Review for Wallasey

Reviewer Score:
TaylorMade

Review:

I was referred by another to play Wallasey for its history. It’s history includes Wallasey being chosen several times as a qualifying site for the Open Championship including in 1930 where Bobby Jones advanced and later won at Royal Liverpool as part of the third leg of the Grand Slam. It includes the invention by Frank Stableford of the Stableford method of scoring. It includes a club that has hosted several competitions involving the top professionals of the day including Sam Snead. Finally, Wallasey’s history is of a course that has been continually revised since the original design by Old Tom Morris. This includes alternations by Alex Herd, Harold Hilton, C.W. Limouzin, James Braid, F.G. Hawtree & Son, J. H. Taylor, Bill Davies (one of the head professionals), and ultimately C.K.Cotton. I am sure others have been involved along the way including the numerous superintendents of the course and heads of the greens committee.

In these numerous routings holes were altered due to the effect of sand blowing in from the sea leading to the loss of holes three through six. Four holes were once located in the high dunes at the southwestern end of the property where the land rivals the high dunes upon which the majority of holes reside today. This land was used by the military during WWI but significantly during WWII at which time large anti-aircraft guns were installed. This led to abandoning then holes five, six, ten and eleven but under different routings they had become holes seven, eight, thirteen and fourteen. In any event, had that land continued to be a part of the routing Wallasey would likely be in a conversation of best seaside links courses in the UK + Ireland.

It was in the 1967 design by C.K. Cotton that two of its most famous holes, the par 3 ninth and the par 3 seventeenth, were lost although the ninth’s plateau green is used on the now par 4 tenth.

The course is currently under discussion for additional changes so that it could potentially again host Open Championship regional qualifying. In order to do so, the club needs to be able to have a full driving range and practice facility. The practice facility that exists today requires a lengthy walk from the clubhouse down a hill between the tenth tee and ninth greens and along the ninth hole to get to a range that does not accommodate much more than a 9 iron. Then of course, one has to make the lengthy return walking up the hill. During the round and following the round, I was told of some of the potential changes to the routing to accommodate a new range. I would oppose changing the seventeenth hole, which I thought was a very good hole for the members, although not as likely difficult for the top players due to the length that they can hit a ball. Perhaps an agreement can be made for a shuttle service to nearby clubs to use their practice facilities or close down nearby Harrison Park for the day. As I walked the course one does notice there is a lot of land in the higher dunes between holes so it is possible a full facility could fit, but it would likely require both a new routing as well as moving some earth. Perhaps the easiest solution is to put the practice facility between the first and second by shifting the second tee towards the sea and returning it to a sharp dogleg right, which is consistent with one of the earlier variations of the hole while making it even more of a risk-reward tee shot.

As the course exists today it is wonderful. I have been blessed to play nearly 90 of the top 100 golf courses in the UK + Ireland as well as many that are often considered to be included. There are much better courses such as Royal County Down, Sunningdale, nearly all of the courses on the Open rota, etc. The exception to that is Royal Liverpoool where I believe Wallasey to be a better overall golf course. But there are only a few that offer an outstanding combination of majestic views, difficult holes, strategic holes, easy holes, a great walk, and absolute charm. Wallasey is one of those which sits with courses such as Swinley Forest, St. Enodoc Church, Silloth on Solway, Rye Old, etc.

In the greater Liverpool area, other than Royal Birkdale it is the course I would like to play repeatedly ahead of other outstanding courses such as Formby, West Lancashire and Southport & Ainsdale. Note I did not get to Hillside, Fairhaven or Delamere Forest. The other courses are terrific, but Wallasey simply offered more to what I value in a golf course from the first tee shot to the final putt. The opening five holes and the final four holes are very good. In between are some good holes as well as holes that require more tinkering.

Many criticize the course for the four holes on flat land which are holes six, seven, thirteen and fourteen. It would not take much to improve these holes such as putting rolls in the fairway to make the course more “heaving.” You could add taller mounds and a few more strategic bunkers in the fairway. The green surrounds could use additional contouring and particular the surfaces of the greens could be reshaped by raising some sections by a foot to 18 inches, putting vertical or horizontal spines or adding tiers. It would not be overly expensive and not add much, if any, to the maintenance budget. I was told the tee on the seventh is under discussion to move it to the corner of the property creating a dogleg right as well as slightly lengthening the hole. This would immediately create a better, more strategic golf hole as both out-of-bounds as well as the left fairway bunkers would be in play instead of it playing as a straight hole with a wide fairway.

