2004: Curtis Cup - Formby’s formidable challenge: Trees and breeze

The 33rd Curtis Cup Matches will be contested on a refined if underappreciated venue for amateur championships. Formby Golf Club in England shares a strip of land between Liverpool and Southport called Merseyside that is one of the world’s great concentrations of quality golf.

Formby’s neighboring courses alongside or just inland of the Irish Sea include Royal Liverpool, Wallesey and West Lancashire to the south and Hillside, Southport & Ainsdale and Royal Birkdale to the north. That’s plenty to fill a weeklong itinerary of even the most sophisticated golf connoisseur.

By tradition, Formby regularly plays host to major amateur events, not professional ones. The last of its three British Amateurs, in 1984, marked the emergence of an 18-year-old Spaniard named Jose Maria Olazabal, who utilized a brilliant short game to down Colin Montgomerie in the final, 5 and 4.

Formby Golf Club originated in 1884 as a nine-hole course, then evolvedinto its present configuration through a 1912 layout by Willie Park Jr.

A decade later, James Braid redid the final four holes, and when coastal erosion took its toll in the late 1970s, Donald Steel relocated a middle stretch of holes onto heavily wooded ground away from the water. The result is a course that bears little resemblance to linksland. Formby combines the heathland character of Sunningdale with the parkland elements of the North Carolina sandhills.

There’s a good reason the club’s insignia is a pine tree. Such conifers encircle the golf grounds and are a major aspect of play on more than half the holes, especially on the front nine. In fact, there’s a distinctly different feel to the two nines, with the outgoing half of the course nestled in woods that insulate the holes from wind and the incoming half is more exposed and subject to breezes from the sea. High-ball hitters have an advantage on the front, while low-ball hitters will find the back nine more suitable to their games.

The par-72 course, which will play 6,369 yards for the Curtis Cup, offers a tremendous advantage to the long hitter who can carry her drives 250-plus yards. That takes virtually all of the fairway bunkers out of play and makes Formby’s trio of par 5s readily reachable in two strokes.

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