North West England - Top 20 Golf Courses 2017
We’re over halfway through our English regional updates. This article for England’s North West is the fourth of seven releases that will feed into our high level rankings later this year. The North West region is where you’ll find England’s Golf Coast, the finest stretch of linksland in the country, which runs from Cheshire’s Wirral peninsula in the south to the golden beaches of Lancashire’s coastline in the north. Three Royal Open Championship courses head this regional table and there are numerous non-royal commoners that fall firmly into the must-play category.
Two years ago, we surveyed every club in England and we issued individual news releases for each of the thirty-six English counties as defined on the Top 100 website. This time we’re issuing just seven English regional news releases for: East Midlands, West Midlands, North East, North West, South West, East and South East. For the first time we’re producing a ranking list on a regional basis and these tables are underpinned by a complete re-evaluation of each English county.
The traditional definition of England’s North West includes the counties of Cheshire, Cumbria and Lancashire, coupled with the metropolitan areas of Greater Manchester and Merseyside. For simple geographical purposes, we include both these metro regions within our Lancashire and Cheshire catchments, rather like cricket’s county definitions.
The North West is the third most populated region in England where more than seven million people live in an area that extends to almost 5,500 square miles. There are approximately 275 golf clubs in this zone, so the selection of a regional Top 20 was more challenging than expected.
Our new North West regional Top 20 features three courses that are currently ranked in our World Top 100, seven that are presently placed in our GB&I table, and twelve that are ranked in our English Top 100. The North West is the fourth strongest golfing region in England (based on the number of nationally ranked courses) behind the South East, South West and East of England.
Three royal golf clubs, each inaugurated in the 19th century and all current Open Championship venues, head our North West table. Royal Birkdale (#1) is very fresh in the mind following Jordan Spieth’s remarkable victory last month. Ernie Els won the Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes (#2) in 2012 and Rory McIlroy prevailed at Royal Liverpool (#3) in 2014.
Formby (#4) “has it all” as one reviewer succinctly stated, and this venerable club, founded in 1884, firmly underpins the three royals. You’ll need to head to the north Cumbria coast to play Silloth-on-Solway (#5) which is a real pilgrimage for most golfers. One of our intrepid World Top 100 panellists reckons, “it’s courses like this one [Silloth] that makes exploring in GB&I worthwhile.”
Three Lancashire links appear at #6, #7 and #8. There’s history to spare at Hillside (1911), Southport & Ainsdale (1907) and West Lancashire (1873). There may be no Open venue in this trio, but each has staged many important tournaments down the years and Southport & Ainsdale is a two-time Ryder Cup host (1933 and 1937).
Delamere Forest (#9) is the only non-links course to feature in the North West Top 10 and this unsung Herbert Fowler-designed heathland delight has recently completed a bunker renovation programme, which has kept it ahead of its Cheshire links neighbour, Wallasey (#10), “Home of Stableford”.
In the second ten (11-20) there are more inland courses than links layouts and one that fits smack bang in the middle of a links/inland debate is Fairhaven (#11). It may no longer be beside the sea, but we’ve classified it a links course as it has sand to spare, and it looks and plays like a links. It also has a red-bricked clubhouse that’s reminiscent of its near neighbour, Royal Lytham & St Annes.
Sandiway (#12) is a hybrid heathland cum parkland layout that is exceptionally well regarded locally. Designed by Ted Ray with modifications by Harry Colt, the course has been used for Open Championship Qualifying in the past and still stages important amateur events.
Golf was played at St Annes Old Links (#14) before its famous neighbour even existed. Only a couple of holes (10 and 18) remain from the course of the original St Annes Golf Club, but SAOL – as it is affectionately known – is renowned for its par three 9th hole called “Cannon” with its long green that’s hardly visible from the tee.
Cheshire rivals Prestbury (#13) and Stockport (#15) wrap a parkland sandwich around SAOL. Both these inland layouts were fashioned during the Golden Age (by Harry Colt and Sandy Herd respectively) and both have staged Open Championship Regional Qualifying. One reviewer, a self-confessed links lover, commented as follows: “It always puzzles me why Prestbury doesn’t feature, either higher or even at all, in the numerous ‘Top 100’ golf course rankings.” “The real strength of Stockport lies in the options it presents from the tee; on a number of occasions you can choose to play safe to a wider part of the fairway or chance a longer club but risk flirting with bunkers or trees.”
Back in Lancashire, Pleasington (#16) is another course that’s hosted Open Championship Regional Qualifying and it was originally laid out as a 9-hole course by George Lowe (the former pro at Royal Lytham & St Annes) before Sandy Herd added a second nine. George Lowe laid out the original course at Wilmslow (#17), but the Cheshire parkland course in play today has been touched by a procession of famous architects, including Tom Simpson and James Braid.
We’re not 100% sure who designed the parkland course at Carlisle (#18) but Frank Pennink reckons it was laid out by Theodore Moone, whose most notable other design was the Barassie Links at Kilmarnock in Scotland. The golf club at Manchester (#19) dates back to 1882, but the course in play nowadays at Hopwood is the work of Harry Colt and it’s set out across a vast 300-acre tract of moorland to the north of the city near Rochdale.
Finally, we finish as we started with a links course. Seascale (#20), rather like Seaton Carew, suffers aesthetically from an industrial backdrop, but this Willie Campbell and George Lowe collaboration, which dates back to 1893, is the real links deal and despite the Sellafield Power Station it’s an ideal Cumbrian partner to its much higher ranked counterpart at Silloth.
North West - Top 20 Golf Courses 2017
Click the following links to see in detail our latest Best In County rankings for the three North West counties: