Updated: Feb 20
Formby Golf Club doesn’t get the plaudits of nearby Royal Birkdale and Hillside. It is sometimes overlooked when people talk about the golf courses on the stretch of coastline north of Liverpool. However, it’s one of the most enjoyable links to be found in the British Isles.
Good turf and 1,000s of pine trees characterise the course Willie Park originally laid out in 1884. Harry Colt made revisions, with Frank Pennink chipping in three new holes in 1978.
The springy turf means the ball often sits up nicely as opposed to the tight lies found on most other links, while the trees offer welcome shelter from sea breezes.
Coastal erosion turned what was a complete links into a links with a parkland feel. The original course featured three holes near the sea, but they were lost due to constant sea erosion. Pennink added the 7th, 8th, and 9th holes as a result. Two of them play more like parkland holes than genuine links.
The 7th is a short walk from the 6th tee, but you feel as if you are walking onto another golf course. The hole is tree-lined on both sides, as is the par-5, 8th hole. Then it’s back to links golf when you drive off the 9th tee. Anyone not paying attention may feel they’ve been beamed off Formby to a nearby inland course when they start up the 7th fairway.
From the 9th you get back into fairly typical seaside golf. The course does not have the huge dunes of nearby Birkdale, but most of it is built on sandy soil typical of this coastline.
You will hear the sea when you get to the ninth and 10th holes, but the fact it doesn’t really come into view is one of Formby’s weaknesses, one shared with quite a few links around these isles.
At full length, Formby stretches to 7,031 yards off the blue tees. Fortunately, most visitors will not play the course anywhere near this length. Indeed, try 6,469 yards off the yellows for a more enjoyable round rather than the 6,725 white blocks.
Formby's three par 3s stand out. They vary nicely in length from just 139 yards at the 16th to the 215-yard 10th. The 183-yard fifth features a raised green, and getting the ball to stay on the putting surface is tough if there is any sort of breeze.
Best of the par-4s are the 9th and 15th holes. The former calls for a big tee shot to set up a long iron to a long, fairly narrow green, while the latter calls for a tee shot down the right hand side of the fairway, leaving an approach to a tricky green.
The par-5 8th (pictured) is the hole everyone remembers. It’s ranked the toughest hole on the course even though it only measures 483 yards off the back markers. It isn’t hard if you play it as a three-shot par-5: long iron/fairway wood off the tee, lay up in the fairway and then a fairly short shot on to the green. It does become tough with a driver because it has a narrow fairway.
There is no real trickery to Formby; what you see is basically what you get. Normally, you don’t have to perform at your absolute best to play to your handicap. Although the wind might have something to say about that.
Formby has previously staged Open Championship Final Qualifying. Four Amateur Championships have been held here (1957, 1967, 1984 and 2009). The 1984 final featured Jose Maria Olazabal against Colin Montgomerie, with Olazabal winning courtesy of his outstanding short game. Matteo Manassero made history in 2009 by becoming the youngest Amateur winner. Michelle Wie helped the United States win the 2004 Curtis Cup over these links.
I had the pleasure of covering the Curtis Cup and 2009 Amateur. I’ve also been lucky enough to play it on a few occasions, but it’s been a while. Time I got myself back there. You should get there too.
Best par 3
16th, 139/127 yards
I love short par 3s because it proves holes don’t need to be 200 yards plus to be challenging. This one only measures 139 yards when fully stretched, but it has a tricky green with two bunkers short and one left guarding it. Finding the green shouldn’t be a problem but figuring out the borrow for your birdie putt might be.
Best par 4
9th, 450/444 yards
Toughest hole on the course for my money, calling for two long shots to a long, narrow green. Make four here and it will feel like a birdie.
Best par 5
8th, 493/480 yards
On paper this looks like an easy par 5. It’s anything but in reality. It’s a tough driving hole and the green is two tiered. Get on the wrong tier and good luck two putting.
Formby’s Amen Corner
Holes 8-10 do it for me because it’s a run of a par 5, par 4 and par 3 that are all tough holes. Get through this stretch in good shape and you’ve got a chance to score well.
Sea views are hard to come by.The opening few holes don’t really signal what’s to come, but the course grows on you and gets tougher and better as you progress.