It’s official, Hillside Golf Club when the wind blows will test even the very best golfers in the game.
Reader, I am not one of them. I walk off the 18th green and towards the comforting embrace of the white clubhouse here, a beaten man. Hillside has got the better of me today – the punishing rough, those wonderful tight links fairways, the fantastic bunkers and the slick greens just proved too much. We’re a matter of weeks away from Hillside hosting the R&A’s prestigious Amateur Championship and I comfort myself by imagining even the best amateurs struggling today.
I’m well aware, there are levels of struggle, of course. At the Amateur Championship, perhaps those competitors might struggle to shoot 64 in this wind. I fell well short of shooting 74 today. And yet, even in the afterglow over a pint in the clubhouse there is still an appreciation for having had the chance to play one England’s finest links, at all.
That’s testament to the quality of the experience here – on and off the course. The warmth of the place is genuine, the facilities are second to none and quality of the golf course speaks for itself. The work that has taken place to restore the natural wonder of the surroundings and shape the golf course is so impressive that it’s actually hard to believe it wasn’t always this way. The back 9 is absolutely beautiful, a real treat, but the front 9 here no longer suffers by comparison. Whisper it, but I actually preferred it today – partly because my game held up relatively well to that point but more importantly because of the variety and creativity of the holes. Bunkers have been added since I was last here, paths have been grassed, little improvements have taken place – it’s a constant push for improvement in all areas.
Chris Williams, Hillside’s highly respected general manager, is at the heart of that ethos. So too is links manager, Chris Ball, and his team. Take the rough: the strategy to get it to where it is today has been developed over four years and has involved first cutting it right back and then, as it has grown back in, cultivating it right down the finer details, such as ensuring all the grass cuttings are collected rather than left, to ensure controlled growth.
Even with the stiff breeze making scoring challenging, it’s hard to find fault with the condition of the links. The turf is gloriously tight and leaves little margin for error whether you are lining up a 4-iron from 220 yards, or a wedge from 120 yards. The rough is being allowed to grow now in anticipation for The Amateur Championship, which is looming large on the horizon. It will be a truly fantastic venue.
A rising star from South Africa
In 2022, the Amateur Championship witnessed the remarkable rise of a young golf prodigy as Aldrich Potgieter etched his name in the tournament’s history. At the age of 17, Potgieter displayed poise, skill, and maturity beyond his years to become the second youngest winner of this prestigious event – only Matteo Manassero, from Italy, was younger when he won in 2009, aged just 16. Potgieter’s success at Royal Lytham and St Annes, also brought him into contact with Hillside Golf Club. It was here he practiced with his South African team-mates to prepare for the main event.
Throughout the championship, Potgieter displayed a level of composure and precision that belied his years. His consistent ball-striking, deft touch around the greens, and ability to make crucial putts in clutch moments set him apart from his competitors.
An Unforgettable Championship
The Amateur Championship is one of the most prestigious amateur championships in the world. The best amateur golfers will come to the UK in search of that iconic trophy and to attempt to follow in the footsteps of golfing legends who have won it before them – Bobby Jones, Sergio Garcia and José María Olazábal to name but a few.
The first Amateur was held at Royal Liverpool in 1885 where 44 players from 12 clubs came together to decide the champion.
One of the distinctive aspects of The Amateur Championship is its format, which includes both stroke play qualifying and match play stages. Hundreds of players battle it out in qualifying rounds, vying for limited spots in the match play bracket. This format often leads to captivating stories of underdogs toppling higher-ranked opponents and dramatic comebacks that keep spectators on the edge of their seats.
When the Amateur Championship comes to Hillside Golf Club, some 288 golfers will compete at stroke play and then match play, with the champion receiving the famous old trophy as well as invitations to compete at the The Open and The US Open, and by tradition, The Masters at Augusta National, next April. There is much at stake.
Combine that, with this fantastic golf course, some breathtaking coastal scenery, and a storied history and its clear Hillside Golf Club is poised to deliver an unforgettable championship experience for players and spectators alike.
The History of The Amateur Championship
The Amateur Championship holds a storied place in golf’s history, dating back to 1885. The inaugural Amateur Championship was held at Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake and it quickly gained prominence and grew in stature.
Over the years, the championship expanded internationally, attracting participants around the world and becoming a significant event on the global golfing calendar. The Amateur Championship has witnessed the rise of numerous golfing legends, many of whom went on to have illustrious professional careers.
Throughout its rich history, The Amateur Championship has been held at a variety of distinguished venues. From traditional links courses to inland gems, each championship venue presents its unique challenges. Historic clubs like The Old Course, St Andrews, Royal St George’s and Muirfield have all provided memorable settings for this prestigious tournament. Hillside Golf Club is no stranger to such esteemed company. It deserves its place among the great links courses and it will provide a fitting backdrop for another fantastic Amateur Championship – whether the wind blows or not.