courses are built and older courses upgrading. More in the Hillside, Formby bracket with a mix of landscape design part links, part parkland, part heath. Favourite holes 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 9, 14 and the epic 16th.