Up the Road From the Open: Ordeal by Asparagus, Death by Bacon, and the Formby Hippo

formbyasparagus Less than an hour up the Lancashire coast from Royal Liverpool Golf Club, where the 2014 Open was held, is the village of Formby, which is the home of two terrific courses, Formby Golf Club and Formby Ladies Golf Club. (It’s also the home of a forgettable Florida-style golf course, called Formby Hall.) Formby Golf Club abuts the Ainsdale Sand Dunes National Nature Reserve, one whose attractions is a small plot on which farmers grow asparagus, a once significant local crop. A man I met during a trip to the region last year told me that banquets for area golf-club captains held at Formby Golf Club had once been “ordeals by asparagus,” because diners had to be careful not to drip butter onto their red-silk tailcoats. I visited the Ainsdale dunes one afternoon between rounds, and, among other things, studied an informative historical display.


I also bought a cup of coffee at a mobile stand, which was operated by a middle-aged couple.


The man, whose name was Phil, noticed my golf cap and invited me to play golf with him and his son, Sean, at Southport & Ainsdale, a few miles farther up the road, where he was a member. We played a day or two later. The course is one of my many favorites in the area.


Phil is a retired Merseyside policeman. At lunch after our round, I asked him what his toughest case as a cop had been, and he told me about a forty-three-year-old woman who had died under mysterious circumstances. “I attended her autopsy,” he said, “because she was from a tough neighborhood and there was a presumption of foul play.” The pathologist was baffled, but then, as he was finishing up, he noticed something odd in her throat and gripped it with a clamp—like that scene in “Twin Peaks” in which Special Agent Dale Cooper finds a typed letter “R” under Laura Palmer’s fingernail. Phil said, “It was a piece of bacon rind, six or seven inches long. She had choked to death on a bacon sandwich”—an unsettling thought, since that’s what I was having for lunch, and since bacon is pretty much the No. 1 nutrient of the Sunday Morning Group.

Incidentally, Formby has foxes in addition to asparagus:


And Southport & Ainsdale has rabbits:


And Formby also has the Formby Hippo—about which I may have more to say later.


Golf-Hating Masochist Builds House on Golf Course

Most people who live on golf courses play golf, or like golf. This for-sale sign faces the course, not the street. The "lake front" it mentions is a swimming-pool-size water hazard. In other words, it's a dream house.

Most people who live on golf courses play golf, or, at the very least, like golf. This for-sale sign faces the course, not the street, because the real-estate agent knows that golfers are the people most likely to be interested in buying a house with a view of a fairway. The “lake front” mentioned down at the bottom of the sign refers to a water hazard the size of a swimming pool. In other words, this is a golfer’s dream house.

The Sunday Morning Group has just returned from its annual end-of-season golf trip to Atlantic City. We had a terrific time (and I’ll have more to say about the trip over the next couple of weeks). Two of the three courses we played had houses or condos along some of the fairways. People who live next to golf holes do so at least partly because they love golf—or so you would think. The guy whose property is shown in the photos below apparently does it to keep himself in a constant state of agitated fury.


The brush fence shown in the photo above runs along the guy’s rear property line, and, lest anyone think those branches fell from the trees in neat piles and straight lines, he added no-trespassing signs, fence posts reinforced with rebar, nylon rope, out-of-bounds stakes, and a red line painted on part of the cart path where the asphalt apparently encroaches a few inches into his yard:

The red line painted on the edge of the cart path in the lower left-hand corner of the photo, just below the nylon rope, runs along the edge of the property. Did the owner hire a surveyor to  determine the exact location of the line?

The red line painted on the edge of the cart path in the lower left-hand corner of the photo, just under the nylon rope, runs along the edge of the property. Did the owner hire a surveyor to determine an exact location for the line?

The creation of this barrier was not the work of a single afternoon.


The owner also installed a bench and a fire pit near the brush fence, perhaps so that he can keep golfers under personal surveillance and incinerate balls that land inside the barrier.


Last spring, I played a couple of rounds at Formby Golf Club, in England. A rich guy whose house backs up to the seventeenth tee had installed close-circuit video cameras on tall poles at the edge of his property, to keep an eye on the golfers. Wouldn’t it be easier to live somewhere else? Or maybe some people just enjoy feeling pissed-off all the time. The signs below are more in line with my own thinking.


This Should be the Patron Bird of Golf

Eurasian Skylark, Wallasey Golf Club, England, May 14, 2013.

Eurasian Skylark, Wallasey Golf Club, England, May 14, 2013.

If you’ve ever played links golf in the British Isles, you’ve seen and heard Eurasian skylarks, which nest in tall grass and sing while hovering above the ground, often in strong winds, sometimes for as long as an hour.

At Wallasey Golf Club (virtually next door to Royal Liverpool) I got closer to a skylark than I ever have before:


The U.K.’s skylark population has fallen by something like ninety percent in the past thirty years, primarily as a result of changes in British agricultural practices which I don’t completely understand. One environment in which they continue to thrive is linksland, and their singing has provided the soundtrack for many of my favorite golf rounds during the past twenty years.

Wallasey Golf Club. Music provided by skylarks.

Wallasey Golf Club. Background music provided by skylarks.

At Formby Golf Club, yesterday, I didn’t see any skylarks, but I did see this, near the seventeenth tee:


She was hunting for mice, and when she spotted one in the rough she jumped:


I also saw these—which, for some reason, were sitting in the grass. (Maybe they were trying to hatch golf balls.)


And I saw lots of these, especially on the practice green:

wagtailThat bird is called a wagtail, because—duh—it wags its tail.