Formby Ladies Club, Formby, England

33_94The town of Formby, just north of Liverpool, was home to wealthy cotton merchants of the Victorian Era. In 1884, a group of 24 businessmen launched the Formby Golf Club situated between Southport and Liverpool.

In that same year, 1884, an important change in England’s social structure happened. It was an amendment added to the Married Women’s Property Act. That amendment said that women were independent and separate persons. Women were no longer a possession of their husband.

Women started to enjoy outdoor activities from this new independence. Bicycling, croquet and tennis became popular along with golf, particularly.

By 1896, the men of the Formby Golf Club faced a dilemma. So many women were playing golf at Formby, that the men of the Formby Golf Club were losing tee times. Yet, unlike some other golf clubs, Formby did not limit access to women golfers to one day of the week. Neither did it ban women from playing altogether. The men of Formby did something extraordinary.

The Formby Golf Club leased the undeveloped property in the middle of their golf course to the women golfers of Formby. To design a nine-hole golf course, they hired Willie Park. At that time, Park was a noted golf course designer and former British Open Champion. Founded in 1896, Formby Ladies has become a charming golf course close to the shoreline of the Irish Sea.

During World War I, golf play continued on Formby Ladies. After the war, Harry Colt added nine more holes to bring it to its present 18 holes. During WWII, conscripted men tended to war time duties. The greens chairman, herself, cut the grass on Formby Ladies by using a two wheeled carriage called a trap pulled by a horse.

In the 1960s there was talk about merging the operations of the Formby and Formby Ladies clubs to conserve costs. The concept was abandoned after deliberation. Daphne Johnson is a former club secretary. Ms. Johnson said “Both clubs, realized that they had something special at Formby.”

After a visit to the course, two-time Open Champion Greg Norman wrote in a letter to the club. “Over a hundred years old and still your course can stand the test of time. What a beautiful course. It shows that courses do not have to be 7,000 yards-plus to be formidable,” wrote Norman.

Measuring 5,374 yards, the course challenges golfers with a variety of small greens and sandy bunkers. The narrow fairways and the rough of heather at Formby Ladies demands thought and accuracy on every shot. Formby Ladies Golf Club is a links course, but as it sits amongst the pine trees and sand dunes, you could mistake it for being otherwise.

When asked what the differences is between the two clubs , Daphne points out that the men’s club has a much larger membership. Formby Ladies has a rich tradition of volunteerism to carry out the necessary duties of the Club.

A club’s House Committee is in charge of the social programs and the duties that make a club attractive for the members. “If there is a difference in management styles it’s in the House Committee. Our events are much less formal,” Mrs. Johnson said. “We are much more attuned to the small details that make for success. You would not be wrong to say that a woman’s touch is the biggest difference.”

Nowhere is the woman’s touch more obvious then the clubhouse at Formby Ladies. The unassuming one story building contains a pleasant changing room. But it is the delightful sitting and dining area that charms you.

It is a small multi-purpose room where they serve afternoon teas and light meals in a sedate and genteel atmosphere. One can imagine the women who have sat in that same room through the club’s history. The room has changed little.

The club’s memorabilia and golf awards adorn the shelves and the wallpapered walls. There’s a classic picture of Queen Elizabeth II on another wall. The furniture is delicate and light in color, the opposite of the overstuffed leather and dark mahogany of the Formby club.

Establishing a golf course today for women, and operated by women, it would praised as some new chapter in modern women’s golf. Formby Ladies is now closing in on its 120th year of doing that exact thing.

This unassuming and charming spot in the middle of one of England’s storied golf areas continues today as it did over a century ago. The Formby Ladies Golf Club provides golfers of all genders and ability the same conditions to play this great game.

Girona Golf

93743Costa Brava, in sunny Spain, offers some of the finest golfing in Europe. One of the best golf clubs in this golf lover’s paradise is Golf Girona.

