|Royal Lytham & St Annes|
Most of the golf masses always conjure up images of Scotland when the talk is about golf in the British Isles. While it doesn't have an Old Course, Royal Dornoch or Muirfield, England's Golf Coast in the northwest corner of the country has a phenomenal star-studded line-up.
I recently visited the area for the first time and, I must admit, I should hit myself in the head with a 9-iron for waiting so long. England's Golf Coast courses have served as venues for Open Championships, The Ryder Cup and Walker Cup. The region has hosted the Open Championship--are you ready for this?-- thirty-two times.
Enhancing your visit away from the fairways is a chance to immerse in Beatles memorabilia in Liverpool and perhaps even take in a Premier League soccer match (the season runs from August to May) in Liverpool or Manchester like the Guru did during his early spring visit.
|Royal Birkdale Clubhouse|
England's Golf Coast is home to 15 golf courses. Some are very recognizable names, others are not. I assure you, though, you'll be playing a quality course no matter where you tee up in this region.
Here are some brief impressions of the four courses The Guru played:
Royal Lytham & St Annes--I know this is high praise, but this course instantly made my most-favorite-courses-I've-played list. The front-nine is absolutely phenomenal with a great mix of wonderfully designed holes. My favorite hole is the short par 4 8th (I played from the 389 yard green tees). If you push your tee shot to the right, chances are you'll land on the railroad tracks. You play from an elevated tee to an elevated green guarded on the left by the deepest bunker on the course. From the famous, classically designed clubhouse to the train occasionally whisking by, this is a fantastic golf experience.
Royal Liverpool--Oozing with history at every turn, Royal Liverpool was founded in 1869. Often referred to as "Hoylake", it's the second oldest seaside links course in England. Luckily, The Guru has played the oldest--Royal North Devon. What strikes you immediately is how flat the terrain at Royal Liverpool is with little definition. The further you move away from the clubhouse, the more undulations you'll incur. My favorite holes are 9 through 12 alongside the shore. I spent an enjoyable hour wandering through the memorabilia loaded clubhouse. What a treat!. I saw the 2-iron Tiger used almost exclusively off the tee in his 2006 Open Championship victory. The list of Open Championship winners is amazing. It includes Walter Hagen (1924), Bobby Jones (1930), Tiger Woods (2006) and Rory McIlroy (2014). Hoylake has hosted the Open Championship twelve times.
Royal Birkdale--To be sure, you've got to hit fairways at Birkdale to score well. Unless, of course, you're Jordan Spieth, who famously jacked his drive way right onto the practice range on the 13th hole at the 2017 Open Championship. While I was excited to play all of the holes at Birkdale, it was fun to play the 13th to appreciate just how spectacular Spieth's recovery was in the final round of the Open. Overall, Birkdale is a true and fair test of all skill levels. The fairways are routed through flat-bottomed valleys between massive dunes. The day I played, the wind was rather tame. When the wind cranks up, Birkdale gets real tough, real quick. Royal Birkdale has hosted the Open Championship ten times. On a stroll through the Art Deco clubhouse, the photos dotting the walls feature the past Birkdale Open champions. Wow, what a list...Arnold Palmer (1961), Lee Trevino (1971), Johnny Miller (1976), Tom Watson (1983), Mark O'Meara (1998) and Padraig Harrington (2008).
Formby Golf Club--Formby often gets overlooked because of the three Royal courses, but, make no mistake, it's a superb layout. It has a distinctively different look and feel than the Royals. Formby is bordered on three sides by beautiful pine trees. The course is an engaging blend of links golf and inland golf with lots of variety in each hole. No two holes on the course are even remotely alike. I love the stretch of holes between six and ten, which are stunningly photogenic and challenging to play. Formby has a friendly membership and welcoming ambiance on the the course and in the clubhouse. I'm so glad I got to play this under-publicized gem.
Others to play include West Lancashire, Southport & Ainsdale, Hillside, Delamere Forest, Wallasey, Formby Hall and Formby Ladies Course.
|Formby Hall Golf Resort & Spa|
* Formby Hall Golf Resort & Spa (Southport)--Located six miles from the center of Southport, this exceptional amenity-rich, 4-star resort has an 18-hole parkland style golf course, nine hole par-3 course, PGA Golf Academy, a luxury spa, a restaurant and bar with golf course views and ample parking. The par-72 Old Course, an established venue on the European Challenge Tour, has fast greens and is routed through beautiful countryside with lots of trees.
