Trip Dispatch: Northwest England's links go deeper than the Open Championship trio



SOUTHPORT, England -- In the June 1964 edition of The New Yorker, golf writing dean Herbert Warren Wind penned "North to the links of Dornoch," a seminal work based on his journey to Scotland's venerable Royal Dornoch Golf Club and the Scottish Highlands.

The article established Dornoch as a "go-to" destination for any serious golfer and cemented Wind's status as the voice of his generation. It was visions of Wind's idyllic journey that raced through our minds as our minivan navigated the dirty streets of Liverpool in search of a golf fix well south of Scotland.

Picking your way through the grimy working-class landscape, it was easy to see why Wind took the first train north.

To this day the majority of golfers follow Wind's lead to Fife in Scotland and beyond. But as our rental car crosses the River Mersey onto the Wirral Peninsula, what the area lacks in open vistas it more than compensates for with an embarrassment of golf riches.

Northwest England's "Golf Coast"

Our tour of northwest England's self-proclaimed "Golf Coast" begins at Wallasey Golf Club, a course that dates back to 1891 and is located just up the coast from Royal Liverpool Golf Club.

The second hole at Wallasey is dubbed "Stableford," named in honor of Frank Barney Gorton Stableford, who created a points scoring system because, "I was practicing on the second fairway one day in the latter part of 1931 when the thought ran through my mind that many players in competitions (had) 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," he famously wrote.

With a fresh wind and rough groomed to thick perfection by a particularly wet spring, Stableford's genius was immediately evident. If you throw out par as measure of success or failure, and a healthy portion of your ego, Wallasey is an infinitely enjoyable experience, not to mention a breathtaking walk despite a collection of windmills just off shore (take that, Donald Trump).

From Wallasey and Hoylake, site of July's Open Championship, in the south, through Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club up the coast, what England's Golf Coast may be missing in terms of cachet compared with Scotland's northeast it more than makes up for with a varied collection of entertaining and accessible layouts.

While most travelers will be drawn to the Open rota layouts -- Lytham was the last stop on our dance card and worth every penny (180 pounds during the summer on a weekday) -- the essence of the Golf Coast is a unique combination of quality and quantity.

Hesketh Golf Club: A bona fide hidden gem

Hesketh Golf Club, for example, is a bona fide hidden gem. Located just outside Southport, Hesketh (60-80 pounds during the summer months) is a quirky layout defined by an inward loop that weaves through towering dunes and a more exposed collection of holes built on reclaimed land along the Irish Sea.

What makes Hesketh a can't-miss stop, however, is the lively combination of history and hospitality.

"You must see the Hitler tree," said Paul Corker, a retired army officer and the club's general manager and secretary, as we made our way to the club's inviting grill room.

The Hitler tree was presented to Tommy Thirsk and Arnold Bentley, a Hesketh member who teamed with Thirsk to win a 1936 tournament that was played in conjunction with that year's Olympics in Berlin.

The tree is now a towering fir located just behind the clubhouse and along with a silver-gilt salver -- not to mention a curious tale involving Hitler's refusal to award the prizes to the English duo -- adds to the charm of a club that deserves a spot on anyone's golf agenda.

Just up the coast from Hesketh is Fairhaven Golf Club, another rolling gem with a modest price tag (green fees range from 65-80 pounds during the summer months).

For the 2014 Open, officials claimed Hoylake had more fairway bunkers than any other course in the area. Without the aid of a slide rule, however, one can only assume that Fairhaven must rank a close second in that category.

The relatively flat James Braid design weaves its way through a forest and was recently voted by one golf publication in the United Kingdom among the "Best 10 (Open) Championship qualifying courses," no doubt thanks to the ubiquitous pot bunkers that dot the layout.

Hillside Golf Club goes toe-to-toe with Royal Birkdale

Hillside Golf Club was the penultimate stop on our tour of the Golf Coast. Located next door to Royal Birkdale Golf Club, the scenic layout doesn't suffer by comparison to its high-profile neighbor.

After a relatively straightforward opening loop, the final nine at Hillside (115 pounds during the summer months) may be the most dramatic collection of holes in England, beginning with the uphill par-3 10th and the par-5 11th that drops nearly three stories from tee to fairway.

Lytham, the site of 11 Open Championships, proved to be a more compelling layout between the ropes than it does from the sidelines, particularly its closing stretch, which may be major championship golf's most daunting finish after Carnoustie (see Adam Scott, 2012 Open).

A half-century ago Wind's pilgrimage to Royal Dornoch set the standard for golf adventurers. Just don't forget that there are plenty of other equally enjoyable options to the south on England's "Golf Coast."

Aug 19, 2014



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Rex Hoggard

GolfChannel.com Senior Writer

Veteran sports writer Rex Hoggard is a senior writer for GolfChannel.com, serving as a beat writer for golf's professional tours. He has more than 15 years of journalism experience, including nine years at Golfweek Magazine. Rex began his career at the Orlando Sentinel, followed by a stint as a staff reporter for the Highline News in Washington before joining Golfweek in 1999. Follow him on Twitter at @RexHoggardGC.


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