This Club is Famous For... its link to the Titanic

Courses and Travel

What does Formby Golf Club have to do with ill-fated passenger liner the Titanic? One man, Joseph Bruce Ismay, provides the answer

If you’ve never played Formby, you’re missing a treat. Not only is it one of this country’s finest links layouts – it was rated 11th in our England’s Top 100 courses list – it also boasts one of golf’s great clubhouses.

Formby’s original clubhouse was destroyed by fire in 1899 and the present building was opened two years later at a cost of £7,000.

One of its most distinctive features is a massive clock tower and that wasn’t in place when the doors first opened.

It came in 1909 and was a gift to celebrate the club’s 25th birthday. It was provided by Joseph Bruce Ismay.

Formby Golf Club

He is now infamous – and not because he handed over a lovely oversize timepiece.

Ismay was the chairman of the White Star Line, the Liverpool shipping company that built Titanic. The ill-fated ship, of course, sank on April 15, 1912, after hitting an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York.

More than 1,500 of the estimated 2,224 passengers died when the luxury liner – famed for being the biggest ship in service – foundered in one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters.

But Ismay was not one of them.

He was on Titanic’s only voyage and after the iceberg was struck, 400 miles south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, he boarded a lifeboat 20 minutes before the ship went down.

Formby Golf Club

He received enormous criticism for ‘deserting the ship’ afterwards, particularly given the number of women and children who had perished.

His reputation never recovered.

But there are also stories of Ismay assisting survivors and only boarding the lifeboat when there was no one else on his side of the boat to rescue.

Nevertheless, Ismay resigned as chairman of the White Star Line in 1913 and history has not been kind.

In the 1997 blockbuster Titanic, he was portrayed by Jonathan Hyde as privileged and ignorant – using his status to urge Captain Edward John Smith to go faster to get favourable press coverage for an early arrival in New York.

Whatever the truth, the clock tower at Formby is a memory of happier times and stands as a towering symbol of the club’s prestige.

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