Silloth on Solway: Links gem in England's Northwest

Golf Courses, Article of the week
09 August 2021
6 min. read
Stephen Killick
Silloth on Solway, an amazing links course on the northwest of England. (Photo: Silloth golf club)
Leading Courses Guest writer Stephen Killick drives 400 miles to find out what all the fuss is about Silloth on Solway GC.
Most people might think that 400 miles is an extremely long way to drive for just one round of golf but then far too few people have ever played golf at Silloth on Solway. A round here is a pilgrimage to a magnificent, old style links with blind tee shots through the dunes, raised tee boxes, small, immaculate greens tucked away below our sight-line or perched on top of soaring sand hills. Forget those target golf courses set up in the USA for the professional tour. This property is wild, rugged and wonderful.

On the other side of the nearby Solway Firth lies Scotland and the Galloway hills that we can see as we make our progress heading south away from the clubhouse. Were this splendid property on the north side of the firth we would most certainly be adding a one before the six to our hugely competitive weekday green fee of just £65.00.

Silloth the early days : free rail travel and five talented women golfers

Given its remote location on the far north west shoreline of Cumbria, what made Silloth a venue for such an outstanding golf course? For that we have the railways and a doctor to thank.

The Scottish owners of the North British Railway Company decided to develop Silloth as a resort whilst Dr.John Leitch from Fife, the medical officer and G.P for the town, played a form of golf on the village green in the early 1870s with his sister, Moncrieffe.

The first course was laid out by Willie Fernie, a Scot destined to win The Open in 1883, however his design failed to attract many visitors and it was decided to have another go amongst sand dunes to the west of the town’s docks and a large flour mill that still stands as a rather ugly blot on the local skyline to this day.
An aerial view of Silloth on Solway. (Photo: Silloth golf club)
Money was no object to the North British Railway and an unusual relationship with twice Open champion Willie Park junior, who was allowed to flag down and board any of the company’s trains because the line ran through his property, ensured that he and his uncle Mungo together with a local man, David Grant, ensured the best possible care was taken in the creation of the new course on fine, springy Cumberland turf.

Dr. Leitch’s contribution came a little later through the love of golf that he had passed to his five daughters, four of whom played off scratch or better, and one of them, Cecilia, won the British Ladies’ Championship on four separate occasions as well as breaking the course record, shooting 72 off the men’s tees. Four of the five sisters took the first four positions when Silloth played an important match in 1904 against rivals, Penrith, and won all of their games against the men.

So armed with this bit of history, it is time for us to leave the delights of Silloth’s hearty breakfast sandwiches, and head out to the first tee.

An old fashioned links shaped the way nature intended

There are some venues where a golf course was simply meant to be, following the lines where sheep once grazed grass short and then sheltered at the foot of grassy sand dunes. Despite undergoing alterations down the years gorse, heather and particularly wiry, long grass remain a major feature and woe betide any shots that stray too far offline because the chance of finding an errant ball are slim and when found moving it no easy matter.

So we must carefully plot our way around and certainly invest in a course planner at the pro shop to help us do just that as we strive to find greens, many of which have been here since 1892.

With few bunkers set out to catch us off the tee our driving must be straight if we are to achieve a decent score off whichever of the four tee boxes we choose to play from and right from the off we encounter one of the quirkier features of the course, namely sunken greens.

The first is a relatively straightforward 380 yard par four that climbs gently uphill but we cannot see the flag, merely a marker behind the first green that sits below us like a small amphitheatre and, should our shot in catch that downslope, we will end in one of the last places one wants to be at Silloth, namely though the back of the green.

It is far better to be just a little short than long as there is some serious jungle behind on many of the holes. There are no two holes alike here as we weave our way out towards the turn but there are some beauties to be encountered along the way. Having tested our bump and run skills across mounds at the short par four second we face another blind drive at three
The raised tee box at five gives a glorious view across to the Galloway hills and a not so glorious view of lots of out bounds markers. The green here is situated on a shelf with two ferocious pot bunkers some 55 yards short on the right and two more wee horrors lurking hungrily on the left hand front of the green.
No two holes are the same at Silloth on Solway. (Photo: Silloth golf club)

The best round is the next round

There are no weak holes at Silloth and all four of the par threes are tough due to deep bunkers and some fiendish run offs on firm greens as we find out when we encounter the first of them at the sixth.

The signature hole, if one were needed, comes at 13, at what looks from the card to be a short par five, no more from 450 yards from the yellow tees, the most forward of the men’s selection. The second shot must be played between two high banks of heather and land on a severe upslope before approaching a long thin green sloping back towards us. A ball returning to your feet is no rarity at Silloth.

By the time we reach the welcoming clubhouse we will have most likely used every club in the bag and will enjoy a restorative glass of something warming if the wind has been blowing. Even returning with the same ball one started with is cause for some mild celebration at this most splendid if distant of courses. As our small group travelled home to the south east of England we all looked forward to our next visit to Silloth on Solway.

Stephen Killick

Stephen Killick

#Shanksforthememory

Mid-handicapper Steve Killick takes on some of the UK’s finest courses.
Ladies European TourIAGTOGeo FoundationBig Green Egg