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Think of great stretches of links golf in the UK and you may be drawn towards Fife, Ayrshire and especially East Lothian. South of the border, we have a number of strong small clusters in Kent, Norfolk and the south west.
But one region stands head and shoulders above the rest for the strength in depth of its fine links golf – the northwest links coastline, with Southport at its epicentre.
From Hoylake on the Wirral up to St Annes, a mere 25 miles north as the crow flies, the links count runs well into double figures, including three magnificent Open Championship venues, plus a strong supporting cast featuring four more courses ranked comfortably inside Golf Monthly’s UK & Ireland Top 100.
The headline act is Royal Birkdale, with its distinctive white art-deco clubhouse.
This is no classic out-and-back links, with the course forever twisting and turning its way through some of the tallest dunes on the Open rota.
Indeed, the three opening par 4s – starting with perhaps The Open’s hardest opening hole of all – play to different points of the compass, affording you little chance to settle into any rhythm.
Add in as strong a cast of links par 3s as you’ll find, with the 12th and 14th real standout holes, and it is easy to see why, universally, Birkdale is held in such high esteem.
Stats: par 72, 6,381 yards
GF: £185-£260wd; £285we (main season only)
Right next door lies the back nine of Hillside Golf Club, where the drama, wow factor and height of the dunes reach another level.
Elevated tees with captivating views abound, with the 14th, 17th and 18th perhaps standing out.
But the hole you will probably remember most is the snaking par-5 11th, which plays from another elevated tee before rising to the sanctuary of a green backed by a striking stand of towering pines.
While the back nine has historically overshadowed the front nine, there are still many strong holes as the course heads out along the railway, with the 7th perhaps the visual star: a mid-length par 3 to another green flanked by towering pines.
Recent work by in-demand course architect, Martin Ebert, has helped to raise the front nine’s game.
One of the main changes has been the introduction of new natural dunes and sandy waste areas between the 1st and 9th holes, with the 9th also inheriting new dunes around its reshaped green complex.
Stats: par 72, 6,558 yards
GF: £90-£190wd; £115-£220we
Ebert has been a busy bee too at Royal Liverpool (or Hoylake), which will host The Open again in 2023.
This venerable links dates back to 1869 when the original course was laid out on the racecourse of the Liverpool Hunt Club at the northern tip of the Wirral.
The links plays over predominantly flat terrain until rising to the green on the par-5 8th at the far end and then embarking on a thrilling four-hole ride along the Dee Estuary, highlighted by the stunning, longish par-3 11th, ‘Alps’.
Since Rory McIlroy claimed the Claret Jug here in 2014 there have been a number of changes, with the new par-3 15th (it plays as the 17th during The Open) by far the most significant.
It is a short-but-testing beauty that now plays in the opposite direction to the hole it replaced.
Only 134 yards, but it is likely to prove no pushover when the world’s best hit town, especially if the wind is blowing in hard off the Dee!
Stats: par 72, 6,466 yards
GF: £135-£245wd; £280we (main season only)
Five more links courses to consider...
Royal Lytham & St Annes Another Open venue (above). The six closing par 4s includes tough tests on 15 and 17.
West Lancs A challenging links, with the par-3 12th and dogleg-left par-4 13th the highlights.
Southport & Ainsdale A fine test through gorse and dunes, with the approach to the 16th playing blind over a vast sleepered bank.
Wallasey Another Wirral links where the well-bunkered downhill par-3 12th follows a superb par 4 along a hog’s back ridge.
Formby An intriguing mix of links and heathland. The long par-4 9th from an elevated tee is one of many memorable holes.
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Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly across the whole spectrum from courses and Rules to equipment and instruction. He also edits The Golf Club Secretary Newsletter, a highly regarded trade publication for golf club secretaries and managers, and has authored or co-authored three books and written for a number of national papers including The Telegraph and The Independent. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played well over 950 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, right across the spectrum from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts, but put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.
Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf
Jeremy is currently playing...
Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft
3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft
Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft
Irons 3-PW: Ping i525, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts
Wedges: Ping Glide 4.0 50˚ and 54˚, 12˚ bounce, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts
Putter: Ping Fetch 2021 model, 33in shaft (set flat 2)
Ball: Varies but mostly now TaylorMade Tour Response
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