* The Vincent (Southport)--A popular hotel with golfers, The Vincent is located only about two miles from Royal Birkdale. It's situated on Southport's main shopping Street (Lord Street). It has a sleek, urban vibe throughout the property with amenities like free Wi-Fi, plush European-style bedding and LCD TV in guest rooms. It also has a 6th floor gym and a chic restaurant with an eclectic menu. Amazingly, I had sushi AND fish and chips one evening at the restaurant the overlooks Lord Street.
* Ramada Plaza Hotel Southport--Set on the waterfront in Southport, this 133-room property has American-style guest rooms loaded with amenities and especially appealing attributes like convenient, covered parking and a superb breakfast buffet perfect for golfers headed out for a full day on the links. The front desk staff is extremely helpful and can guide you to top restaurants and sites in the area.
Hard Days Night Hotel (Liverpool)--If you love The Beatles, this 110-room hotel on North John Street in central Liverpool is for you. Located adjacent to The Carvern Club, where the Beatles rose to fame, the hotel's common areas and guest rooms have specially commissioned Beatles-inspired artwork dotting the walls.
Malmaison Liverpool--A boutique hotel in the city center with views of the Mersey. The stylishly designed rooms have plush European-style bedding, great bathrooms with power showers, flat screen TV and same-day laundry service.
Bowden Lodge (Southport)--A family-run guest house situated near Lord Street, which is loaded with shops and restaurants. Set in a Victorian family home, the Bowden is charming, clean and centrally located.
*Guru stayed there during my visit.
|Where The Beatles Rose To Fame|
10 Little Things I Liked
1. If you're a Beatles fan, this region is a must visit. The Fab Four grew up in Liverpool and you can visit places like The Cavern Club where they got their start. There's also a Magical Mystery bus tour and The Beatles Story, the world's largest permanent exhibition of Beatles memorabilia.
2. Great fish and chips can be found anywhere from small shops with takeaway to upscale restaurants that prepare the dish to perfection.
3. The train route that goes directly by the golf courses of Formby, Southport & Ainsdale, Royal Lytham & St Annes and Hillside. It's fun--sometimes you have to wait till the train passes so you don't lose concentration on your shot.
4. The friendly and helpful golf professionals I met at all four courses I played.
5. The surprisingly great Italian restaurants I found: Trattoria 51 in Southport and Il Forno in Liverpool.
6. Golf knowledgable players that follow proper etiquette and play at a more rapid pace than in the U.S.
7. Rising star Tommy Fleetwood who grew up in the area is celebrated at Formby Hall with the Tommy Fleetwood Lounge, which has walls dotted with pictures of him during various points in his career.
8. The Halfway House at Royal Lytham where I enjoyed a wee nip of Bells Scottish whiskey to warm up.
9. The Winslow Hotel at Goodison Park People's Pub where I hoisted a few pints prior to an Everton match against Brighton. The Blues won 2-0.
10. The full English breakfasts I enjoyed with eggs, bacon, sausages (bangers), grilled tomatoes, beans, hash browns and black pudding.
England's Golf Coast in northwest England stretches from Lytham in its northern reaches to Liverpool and Wirral in the southern sector. You can fly into either Liverpool John Lennon Airport, about 9 miles from Liverpool city center, or Manchester Airport, which is about 35 miles from Liverpool. By train, London to Liverpool is about 2 hours and 15 minutes. The Guru flew into Manchester and rented a car, which was very convenient. The M6 (England's version of the U.S. interstate system) is the main arterial through the area offering easy access to all major destinations.
If you want to go, especially for groups of 8 or more, I suggest you get in touch with a couple of very proficient and knowledgeable travel professional friends of mine: Geoff Harris of England's Golf Coast (enquiries@englandsgolfcoast) or Ann Mabry of Atlanta-based Premier Golf (888-439-1831). You can also direct message me on twitter @GuruGolfTravel for any tips. For general information on the area, click www.englandsgolfcoast or call 0174 807800