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|Surrounded by pot bunkers, Royal Liverpool's 17th hole has sunk the hopes of many golfers. (Courtesy Alan C. Birch)|
With its three famed "royal" courses and more than 100 years of golf tradition, northwest England has come to be known as the country's Golf Coast.
Over the past century Royal Birkdale, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham have taken their place among the most acclaimed courses in England, if not the world, and they have the guest lists to prove it. All three have hosted the British Open numerous times.
Augmenting the three royals are 17 other top tracks, more than justifying the northwest coast's nickname. Here's a bit more about the region's most esteemed courses.
Royal Birkdale Golf Club: Host to two Ryder Cups and eight British Opens (the ninth will be in 2008), Royal Birkdale is rated England's top course by the online guide Top 100 Golf Courses of the World.
The 6,690-yards links course features high dunes and flat fairways. Wind becomes a factor on most days, with gusts blowing in from the sea. The 498-yard 13th is one of the longest par 4s in championship golf; you'll have to be long off the tee to have any hope of reaching the green in two.
Opened in 1869, Hoylake is one of England's oldest seaside courses. Like Royal Birkdale, it's a traditional links, with wind playing a major role. The fairways are undulating and sometimes narrow.
As at all great championship courses, the final holes are the most impressive. The 17th, with its green angled across the line of approach and a road running along the far side, is the most daunting. Over-hit and you'll find your ball out of bounds; go soft and you'll wind up in the bunker.
Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club: Founded in 1886, this course has hosted two Ryder Cups and 10 Open Championships. The first professional, George Lowe, designed the layout, and his vision remains largely intact, with the only significant changes made by Harry Colt in 1919.
Interestingly, Royal Lytham's Web site acknowledges the course's aesthetic shortcomings, "surrounded as it is by suburban housing and flanked by a railway line." This track is nevertheless considered one of England's best. After the 2001 British Open, former European Ryder Cup captain Mark James said Royal Lytham should be the model for host courses.
The challenge of Royal Lytham lies mainly in the hazards - more than bunkers pepper the fairways and greens.
Formby Golf Club: Situated near the shoreline of the Irish Sea, Formby was founded in 1884 by a group of 24 local businessmen. Measuring 7,024 yards from the championship tees, the course favors long players.
The fairways are undulating, the greens firm. Accuracy is important, as heather and rough form a natural boundary on every hole; the course is also filled with bunkers and sand hills.
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Having boarded the luxurious MV Europa 2 in Lisbon, Clive Agran had five days of golf cruising ahead. For those unfamiliar with the concept, golf cruising is a glorious combination of golf and cruising where a sedate sail is punctuated with the occasional round of golf.
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