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10 miles SW of Liverpool on Wirral Peninsula
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George Morris, Harry Colt
The Open Championship returned to Royal Liverpool Golf Club in 2006 after a 39-year gap. Hoylake, as it is called by those in the know, has a long and illustrious history of playing host to the Open, and has now staged twelve, its first in 1897. Founded in 1869, Hoylake is the second oldest seaside links course in England – only Royal North Devon is the more senior.
George Morris, the brother of Old Tom, originally laid out a 9-hole course on the site of a racecourse and for the first seven years, golfers shared the land with members of the Liverpool Hunt Club. Three extra holes were soon added and in 1871, the course was extended to 18 holes. In 1872, the club received royal patronage from Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught.
Bernard Darwin reported on the coming of the Haskell, which burst onto the scene at the Amateur Championship at Hoylake in 1902. The winner Charles Hutchings and the runner-up, Sidney Fry, used the rubber-core ball. Later that same year, Sandy Herd used a Haskell and won the Open at Royal Liverpool, sounding the death knell for the “gutty” ball.
Harry Colt made alterations to the 11th and 17th holes, named Alps and Royal. He also created a new 13th hole and changed the greens at the 8th and 12th holes. In his book, Golf Between Two Wars, Bernard Darwin describes Colt’s changes and the alteration to the 16th, called the Dun: “I do not criticise the disappearance of the old cross-bunker at the Dun because that had been made inevitable by the modern ball and modern driving. It was sad to see it go if only because the soberest might fall into it after dinner – I have seen them do it – in finding their way home across the darkling links; but it had to go and the present Dun is a fine long hole. Trying not to be Blimpish and die-hard and to look at the course with eyes unblurred by sentiment, I solemnly and sincerely declare that Mr Colt made a great job of it”.
Donald Steel was commissioned to make alterations to the course; these changes included a number of new greens, tees and bunkers. The work was completed in 2001 and the course now stretches out in excess of 7,000 yards. We wonder what Darwin would make of Steel’s alterations.
The land is unusually flat, offering little in the way of definition – three sides of the course are bordered by houses and the Dee Estuary lies on the western side. When you get out onto the course, the undulations become more pronounced and, as you move away from the houses, the overall experience improves. The holes alongside the shore (9th, 10th, 11th and 12th) are the most visually appealing and very challenging.
In 2014, the Open Championship returned to Royal Liverpool Golf Club when Rory McIlroy claimed his first Open Championship and third major title with a two-shot victory over Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler.
Royal Liverpool certainly has a lot of prestige being a regular Open rota venue and we were very excited to be playing it. I even bought a brand new TaylorMade hybrid in the pro shop prior to the round.
Unfortunately I was a little bit underwhelmed by Hoylake. Whilst the course was in pristine condition - possibly the best I've ever played in that regard, I found the course to be bland, flat and forgetful. Whilst I'm sure lower handicappers would appreciate the subtleties, strategy and conditioning of Hoylake, it just wasn't for me. Looking back after the round, there was not really one hole that I could remember.
First things first: I'm on a quest to play all Open courses both past and present and as such Hoylake had to be played as it inched its way towards the top of my listing. Muirfield, Carnoustie, Birkdale, Troon, Turnberry and Royal St Georges from the current Open rota have all been ticked off along with Prince's and Royal Cinque Ports from the lost-to-history listing. My companion through this all of this is my mid-teens daughter (1 handicap) as part of her, shall we call it, golfing education.
And so we turned into the car park at Royal Liverpool barely a month ago along with a 5-handicap golfing buddy of mine to find an impressive clubhouse together with a warm and surprisingly unstuffy welcome (visitor car-parking wasn't segregated and the staff were friendly and casual with no hint of formality). All good so far.
Of course, we had all watched The Open from Hoylake on television most recently in 2014 and I was well aware that the course layout is changed when The Open is in town but nothing really prepared me for a feeling of disappointment upon reaching the member's tee at the first. A flat and uninteresting hole with a dogleg right formed due to the 'internal' practice ground, lay ahead of us both and but no elevational change to greet us as we set foot upon the slow-running green we looked at each other with a resigned look of 'things can only get better, surely.' Not only slow-running but with curious dark green 'water-marks' which detracted from the experience as well. However, the short par 4 second hole was despatched quickly in a combined ten shots for our three-ball and we hoped for better to come from Hoylake. The 3rd hole, dog-legging left was more of what we expected and after tricky par 3 fourth hole with a flag set barely five paces on we relished the awkwardly angled 5th hole with a ridge running across the fairway necessitating a lay-up from the tee. The 6th hole with the blind tee-shot over the hedge turned out to be, sadly, quite uneventful upon reaching our drives and the 7th hole (par 3) seemed to be something of an afterthought, squeezed in to a featureless piece of land. But after both my daughter and I stiffed our approaches at the long par 5 eighth hole to collectively be four under the card we mounted the steps for our first glimpse of the sea at the 9th. The 10th was again a dog-leg left with again a 5-wood off the tee for placement and a short iron then played onto a raised green we moved with a level of higher expectation to the signature 11th hole a par three with open views across the estuary. The flag was set in the far left corner of the long green and with the wind off the left it posed an interesting task to hold up a drawn mid iron. Certainly our favourite hole so far and as it turned out be the last of the memorable holes. Twelve was nothing special and the heavily-bunkered short 13th spoilt by the outlook beyond it of a row of houses. Perhaps I'm being unduly picky but I expect my Open venues to excite both in the test of my game and in the surrounding vista - think RSG, RCP Deal and Turnberry. The stretch from 14 to 18 left little to the memory other than the relentless 'up-and-down' and 'backwards-and-forwards' of these holes set as they were on the flat land in front of the clubhouse that was previously a horse-racing track in days of yore. We all strangely felt the need to play the final few holes more quickly than we would have liked but we felt little to savour by the time we stood on the 16th tee.
