Silloth on Solway
“Approved.” The application form had been filled out and payment transaction completed.
Minutes after completing her first round, Mrs W joined Silloth on Solway Golf Club.
Put simply, this must be the best value membership in world golf.
For a fraction of the cost of others in England’s top 20, she will have the pleasure to adjourn to links which are of the most stunning quality and be part of a club whose friendliness had already beguiled.
I would have followed suit immediately but there is a waiting list for men.
Silloth charmed us before we arrived, thanks to our effervescent host whose vivid descriptions of his beloved club were exceeded.
Its holes conjure memories of many of our most exciting links rounds – there are echoes of St. Enodoc, Rye, Royal Cinque Ports – even a bit of Royal Portrush, Ballyliffin or Lahinch.
But Silloth also has a clear identity – with views across the sea to Scotland and Isle of Man on one side and as far as the Pennines inland on the other.
The tone is set from the wonderful first hole with its unconventional green, out of sight in a dramatic dip.
It was a huge thrill to drill my second shot under the wind and find the ball on the front of the putting surface.
Silloth is manicured as well as any other links I have seen and that includes those on the Open rota.
Its greens are beautifully consistent, its tee boxes have barely a blade out of place, its bunkers are in tip-top condition and the wonderful matted walkways really set it off.
And, although it is not a long course, Silloth has teeth – with plenty of heather and gorse lurking in wait for those who are offline.
It has carries which can intimidate such as at the second hole, a short par-four with a tee shot over all sorts of nasty stuff before a largely obscured fairway peeling off to the right.
An even more daunting drive is demanded on the bending third where only the brave or mad will cut the corner on the left.
Many of Silloth’s defences are around the greens as on the short fourth with its sharp fall-offs on either side. I thought I had cracked it after a drive which left a relatively short pitch. Errr… no.
The par-five fifth offers arguably the best views from the course, running alongside the sea.
It also plays with the mind because drives need to be hit at the ocean and the out-of-bounds down the right rather than down the middle because the wind will blow balls into trouble down the left.
The breeze was gentle on the day we played but, even so, prompted a two-club adjustment on some holes.
The 7th conjures memories of the opener with another blind shot into a green in a hollow. I thought my approach was the best of the day but it went past the flag and the ball nestled in tufty grass.
My swagger had turned to a sulk after my next shot was a shank.
Our host said that the ninth – a downhill par-three out to sea and surrounded by bunkers, was his favourite Silloth hole. It is, indeed, a beauty but looks a cinch. It isn’t.
The challenge is very different on the back nine because the wind is predominantly prevailing and surprising club selections need to be made to prevent over-hitting into trouble.
Mrs W discovered this on the curving 11th after a superb tee shot was followed by an approach which looked destined for flag side but slipped beyond the green requiring the most delicate of return chips.
The seed of doubt having been sown, weapon choice on the down-breeze short 12th requires the brains of a mathematician as well as a golfer. Fortunately, I guessed correctly and landed about 15 feet from the cup.
The 13th is the most difficult and most eccentric hole at Silloth – an uphill par-five, demanding a big decision with the second shot which faces a slither between dunes, 150 yards before a high-plateaued green. I look forward to returning and mastering it.
Meanwhile, I can testify that the opportunities flow on the remaining five holes.
I came the closest I have ever been to an eagle on the generous par-five 14th where I needed a 15-footer for a three after a rather pleasing blind approach.
The 17th yielded another chance for glory as my second shot landed only a yard in front of the bowled green.
Meanwhile, I spurned a birdie chance on the par-four, left-leaning 18th. Bigger hitters may get into trouble with the heather to the right.
A round at Silloth will live long and, in our view, was so good it needed repeating.
Our desire to return was enhanced when speaking to its Secretary on the veranda outside the historic clubhouse.
His progressive view on the club and our great game’s future tallied so much with ours that joining was a no-brainer.
Sure, the town is not much to crow about (we recommend the tapas restaurant) and it is a long jaunt from home, but this is a thrilling stop-off en route to Scottish golf adventures.
Silloth is sensational and the courses north of the border will have to be special to match it.