This winter’s weather and flooding have limited the opportunities for GOLF RETAILING’S Secret Golfer to get out and put golf courses to the test, yet it takes more than the wettest winter on record to stop our intrepid reviewer. In February the Secret Golfer ventured to one of the hot-beds of English golf, Southport, and to Formby Hall
Introduction to Formby Hall
Formby Hall, near Southport in Lancashire, is in close proximity to a number of well-known links golf courses, with Open Championship venue Royal Birkdale being less than five minutes away. With courses such as Hillside and Southport & Ainsdale just around the corner too, you can hardly blame the local tourist authority for dubbing this area ‘England’s Golf Coast’. With such grand old links courses so close, it is a blessing to Formby Hall that its golf course is parkland, and the venue separates itself further by also offering a four-star hotel, spa and wedding and conference facilities.
These added facilities can come into their own outside the golf season, and in fact when we arrived for our day in February, Formby Hall very busy, not with golfers, but with a largely female clientele making use of the spa. One of the resort’s overflow car parks was half-flooded, but there was still ample parking space.
Accompanied by a golfer who is due back to Formby Hall in March for a EuroPro Tour qualifying event, this visit was dual-purpose.
As Formby Hall is a resort more than a traditional golf course, the dining facilities were very good, with numerous bars restaurants on site. We were directed to the 19th Hole bar for our pre-round coffee and bacon sandwich, where the service was prompt and good, and a price of £12 for two coffees and two bacon sandwiches was also more in keeping with a hotel than a golf club. It was a relaxed start to our day, the sarnie was first class, and with a number of golfers and hotel guests in the bar, there was a comfortable buzz about the place.
The Formby Hall website promotes its pro shop as: “Extensive, not expensive”, and the reality largely lived up to its billing. The shop was well stocked with all a lot of premium brands, and particularly a prominent, seasonal display of Galvin Green product (which, as you would expect, was expensive). The shop also boasts a specific section for ladies, and the staff were friendly, attentive and helpful, and clearly directed us to the practice facilities, and gave us the information on needing the use mats for approach shots to all par fives. They also gave us prompt assistance when we had a problem with the automatic ball dispenser on the driving range.
Formby Hall is a PGA Golf Academy, offering various instruction packages featuring a ball tracking system and video swing analysis.
The practice areas were of a very good standard, with the driving range featuring 26 bays with automatic ball dispensers, along with a broad variety of targets, while the short game area included an impressive range of
chipping greens and practice bunkers. There is also an expansive putting green adjacent to the first tee, so there was plenty of room for quality practice.
Formby Hall also offers an excellent par-three, nine-hole course, so in terms of practice facilities, I am not sure even Birkdale could match what is on offer here.
Out of 18 holes, only the eighth and 13th were without water features (and I understand this was not due to flooding), so it is a testing course on which higher handicappers need a good stock of balls. Needless to say, accuracy is the key to success here, rather than power. Golfers need to plot their way around, or they may need to book a room before completing the back nine.
We played from the yellow tees on this par-72 course, to a distance of 6,462 yards, as the only other tee position available to us were the reds at 5,584 yards.
For February, amid the wettest winter on record, the course was in very good condition, so you can appreciate why the EuroPro and Challenge tours come here. There was an abundance of greenkeepers carrying out various repairs and upgrades, so little expense seems to be spared in keeping up the quality.
The greens were very large throughout the course too, but with pin positions pretty tight on most of them. To be honest, I’m not sure there was a single pin position in a central location. Greens need to be protected in winter, certainly, but there needs to be a balance.