THERE are very few golfing regions anywhere in the world with as many attractions as Southport. It has an Open venue alongside many other distinguished courses, and it is no exaggeration to say that Southport provides the best collection of golf courses anywhere in England.

GTE new logoThoughts of golf in the area immediately drift to Royal Birkdale, a nine-time Open host and the venue for this year’s Women’s British Open. Many consider Birkdale to be the best course in England, and you need only look at its list of champions, which includes Arnold Palmer, Peter Thomson and Tom Watson, to get a sense of how good the links are. With holes running in constantly changing directions and fairways flanked by massive dunes, it’s easy to lose your bearings, but there is something special about a links course where each hole is divorced from the others.

If Birkdale is the leading light in Southport, then it is backed up by a quite exceptional supporting cast. Hillside shares a border with Royal Birkdale and is therefore somewhat cast into the shadow of its more famous neighbour. However, the course offers championship golf at its very best, and will host final qualifying for the Open this year. Hillside is a course of two halves, with the front nine occupying flatter land and running alongside the railway line that separates it from Southport & Ainsdale.

You will need to avoid a stream that repeatedly comes into play and generally plot your way around. On the back nine, the golf is on an altogether grander scale. More dramatic, with enormous dunes, this is more akin to being in Ireland.

Southport & Ainsdale, or S&A to the members, shares a border with Hillside, and offers a historic James Braid layout which hosted the Ryder Cup twice in the 1930s. This is a course with an inland feel in places, stands of Scotch pines and firs as well as heather blending with the more typical links features of gorse and deep bunkers. Big, rugged, tough and demanding, you get exactly what you deserve here – and nothing more.

To the north side of Birkdale is Hesketh, the oldest club in the Southport region. Like many of the Southport courses, this part links, part parkland layout has been used as an Open qualifying venue, and Hesketh has also hosted many other national championships.

Move south again and you come to Formby which hosted the 2004 Curtis Cup and has held the Amateur Championship on four occasions. Playing Formby, you always strike the ball from gorgeous linksy turf, but the pine-tree backdrop provides a different feel for an exciting and contrasting experience.

Drive further south towards Liverpool and you arrive at one of England’s most under-appreciated links at West Lancs. The course measures over 7,000 yards from the back tees and is a classic links challenge.

Hesketh is the oldest golf club in Southport, established in 1885. The course is pre-dominantly links in nature and Championship golf has been played at Hesketh from the early days. In addition to being a previous qualifying venue when The Open was played at nearby Royal Birkdale, Hesketh has hosted many other professional and amateur championships. Most recently, it hosted the Junior Open in 2008 and co-hosted the Amateur Championship with near-by Hillside in 2011.

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