Wonderful West Lancs
How West Lancs managed to stay off my radar screen for so long is still a mystery. It’s somehow the forgotten links in the string of great courses near Royal Birkdale.
It shouldn’t be.
I’d been to the Southport area lots of times since starting my golf writing career in 1989, and for 15 years had never considered visiting the course properly known as West Lancashire Golf Club. I hadn’t even heard of it. People were always beseeching me to play Formby, Hesketh, Hillside and Southport & Ainsdale in addition to Royal Birkdale. I don’t recall anyone ever saying:
“You must play West Lancs; it’s not to be missed.”
Let me say those words to you.
“Put West Lancs on your bucket list. You won’t regret it, and be amazed it doesn’t get more attention.”
I first visited this wonderful links when I covered the 2004 Brabazon Trophy, the English Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship. Few courses have dragged me out of the comfort of the press room the way this layout did.
Unlike nearby Formby with its mixture of woodland and links golf, West Lancs is pure links golf. For proof, all you have to do is stand on the high 2nd tee and take in the vista. What lies before you is a 6,992-yard, par-72 course in as natural a setting for links golf as you will find anywhere in the British Isles.
Most links are out and back affairs but West Lancs, like Royal Birkdale, is unique since both the 9th and 18th holes finish at the clubhouse.
This routing feature create a sense of déjà vu about both nines. Both the early holes on the two loops normally play into the prevailing wind, and then you turn around and play the respective finishing holes downwind.
On both nines, it’s a question of keeping things tight over the opening holes and then trying to make your score on the run in to the clubhouse.
West Lancs, which C.K. Cotton laid out in 1883, has many great attributes, not least the par-3s. The club has a valid claim for having the best set of one-shot holes in England.
Play the 3rd, 6th, 12th and 17th holes in level par or better and you have a chance of playing to your handicap. Play them in 4 over and you shouldn’t be ashamed. Pride of place goes to the 6th. Quite simply, it is stunning, challenging, a hole you would want to take home to your own golf club.
At just 177 yards off the back tee, this green normally shouldn’t be hard to hit. However, it lies at a slight angle away from the tee and is quite narrow. It also plays into the prevailing wind, which means it can sometimes play two, perhaps three clubs, longer than normal.
Its main feature however is that it is elevated with drop offs on all sides. Miss it and you can face a hellish chip back to the flag with not much room for manoeuvre. This is one hole where it can be better off to be in one of the three greenside bunkers, two right and one left, because then you can get some spin on the ball and thus more control.
Don’t attack this hole if the pin is at the back. There isn’t much to shoot at. The amateurs couldn’t seem to temper their egos during the Brabazon, and insisted on going for the flag. Many ended up off the green, and I saw more bogeys and doubles here than almost any other hole. Centre, even front, of the green is good on this hole, no matter where the flag is.
The 3rd is the shortest of the one shotters at 154 yards, a hole made even shorter because the green lies below the level of the tee. The 176-yard 12th plays to a raised green that slopes back to front. Get the ball above the hole and you’ll have a job two putting.
The 196-yard 17th is another tee shot that has to be hit with precision since that green also lies at an angle to the tee. Like the 6th, the smart play is to try to land the ball on the front of the green and hope for a two-putt par.
That Brabazon Trophy which England’s Matthew Richardson (where is he now?) won, was notable for two reasons. Firstly, it was the first time I laid eyes on Alvaro Quiros, whose long driving exploits I’d been hearing about that summer.
I was sitting on the 7th tee when a guy wearing a Fedora arrived. I checked the starting sheet and determined this was the long hitting Spaniard.
The seventh is a dogleg right measuring 355 yards. Most players that week hit long irons to the corner of the dogleg. Not Quiros. He pulled driver and went for the green. The ball took off like an exocet missile. I walked down to the green to find the Spaniard had driven through the green. As the crow flies the hole didn’t measure 355 yards, but I reckon he hit it 320 yards, a huge hit for an amateur at that time.
I wasn’t surprised when he made it to the European Tour and went on to win seven times, wowing galleries with his prodigious driving.
Secondly, and most importantly, I got to play the golf course that week and found out what I’d been missing out on for so many years.
West Lancs is the other qualifying course along with Royal Birkdale for this year’s Amateur Championship, one of my favourite tournaments of every year. The championship has been re-scheduled for the week of the 24th of August. I’m hoping it goes ahead, because I’ll be taking my clubs.
Don’t go to the Southport region and skip this wonderful links. You’ll regret it. A special trip is required just to play the par-3s.
Best par 3
6th, 177 yards
Miss this green at your peril, and don’t be greedy: centre of the green is just fine.
Best par 4
13th, 418 yards
Finding the green might be tough since the putting surface is on the small side.
Best par 5
11th, 585 yards
It can play like a par 6 if into the wind, a genuine three-shot hole for average golfers.
West Lancs Amen Corner
The 11th 12th and 13th are good candidates, but I love the 6th hole so much I just had to include it in my top trio of successive holes. So, I’m going for the 5th, 6th and 7th, a good par 5, fantastic par 3 and challenging par 4.
Minor quibbles really, but the 9th and 18th holes play back to the clubhouse and seem quite similar. The water hazard to the right of the 18th fairway doesn’t do it for me. I’m not a big fan of ponds on links.