Formby Golf Club
Designers: Willie Park, James Braid, Harry Colt, Donald Steele
Founded in 1884, the Formby Golf Club originally played over a 9-hole course designed by Willie Park, Jr. Soon the links was extended to 18-holes, with some of golf’s leading architects having a hand in the evolution of the course in the decades that followed. James Braid, Harry Colt, Fred Hawtree, JH Taylor, and Donald Steele all contributed their expertise in one form or another to the course which is played today. One that often surprises and charms the visiting golfer who has languished on The Open rota courses nearby.
If variety is the spice of life, then few courses will tantalize the palate like Formby. The course is routed in a giant counter-clockwise circle around the Formby Ladies Golf Club, over ground that is decidedly linksy in character. The result is a persistent challenge courtesy of the wind, which nags the golfer from a variety of directions, as well as the rumpled fairways and their awkward stances. Yet in places there’s a definite parkland feel to Formby, as it meanders through areas dotted by heather and trees. And just to add yet another dash flavor, the railway hard down the right-side of the opening trio of holes is an unnerving presence to the slicing golfer.
Although it will likely never find itself joining its celebrated neighbors on The Open rota, Formby has held its fair share of historic events. In its centenary year of 1984, the club was honored as host of the Amateur Championship, won by Jose Maria Olazabal. The Amateur returned in 2009 for a third time, earning Formby a place in the history books for producing the youngest champion in the history of the event: 16 year old Matteo Manassero. The links is also a frequent host of qualifying for The Open when the Claret Jug visits Birkdale or Lytham.
Of course, no description of Formby is complete without a mention of its famous hippo. The hunting trophy which hangs in the clubhouse was a prize from a trip to Africa by two of the club’s earliest members. During World War II, the clubhouse was used as an Officer’s Mess and the hippo was soon commandeered by service members from the ship “Veteran.” Strapped to the ship’s searchlight platform, the hippo survived a mission through the Norwegian fjords before being returned to its former home.
Perhaps the most fitting description of Formby was offered by legendary author Bernard Darwin when he summarized the course in just four words: “good, sterling, honest golf.” Those visiting the links are often quick to add “enjoyable” to that list, thanks to the reprieve Formby offers those playing the Royal clubs nearby. It’s a course that will fairly test every aspect of one’s game, while still producing a smile when all is said and done. The best of combinations.