Wallasey Links Lives Up to Its Data

HOYLAKE, ENGLAND — Ben Crane is a five-time winner on the PGA Tour. He’s also a keen judge of golf courses, which is why I fumbled to get my log book open when Ben started gushing about 38th-ranked Wallasey Golf Club. “Does it get any better than this?” he asked on the fourth tee, which rides a dune high above a fairway that follows the shoreline south along the Irish Sea.

Ben Crane at Wallasey GC

“Does it get any better than this?” Ben Crane on the 4th tee at Wallasey GC. (John Garrity)

“This is as good as it gets, isn’t it?” He spread his arms like Moses. “I mean, are you telling me there’s something better than this?”

This was yesterday evening, at the end of a long, sunny day that saw the recent FedEx St. Jude Classic winner fail by a whisker to get into the Open Championship as a first alternate. Many of his peers were still on the course at 51st-ranked Royal Liverpool, a few miles down the coast. “I’d love to have gotten in,” he said, “but I wasn’t going home without playing some links golf.”

For a complete and more nuanced account of gallant Ben’s visit, I give you this by my playing partner and SI colleague, Michael Bamberger. Read it at your leisure, and then come back for my obligatory take on the Wallasey links.

Stock, Crane and Bamberger

A walk on the wild side at Wallasey links with (l to r) caddie Joel Stock, PGA Tour pro Ben Crane and SI senior writer Michael Bamberger. (John Garrity)

Ah, good to have you back. I’ll start by answering Ben’s question: Yes, it does get better than Wallasey. After all, there are 37 higher-ranked courses in the Top 50. But that’s the data talking, and I, like Ben, am suspicious of data, even when it’s cranked out by an instrument as dependable as the Bomar Brain. To be honest, I’ve been uneasy about Wallasey’s high ranking ever since it debuted at No. 48 a few years ago. I pestered my staff with questions: “What can you tell me about the place? Why did you waive the deduction for no drinking fountains? How long should a tick bite remain inflamed before I call a doctor?”

Beyond the raw numbers, all they could tell me was that Wallasey was the home club of Dr. Frank Stableford, the man who invented the Stableford Rules for golf scoring. Well, hoop dee dooI’ve invented more than a dozen scoring protocols, none of which require me to record every stroke I take on a hole.

That said, I found Wallasey to be enchanting. With its big shaggy dunes and glorious sea views, it’s a close cousin to top-ranked Askernish and Carne, my two favorite courses. Furthermore, it is quirky. One fairway crosses directly in front of another tee. There’s a 90-degree dogleg-right par-4 that skirts a grove of trees — trees on a links? — and climbs a steep hill to a blind green. There’s a long par-4 that requires a blind approach shot of around 200 yards into a natural amphitheater that was probably popular with the Druids. Quirky links, to my way of thinking, are the best kind.

Don’t ask me to choose between homely Royal Liverpool and fetching Wallasey, because I’ll take Wallasey every time. And so will Bamberger, who’s right back out there this afternoon with his pal Mike Donald, runner-up to Hale Irwin at the 1990 U.S. Open. “The course is an absolute delight,” Michael B. writes in his Crane piece. He singles out the fifth — “a par 3 that played about 160 yards into the wind off the Irish sea, from an elevated tee” — as “a gem.”

We’ll have to wait for Mike Donald’s take. But if he gives it a thumbs up, Wallasey could ascend a rung or two before I reach Ireland.

Top 50 on TV: Nothing this week, but the Open Championship continues at 51st-ranked Royal Liverpool Golf Club, a curious, small-dunes links with knee-high mole-cricket runs delineating arbitrary out-of-bounds boundaries. It’s no Wallasey, but it possesses an undeniable 19th-century charm. We have advised the R&A that it be kept in the Open rota — only, perhaps, on a less-frequent basis.*

*We provided our recommendation on a pro bono basis and have not yet heard back from the R&A.

1 Comment

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One response to “Wallasey Links Lives Up to Its Data

  1. Dear Mr. Garrity,

    I was extremely pleased to learn* that Carne had tied Askernish Old as the number one (empirically ranked) course in the world.

    *I read somewhere that e-mails that open with “I was extremely pleased to learn” are always welcome there at Catch Basin.

    I’ll try to keep this short, as I know how busy you are keeping on top of your course raters and the Cal Sci team, but I hope you’ll give me a little leeway as I am unquestionably the person who has read the most words written by you in the last 10 days in the entire world, if you follow that. (Explanation follows, below.)

