Jeremy Ellwood picks out some highlights of golf in north-west England, an area so rich in great courses that it markets itself as 'England’s Golf Coast'
To a degree, Hillside is a game of two halves, for despite an excellent front nine, there’s no doubt that the wow factor increases from the 10th, a tough uphill par 3 to a green surrounded by banks, bunkers and pines.
From here the course takes on the dramatic demeanour of a modern Irish links with towering dunes and elevated tees providing a thrill-a-minute ride through some of the finest holes you’ll play.
Southport and Ainsdale (S&A)
A good and varied stretch follows from five to seven comprising a narrow par-4 enticing you down the left when the pin is on the right, a short blind par-4 where finding the line is tricky, and a monster par-4 off the yellows with a wasp’s waist of a fairway.
It sets its stall out from the start with a long, challenging opener and a number of holes that test your shot-making skills to the full.
Like S&A, West Lancs has a run from seven to nine where line off the tee is crucial, but it’s hard to resist really opening your shoulders on the elevated 13th tee with everything spread invitingly below you.
This wonderful links wends this way and that over a tough opening stretch, with the 1st undoubtedly one of the toughest holes on the links.
Birkdale boasts a strong cast of par 3s with the 12th perhaps the pick of the bunch, playing over a marshy area to a false-fronted green protected by deep bunkers right and left.
The venue where Rory claimed his first Open looks pretty flat from the clubhouse, but takes on a different dimension when you reach the excellent stretch of holes running along the Dee estuary including the superb par-3 11th – Alps – a long par 3 where the green angles awkwardly across you.
The 1st is an interesting hole too with out of bounds flanking the right side of the dogleg all the way up to the green where it is a mere two paces away.
St Annes Old Links
St Annes is a very fine links, where it would be hard to pick out any one hole, though the club promotes the 9th as its signature hole – a modest-length par 3 to a heavily bunkered punchbowl green that’s a full 46 yards long from front to back.
But the par 3s at the far end of the course – the 13th and 15th – are of equal merit, along with several other holes.
Royal Lytham and St Annes
Royal Lytham is probably England’s Carnoustie – not the most scenic of surroundings, land-locked as it is by houses, but a genuine test of your game that rises to a crescendo down the stretch.
The par 3 1st and long 2nd and 3rd holes can all be real brutes into the wind, but the closing sextet of par 4s, including some of the toughest on the course in the 15th and 17th, is where you will probably be most fully tested. Even here there is sometimes a little respite to be found in the shorter 13th and 16th holes.