It’s also a club steeped in history and tradition with a strong connection to the amateur game, most notably staging the Amateur Championship on three occasions but also the Curtis Cup and the annual Formby Hare scratch competition.
The course is a fair and fine test of golf and although it is set quite away from the sea, with heather and trees featuring on many holes, it’s clear that Formby plays every inch of the championships links that it is.
The routing is also unique in that the course plays mostly in an anti-clockwise direction, around the inner Formby Ladies course, and therefore, in a similar manner to Muirfield, the wind changes slightly on each subsequent hole, albeit you are not as exposed to the sea breeze as you are at other courses in the area.
Founded in 1884 the original course was redesigned by the famous Willie Park with many more changes taking place over subsequent years. James Braid altered the layout in 1922 whilst minor changes were introduced by Messrs Hawtree & Taylor in 1933. But the latest major change took place in the early 1970s when the threat of coastal erosion meant that new holes at 7, 8 & 9 were designed by Donald Steel and a new 10th tee playing to the existing 10th green turned into a short hole. These holes came into play in the early 80's.
Like virtually all links courses Formby plays at its strategic best when the course is firm and fast, when approaching greens from one side or another is strongly preferred. I have played Formby many times in these conditions and it can match all the other courses on England’s North-West coast, in terms of challenge, under these circumstances. It’s also certainly the most visually appealing of the many high-quality neighbours on this stretch of superb golfing coastline from Hoylake to Lytham.
My only slight niggle with Formby is that during the Autumnal and Winter months is that it plays much softer than I would prefer and is very much more akin to heathland golf.
Formby has a really nice beat to it and the course flows seamlessly, with perhaps the expception of holes 7 through to ten which do have a different feel and where the course dips into more wooded surrounds.
It is difficult to pick out real stand-out holes because all 18 are so strong. My personal favourites are the 3rd - one of the best tee-shots in the North-West - and the newer seventh on the front nine with the 12th and 15th featuring on the inward half. Changes in elevation at the seventh, as well as a devilishly sloping green, adds to its character whilst the natural movement in the land at 12 and 15 set these apart from the rest in my own opinion.
There are a number of fantastic individual shots to be played throughout the round too. Whether it be playing close to the railway line at the opening two holes for a better angle into the greens or the aforementioned heroic drive at the third or the tee-shot required at the testing fourth the list goes on and on. Other highlights include the secluded green setting at the 11th, the elevated drive at hole 14 and closing your round out under the iconic clubhouse and clock tower.
I have never known Formby not to be in excellent condition on all of my visits. On the most recent, in November 2015, the greens were good for the time of year. The course was slightly softer than usual and therefore wasn’t quite as fiery as normal; you could attack the holes a bit more but they still had to be respected.
With three Open Championship courses in relatively close proximity Formby is often placed down the pecking order in terms of the various rankings and a visiting golfer’s itinerary but it can, and does, hold its own against all the big boys and is unquestionably one of England’s finest links.
Following a 4:00am alarm call we’d already driven for more than six hours and covered over 350 road miles before boarding a ferry at Oban sailing to Lochboisdale.
The Halifax Golf Club, often better known as Ogden, is a course that divides opinion.