Search

Silloth on Solway

Yardage
6600
Par
72
SSS
72
Built
1894
Architect(s)
Davie Grant, Mungo Park
Nature:
Tight Championship links, heather, gorse, big dunes and many blind shots. Outstanding
Location/Address:
North West Cumbrian coast. Postcode: CA7 4BL
http://www.sillothgolfclub.co.uk
Secretary
Alan Oliver
Telephone
016973 31304
Professional
Jonathan Graham
Green Keeper
Brian Story
Tell a friend
Access Policy:
Visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
Member's dogs only
Open Meetings:
36 hole in May
Fees in 1960s
30p
Fees today
£45

Review

It was not until 1966 that the Club’s name of “Silloth on Solway” was changed from “Carlisle and Silloth”, and in the early days membership was dominated by those who lived in Carlisle arriving by train.

The reputation of this course is now so high among those who have played it, that the membership hails from all over the UK and national championships are regularly played over the links.

Tucked away on the north-western Cumbrian coast, roving golfers can often overlook this course, as did Frank Pennink in his Golfer’s Companion but it has all the ‘joy to be alive’ factors and, as Donald Steel noted, “is a remote jewel that shines most brightly”.

Narrow fairways of fine fescue and bent grasses are located between high sandhills, abundant heather and, when the wind blows, perhaps too much encroaching gorse! (I am advised a gorse regeneration programme has this in hand)  The traditional blind drives and approaches to sunken greens with wide views across the Solway Firth to Southerness and Criffel, give an exhilarating experience.

Cecil Leitch

Cecil Leitch

It was here that the five Leitch sisters grew up, three of whom played golf internationally, with Cecil who won the Ladies Championship a record four times, dominating British golf both sides of the First World War, until Joyce Wethered, ten years younger, took over the mantle.

The second most famous Parliamentary golfer (the first being Arthur Balfour in the Edwardian era) became strongly associated with Silloth, when in 1951 he was elected MP for Penrith. Viscount Whitelaw had grown up at Nairn on the Moray coast and Silloth’s distance from Westminster suited him well, where he became a familiar figure and universally and affectionately referred to as “Willie”.

Mill behind 4th green

Mill behind 4th green

The original course was started to the east of the town but in 1892 Davie Grant, the professional from North Berwick, was invited to lay out a course to the west of the town’s flour mill.

Mungo Park (who won The Open Championship in 1874), brother of the more famous Willie Park sen. (winner of the first Open championship in 1860), helped Grant and was subsequently appointed by the North British Railway Company (the Club’s landlord) as their first professional and greenkeeper.

Hugh Kirkaldy from St Andrews (whose wooden-headed putter, with which he won his Open Championship in 1891, is used as the trophy by The Oxford and Cambridge Golfing Society in their President’s Putter competition at Rye every February) was also a professional at Silloth in the early days.

John Pearson, past editor of the British Golf Collectors Society’s quarterly magazine Through the Green , with Peter Cusack, published a definitive history of the Club’s first 110 years at the turn of the millennium and eloquently describes how the Club produced a stream of champion golfers. Many of them lived in West Silloth and grew up as caddies. Brian Story became course manager, working closely with Jim Arthur, the brilliant consultant agronomist. Another son of Silloth, John Longcake, describes fascinatingly hole by hole how he achieved a remarkable round of 59 on a blustery October day in 2001.

The course has been altered many times and Willie Park jun., Willie Fernie from Troon and Dr Alister Mackenzie of Moortown and Alwoodley fame, were all consulted, though Pearson and Cusack think it is doubtful they were anything more than supporting players to a greens committee responsible for the course’s evolution to its now 6626 yards from the blue tees, par 72 and sss of 73.

Drive at the 7th

Drive at the 7th

The agronomic stability of the course, based on pure sand, took some time to be established and the original greens were finished with sea-washed Cumberland turf.

Around half of the 1892 greens still appear to be in place today and the sometimes criticised blind holes remain, with sunken greens at the 1st and 7th, giving a stimulating ingredient of chance; one of the factors of FineGolf and the modern ‘retro-trend’ to the ‘running’ game that sets it apart from 1980/90s ‘target’ game.

