The North West of England is a golfing paradise. From England’s Golf Coast, which takes in the likes of Royal Birkdale, Royal Liverpool, and Royal Lytham & St Annes, to a whole host of beautiful layouts in Cheshire, Greater Manchester and Cumbria, there are top class courses all over this neck of the woods.
Here’s our guide to the 15 best North West golf courses.
1. Royal Birkdale
For many, Royal Birkdale occupies top spot in the North West.
We all have our favourites, of course – but few would claim this world-famous Open venue isn’t worthy of a place in the UK and Ireland’s top ten.
Since first hosting The Open in 1954, Royal Birkdale has been the most regular venue for the Championship other than St Andrews. Who can forget Jordan Spieth’s heroics here in 2017, or a young Justin Rose holing out on 18 back in 1998?
Challenging venues have a habit of creating special memories, and Birkdale is most certainly that. This peerless links is blessed with towering dunes, and when the wind is up, it can be a torrid experience.
It is fair, though, and if you find the fairways, your ball will rarely veer off into trouble. Enjoy it for what is – links heaven.
2. Royal Lytham & St Annes
It’s a treat to play one of the courses on The Open rota – and the green fees, as punchy as they may be, are worth every penny.
Royal Lytham is a demanding links test. The Open Championship’s top three in 2012 comprised Ernie Els, Adam Scott, and Tiger Woods – so you could say it’s a course that rewards good ball striking.
A links it may be, but it no longer sits beside the sea. However, with Blackpool Tower looming in the distance, you know the ocean isn’t far away.
As for a standout hole, many consider the short ninth, which is surrounded by a pearl necklace of beautiful revetted bunkers, to be its signature. All that’s required is a smooth short-iron.
No golf trip to Merseyside is complete without playing Formby, which will appeal to links lovers and those who prefer heathland golf.
In fact, one of the best holes – the par-4 seventh – requires a pinpoint tee shot to a narrow fairway framed by pines trees.
Along the way, you’re treated to glimpses of Formby Ladies, which sits inside Formby. If you’re clever, you can arrange to play both courses on the same day.
After following the railway line for the first three holes – you don’t want that fade to turn into a slice – you turn towards the Irish Sea, which comes into view on the ninth, a brute of a par 4. From there, you zigzag your way home to the wonderful clubhouse. It’s pure joy throughout.
If you’re in Southport to play Royal Birkdale, you must head next door to Hillside, the host venue for the 2019 British Masters.
This course has always been lauded for its back nine, a glorious stretch of holes amongst the tall dunes. In a letter to the club, Greg Norman once described the holes on the run for home as ‘the best in Britain’.
However, the front nine isn’t exactly forgettable, and Martin Ebert’s recent work to enhance the opening set of holes has made a great course even stronger.
When you play here, you feel like you’re on a rollercoaster, heading this way and that, and some of the views from the elevated tees – you can see the Lake District and Snowdonia on a clear day – are spectacular.
5. Southport & Ainsdale
S&A has twice hosted the fledging Ryder Cup, first in 1933 and again four years later.
A warm welcome is guaranteed here, so you’ll be feeling nice and relaxed before teeing off on a par-3 – and it’s a beauty, playing around 200 yards to a heavily bunkered green.
You’ll need to hit it straight off the tee to score well, as the rough tends to gather anything off-line. There are so many memorable holes, although the par-5 16th will give you plenty to think about – and chat about after in the clubhouse.
‘Gumbleys’ is a brute. First, you must find the fairway, which isn’t easy when you have a railway line right, before you face a blind shot over a huge sleepered bank. ‘Intimidating’ is the word that comes to mind.
6. West Lancashire
West Lancs is the oldest club in Lancashire, and one of the ten oldest in England, boasting a history inextricably intertwined with Royal Liverpool’s. And like Hoylake, it tests every aspect of your game, especially when the wind is up.
Tommy Fleetwood enjoys the odd round here, and he’d probably tell you the same – it’s tough. In fact, even those holes that appear innocuous can trip you up.
On a clear day, you can see as far as Blackpool, and to the southwest there are equally pleasing views across the Crosby Channel to the Birkenhead Peninsula and Liverpool Bay.
7. St Annes Old Links
George Lowe, the club’s first professional and original architect of nearby Royal Lytham, designed the first nine holes here, with the second nine arriving following input from 1902 Open champion, Sandy Herd. As a result, you have a true championship links.
Many regard the ninth hole as its signature – a modest-lengthened par-3 to a large punchbowl green well protected by bunkers.
