Up the road from the Open: ordeal by asparagus, death by bacon and the Formby Hippo
By David Owen
Less than an hour up the Lancashire coast from Royal Liverpool Golf Club, where the 2014 British Open was held, is the village of Formby, which is the home of two terrific courses, Formby Golf Club and Formby Ladies Golf Club. (It's also the home of a forgettable Florida-style golf course called Formby Hall.) Formby Golf Club abuts the Ainsdale Sand Dunes National Nature Reserve, one whose attractions is a small plot on which farmers grow asparagus, a once significant local crop.
A man I met during a trip to the region last year told me that banquets for area golf-club captains held at Formby Golf Club had once been "ordeals by asparagus," because diners had to be careful not to drip butter onto their red-silk tailcoats. I visited the Ainsdale dunes one afternoon between rounds, and, among other things, studied an informative historical display.
I also bought a cup of coffee at a mobile stand, which was operated by a middle-aged couple.
The man, whose name was Phil, noticed my golf cap and invited me to play golf with him and his son, Sean, at Southport & Ainsdale, a few miles farther up the road, where he was a member. We played a day or two later. The course is one of my many favorites in the area.
Phil is a retired Merseyside policeman. At lunch after our round, I asked him what his toughest case as a cop had been, and he told me about a 43-year-old woman who had died under mysterious circumstances. "I attended her autopsy," he said, "because she was from a tough neighborhood and there was a presumption of foul play." The pathologist was baffled, but then, as he was finishing up, he noticed something odd in her throat and gripped it with a clamp -- like that scene in "Twin Peaks" in which Special Agent Dale Cooper finds a typed letter "R" under Laura Palmer's fingernail. Phil said, "It was a piece of bacon rind, six or seven inches long. She had choked to death on a bacon sandwich" -- an unsettling thought, since that's what I was having for lunch, and since bacon is pretty much the No. 1 nutrient of the Sunday Morning Group.
Incidentally, Formby has foxes in addition to asparagus.
And Southport & Ainsdale has rabbits.
And Formby also has the Formby Hippo -- about which I may have more to say later.