Often overshadowed by it’s Open Championship rota neighbor Royal Birkdale, Formby Golf Club offers a spectacular layout and challenge for any player. Perhaps a bit different than other links courses, Formby’s layout winds its way through a combination of pine forest and sand dunes along the Merseyside coast It is truly a gem of a golf course and one that you could see yourself playing everyday the rest of your life without getting bored.
The first three holes parallel the Merseyrail Railroad which borders the east side of the property. Hole 2 is a 400 yard Par 4 which requires an accurate tee shot to avoid three bunkers down the right hand side. Avoiding the bunkers is only half the battle on this hole, as your approach miss hold a slightly elevated green, with a deep bunker on the left and a fall-off area to the right and rear of the green.
The first of Formby’s par 3’s, the fifth hole, marks the beginning of a challenging stretch of holes to end the front nine. Typically, playing into the prevailing wind, the 183 yard hole has three deep bunkers to the left of the green and a severely sloping green from back left to right front.
The sixth hole also plays into the prevailing wind and at 428 yards, is all the par 4 you could ask for. Bending slightly from right to left, your drive must avoid the three bunkers down the right and the fescue down the left. From the fairway, the approach will be blind, as some sand dunes block your view of the green. No greenside bunkers around this green…the dunes are all the protection it needs to make this hole difficult.
The seventh hole, a 410 yards Par 4, winds it’s way through the pine forest. The hole, somewhat shaped like an ‘S’ requires and accurate tee shot to put you in position. I chose to hit 4 hybrid the times I have played here, leaving myself a short iron approach. Driving down the right side of the fairway, you will leave yourself a blind second shot because of a large dune at the corner. Your approach shot must be played wisely, as the green slopes severely from back to front…anything above approach left above the hole will leave a testing challenge for a two putt.
#9 nine is my favorite hole at Formby and its most challenging. From an elevated tee, the 450 yard par 4 playing back into the prevailing wind is all right there in front of you. Distance and accuracy are required on the tee shot, with pine forest bordering the left and fairway bunkers on each side of the fairway. With the green nestled up against a grove of pines and among small little hillocks, your long iron or fairway wood approach will need to be solid and straight..no telling the bounce you may get if you miss this green.
To start the back nine, #10 is a long par 3 of 215 yards. From the slightly elevated tee, your shot must navigate two green side bunkers, that because of the terrain, tend to be magnets for just the slightest of off-line shots.
Holes 11-15 begin a stretch of testing Par 4’s and look like what you typically picture when thinking of links golf courses…rolling links land with tall fescue on each side of the fairway. Measuring from 400-433 yards, these holes look like the greens and tee were just placed perfectly among the dunes, with nothing to protect the player from the winds.
You will hear about Royal Troon’s #8 Postage Stamp Par 3 during the upcoming Open Championship as the best short par three in the world. However, Formby has one that may be just as good. The 16th hole measures only 139 yards from the back tee and hitting the green could be one of your more challenging shots all round. The green complex is almost like an upside-down bowl, with three deep bunkers and fall-off areas all around. I have been fortunate that the times I have played Formby, I have had to hit no more than 8 iron…some members have told me there are instances where the wind forces you to hit a long iron or hybrid to reach the green.
A good finishing hole should be more than just a challenging well-designed hole. It should leave you with a nice image of the club in your mind. Formby accomplishes this with its 18th hole. At 440 yards, you tee off from a chute of pine trees. The drive must thread fairway bunkers lining both sides of the fairway. As you walk up to your drive, off to the right you will notice Formby’s charming clubhouse and it’s Clock Tower just to the right of the green emerging out from behind the treeline. Having played here three times, the walk up the 18th has been more enjoyable each time. The success of your second shot will depend largely on appropriate club selection…the green is 55 yards deep and can be a challenge to judge where the flag is located.
A stop in the Formby clubhouse is a must. As you enter the bar area, you will immediately notice the Formby Hippo. The Hippo was shot by one of the early members at Formby and given to the club upon his death in 1909. If you are looking for accommodations, the club also has a Dormy House for overnight visitors. When you stop in at the Golf Shop, Head Professional Andrew Witherup and his staff will give you a warm welcome and offers a fine selection of apparel and items to remember your visit. There is also a separate 18 hole Ladies Club and Clubhouse.
When I am in the Merseyside, Formby is a must-play. It offers everything you could be looking for in a round of golf.
Also, right down the street, you will find a restaurant that is perfect for the post-round meal and pint. The Freshfield is a neighborhood pub with delicious food and a selection of ales that is unmatched. They even produce 14 of their own ales. Family friendly (and dog friendly), I never visit Formby without stopping by the Freshfield.