The narrowness of the valleyed fairways, lined by heather and wiry grasses on the way out and gorse on the inward nine, can give an unusually stronger feeling of claustrophobia than on any other great links that I have played. Many holes require a strategic decision on length of carry, where the fairway is angled to the tee.

This is a thinking golfers course.

The requirement to be straight is exacting and a good round here has to be built on good driving “through the uprights”, as Mark Parsinen, the creator of the new Scottish highlands course Castle Stuart, would describe it. These “uprights” are predominantly natural, as there are few bunkers off the tee except at the 18th.

The 2nd green

The 2nd green

Are there anywhere four two-shot opening holes of more character, and averaging only 360 yards, than these?   At the second hole the quality of your bump and run shot across a series of mounds is tested to a green that runs quickly to the back.

Drive at the 3rd

Drive at the 3rd

The blind drive at the third hole, with an ocean of hillocky heather left on the dogleg, must be straight in the prevailing crosswind to give a chance of running up to the high side-shelf green. Those playing for bogey will favour the bail-out area with a fade.

The fifth, a classic seashore hole with a high tee to an angled fairway, has been changed recently with a long but deceptive approach over bunkers 60 yards shy of the shelf green.

Three of the four short holes here are 200 yards or so; the sixth into the wind and now without the high bank in front gives sight of the green from another of Silloth’s many confidence-building high tees.

The 9th green

The 9th green

The ninth, along the top of a seaward dune with a steep drop on the right and an array of deep bunkers, requires a demanding shot that must hit the green 140 yards away, and will require anything from a wedge to a one iron depending on the wind.

The course is an area of special scientific interest and natterjack toads and great crested newts are present. The 6th hole is called Natterjack.

Over the years many changes have been proposed to the tenth hole which, in my opinion, continues to be rather unsatisfactory with the word ‘diddytown’ coming to mind. It does give the long hitter some fun in attempting clearance of two bunkers on the corner and is certainly a better match-play hole to a stroke-play one.

One comes away from Silloth with an image of real golfing character, of continual challenge.

The one great hole is the thirteenth, known as “Hog’s Back”. This is certainly a par five when playing into the wind, the second shot being struck from a wide fairway and through a gully to a high hog’s back and then to an even higher elevated green at the top of a ridge. It competes with the thirteenth at Burnham and Berrow as the toughest thirteenth that I can recall.

The short 16th

The short 16th

The run home is on overall flatter ground, though the fairway swales are still significant and being 400 yards longer than the first nine holes, gives you a chance to open your shoulders down-wind.

One might expect that Poa annua (annual meadow grass) does not raise its head over a dry, running, well draining course like Silloth, but you would be wrong.

With the need to provide some binding soil for the greens, many years ago a mistake was made in implementing Jim Arthur’s instructions and fen soil was applied neat without being mixed with sand. This layer became compacted over the years and created a barrier to the deep roots of the fine bents and fescue grasses of which the Club has always been so proud. Water and fertiliser were needed to maintain growth and inevitably Poa annua encroached.

Luckily, the able course manager, Brian Story, discovered the cause of the problem and created drainage through the black layer by injecting pressured water and he is now in the process of bringing back the predominance of fine grasses. The Club will continue to be able to boast true, firm, fast greens all the year round

Clubhouse

Clubhouse

The great golf writer, Bernard Darwin, wrote an account of his first visit to the course in 1925. Always a traditionalist and never one to hide his enthusiasms, he wound up the account:

“I never more violently fell in love with a course at first sight”.

The clubhouse, originally a tennis pavilion, has been extended sympathetically over the years and, though there were periods when this Club struggled financially, the facilities now are comfortable and traditional and steeped in the alluring history of a relatively strong membership of ladies, juveniles and artisans.

(See Golf at Silloth, 1890 to 2000 by John Pearson & Peter Cusack, 2001).

Reviewed by Lorne Smith 2010

Reader Comments

On January 31st, 2015 Tom Coulson Said:

Possibly my favourite course, ahead of birkdale for me. A truly rare piece of land and one that I love to play, whatever the weather. holes 3-9 are superb. Nature of the greens means better surfaces in the summer, but i’m sure this is a common theme in the north west of GB