There are many fine courses rated very highly with weak/bad holes such as Cruden Bay’s and Formby’s first three and final two holes, Ballybunion Old’s weak start, or several bad holes at Kingbarns. I could mention more. The point is that four holes does not disqualify a course from a higher rating.

A more relevant criticism is the short yardage of the course at less than 6700 yards as a par 72. As for the “short yardage” for a par 72, that is more than offset by more often playing with a high wind. But on calm days this yardage is too short to be considered a championship course unless those four holes are improved. The course could simply convert the par 5 fourteenth at less than 490 yards into a par 4. But should score to par matter as much as one’s total score anyway?

We played it on a relatively calm day and it was playing firm and fast. I can imagine the course being difficult in a day when the wind is above 15 mph and very difficult above 25 mph.

Note: As to Mr. Stableford, he once was a +1 handicap and club champion at Royal Porthcawl but at the time he invented the stableford scoring system he had risen to an 8 and was having difficulty reaching the longer par 4’s in two shots.

The course measures 6654 yards from the blue tees, par 72. The yellow tees are 6554 yards rated 73.0/133.

1. Par 4 – 362. I liked the opening hole from an elevated tee right next to the clubhouse. The hole plays straight and if into the wind it would be a bear. On our day it played easy from the tee to a generous fairway that has two stacked bunkers on the left before a mound horizontally crosses the fairway. There is a large, deep valley down the right side but it should be easily carried from the tee. Bigger hitters can easily drive across this mound but could likely leave themselves more of a blind shot as the green is on higher ground and fronted by a small rise. Two bunkers are placed about 15 yards short of the green. There is a single bunker on the front right. Behind the green is also another rise which will certainly stop a shot from going too far past the green but more often kicks a ball back onto the green as does the left side. The green is very large for a hole of this length and sloped back to front and to the right. I thought it to be a very pleasant starting hole with adequate interest as to the guessing game of where to land one’s ball for the approach shot. For the longer hitters I probably would add a center-bunker at about the 300 yard mark.

2. Par 4 – 453. This is the hole where Mr. Stableford “invented” the scoring system (although he modified it within three months). From an elevated tee one plays to a fairway that is moving right all the way to the green. Bigger hitters can run through the fairway. Both sides feature sloped hills from the tee, the right side becoming even at the single inner corner bunker (which I found from the tee), while the left side continues all the way behind the green. There is a center-line bunker about 80 yards from the green. The green has a single bunker on the front right. I thought the placement of this central bunker was more of an issue for higher handicaps than low handicaps and wondered whether it should have been pulled back by 30 yards. The green is large again with a similar slope to the first green although there is more of a depression just after the greenside bunker. Somehow I made a 40 feet putt to save par but it’s a hole where bogey is an acceptable score. Years ago this hole played from higher ground but as a sharp dogleg right. It is a really good hole.

3. Par 4 – 374. This hole I thought should be lengthened by 30 yards despite the narrow fairway. From another elevated tee one plays to a fairway placed between dunes all the way to the green. The hole is a slight bend to the left. The mounds can push one’s tee shot back closer to the fairway. There are no fairway bunkers as the fairway is rolling with scarcely a level lie to be found. There are various grass depressions just off the fairway. The green is also narrow and raised with a higher back tier. The green has a single front left bunker and fall-offs at the front and right. This hole continues an interesting start of quality golf holes.

4. Par 5 – 533. This is a terrific coastline view and a long view all the way to Wales. All it lacks versus some other memorable views are some lovely mountains or churches in the distance. This feels like the highest point on the course although it might not be. The fairway is generous because it is shared with the seventeenth. A long “snake” raised mound divides the two fairways until likely 220 yards. Out-of-bounds is down the entirety of the right side. There are two fairway bunkers 320 yards out on the left side that longer hitters can reach on a calm day. As you approach the green there are four fronting bunkers beginning 50 yards from the green. The green is on raised ground and a bit small for the length of the hole. As I walked up the fairway I noticed to my right a lot of depressions from perhaps grass or sand bunkers and I wondered whether these were remnants of one of the three seaside holes abandoned long ago.