If you’re looking to play three courses that are near one another, you’d do well to play here, Fairhaven and, of course, Royal Lytham & St Annes. What a fine trio.
8. Silloth on Solway
The next course on our list is the most northerly course on England’s west coast – and what a beauty it is.
Silloth on Solway is undoubtedly this rugged county’s jewel in the crown. The nearby industry can’t spoil the experience of a round here – it’s too mesmerising.
In a standard southwesterly breeze, Silloth presents a game of two halves, and you’ll need to battle hard on the front nine. Even on a calm day, you’ll do well to evade the heather and gorse.
Tough it may be, but this wonderfully remote and idyllic setting will most certainly entice you back.
9. Formby Ladies
A lot of golfers will turn up, look and the scorecard and believe they can overpower Formby Ladies – a strategy that’s not considered too wise.
Put the driver away and see if you can plot your way round without encountering the heather, which is easy to find if you get too aggressive.
Combined with relatively small greens, it presents a superb test and rarely is it presented in anything but perfect condition. The par-3s are particularly good fun and demand precise ball striking and distance control.
It’s one of those courses you’d happily go and play again immediately after – albeit with a different game plan.
10. Royal Liverpool
England’s second oldest links has staged The Open on 12 occasions.
Rory McIlroy lifted the Claret Jug when it was last held on the Wirral Peninsula, and Hoylake will once again welcome the world’s best golfers in 2023.
Tiger Woods has fond memories of Hoylake, too – it’s here when he picked up the third of his Open titles in 2006. See if you can muster up a spectacular shot of your own at the 14th, which is where the great man holed a 4-iron from 225 yards.
This historic venue will make the hairs stand on the back of your neck, long before you tee off. When you do, and you might need to steady yourself given the famous turf on which you stand, you’ll need to be confident with that big stick, for this is a layout that places a real emphasis on strong drives.
Hesketh is surrounded by a number of world-class venues, but it’s well worth adding to your itinerary.
If you do take a trip to Southport (the course was originally called Southport Golf Club), don’t think you’re in for an easy ride. Hesketh is every bit as challenging as its famous neighbours.
On the elevated tee at the first, you can open your shoulders. Thereafter, and if you’re off-line a little, it’s easy to go back into your shell.
The course sits beside a nature reserve, and to the west, two holes border what has become a haven for wildfowl, which adds to the venue’s character and helps create one or two different holes. However, it’s very much links in nature for the most part.
This Open Championship qualifying venue can certainly hold its head high in exalted company.
This is where Frank Stableford devised his points scoring system, and if you’re going to accumulate a good number of these, you’ll need to drive it long and straight.
Originally designed by Old Tom Morris, Wallasey was later modified by Harold Hilton and James Braid.
It’s one fun place to play golf, especially over the front nine with several raised plateau greens and elevated tees.
Situated on the cusp of the Wirral Peninsula with views across the River Mersey, it’s one for the ‘must play’ list.
13. Delamere Forest
One of the attractions of Delamere, located in Cheshire, is that even after heavy rainfall, the greens play like they haven’t seen a drop in weeks.
The sandy foundation allows for year-round golf, and it looks a picture whenever you play here, too. This is heathland golf at its best.
Herbert Fowler designed the original course, and it’s also benefitted from some fabulous bunkering work by Tom Mackenzie. Many will remember the ninth and 18th holes, with their terrific clubhouse backdrops, as well as the risk/reward par-4 13th, a tempter of a short hole which is heavily bunkered.
You’ll find Fairhaven just two miles away from Royal Lytham & St Annes, and whilst its famous neighbour may grab the lion’s share of the plaudits, this wonderful venue has its own special aura.
Its greens are fast and slick, and James Braid’s distinctive bunkers pose a constant threat.
Although three miles from the sea, it’s a course that retains strong links characteristics, especially with its many revetted bunkers.
The five par-5s give you a chance to post a good score, but you’re only likely to do that if you can steer clear of those strategically placed traps.
Prestbury is right up there amongst the best courses in Cheshire. It possesses more than a hint of a heathland feel, whilst the elevation changes make for some wonderful holes.
It was Harry Colt who was tasked with creating the course a little over a hundred years ago, and he’s left his mark with a number of shelf greens on the third and fifth holes.
Many regard the par-4 ninth as the standout hole – it’s certainly one of the toughest, playing uphill to a long narrow green. Meanwhile, the 17th, which plays across a wide gully, is a terrific short hole.
If you’re looking for a parkland course to complement your links itinerary, be sure to head Macclesfield way.
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