They say that one of the keys to success is location, location, location. Golf Girona enjoys a privileged location. Only 4 km from the ancient city of Girona, Golf Girona is an hour’s drive north from Barcelona and the Pyrenees and France to the north.

Golf Girona designer was the esteemed F.G. Hawtree, founder of Hawtree Ltd. Hawtree Ltd. The course at Girona Golf Club still stands as one of his best designs. The front nine is a demanding challenge while the back nine offers superb views, as well. Both nines loop back to the club house. Utilizing the natural contours Golf Girona offers the visitors a true experience.
The standards of Hawtree continue because of the excellent maintenance. It is the only course in Spain with Penncross grass, the highest quality grass for golf. Like most Hawtree designs, the course settles in the terrain in harmony.

The golf course meanders between the valley and hills. You will get the sense that your group is on the course alone. The hills also form a perfect windbreak on windy days.

My visit to Girona Golf was one of those good news/bad news days. First, the bad news. The tourist board will frown, but it poured rain. As in buckets. When it wasn’t pouring, it drizzled. That’s the bad news.

The excellent drainage of the course was the good news. There was no standing water anywhere on the fairways and greens. The round was as pleasant as playing in the rain can be. A tip of the hat to Hawtree’s design and the outstanding maintenance work of the Girona Golf crew.

Girona Golf tells visitors there are five “G’s” they think will help you remember what Girona Golf is all about. They are Girona, Golf Girona, Grande, Gourmet and Good Service. I can vouch for all five. Girona is a beautiful city with a history that dates back to the Greeks. Golf Girona, despite that day’s weather, is a scenic and challenging golf course. It deserves the reputation that it has in Spain. Grande means large, with a clubhouse that is over 32,000 square feet built of glass and natural stone. The clubhouse contains meeting rooms, comfortable common areas, restaurant, snack bar and pro shop. Girona Golf also has a full size children’s play room.

Gourmet goes without saying. Catalonian cooking is so good that delicious meal are common in this area as are the meals at Golf Girona. Every bite I took from the chefs at Golf Girona was passion on my palate.

Finally, the fifth “G” stands for Good Service, as it should. Every one from the receptionist to the waiter to the grounds crew makes sure you are well taken care of.

The five “G”s more than compensated for the weather. You’ll come away from Golf Girona in a warm and sunny mood.

Platja de pals

costa-bravaGolf Platja de pals , on the Costa Brava in Spain, is a beautiful golf course built by the legendary designer, F.W. Hawtree. Built out of a Mediterranean Pine forest planted 70 years ago, Platja de pals lies on a unique piece of land.

Each hole is framed by mature sea pines with huge canopies on top of tall trees trunks. It’s like some psychedelic dream in which you’re playing golf in a forest of broccoli sprouts.

Hawtree did a remarkable job with his design. There are some very imaginative holes and fairways that dogleg left and right. Many of the greens are hidden from the tee with the treat of finding where Hawtree has put the green. The front nine is narrow, reminding one of bowling alleys from the tee. As the bordering pine’s canopies have matured, their spread has narrowed the fairways in the air. In fact, hole #11 has two massive pines whose treetops have converged to the point you have to carry over the top of them. Luckily, with the elevated tee and having the green several meters below the tee makes it easier. I’m sure that the smart guys out there have said you could go under them? Uh, no. Hawtree has placed three bunkers directly in front of the green with faces that look like waves that any surfer would love to rip turns on. It’s a great hole, scenic and a high playability factor.

Unfortunately, while the course runs parallel with the Pals beach, the coastline is not visible from course. The pines are the dominant view. While Hawtree has a clever design and the course has some exciting holes, the pines have created a similarity to the holes which makes no hole stand out from another, *except #11*.

For the non-golfers in the group, there are some fun bike trails running through the forest and the coastline. There is also the mediaeval city of Pals just a few kilometers from the course. The ancient city looms on the hilltop overlooking the modern town below. Plenty of photo ops for the interested.