5. Par 3 – 175. From a raised tee this mid-length par 3 plays to a smallish green set aside a mound off the left that one can kick off. A small dune continues behind the green and there is a long gradual slope off the right. There is a single bunker off the right front. Much like the first, I imagined how difficult this hole could be playing into the wind. On our day it was an easier hole with a terrific view. It is a fine par 3.

6. Par 4 – 342. A wide, 10 feet deep channel was built down the entirely of the right side to protect against the build-up of sand blowing onto the course from the high dunes to the right which once had four holes going into them (although not into the highest part of these dunes). This channel has deep grass and a few scattered bushes and trees dividing it from the fairway. If one misses into the channel, the “lucky” spot is at the bottom where extraction might be possible. I found the channel as I took the tee shot for granted and tried to steer my ball. It took me two shots to get out so I vouch for the punitive nature of the hole. The tee shot is from another elevated tee to the flat part of the course. There are two bunkers left very much in play for those trying to play away from the channel. The green is defended by four bunkers, including a rear bunker. The green has adequate internal movement but even more could be added. If the tee shot on seven was shifted to the corner of the property, this green could be moved another 20 yards.

7. Par 5 – 525. The second most “boring” hole on the course, playing straight with out-of-bounds down the right yet the fairway is generous and the tree line will likely stop a ball from going out. There are ten bunkers on the hole including three off the tee. Three are near the front of the green but only one at the green on the front left. The green is flat with its only interesting section being the more recently added back portion where there is some movement. This tee should be moved to the right creating a dogleg right from the tee. The fairway needs contouring similar to the third hole. Mounding could be added down the left and right side. The green needs little shelves, or three tiers, or perhaps a vertical spine.

8. Par 4 – 387. This hole is a dogleg right with out-of-bounds down the right which is the practice range. There are two bunkers at the point of the outer corner. I was told this hole features an original Tom Morris green, placed between dunes on three sides. A single deep bunker is on the right just after the dune. This bunker is followed by short grass. If coming in from the right it could be a semi-blind shot. The green is well done with both slope and inner movement. Going long will led to a fast downhill shot. In reading the history of Wallasey from 1891-1991, I believe this hole once had a raised central hump somewhere between 75-100 yards short of the green. It would be a welcome addition to restore it.

9. Par 3 – 144. This par 3 plays from an elevated tee over uneven dunes with the green set below a large dune behind it filled with non-native trees. The green complex is a strong one with a front center and right front bunker on a green angled to the right. There are substantial fall-offs on a green that perhaps has the most inner movement on the course. It is a hole that likely one thinks is relatively easy, but the green proves that to not be the case. I admired this hole. Once upon a time, this tee served as the tee for the par 3 ninth where the green sits well above you perhaps as much as 60 feet. This is the hole that only Bobby Jones birdied in his qualifying round for the 1930 Open. The green is now used for the tenth hole. It would be terrific if any new routing would return the hole to as it once was.

10. Par 4 – 304. From another elevated tee you play down to a sharp dogleg right where the plateau green sits well above you. Those trying to drive the green face a big problem if they go too long as the left side of the green leaves a sharp bank and going behind the green means that one will face a green that quickly runs away from you. If you are either short of the green with your approach or you putt off the green one’s ball could go as far as 80 yards back down the steep hill that fronts the green. There are no bunkers on this hole. Longer hitters also face the danger of going through the fairway or catching the top of the dune to the right of the green leaving a top climb to the ball and an uneven lie among grasses. The green is steeply sloped to the front with a slight crown on the left side. It is one of the cleverest and terrifying short par 4’s I have ever played. Still, I lamented the disappearance of the hole that was once there.

11. Par 4 – 374. If it were not for several other holes that offer both a better visual as well as a tougher challenge, this would be the best hole on the course. It can play as much as 412 yards from another elevated tee downhill to land that rises back to an elevated green. The hole bends to the right about 80 yards from the green where there are two bunkers placed on the left side. There is a single deep bunker off the right front. There is a steep fall off the front as well as the right side back to that bunker. The green is undulating. It is a fine golf hole. As I walked off and thought about the greens on eight, nine and eleven, I wondered why this is not replicated on the greens on holes seven, eight, thirteen and fourteen.

