When you think about traveling abroad to play golf, the first two places you probably think of are Scotland and Ireland. I’ve been fortunate to play a lot of golf in the British Isles, yet I was completely in the dark with my understanding of the quality of the golf courses in England. James Somerside from Golfbreaks.com reached out to us to discuss the idea of introducing me and Tron to northwest England’s golf scene. We managed to pull together a trip on relatively short notice, at which point James started working his magic planning out the golf and logistics. As we hopefully capture in this and the posts to follow, both the quality of the golf and the richness of the experience along England’s “Golf Coast” were revelatory.
In addition to this summary post on Wallasey, and the other posts that are to follow, please check out both Part I and Part II of the podcast that we recorded on the last night of the trip prior to flying back to our respective locales.
We grabbed some gas station baps and coffee and made our way to the fifth stop of the trip: Wallasey. You might think that after three straight days of sunshine, we were due to be brought back down to Earth. Not even close. We had one more 36 hole day in ahead of us before returning to the daily grind, and were determined to soak up every last minute of it.
Similar to Royal Liverpool, Wallasey sits right off a main road, and lacks the standard dramatic drive from civilization to hallowed private grounds. I like it. As was a common theme on this trip, the air of exclusivity so common in stateside was almost non-existent, affording us a comfort level and sense of belonging throughout the week. Facing the clubhouse from the parking lot you see the first tee immediately to the right. Blown away by the quaintness of the scene I told Tron on the spot that I would be writing the review for this track.
Wallasey eases you in with a rather simple par four opener. Enjoy it while you can, because the second hole is 458 yards of hell. It was on this hole that Dr. Frank Stableford devised the scoring system that still bears his name:
“I was practising on the 2nd fairway at Wallasey one day in the latter part of 1931, when the thought ran through my mind that many players in competitions got very little fun since they tore up their cards after playing only a few holes and I wondered if anything could be done about that.”
If reading this from the states, our definition of Stableford scoring (now commonly referred to as modified stableford) is different than the one used in the British Isles. In the Queen’s version you get zero points for a double bogey or worse, one point for a bogey, two for a par, three for a birdie, and four for an eagle. This system is so common on this side of the Atlantic that I tend to hear British and Irish people refer to their point total more often than their total score. This is a cool piece of history about the club, and they go out of their way to make sure you don’t ever forget it. “Home of Stableford” is front and center on the scorecard, yardage book, and even on polos in the pro shop. While I can appreciate the nod towards history, the golf course stands on its own as far as its memorability, and it being the “Home of Stableford” is more of a footnote.
But back to the second hole: it’s a big boy dogleg right par four. The landing area is wide and invites you to swing freely with a driver. However, it’s still rather demanding, and you need to decide how much of the corner you want to take on. You’ll likely still need a mid to long iron to get to the green that’s guarded with a bunker in the front right. None of us played the hole well, but we all walked off marveling at how well it’s stood the test of time. The third goes up a large hill, in turn dramatically concealing the scene that awaits at number four. Traversing the hill backing the green you get your first glimpse of the ocean and the fourth and seventeenth in all this glory. I was speechless.
Easily the best view of the entire trip. A stunning and friendly par five that, with the sea birds cawing and the Irish Sea lapping against the shore is as soothing to the ears as it is to the eyes. The water sits far enough back that it doesn’t really come into play, and with the seventeenth sitting comfortably to the left, you’re granted full authorization to begin your launch sequence. The drop off is much more dramatic than it appears in the picture above, and the ball stays in the air forever as gravity gradually takes over. The setting right up against the water reminded me of both the 7th at Ballybunion and the 4th at Pacific Dunes, but with more elevation.
With the locals walking their dogs along the beach and the sun on our backs I could have lingered on this hole all afternoon and encapsulated the weekend more than any other hole we played. The fifth is a nice little par three heading back out towards the sea and the views are just as good as the previous hole. I’ll let Tron walk you through that one:
This “superstar Fred McGriff” back-to-back combination was fantastic, and easily the signature stretch of the course. Out in the open with no protection from the dunes you’re forced to take at least one club more just to avoid a short iron ballooning up into the air. I’ll never tire of playing these kinds of shots in links golf. I’d be fine with never hitting a full iron shot again. Flighted six irons all day baby!
The 7th hole is when things started to go very wrong for Tron. I didn’t see the contact, but I heard it. The sound was unmistakable. He went full Webb Simpson. You NEVER go full Webb Simpson. A shank that went OB circa Steve Stricker at the 2013 US Open, and his psyche was perhaps permanently damaged.
Fast forward to the 8th hole: Tron had a 40 yard pitch for his third. He proceeded to hosel it again. My initial reaction was just to drop my jaw in amazement. But when the ball shot through the brush at breakneck speed, only to land directly in a pheasant’s nest, the laughter could be contained no more. The pheasant went NUTS, assuming that Tron’s Chrome Soft was making a personal attack on its family values. As it poked its head out to see who had stirred its slumber, squawking at the top of its lungs, we were in tears laughing at both the shot, and the epic display of bravado by the pheasant.
Three holes later, Tron was doing all he could to get wedge out of his hands:
The further we got into the weekend, the more willing we were to take putter from 40+ yards out (wait until you see what James did on 18 at Royal Lytham). Your ego might not encourage it, but the turf does.
The 12th was a savage little par three called Old Glory that was something out of All Quiet on the Western Front. The picture below also give you a good sense of the property on the inland side of the dunes.
There are a few holes at Wallasey in the middle stretch that are a bit underwhelming, but as I go back through my yardage book and visualize these holes again, I’m reminded just how much I enjoyed the walk around this place. This was no doubt aided by yet another flawless day of sun, and what ended up being my best round of the trip by quite a few strokes, but every hole from 11 on in was a good mix of birdie chances, great challenges, nice views, and strong vibes.
The 17th is an absolute mammoth. I’m confident that the adjacent downhill downwind par five 4th would easily play to a lower scoring average than this uphill, into-the-wind 457 yard par four that cuts right toward a green that’s cradled into heather. It took all I had off the tee, and a flushed three iron to barely reach the green just off to the left. Easily the hardest hole on the course on this day, as I would not imagine it was designed to play into the teeth of this wind.
The 18th hole is a bit funky, with a huge undulation in the fairway placing a premium on accuracy. But the approach frames the clubhouse and the small patio out back quite nicely, to the point where it feels like you can bank your approach off the bricks. A group of members playing in front of us was gathered and seated to enjoy the rare March sun, and for a moment I pictured what it would be like to be a member there, vibing with your friends week after week, drink in hand. Similar to how they send you off on the first tee, the tight quarters give an air of intimacy and a lasting final image from a distinctly fun golf course.
Our tee time for the afternoon at Royal Lytham was a tight one, and we weren’t sure if we were going to get to play all 18. We hustled up the coast to make it to Lytham in time.
— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) March 26, 2017
Easy like Sunday morning. pic.twitter.com/MAmxvZzvNp
— Tron Carter (@TronCarterNLU) March 26, 2017