Is This the Best Overseas Golf Itinerary?

I have an article in the summer issue of Links called “England’s Golf Coast.” It’s about a remarkable thirty-mile stretch of linksland that runs along the Lancashire coast between Liverpool and St. Annes, in northwestern England. The Golf Coast includes three of the ten courses on the active Open Championship Rota—Royal Liverpool, Royal Birkdale (where this year’s Open will be held), and Royal Lytham and St. Annes—but you could skip all three and still have an unforgettable trip. I’ve visited the area several times, most recently in 2013, and my friends have been talking about going back ever since our first trip there as a group, three years before that. The courses are so closely spaced that you can park yourself and your luggage in one place—no need for a coach and driver. In 2010, nine of us stayed mostly in three three-bedroom apartments in this building, in Southport:

The cost worked out to less than fifty dollars per man per night. The longest drive we had to golf was about an hour, and many of the courses we played were just a few minutes away. Here’s Barney in the living room of one of our apartments:

Below are photos of courses and people I mention in my Links article, taken during various trips over the years. First, St. Annes Old Links, which is next door to Royal Lytham and includes ground that was once part of its routing. Here are two members I played with. We wore rainsuits not because we expected rain but because the wind was blowing hard enough to shred ordinary golf clothing:

This is me in 2010 at West Lancashire Golf Club, known locally as West Lancs. It opened in 1873 and was the first Golf Coast course built north of the River Mersey. As is true of many courses in the area, you can travel to it by train from central Liverpool:A great guide to golf courses on the Lancashire coast is Links Along the Line, by Harry Foster, a retired teacher and a social historian. He rode along when I played Hesketh Golf Club, where he was a member for many years. (He died in 2014.)Hesketh isn’t my favorite course, but a couple of its oldest holes, on the second nine, are among my favorite holes. This view is back toward the clubhouse (the red-roofed white building near the center):

Hesketh has both a fascinating history (ask about the Hitler Tree) and a cool address:

In 2013, Foster and his wife joined me for dinner in the dining room at Formby Golf Club, one of my favorite courses anywhere. I actually spent several nights in the Formby clubhouse, in this room:

The Formby course encircles a separate golf club, Formby Ladies. Don’t skip it, as I did until 2013, to my permanent regret. Among the women I played with was Anne Bromley, on the right in the photo below. Her father was once the head professional at Royal County Down:

Formby Ladies isn’t long, but if you aren’t careful it will eat you up. The club has an excellent history, which you can study over lunch in the clubhouse (known to members as the Monkey House):At a nature preserve down the road from Formby, I met a retired Merseyside policeman and his wife, who own a coffee concession. He invited me to join him and his son, an aspiring professional, for a round at Southport & Ainsdale, which hosted the Ryder Cup in 1933 and 1937 and the British Amateur in 2005.The first hole at S&A is a par 3, and it’s a corker:Right next door to S&A, on the other side of the railroad tracks, is Hillside:

And right next door to Hillside is Royal Birkdale, whose clubhouse was designed to look a little like an ocean liner:

Birkdale is one of my favorite Open courses. I played it with a young member who had a lot less trouble with it than I did. In fact, he shot pretty close to even par:

In both 2010 and 2013, I spent one night in the Dormy House at Royal Lytham and St. Annes—part of a stay-and-play package that’s one of the greatest bargains in links golf. The view from my bedroom was across the practice green (and through mist) toward the clubhouse and the eighteenth hole:Here’s what the wind at Lytham—which wasn’t blowing when I took the photo below—has done to the trees. Many years ago, I wrote an article for Golf Digest whose opening line was “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.” The copy editor, who had apparently never heard of Bob Dylan, changed “weatherman” to “weather report.” I was mortified, but it turned out that none of the magazine’s readers had heard of Bob Dylan either. Anyway, leave your umbrella at home:You should play Royal Liverpool, of course, but don’t overlook Wallasey, just a few miles away:Wallasey was the home club of Dr. Frank Stableford, who in 1932 invented the round-rescuing scoring system that’s named for him. Here are the eighteenth green and the clubhouse:And, of course, if you somehow get tired of playing golf you can take any of a number of interesting side trips:

Tips for Overseas Golf Travelers

Royal Liverpool Michael Brown

I’ve taken quite a few golf trips to Scotland, Ireland, and England during the past twenty years—including my recent one to England’s “Golf Coast,” in Lancashire (see above)—and I’ve figured out a few things. Here are some of them:

1. The cure for jet lag is golf. You take the overnight nonstop from Newark, arrive bleary-eyed in Glasgow at 8:00 in the morning, drag your clubs past the bomb-sniffing dogs in customs, stumble into a men’s room designated “loo of the year,” change a tall stack of American dollars into a short stack of British pounds, drive fifty-five miles through Robert Burns country while trying to remember to admire the sheep-dotted hillsides, reach Turnberry in a daze—and tee it up on the Ailsa course, where Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus fought their legendary Duel in the Sun, at the British Open in 1977. You haven’t slept since what seems like the day before yesterday, but your tee shot somehow finds the fairway, and a little mental arithmetic reveals that your colleagues back home are arriving, just now, at their desks. Suddenly, you feel happier than you’ve felt since the birth of your first child, or since the time you and your brother nearly won your flight in the member guest. (Not to worry: The cure for excessive cheerfulness is also golf.)

2. Alternatively, take a flight that arrives at night. I did this once on a non-golf reporting trip to London. I left New York mid-morning, arrived at Heathrow in the dark, took a taxi to my hotel, and immediately went to bed, at roughly 11:00 p.m., local time. I forced my brain to ignore the fact that even two-year-olds were still awake at home, and I slept all night and woke up refreshed, at a normal hour. If you travel all day instead of all night, you sacrifice a full day of potential golf, but you do less violence to your body clock—a possibly worthwhile trade-off for traveling golfers who aren’t as young as they used to be.

3. No matter when you travel, don’t go to sleep (after you’ve arrived) until it’s dark—not even a wee nap. My wife is incapable of doing this. In her view, a nice hotel room in Paris is the ideal place to spend several days recovering from the ordeal of traveling to France. Be strong! Go straight from the airport to a golf course and play thirty-six holes instead!

4. Beware of weekends. The toughest day of the week on which to get visitor tee times is usually Saturday; the second toughest is Sunday. If you plan a week-long trip that involves leaving for the British Isles on a Friday night and returning two Sundays later—something my friends and I have done several times—you’ll miss just five days of work but your golf itinerary will include the maximum number of nuisance days. And the problem will be compounded if your week also includes a “bank holiday” Monday—the equivalent of a three-day-weekend Monday at home. The solution is to miss a little more work. And you can check the bank-holiday schedule online, through the magic of Google. (On my recent trip, I left on Sunday night, arriving early Monday morning, and returned home the following Tuesday.)

5. Look into poor man’s business class. On my flight home, I paid United $99 for an “Economy Plus” seat, in an exit row. It had so much leg room that I could fully extend my legs without touching the seat in front of mine, and when I went to pee the guy sitting between me and the aisle didn’t have to get up and barely had to move his legs. I took a window seat so that I could lean against it to sleep and, as I had hoped, the middle seat stayed empty, because no one had been willing to pay extra to sit in it. I had so much room that I was able to comfortably type up all my notes from the trip—like getting a free day! And I could plug in my laptop, in an outlet under the seat, when the battery got low!