Willie Park jnr, Frank Pennink, Donald Steel, Martin Ebert
Historic Amateur Championship links, of elegant tranquility among pines, with a variety of holes.
Lancashire coast, near Freshfields station. Postcode: L37 1LQ
Stuart Leach
01704 872164
Andrew Witherup
Green Keeper
Paul Swift
The 16th hole at Formby golf course
The 16th hole at Formby golf course
formby golf club, formby hare, finest courses
formby golf club, formby 13th, finest courses
Formby golf club, 17th hole,finest courses
Access Policy:
Visitors welcome weekdays; weekends pm
Dog Policy:
welcomed on a lead
Open Meetings:
The Formby Hare (scratch) May
Fees in 1960s
Fees today
£140 - 2018


Formby Golf Club, founded in 1884, has a special place in the hearts of Fine Golfers. It is to amateur golf what Royal Liverpool, Royal Birkdale and Royal Lytham St Anne’s are to professional golf hereabouts – namely, a taste of the Finest.

This course has hosted many important tournaments including four Amateur Championships, the most recent being in 2009 when the young Italian teenager, Matteo Manassero, wowed the crowds with his devastating and steady play, in the club’s 125th anniversary year. It was also here at Formby that a young José-Maria Olazabal first hit the big headlines by beating Colin Montgomerie in the final of the 1984 Amateur Championship.

The 1901 Formby clubhouse, formby clubhouse, finest courses

The 1901 Formby clubhouse

The proud, impressive clubhouse, typical of this North West region, with its walls decorated with pictures of red-coated captains, was built in 1901, soon after Willie Park Jnr extended the course to 18 holes.

The 470 acres of the estate, comprising duneland, heathland and woodland, contain the unique feature of a separate Ladies Club established in 1896 with their own golf course located in the middle of the men’s course and their small wooden clubhouse visible on your right as you pass to the first tee.

With The R&A stating that none of their championship tournaments will be held at single-sex clubs, it would seem that Formby will need to vote to have lady members if The Amateur Championship is to come here again. What effect that would have on the Formby Ladies club membership is not clear.

This whole estate is of importance to nature conservationists and I recall, when playing in the 1980s, while waiting to drive on the 13th tee, looking over into the brooding darkness of the pine woods and watching a family of red squirrels gambolling around, oblivious to us humans and at that time not threatened by their grey cousins.

In the 1970s the threat of erosion of the shoreline required the creation of new holes at 7, 8 and 9, with the 10th changing to a short hole. Frank Pennink, who was then at the height of his designing fame (and soon to also make controversial changes to a number of the blind shots at Royal St George’s) was invited to carve three new holes through the woods.

formby golf club, 8th hole, finest courses

The opened-up drive at the 8th

Some have criticised this part of the course as not in keeping with the character of the links and I certainly found the 7th and 8th, when I first played them, to be what I call “Diddy townish”, hemmed-in between trees with lack of strategic choice. These holes have, nevertheless, matured well and, with Donald Steel (a member of FineGolf’s Advisory Panel) taking out some trees and opening up the drive at the 8th, it has become a fine architectural hole.

The 9th is a very good two-shotter from elevated tees pointing into the prevailing wind with the backdrop of a beautiful line of Scots pine. One of the few glimpses of the sea can be enjoyed from this hole but let us mention here that the beauty of Formby lies in its enclosed, elegant tranquillity rather than spectacular views of sea or mountains.

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A glimpse of the sea at the 9th

The bunkering and approach to the 10th green have had a number of changes to adapt a previously par five green, approached from a different angle, to a par three. Martin Ebert has recently created some interesting undulations at the front, which are hazards that give an attractive unpredictability to the running shot played here.

The only other change to Willie Park’s tremendous initial layout is the creation of a new practice ground around which Donald Steel has bent the 14th hole (435 yards), which, when played down the prevailing wind, requires a raking draw to set up another bumped-in approach across undulating ground.

