Appeared in April 2008 LINKS
The course at Wallasey Golf Club is magnificent, comparing more favorably to its more glamorous neighbor Royal Liverpool both in its consistency of great holes and in the quickness and innate treachery of its many up-turned greens. But the layout, alas, is not the club’s main claim to fame.
Instead, any discussion of the course, laid out by Old Tom Morris in 1891 and tweaked by the likes of James Braid, Fred Hawtree and Donald Steel, must inevitably begin by recording that this is the birthplace of the Stableford scoring system.
Many golfers will have been subjected to a Stableford competition at some stage or another in their lives. To the minority who have not, let us extend a hearty congratulations and follow that with an explanation of what possessed former club captain Dr. Frank Stableford when he decided to overcomplicate a wonderfully simple game.
“I was practicing on the 2nd fairway at Wallasey Golf Club one day in the latter part of 1931,’’ he once said, “When the thought ran through my mind that many players in competitions got very little fun since they tore up their cards after playing only a few holes and I wondered if anything could be done about it.”
His solution was to award points for each hole: one for bogey, two for par, three for birdie, four for eagle. A score worse than bogey received no points—a “blob.”
Those who rightly judged that any method failing to account for scorecard disasters was a charter for mediocrity were drowned out in a cacophony of praise for Stableford’s system, led by late BBC commentator Henry Longhurst, who said: “I doubt whether
any single man did more to increase the pleasure of the more humble club golfer.”
It should be noted that Dr. Stableford, who played to a handicap of plus one, dreamed up a less sophisticated scoring system in 1898, when he was a member at Glamorganshire Golf Club. But any mention of this previous invention is about as welcome at Wallasey as walking into the members’ lounge wearing jeans and open-toe sandals.
This isn’t to say the members are stuffy or snobbish—even in this upmarket corner of Merseyside, Liverpudlians are a gloriously egalitarian breed who don’t do snobbery. Rather, the club is immensely proud that Stableford’s creation cemented its place in golf folklore. To honor his memory the club hosts an annual Frank Stableford Open Amateur Memorial, an event that attracts many of the region’s top players. Meanwhile, the great man’s portrait hangs in the members’ lounge, close to that of Bobby Jones.
In 1930 Jones played in the Open qualifier at Wallasey before winning the Claret Jug at Hoylake. Both portraits were the work of member J.A.A. Berrie. Both are superb but seem amateurish when measured against the links masterpiece that lies outside the clubhouse.
Like many great links, the 1st tee is a few steps from the locker room, opening to a 361-yard introduction that ends with a kind, bowl-shaped green that gathers errant shots.
The tone changes on the 2nd hole, the site of Stableford’s epiphany. After playing the 458-yard brute, one is almost but not quite tempted to forgive him. With the wind howling off the sea, even the cautious tack of playing for the green in three shots can result in a Stableford score of zero.
The 3rd is 373 yards, but what it lacks in length it makes up for in mischief. The fairway is narrow and any shot less than surgically precise off the tee, especially if it veers right, is rewarded with a wicked sidehill lie. Par is commendable, bogey acceptable.
Wallasey has no bad holes. The worst you might say of its weaker ones is that they are nice, if forgettable. The 14th, a 485-yard par 5, could be the worst. But that is like being
described as the worst songwriter among the Beatles: It is all a question of relativity.
The great holes, however, live on in the memory. Like the 531-yard 4th, not least because the view from the tee into the valley below and the sea beyond is so unexpected. On a calm day, it’s a three-shotter to a raised green. Into the prevailing westerly it must be a heartbreaker.
We are now into the guts of the course and the great holes keep coming: the 392-yard 8th, viciously bunkered at the dogleg; the 310-yard 10th, shaped like a right angle to a green perched at the top of a steep hill—great fun; the 544-yard 13th, one of three holes remodeled by Steel before the 2006 Open qualifier.
After 17 scenic holes, the 407-yard 18th doesn’t disappoint. From the back tee, the landing area is not so much a fairway as a rumor, and the green sits under the clubhouse windows, from where members cast a sympathetic eye on your weary putting stroke.
After a poor drive and three putts, it all added up to a triple bogey. Or as they say in these parts, a blob.