Hillside Golf Club
Designers: Fred Hawtree, Donald Steele
When we say that there’s a high concentration of exceptional courses along England’s Golf Coast, nowhere is that better illustrated than an area due south of the town of Southport. In a space roughly 1 ½ miles square you’ll find three historic links that all deserve a place on the itinerary. To the northwest, there’s Royal Birkdale. To the southeast, two-time Ryder Cup host Southport & Ainsdale. Then sandwiched right in-between the pair and sharing a border with each is the youngster of the group: Hillside Golf Club.
Of course, to label Hillside a “youngster” is a relative term in this part of the world, given the club is well over a century old. The links first debuted in 1911 and the back-9 was extensively redesigned by Fred Hawtree in the 1960’s. The outward half, however, plays quite similar to its original form and welcomes us to the course with what Donald Ross used to call “a gentle handshake.” The holes on the front-9 are routed over generally flat land along the railway line, and the challenge posed to the golfer is apparent off the tee. Two par-4s – the 6th and 8th – are likely to prove the most formidable test on this side. Avoid the temptation to bite off too much of the dogleg on the latter, or the thick rough may warrant a provisional.
As we turn to the inward half, it is quickly apparent why Greg Norman described it as “the best back-9 in Britain.” The holes weave their way through a collection of wild dunes, providing some thrilling golf in return. For most, the 11th tee is the highlight of the round and it is certainly a Kodak Moment. The elevated tee offers a sweeping panorama of the links, with Royal Birkdale and Southport & Ainsdale visible in the distance. But don’t allow the view to distract from the task at hand, for a challenging par-5 – that typically plays into the wind – awaits. The same can be said of the closing trio, which brings the round to a conclusion in stern and dramatic fashion.
Hillside may lack the championship pedigree of its Open and Ryder Cup neighbors, but the course has garnered its fair share of the spotlight. The club served as host of the Amateur Championship on two occasions (1979 & 2011) and is currently in the midst of a four year term as a final qualifying venue for The Open. The great Tony Jacklin also recorded the final win of his career at Hillside, when he defeated Bernhard Langer in what is now known as the BMW PGA Championship.
In this golf rich corner of the globe, it would be quite easy for the intrepid links traveler to skip Hillside in favor of a round elsewhere. Yet doing so overlooks one of the more enjoyable and underrated experiences in Britain. Whether it earns a full day on the itinerary, or merely serves as an emergency round after visiting one of the duo next door, the back-9 alone makes the trip to Hillside entirely worthwhile.