Appeared in Spring 2012 LINKS
WHEN CONSIDERING Formby Golf Club it is important to realize that while its pedigree cannot match those of Open Championship venues Royal Birkdale and Royal Lytham & St. Annes up the road or Royal Liverpool (Hoylake) to the south, this nevertheless is an important member of the aristocracy of British golf clubs.
It is shorter than Birkdale, less bunker-strewn than Lytham, less severe than Hoylake. Yet few clubs have golf of such a high standard. Formby measures 7,061 yards from the back tees, with three par fives, three par threes, and 12 par fours, six on each half. It meanders, broadly speaking, in a counterclockwise direction, starting with two holes alongside a railway line, then turning toward the sea before coming back inland.
Whereas most of Great Britain’s courses owe allegiance to a single type of terrain, be it linksland or parkland, upland or downland, Formby is two in one, as pine and fir trees coexist with dunes on the early holes. Later on the course opens up, becoming more classically linksy.
“My personal favorite is the 12th,” says head professional Andrew Witherup of the 420-yard par four. “It is pleasing to the eye and the undulations in the fairway look stunning in the
afternoon sun. It is a tough hole because the drive has to be straight, the second shot very precise as the green falls away on the left and right with a deep bunker left of the green. Believe me, you do not want to be in that.”
Dr. David Marsh, whose skillfully flighted iron to the 17th green of the Old Course at St. Andrews was the final thrust that won Great Britain & Ireland the 1971 Walker Cup, has been a member of Formby for some years. “My own feeling is that the 15th hole is the best,” he says. “It heads out toward the sea, is not too long [just over 400 yards from the back tee] but usually plays into the prevailing west wind. There is a step in the green, too. It is a very natural hole.”
Founded in 1884, Formby has a course that has stood the test of time and may now be playing at its best. However, as good as the course is, the clubhouse is not to be overlooked. The original was a small thatched hut with a bar that consisted of a loose floorboard concealing a bottle of whisky. It burned down in 1899, the replacement completed two years later. The distinctive clock tower was added in 1909. From old money to new, from then to now, there has been something of a transformation. The current structure is the very model of a contemporary golf clubhouse, four-square, three-floored, and sturdy.
John Hopkins recently retired after 30 years as golf writer for The Times and Sunday Times of London.