The aprons and run-offs to the greens are set-up beautifully by course manager Paul Swift’s team with revetted bunkering, surrounded mostly by fine fescues, attracting in the not quite perfect shot. Nevertheless, the agronomy across the fairways and greens is predominantly annual meadow grass (Poa annua) with some browntop bent and the greens are cut at 3.5mm.

formby golf club, 2nd hole, finest courses

Heather on the 2nd

The first three holes provide what some consider to be a gentle introduction, among heather, on flat ground along the railway. Built in 1850, this line allowed so many courses from West Lancs at Blundellsands to Royal Birkdale at Southport to be constructed along this fantastic stretch of Lancashire linksland.

The third is a classic par five testing your strategic bravery when playing from the angled tee across a run of five bunkers. The more of the corner that you take off, the easier it is to take on the ‘John Low-like’ central bunkers at 80 and 50 yards out from a well-defended low green with OOB behind, ringed by Scots pine that creates a peaceful dell at this first distant corner of the course.

We now turn back towards the Clubhouse along a tightly bunkered, 300 yarder with a small green. Assuredly, the sensible option here is to play for position and hope for a good pitch.

The fifth (154 yards) is the most difficult of the course’s three short holes with a high shelf of a green with a back bank running away to the left. This bank at the back can help a running draw from the right. Come off the ball and you will be left with a delicate pitch from under a small bank on the right, while turn the ball over and one is left to recover from a deep gully on the left. The hole is into the prevailing wind and requires a decisive shot.

formby golf club, 6th green, finest courses

The concave 6th green

There are many challenging approach shots at Formby and at the sixth (428 yards) over rough hillocks you have your heart in your mouth until the ramparts are conquered and you discover how close your ball nestles on the small concave green.

Formby has always been proud of its trees which do give a uniqueness in comparison to Britain’s other finest links courses where there is a sparcity of trees but thank goodness it was also recognised that they had grown and become too much a part of the course, rather than a background to it. A programme of removal started in 2002 and it is good to remember that, although courses like Swinley Forest are similarly framed by pine, Harry Colt, its designer, also appreciated that the running game, at what some think is his greatest early creation, did not need trees to impinge on the game, though of course the rhododendrons do!

Sadly, laziness by some green committees and the 1980/90s fashion for wet, target-style greens have allowed many self-seeded trees to encroach onto too many of our finest heathland courses. Trees often give greenkeepers a difficulty in choosing the conservationist, fine grasses option, because they hinder air-flow to dry out their course.

formby golf club, 15th hole, finest courses

The very fine 15th

At the high eleventh tee, we are now out standing on the open part of the course with six holes ahead of us, each measuring between 403 and 431 yards, plus the short (127 yard) 16th and the down-wind 17th of 494 yards. At this point in the play, we beat up and down the wind with an array of great two-shotters, defended down-wind by well placed bunkering and up-wind at the 12th and 15th by ‘rumpled and billowing ground’, as James Finegan describes it, giving host to entangling, though pretty, outcrops of miniature dog-rose in the rough. Having said that the roughs now are predominantly of FPS which from a distance waives attractively in the wind and while having a clean bottom to the plants allows your ball to be found if its position is marked well.

It is interesting to observe the altered height of the trees now standing behind perhaps the best hole, the 15th, in comparison to that of a mere twenty five years ago when, in Donald Steel’s book : (on page 175), they are shown as purely “tufts”. This hole needs no bunkers with its plateau fairway and approach to a two-tier green between a number of substantial mounds, to pose the golfer sufficient questions.

Dexter on the 18th tee

Dexter on the 18th tee

Willie Park Jnr displayed his brilliance in creating two fine finishing holes, with particularly unusual bunkering around the long, thin 18th green on what can only be called, in comparison to what has come before, ‘dull land’.

Nevertheless, the flatness here is unimportant, as the quality of the natural drainage and thankfully a policy of minimal watering have combined to produce the ‘running-game’ giving us that challenge that blossoms with a ‘joy to be alive’ feeling.

In total this charming course is 7028 yards, par 72, SSS 74. When staying at the Dormy accomodation within the clubhouse one will also enjoy a first class breakfast.

Reviewed by Lorne Smith 2011 and updated in 2018.

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