12. Par 3 – 146. This is a visual feast from a high elevated tee looking down at a small green ringed with five bunkers including a front bunker. These bunkers have raised fronts. The left side of the green offers more short grass as a recovery to this small green with good interior movement. This hole has been modified very little since it was put in by Tom Morris. So far, all par 3’s have been very different in their visual look as well as challenge and I have liked every one of them.

13. Par 5 – 535. This hole is too similar to the eighth and fourteenth as it plays on flat land. The hole requires the same changes I discussed for the eighth hole. The tee shot is relatively flat playing to an angled fairway to the right where the tee shot has to carry small mounds down the right side. There are two fairway bunkers on the left in play from the tee. A final fairway bunker is left about 45 yards short of the green. The green has a bunker on the right front corner. The most interesting part of the hole is the green which is angled to the left, opposite the direction of the final turn. The green has no interesting features.

14. Par 5 – 486. One turns right around and goes essentially back to the thirteenth tee on this parallel hole. This flat hole features two fairway bunkers on the right. It is well defended near the green by three bunkers left and two greenside right. Behind the green is a series of gorse bushes. I think this hole needs the same improvements I have discussed. It should be turned into a par 4 without changing the length since it is more often played downwind.

15. Par 4 – 352. This is my favorite hole on the course. Playing flat for the tee shot, this dogleg left has a collection of three bunkers down the left side. Both sides of the fairway feature higher dunes as you near the green. The green sits about 20 feet up with a substantial slope back down to rougher ground. There are no bunkers at the green as it is surrounded by dunes. This hole reminded me of the second at Pine Valley, although not quite as strong both in the approach shot or the quality of the green. Here, the green is simply sloped back to front. I loved the visual of the hole. From here to the finish, one plays very interesting and challenging golf holes.

16. Par 3 – 203. You climb to higher ground to face a tee shot that is often into the wind. One walks on manicured grass paths to the tee between dunes. The tee is exposed paying between lower dunes to a green that sits on a ledge next to a tall dune on the right side. The left side falls gently to lower ground. There is a large front central bunker. It is my third favorite hole on the course and completes a quartet of very good par 3’s all of different lengths and variety.

17. Par 4 – 452. You walk on another grass path to the elevated tee. The left side of the fairway is shared with the par 5 fourth hole. The “snake” mound is more in play for the second shot not also off to the left. The right side features tall dunes. There is a guidepost behind the green but go too far left and you cannot see it even if you have shortened the distance for the approach shot. The green sits in a dell on higher ground of the dunes. For shorter hitters the appropriate play is to the opening of the hole about 100 yards out on this dogleg right. This is where one can see the green. There is a single bunker on the left middle of the green. The green has good inner movement. This is my fourth favorite hole on the course.

18. Par 4 - 407. I loved the finishing hole for its strategy and pure fun. From an elevated tee you play to a twisting fairway across a valley. The fairway has various rumples in it. If one goes left they may find a small opening in the dunes where one can see the green. If one goes right it is a blind shot to the green as the land is still rising before a drop-off where the green resides on lower ground backdropped by the clubhouse rising behind the green. The green is angled to the left with a front left bunker and two front right bunkers. This hole reminded me of the eighteenth at Ballybunion Old in the blind nature of the approach shot as well as the narrow fairway. Obviously the difference is that at Wallasey the green is on lower ground while at Ballybunion the green is on higher ground. This green also has very good inner movement. It is a fun and exciting finish to a very nice golf course.

Wallasey offers everything in terms of raised tees, raised greens, hidden greens, playing atop high dunes, outstanding views of the sea and coastline as well as four very nice par 3’s. The only thing missing is consistency where it falters at holes seven and eight and thirteen and fourteen. It would not take much effort to improve these holes.

There are several courses I have yet to play in the Cheshire and Lancashire area but I know that any return visit would include another stop at Wallasey.

I would like to acknowledge my host and the other members who discussed the course with me following the round. I would also like to acknowledge the club Captain who provided additional insight as well as giving me a copy of the book providing an overview of the club from 1891-1991.

Date: August 03, 2022


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