The 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.