S&A (as it is widely known) mixes charm, challenge and cunning into a perfect blend of championship links golf and at the same time manages to provide a consistency and playability that will suit the palate of most golfers.
The Club, located in a suburban setting, is a two-time Ryder Cup venue whilst in more recent times The British Ladies' Open and The British Amateur Championship have been held here and it remains a final qualifying course for The Open Championship.
As you might expect every facet of your game will truly be tested over this well-balanced James Braid creation. At a very firm and fast 6,836 yards (par 72) it isn’t the longest course on England’s Golf Coast, and there are several times when driver is not the club of choice from the tee, but the test is stern, true and most importantly engaging.
One of the first things you will notice is that the fairways are littered with bunkers. Indeed my only real criticism of the links is that there are perhaps too many of them; often there are two, three or four pits in the same area when just one would do. Regardless, this makes driving a real challenge because the sand traps can be found on both sides of the fairway and at differing distances. As you might expect the shorter two-shotters on the course are protected more heavily with sand, however, there’s a little bit more leeway on the longer holes.
From the tee you must also contend with several areas of gorse; sometimes it’s just the odd dab here and there but at others there are large areas of the prickly yellow shrub. Pleasingly a lot of this has been removed since my last visit a few years ago and this has really helped opened up the sight lines on many holes and they can now be seen it all their glory - the best and most telling example of this is at the 15th. Many of the holes are also lined with heather which makes finding the ball relatively easy but advancing it in the intended direction much more problematic.
Your introduction to S&A may well be a terrifying one. The opening hole is a par-three, a 200+ yarder from the back tee, and has always played into the wind on my travels here. The green has a narrow entrance and there must be at least nine bunkers to avoid. It’s a real crackerjack of a hole to start your round with.
The other three short holes come in the space of half a dozen holes between the eighth and 13th. Two of them are good. The other is great. Holes ten and 13 are modest, well defended one-shotters but the bunkerless eighth is exceptional. Playing up to a table top green with a slight reverse two-tier putting surface there is a steep drop-off to the right and wispy rough and mounds to the left - I’m not sure what’s over the back because I dare not look! The teeing area is protected by trees and you often don’t feel the sea breeze that is inevitably blowing up by the green; only a perfectly executed shot here will set up a short birdie putt.
The standout hole among the par fives is the second - sand from the tee, sand on the inevitable lay-up and a fabulous green complex - although the most memorable is undoubtedly the 16th - Gumbleys - with its giant wooden sleepered bunker plastered into the face of a huge dune dividing the driving zone from the blind approach and green.
Of the par fours there is a wonderful mix of holes, not a dud amongst them and virtually all of them boast stellar green complexes. The green site at the fourth is quite sublime whilst the following hole is one of my favourites too because the angle of approach at this 448-yard brute must be from the correct side, down the left, in order to access this angled green.
The 17th is also a fine hole with an elevated tee giving you a great view of Hillside just over the railway line and although I might ordinarily frown upon a closing hole of just 350-yards on a championship course the 18th at S&A is right out of the top drawer and a real gem. Sweeping round the corner you can choose how much you wish to bite off but the real secret to this hole is getting your ball to move from right-to-left. You then play up to a raised green under the shadow of the clubhouse; it’s a very satisfying end to an excellent golf course.
In terms of the various golf course rankings Southport & Ainsdale never seems to get a fair crack of the whip in my opinion. Although it regularly features in the usual top 100 lists it is often left in the wake of near neighbours Birkdale, Formby and Hillside. I’d personally put it on a par with the first two and ahead of the latter but why not make a visit here and decide for yourself.
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.