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  • Neil White

West Lancashire

The ferry did, indeed, go across the Mersey and to paraphrase Gerry Marsden, this land was a place I loved.

West Lancashire Golf Club looks out upon one of the most sung about estuaries in the world.

And the Stena Line ship arrived as we were taking our refreshment following the delayed spring open at this great old course.

The vistas out to sea are one of the hallmarks of a club which was made famous by Harold Hilton, its secretary in the early 1900s after his two Open wins at Muirfield and Hoylake.

Hilton is remembered in the modern clubhouse with memorabilia and a photo of him playing in a three-piece suit and smoking a cigarette while in mid-swing.

As our intrepid quartet took on this tough links, I wondered how Hilton would have managed to score well with hickory clubs in heavy, often wet tweed.

Anyway, thanks to my partner's early blitz of birdies, we threatened to follow his footsteps in grand style.

Sadly, good things rarely last but, while we didn’t live up to the dazzling pace, we did prove that, on a relatively calm sunny day, good scores are possible.

Actually, by ‘relatively calm’ I mean a wind which only required a two-club alteration. Goodness knows how a hoolie is accommodated.

Regardless, West Lancs was a joy – especially memorably for its fabulous green complexes which are in superb condition but often prompt delight to turn to dismay as approach shots fall from the putting surface into swales or, worse still, bunkers.

The potted sand traps are fiendish because they are narrow and the ball often ends up against a vertical face or extraction requires a gymnast’s flexibility to create a stance (twice I was forced to kneel on one leg on grass and one foot in the bunker).

The friendly chap in the pro shop had warned us to make sure we kept out of the rough but it wasn’t nearly as penal as he suggested.

Indeed, it was graduated so the ball could be played easily out of the first two cuts and would only be lost if shots were very wide.

Strategy and accurate approach play rather than big-hitting are key to success around West Lancs and this is reflected best by the short, dog-leg, par-four 7th.

My pals were tempted to cut off the corner where rough and bunkers lurk. I followed the less dangerous (chicken’s) route and chipped to ten feet for a birdie putt (I missed!).

The 13th is the course’s picture hole, curving from right to left, with a backdrop of the sea and 32 wind turbines, as high as the London Shard.

Delicate placement down the right is likely to yield a score, whereas bunkers will suck in shots just left of centre and bushes and a pond will punish hooks.

The quirkiest hole is the 14th, the men’s stroke index one with a blind tee shot over gorse before bending round towards a green protected by woods to the right.

I hammered my best drive of the day and thought I had nailed a seven-iron into the green only for it to fall off to the left.

This was also my fate on the 15th which is named Sniggery with a dollop of irony.

It requires a controlled drive to avoid trees and water to the right and out of bounds to the left. However, I can verify that is not the end of the danger because my approach slid down to the pot bunker at the side of the target and I couldn’t get out.

But the sting in the tail came on the long par-three 12th when my partner’s ball literally landed on a bees’ nest. I can’t think why he refused to play it.

Yes, West Lancs is at one with nature, fitting beautifully into the landscape and, at £55 for a betterball competition with sandwiches and soup thrown in, it was among the best-value rounds of my top100 quest so far.

But, sadly, unlike Gerry, I can't stay.

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