Played by NCG: Hillside
Hillside Golf Club review: Why are we here?
It was the eve of the 2017 Open, NCG were in the midst of visiting courses for our England’s top 100 guide, and I pitched along with colleague Dan Murphy for a much-anticipated round.
Hillside Golf Club review: Where is it?
Hillside Golf Club review: What to expect
If you’ll allow a footballing cliché, Hillside is a game of two halves.
The first nine holes remind me a lot of Carnoustie in many respects – in the way they are perfectly manicured with exceptional fairways and putting surfaces. It’s a tactical opening. You must plot your way round with care and attention.
In fact the trains run so close to the 1st tee that you can the see the passengers as they flash by. Not great news if you’re a right-hander with a tendency to hook.
The layout loops round largely flat ground but it’s when you get to the 10th that the fun – and the jaw dropping – begins in earnest.
The 135-yard par 3 is quite brilliant, moving uphill and guarded by a quartet of treacherous bunkers and a two-tier green that you can’t miss on the wrong side.
But in the short walk from the 10th green to the 11th tee, you feel like you’ve transported onto another course.
The sand dunes rise, the terrain gets more ragged, and the views are something you’ll never forget. That 11th, a 500-yard par 5, allows you to look down across the entirety of the hole, several others, parts of Birkdale and even the Lake District on a clear day.
This is not a one-off. Traversing this part of the course felt like wandering through some of the great Irish links, such is the wild looking nature and feel.
Frankly, it’s incredible. Greg Norman once wrote a letter to Hillside describing the back nine as the “best in Britain”.
I must have written that a dozen times in pieces about the course over the years. Having played it for myself, I can tell you he’s not exaggerating.
Hillside Golf Club review: Favourite hole
The 11th is obviously the signature hole but if there is one I could play again, it would be the 17th.
This is an exceptional par 5. The elevated tee sweeps down into the fairway and then the hole rises sharply towards a distant green.
It’s 547-yards off the back tees and, into the wind, it must be an absolute monster.
And you play it all through the natural amphitheatre of those wonderful dunes.
Hillside Golf Club review: My best bit
The light was fading, it was a tricky enough task seeing the 18th green but I absolutely crashed a mid-iron out of the middle of the bat.
I arrived at the the putting green to find the ball resting no more than five feet from the hole. What a way to finish.
Hillside Golf Club review: Look out for
The clubhouse is famed for its hospitality and the 1930s building, which bears a striking resemblance to a residential home, is very welcoming.
Hillside Golf Club review: When I go back
I’ll give myself more than three hours to complete the round. We teed off straight after a thunderstorm. It would have finished less hardy souls but it meant we were always chasing the sun.
Next time, I will make sure I really take in all the sights and revel in a wonderful test of links golf.