It boasts one of the most natural and testing links in the British Isles, of which Donald Steel wrote "Only in Britain can one savour the true flavour of seaside golf, of which West Lancashire is a perfect example."
With lovely views of the Mersey Estuary and the Welsh Mountains a constant throughout the round so is the challenge you will face. Indeed, the term 'championship links' is as relevant at West Lancs as it is at any of the fine courses on this stretch of coastline and beyond.
Since 1976 West Lancs has hosted Final Qualifying for The Open Championship when it has been played at Royal Liverpool and Royal Birkdale Golf Clubs and in 2012 at Royal Lytham Golf Club too. Its rich history includes in 1885 when The Club contributed to the cost of the Amateur Championship Trophy and in 2009 co-hosted the event which was won by the Italian teenage sensation Matteo Manassero.
The Club also hosts the Crosby Challenge Plate, an annual 36-hole scratch competition for players with a handicap of 2 or less, and this is when I most recently played the course in the April of 2016.
The two-to-three club wind on the day made it a real test from the black championship tees, which stretch the layout to over 7,000 yards, yet the course was a mere pussy cat compared to what I have experienced here previously when the wind always seems to blow, some days more brutally than others.
The main challenge at West Lancs, apart from the length, is the nature of the green complexes. The vast majority are raised, almost upturned saucers, where the heart of the green must be found to avoid your ball potentially being swept away into one the many, many run-offs around the putting surfaces. This means that lots of the greens are effectively mini-plateaus and this is likely to result in plenty of interesting recovery shots from around them. Add to this several deep greenside pot bunkers and your approach play, often with a long iron, must be of the highest quality in order to score well.
The examination you face, however, begins long before you must play to the greens because West Lancs is also one of the most bunkered links off the tee. From recollection I think only the fourth, eighth, ninth and 15th are bunkerless on the drive. The rest of the long holes have some of the best positioned sand-traps on any of the top links courses with the centreline pits at the second and 11th (both par fives) exceptional. All four of the par-fives are very well bunkered and whilst they present opportunities to improve your score they are not without their perils.
West Lancs also boasts one of the best set of short holes of any British Links. The popped up green at the third is tricky to find whilst missing the plateaued sixth on the wrong side will almost certainly hurt your scorecard. As good as both of these are, however, it is the 12th and 17th that vie for being the best one-shotter on the property. Each has a truly fabulous green complex and both are expertly bunkered yet it is the angle of the putting surfaces which make these unquestionably two of the great holes on the English West Coast.
The par fours are all varied and absolutely solid as a rock. From the menacing opener to the daunting final hole there is rarely a let up in the questions asked of you as a golfer. Some of the two-shotters leg to the right whilst other shape to the left; there are few straight holes and this usually means that approaching from the correct angle is very important. In April, before the rough gets up, the course offers plenty of width too which adds to the strategy of the links. Everyone will have their favourites but in my opinion the first, fourth and eighth and the pick of the par fours at West Lancs and epitomise the importance of angles on this classic parcel of linksland.
There’s little to be critical about at West Lancs. I’m not a fan of the hidden water hazard that is in play on the ninth and 18th holes. It is blind from the tee and can create doubt as to whether a ball is actually in the hazard or in the thick rough around it; although I’m not sure what a good solution to this would be.
The sand in the bunkers was also not what you would typically expect from a seaside course. Rather than it being fine, sharp and crystalised it was much heavier and wetter; the sand-wedge didn't slide through as quickly as normal. I suspect this is because it had just been topped up for the start of the season and the dusty larger particles had not yet risen to the top. Interestingly, after speaking to the Course Manager I was also told that since 2005 golf courses on this stretch of coastline have not been able to use sand or buy sand from the beach and therefore only courses that have own "sandpits" on site continue to have natural links sand. The others buy from a quarry.
Because of its southerly location on this wonderful stretch of coastline, closer to Liverpool than Southport, West Lancs often gets omitted from the discussion when the likes of Birkdale, Formby, S&A and Hillside are talked about but that really shouldn’t be the case as it can easily stand shoulder-to-shoulder with these icons of the game.
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.