Such is the richness and scale of the duneland extending away from Southport on the Lancashire coast it is possible for a course as good as this one to be frequently overlooked. Southport & Ainsdale, or S&A to the members, shares a border with Hillside which in turn connects with Royal Birkdale.
That gives you a run of 54 holes, almost every one of which is of the very highest order.
Not far to the south is Formby, and beyond that West Lancs. Of the five this is probably the least celebrated, remarkable when you consider it has hosted the Ryder Cup not once but twice, back in the 1930s.
On the first occasion, in 1933, GB&I were led by JH Taylor and won the trophy over Walter Hagen’s Americans while four years later Ben Hogan and Henry Cotton were the captains as the USA won for the first time on British soil.
S&A dates back to 1907, when the great Lytham professional George Lowe laid out a course. Almost 20 years later when a new road into Southport was built it bisected his work and so James Braid was called in.
The five-time Open champion built six new holes and incorporated 12 of the originals, many significantly redesigned, into his layout and that is pretty much what stands today.
Although relatively young, what Braid left behind has an old-fashioned feel in the sense that he had no aversion to a blind shot or two when the land dictated. This is a course with an inland feel in places, outcrops of Scotch pines and firs as well as heather blending with the more typical links features of gorse and deep bunkers.
It has an unusual routing, with the first six holes creating an inner loop and the remaining 12 broadly running clockwise outside. This leads to more changes of direction than is often the case and a four-hole closing stretch into and across the prevailing wind.
Like Lytham, S&A begins with a par 3, and a difficult one at that, the green ringed by bunkers and set in a natural bowl. It is a logical and obvious 1st hole – or at least it was back in the 1920s when Braid et al designed courses without the ability or desire to move earth.
Both short holes on the front nine are worthy of close inspection but while the 1st has nine bunkers the 8th does not have any. Instead it is defended by the plateau that forms the green. Miss the target and the chip up is very tricky. Simple and brilliant.
Whenever an old course has some quirky holes the fact that many others are honest is lost. So it is here – the stretch pretty much all the way to the turn is full of excellent par 4s yet what sticks most in the mind is the quirky pair of par 5s, doglegs both.
At the first, Steeple, you must drive to the corner then turn left and fire over mounds to an unseen target. Then, two holes later, the fairway is pinched in by sandhills so the next shot is often a cautious bunt to get back in position.
The most famous hole is the 16th, Gumbley’s, named after a former member. The railway line runs parallel, separating S&A from Hillside, but what really dominates the view is a 20-foot-high bank of sleepers you must fire over with your second shot. Many would say the next is actually a better, if less celebrated, hole. At over 450 yards and with hazards including out of bounds right, bunkers, heather and trees, safely negotiating the 16th is no reason to relax.
Southport & Ainsdale GC
Merseyside PR8 3LG
Tel: 001704 578 000
Weekdays £85, £120 per day; Weekends £120 per round