    I am a golf architecture nut, and I’m a bit obsessed with links courses — specifically links courses set in stunning duneland, specifically in Ireland, specifically Carne*.

    * I should probably point out here that I’ve never been to Ireland, let alone played Carne, nor have I ever actually played an authentic links course, having lived my whole life in Colorado, California, Ohio, Texas, and Illinois.

    For almost fifteen years now, I’ve been planning my trip to the Home of Gowf, but with the vagaries of employment and child-raising and what have you, it keeps getting pushed back. It’s a moving target, but we’re thinking sometime in the next 3-7 years. (I’m 43 now, and it’s going to happen before I’m 50 or, god help me . . .!)

    The upside of having an extended planning period is that I do have a wingback chair and a pipe and a shelf full of some of the best golf writing ever. And a subscription to Golf Course Architecture (UK).

    My dream trip has morphed from the traditional, predictable St Andrews and Carnoustie and Troon to more off-the-beaten-path Scottish courses like Machrihanish* and Crail, to what seem to be more . . . authentic links courses in Ireland, along with the real spectacular courses of northwest Ireland.

    * This may have been influenced by To the Linksland, more about which later

    I’m of Irish descent, although for whatever reason, I’m not that interested in tracing my roots to the Old Country. Maybe that will come as I spend more (or, you know, some) time there.

    My readings have brought me, time and again, to Eddie Hackett, that patron saint of Irish golf. But for someone who has had such an incredible influence on golf in the Emerald Isle, there is shockingly little to find on the man himself. (I confess, the appallingly weak Wikipedia article you’ll find on him is my work. I know it is embarrassingly anemic, but it’s just a start on a bigger project of mine.)

    As I say, I’ve dialed in on Carne as my favorite golf course in the world, despite never having been within hundreds of miles of it. But my fascination with Carne, naturally, led me to Ancestral Links: A Golf Obsession Spanning Generations, which I am inhaling. In an effort to learn more about you, I have, of course, come across the Top 50, the entirety of which I have printed in booklet form and staple-bound with a cover to read on my daily train to Chicago. So, over the course of the last ten days or so, I have read the entirety of the Top 50 blog, back to the beginning; most of Ancestral Links; and every online article I can find by you on SI. (It is on that merit that I make the claim to have read more by you in the last 10 days than anyone else alive.) I’ve also ordered the Tour Tempo books and Worst Golf Courses book, but they have not yet arrived.

    I’m writing because I’m hoping for a couple of things: I’d love to be able to ask you some questions about NW Ireland and the courses therein. I’d love to pick your brain on Eddie Hackett and perhaps add some names to the list of people I’m contacting to interview for my bigger Eddie Hackett project.

    I’m also hoping that I’ll be able to send you my copy of Ancestral Links for perhaps an inscription. As part of my researches, I’d tried to get a message to Jim Finegan through a golf society in Pennsylvania, and — to my great surprise and delight — I received a phone call from him directly. We’ve spoken a few times now, and I’ve sent him my copy of Emerald Fairways and Foam Flecked Seas to autograph. Many, many years ago, when I was first starting my links golf obsession (for it is nothing short of that), I discovered and fell in love with M. Bamberger’s To the Linksland (referenced above). I somehow got a letter to him, and received an e-mail back, and for more than 10 years now, we’ve intermittently corresponded. (I flatter myself to think that if you were to ask him about “that links nut who works at the opera in Chicago who invited you to a Phillies game before his wedding last month in Philadelphia and whom you promised to send a picture of you at St Andrews in front of the clock on the R&A Clubhouse but never did” he wouldn’t profess to have never heard of me.)

    You guys. Man, I’ve been poring over the Top-50 the last week, and every other page it’s you and Bamberger playing Askernish, you and Bamberger playing Carne . . . you guys are living the dream.

    Anyway, I really don’t want to take any more of your time (right now), but I hope I’ve at least not annoyed you so much that I’ll never hear back from you. It would be a privilege to have even a brief e-mail exchange with you about some of my more pressing questions, and hopefully to get my Ancestral Links into your hands. And, preferably, back.

    And, because I know you guys at Catch Basin aren’t above a little bribery, I also run the site called ballparkblueprints.com on the side. If you’d like to check out our site and let me know one (or five) of our prints you (or your crack staff) might be interested in, I’d be more than happy to shoot those to you.

    I think that’s it. Thank you for your time. I am (obviously) a big fan.

    Tom Young

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