Southport & Ainsdale Golf Club
Designers: James Braid
For courses without the “Royal” moniker, standing out in the crowd is sometimes easier said than done along England’s Golf Coast. The high concentration of outstanding golf makes the task difficult enough on its own, let alone with the presence of three neighbors who’ve hosted The Open some 33 times between them. Yet the Southport & Ainsdale Golf Club stands rather comfortably alongside its illustrious colleagues thanks to a storied architect, a little bit of history, and a links that’s both a challenge and delight to play.
When the local council decided the best route for a new road lay right across the Southport & Ainsdale links, it may have been a blessing in disguise for the club. In most cases, the loss of a significant portion of the course would have been a monumental setback, but for S&A it provided a good excuse to employ one of the most prolific architects of the era: James Braid. In 1924, the five-time Open champion set to redesigning the entire links, including six new holes from scratch. The result was a course that many regard as one of Braid’s finest seaside designs.
Less than a decade after their reimagined links debuted, Southport & Ainsdale played host to the 1933 Ryder Cup. The U.S. side was captained by the great Walter Hagen, and the contest came down to the final hole of the final match. Alas, Denny Shute provided our own Bernhard Langer moment, missing a 4-footer to retain the cup for the United States. Four year later, the two sides returned to Southport & Ainsdale once again, and the Americans erased the memories of their prior defeat with a decisive 8-4 victory. It was the first time either side won the prize on foreign soil.
Although Southport & Ainsdale is roughly a mile from the coast, the course plays very much like a seaside links. The rumpled fairways and their plentiful bunkers put a premium on driving, while numerous plateau greens offer a delicate test on approach. Of particular note is the 16th hole, where the enormous sleepered bunker – known as Gumbleys – will remind many of the infamous Cardinal at Prestwick. Like its inspiration, this cavern is also best avoided.
The fact that a course the caliber of Southport & Ainsdale can still struggle to hit the radar of the traveling golfer perfectly illustrates the range and quality of options found on England’s Golf Coast. But with a rich heritage and enjoyable links to match, those adding S&A to the itinerary often find it a welcome complement to its Royal neighbors.