- Neil White
Southport & Ainsdale
Updated: Jan 10
“I resent the notion that I am a bandit,” I said as I tucked into S & A’s 'famous Mexican salad'. The mountain of guacamole, chicken and nachos followed the best round of my top 100 travels so far – 41 points, playing off 14.
Indeed, I was only denied my heart’s desire of breaking 80 by a blob on the 10th – distracted by a rather delicious dark chocolate KitKat, purchased at the halfway hut. Otherwise, I had been inspired by my surroundings – a cracking club and glorious former Ryder Cup course (in 1937, the site of the USA's first win on British soil) on a gorgeous late November day.
We took advantage of the cheaper winter rate which included a pre-round bacon ‘barm’ and coffee in a clubhouse which is the perfect mix of modern and traditional. “Hold on,” I can hear readers say. “What on earth is a barm?"
Well, I was brought up calling it a batch, have progressed in later life to a cob but, to most folk, it is a bread roll. After some practice in the nets and on the very large putting green, we took on one of the more unusual opening holes in championship golf. A pal from the north-west reckons he has scored more twos on S & A’s par-three first hole than on any other course in the country. I watched several locals make a muck of it before finding the middle of the green but missing my birdie.
Many of the holes here have undulating greens and almost all have the trouble in front of them so Mrs W and I were consistently rewarded by using longer clubs than we might have expected. I can testify that strategy – and bunker avoidance - will win the day at S & A and this is typified on the par-five second on which I counted 12 fairway traps before a green framed by dunes.
The grassy mounds are omnipresent at Southport as they are at its next-door neighbours Birkdale and Hillside (I was reminded of my travails on the early holes on the latter as I peered across the railway track). The hillocks certainly add to the drama on hole six, a dramatic dogleg par-four with a blind shot over the dunes and on the short par-five seventh where they encroach from both sides of the fairway.
The eighth is a wonderful par-three with a green on a plateau after a sharp ascent. As Mrs W witnessed, a clip which looks destined for the target can easily hit the bank and roll 20 yards back. The back nine has some more belting holes and includes the 12th, an intimidating par-four with a blind tee shot and bushes and heather lining the right-hand side.
The run-in with three classic holes will stick long in the memory, beginning on the fabulous par-five 16th, the site of the vast Gumbley bunker. A long, straight tee shot is followed by a hit over one of the tallest dunes in the UK and then a clip into well-protected risen green with fiendish undulations. I missed my birdie putt but was very chuffed with a par.
The 17th which runs along the railway is super with lovely views from its elevated tee and a green framed by tall trees and challenging bunkers. Finally, the 18th is different from any other hole on the course – a quirky finale, curving up to the clubhouse between grassy dunes and gorse to a raised putting surface. It is a sublime climax to a cracking course which really makes the golfer think before the chance to enjoy the memorabilia of wonderful days gone by in a clubhouse which splendidly mixes history and modern.
S & A may often be missed by those making a trip to England’s golf coast because it doesn’t have the acclaim of Royal Birkdale, Hillside or Formby. But this would be a mistake as it definitely deserves its place among them.