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West Lancashire

Yardage
6772
Par
72
SSS
73
Built
1873/1961
Architect(s)
Ken Cotton
Nature:
Classic old fashioned championship links. Oldest club in Lancashire
Location/Address:
Just north of Liverpool. (post code: L23 8SZ0
http://www.westlancashiregolf.co.uk
Secretary
Chris Alty
Telephone
0151 924 1076
Professional
Gavin Abson
Green Keeper
Stuart Hogg
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Access Policy:
Visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
No dogs
Open Meetings:
Numerous
Fees in 1960s
50p
Fees today
£95 - 2015

Review

The West Lancashire Golf Club at Blundellsands or ‘West Lancs’ in affectionate parlance, holds a special spot in my golfing heart along with Brancaster, Rye, Brora, Perranporth, and Southerness, which all give that wonderful dry, shaggy feel of traditional ‘running-game’ links golf.

The Club was lucky to have had the skilful, late John Muir as Head Greenkeeper since the early 80s to 2014, who maintained a high percentage of fine grasses across these tumbling sand dunes that used to be called The Warren, sited between the railway and the Mersey channel.

Jim Arthur, consultant agronomist to the R&A and West Lancs in the 1980s, confirmed that John is not of the view that ‘green is great’ and, when the new watering system became operational in 1987, it was only used ‘at John Muir’s discretion’. The Club has chosen well in now appointing Stuart Hogg previously at St Anne’s Old Links and he is likely to continue a policy of natural greenkeeping.

There is not a single weak golf hole but, West Lancashire being such a favourite of mine, I hope the members will allow me two outspoken criticisms. While the clubhouses at Royal Birkdale and Castle Stuart have been described by some

18th & clubhouse

18th & clubhouse

as out-of-place in their 1930s style, they are beautiful in comparison to this utilitarian monstrosity that is the ugliest of buildings and typical of the appalling modernist architecture started in the 1960s!

I have recently received thoughtful comment from William Hill, with which I am in agreement and am happy to pass on:-

“Recent refurbishment inside has made it very comfortable with a magnificent viewing platform across the nearby ninth and eighteenth greens and over the treeless links to the copse situated alongside the farthest away fourteenth and fifteenth holes”.

William usefully introduces my second criticism, the allowing of these inland trees to flourish suggests a weakness in design that needs disguising by giving an unnatural parkland feel to these couple of holes at the far end on this wonderful archetypical links course.

Trees at the 14th

Trees at the 14th

Having got that off my chest, let us move on and note that West Lancs has a noble heritage, being the oldest surviving course in Lancashire and, along with Royal Liverpool, was founded by Scots who had come down to the flourishing port of Liverpool to do business in the 1870s.

Tom Ball, Arthur Havers (the Open Champion in 1923) and Ted Jarman were all Professionals here, along with ‘Sandy’ Herd who, when defeating Harry Vardon in the 1902 Open with the new rubber-cored wound ‘Haskell’ ball, had signalled the end of the gutta percha ball (itself a replacement for the original ‘feathery’ ball of the 1840s).

Old Tom Morris,Hilton,J.Low

Old Tom Morris, Hilton, J.Low

Harold Hilton, the great amateur who was twice Open Champion in 1892 and 1897 – who incidentally played off +10 in 1894! and is more usually associated with Royal Liverpool – became secretary to the Club in 1901.

It always worried me that Frank Pennink left West Lancs out of his Golfers Companion until I realised that the present course was designed by Ken Cotton (Pennink’s partner) in 1961, the same year as his book was published, and is a completely different layout to the original course (Hall Road) on the other side of the railway and the ladies’ course that was amalgamated into it. He had no chance to review the new course.

This re-design was a heart-wrenching but inevitable step and the new West Lancs course has gone on in the modern era to become one of the toughest Open final qualifying courses while also staging the Brabazon in 2004 and sharing the Amateur Championship with Formby in 2009.

The 2nd & 8th

The 2nd & 8th

Bernard Darwin’s description captures the allure of the ground beneath Cotton’s course: “a country of dells and hollows … exciting and romantic”.

The opener, more difficult in the mind than reality, is a hole for a gently dog-legging fade and the second gives thoughts of Woking’s fourth with two bunkers in the middle of the fairway.

The third is the first of four outstanding par threes, the sixth being my favourite to a small shelf green.

The 156yd 6th

The 156yd 6th

The seventh was recently made famous by Peter Parkinson, the Assistant Pro, when he cut the corner on this 393 yard sharp dogleg, holing-in-one and thereby entering the Guinness Book of Records in 2002. Cutting some of this corner and taking on the pot bunkers poses an exciting risk and reward choice to even lesser mortals.

The eighth is a tremendous two-shotter between the dunes, especially when a westerly prevailing wind howls across.

There are a couple of lengthy par fives on the inward half and at 6772 yards off the whites (par 72: sss73) the course is quite long enough (championship tees-7030 yards).

Christie O’Connor sen., regarded as one of the best long-iron players ever, described Ted Jarman, the Professional here for 36 years, as “the best 1 iron player I can recall”. He had plenty of practice with it, as this course is about running the ball below the wind, keeping out of the wiry rough and being creative in your shot selection. You have to know how to ‘bump and run’. The inland player who lets his ball run high on the cross-wind may well need to re-stock at the Pro’s shop after nine!

The 13th green

The 13th green

Donald Steel, who is on FineGolf’s advisory panel and who arguably has given more to maintain traditional standards across our fine courses than anybody else over the last twenty five years, sums up West Lancs beautifully:

“Only in Britain can one sample the true flavour of seaside golf, of which West Lancashire is a perfect example. Within the framework of the coastal dunes and the railway, a glorious balance unfurls. There are humps and hollows, greens on plateaux and greens in dells, contrast and comparative shelter in the inland holes and everywhere a sea of rough, sandy wilderness to punish the wrongdoer. On summer evenings, as the sun casts its shadows on the links, the shipping slips quietly by on the Mersey and there is time to reflect on the distant beauty, the realisation occurs that the West Lancashire enjoys the best of all worlds.”

The Blundell family, who have been Lords of the Manor of nearby Little Crosby since 1362, have provided a succession of presidents to the Club and hopefully this leased land of Blundellsands links will continue to give that ‘joy to be alive’ feeling to many more generations of members and visitors in the future.

See The West Lancashire Golf Club, a history of golf at Blundellsands, by Barry Coyne, published in 2008.

Reviewed by Lorne Smith 2009 and updated 2015

Reader Comments

On October 1st, 2012 William King Said:

Your comment about the clubhouse is personal taste too strongly expressed. The two white horizontal lines reflect the flatness of the ground well; the vertical line to the east side of the building creates unity. The building is not a collection of boxes for different functions within the building (cp Hillside) but has a unity and is striking.

Dear William,
I can understand what you say but however hard I try I come back to see this modernist apparition sticking out like a sore thumb from one of my favourite clubs!
kind regards
Lorne