After the past couple of days at Birkdale and Lytham ‚?? the ‚??Royals‚?Ě, both Open Championship links ‚?? Charlie took us down to his club, Formby, which has riches of a different character. ¬†I‚??d describe it as heathland. ¬†And what a phenomenal piece of ground they have there too: enough for a championship course and an equally mouth watering (but shorter) track for the girls that plays inside Big Brother. ¬†The club has an illustrious history to boot, and a rather proper atmosphere. ¬†How they let riff raff like Charlie in I‚??ll never know. ¬†He changes his shoes in the car park in defiance of The Rools, but suggested we take ours inside ‚?? as if he‚??d carved a niche for himself as an outlaw, Lone Ranger, and didn‚??t want us encroaching on his turf! ¬†You gotta love this guy.
Charles ‚?? like a short tempered army Major, or a despotic boarding house tutor ‚?? gave us a wake up call (we were staying at Chateau Donald up in Southport). ¬†The three musketeers packed down the biggest feast of muesli and marmalade smothered toast you have Ever seen. ¬†Anticipation levels were high. ¬†I was excited to see that England does actually have sky above the clouds. ¬†And it‚??s ‚?? you won‚??t believe this folks... ‚?? blue! ¬†Yes, it was a bluebird day to rival the most crisp of Christchurch winter mornings. ¬†Delighted.
Formby like Lytham is tucked away down a residential street in suburbia, just next to a train station (Freshfields?). ¬†To minimise the risk of us getting lost we all travelled together ‚?? a decision also driven by the ulterior motive / desire to travel in style (Charlie has a sharp Audi that‚??s not packed to the rafters with the sort of things you‚??d find in a student flat: wet clothes, food wrappers, empty bottles, etc). ¬†The man drives like a lunatic. ¬†No, I‚??m kidding: just wanted to get a wee jab in; Charlie and I being fellow Scots like to tear strips off each other.
Y‚??er man had arranged for another Michael to make up a four. ¬†Naturally the Michaels were paired together in what would prove to be a formidable team. ¬†The Scots not for the first time (and not for the last) failed to offer much resistance, save for a few satirical verbal knifings and the odd expletive. ¬†
Right away we were confronted with heather, pine and sand. ¬†Set against the piercing blue of the seldom visible sky, it was quite a picture. ¬†At this point in the morning shadows were cast long too, giving an early bird feel to proceedings (even though it was 8 o‚??clock). ¬†Here‚??s the view from the 2nd tee, to give you an idea. ¬†(Incidentally this hole has, I think, one of the tougher greens in England to hit).
Charlie being a staunch believer in the principle that golf clubs should strive to always improve their course, and worry less about all the trimmings like a new members‚?? lounge, was frequently asking us how we thought a hole could be altered for the better. ¬†‚??And for f**k sake, be honest‚?Ě, he‚??d caveat. ¬†The man reminds me of why it can be so endearing to be Scottish. ¬†
As we were teeing off on the par 5 3rd hole, a few dog walkers (if you could call them that; they were being walked by wooly mammoth-like St. Bernards and the like) paced across in front of us. ¬†I‚??m not sure they had the foggiest idea that the path they were treading ran straight through the middle of a golf course. ¬†If they did know, there wasn‚??t the slightest indication that they cared one bit for their safety. ¬†This is a feature of English golf that we‚??ve come to notice with surprise, an occurrence that happened yesterday at Lytham too. ¬†Walkers must have right of way. ¬†Which seems illogical to me given golfers are the most important creatures on this earth.
Holes like the short par 4 4th (above) were a delight: clever bunkering very much making Strategy the name of the game. ¬†Charlie questioned the merit of the couple of ‚??new‚?Ě holes (i.e. 25 years old or so) ‚?? 7 and 8 ‚?? but I thought they were rather good. ¬†(In times gone by there were apparently a few great holes playing right down to the sea, but these had to be scrapped due to erosion). ¬†The 7th (pictured below) is a pretty classy short-ish par 4 if you ask me: a tee shot that‚??s not as tight as it looks and an approach that‚??s longer than it looks. ¬†Sure, you can get blocked out if you take the wrong line, but so you well should for being so careless. ¬†The hole had atmosphere.
8 equally was a par 5 (stroke index 1) that gives you options. ¬†Mike (or ‚??Sick Boy‚?Ě, as he‚??s now known) knocked two phenomenal shots to 8 feet, proving it can be reached. ¬†From the tee it‚??s a ¬†case of pick your line, depending on how aggressive you want to be. ¬†Then you can go for it if you‚??re long enough or lay up and still have a good chance at birdie. ¬†The green is a McKenzie one though, so if you get on the wrong tier then 2 putt is very unlikely (as Charlie proved). ¬†Again, it had atmosphere.
Here‚??s a photo of the 9th, which ‚?? for mine ‚?? is one of the few holes that could be improved. ¬†As you can see, Goldy gets right on his tip toes even with a 2 iron!
Below is the view down to the sea, to where a few of the old holes played. ¬†From the horizon a par 5 came towards the point I was standing, and then around to the right, to where the current 10th green is (now a par 3).
Canny fairway bunkering on the 11th below. ¬†I was in the left hand one, from which par is only a dream. ¬†A distant one at that. ¬†By this point the Michaels were beginning to strengthen their grip on the match, Michael Senior rolling in putts from everywhere (as he‚??s prone to doing, per Charlie). ¬†
On the 17th tee, just after the match concluded, Charlie pointed through the woods to a gargantuan house the owner of which is something of a ‚??character‚?Ě. ¬†He bought all the houses around him and knocked them down so he could build a big adventure playground for his kids. ¬†On Saturdays they can be heard darting around on their little quad bikes while members try to hold their nerve on the tee! ¬†He installed CCTV in the woods as well, obviously to catch out any badgers or foxes that feel the urge to use the playground facilities under the cover of dark. ¬†
17 and 18 are two picturesque finishing holes; on both your eye is drawn towards the very regal looking clubhouse ahead. ¬†One feels like one is playing somewhere special.
Michael Snr looked pleased as punch with his victory inside the shed as he munched down the fruits of his labour: Cumberland sausage with dipping mustard. ¬†Every Sunday morning the loser(s) pays for the sausages. ¬†It was a pork pie with Branston pickle that caught my fancy, although the sausage was a delight. ¬†Our 4 became 5 when Alan, a friend of theirs who lives next door, popped in to join us for a pow wow. ¬†Y‚??er man was a Walker Cup player a year or three ago, and had some famous victories in the (British) Amateur Championship, stories of which we had to draw out of him with torturuous techniques that would rival even the most sadistic of Japanese wartime rituals ‚?? such was the modesty of the man.
A famous morning had by all. ¬†Golf was followed by a drool laden power nap at Chateau Donald, then we nipped back to Wayne‚??s in Manchester for a(n extended) family dinner. ¬†Gayle‚??s roast potatoes may be the best spuds I‚??ve ever had. ¬†And I‚??ve had a few spuds in my time... ¬†(As a child, it was the only vegetable I ate ‚?? at about 15 years old I ventured into onions and eggplant, and now can wolf down the whole veggie garden, save for brussel sprouts and cauliflower ‚?? just so you know).
JP ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†
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