Overall, we were all left somewhat underwhelmed by Hoylake, despite both my daughter and I shooting lower than handicap and completing the round without so much as a lost ball, but one question that had vaguely puzzled me when playing Hillside and Deal a year earlier was now answered. What is it that constitutes an Open venue; is it the sheer difficulty in the test of golf that will excite TV viewers and spectators alike whilst stretching the skills of the world's top players (and a few journeyman pro's too)...or is it a venue that has acres of space between holes to accommodate spectator walkways, television towers and viewing stands. We came away from Hoylake with a clear and unequivocal answer and it wasn't about it as a sheer test of golf.
Third visit to Hoylake, second in the last 5 weeks and in all 3 water has been the main character of the day. It seems like I will not be able to avoid it in any of my visits here! My first one was back in 2014 and we played 16 holes under water with all The Open stands still there. Early june some rain again, but just for a few holes. And now light dizzle for the front 9 but from 9 to 14 it was dense and uncomfortable rain. But it is summer in the UK, that will happen and you have to face it. My score was not even bad during the water, just got punched to KO by the course in the final 4 holes. Disappointing score,but never to complain when you visit a Major Venue. Just accept what you get and just learn for the next time.
Nothing to complain about the course, as good in shape as usual, greens rolling perfect, firm and fast fairways but every mistake will be penalized and this time it looks like I selected the wrong club off the time quite a few times and always ended on deep rough or by the tall wall of a cross bunker. With that there is little you can do, but just remember to be wiser with club selection next time.
In 2014 I played it with The Open layout (17-18 being 1-2) but in June and now as the Members play it. I like it more like The Open plays but Members have no intention of turning that into permanent, don't know why but I would consider it as the final 2 holes have really nothing too special and I would say are the 2 weakest holes on the course.
As in my previous 2 visits I enjoyed a long time at the Club House and it is one of the highlights of the day, hospitality from the staff is as good as you can expect and you feel like at your home course.
Now that I hve completed all current Royals of the Open Rota it is time to evaluate them and for sure the best Club House will be Hoylake for me. And as an Argentine, visiting where De Vicenzo won in 1967 will be always special. Comparing golf courses, design, strategy and challenge it hurts but Birkdale and St George's are above RLGC, finding it tougher and better than Lytham. But please don't get me wrong, it is just comparing 4 great golf courses, all of them worth the place they have in the World Top 100.
Played Royal Liverpool yesterday and was aware that it has got very contrasting reviews! What I would say cannot be argued is the club house, facilities, staff and food are without doubt top class - and made for a great start to proceedings!
I often find when playing top rated courses, that they do tend to flatter to deceive, and I have now played all the Open courses in this neck of the woods.....
I really enjoyed the course, helped by the fact I played well, but there wasnt many holes I can remember as being stand out amazing. The layout is tough but having avoided going in a single bunker I didnt find out just how tough it can play (my playing partner didnt!), and the wind was a great challenge! The course was in immaculate condition and again was without fault.....
Overall I was very impressed but not amazed at the course, I am very glad I have now played it, but wouldnt be driving back to play it again in a hurry, which is not because it is not a great course, more so because there are so many great courses to play!
Play this course and see what you think!
It was my second visit to Hoylake and in a very special day: Roberto de Vicenzo (Winner of the 1967 Open Championship here) had died the day before and 12 golfers from Golf Club Argentino (where he was the Club pro until 1949) arrived and since the first moment we were treated in a very special way. At the Club House Lobby there were some things remembering Roberto’s win and everybody at the Club was really sad, he was loved here. And I had the chance to take testimony of the Head Pro and the Club Historian for Golf Channel and they both said very special words about Roberto and remembered a lot of details from his win. But they also mentioned the 1956 Open where Roberto was third and the story is a late night before the third round was the cause of that 79.
My first visit was also special as I played it with the tribunes and all the Open display as it was 10 days after Rory’s win, but this one with 12 friends and honoring Roberto I would say it was more special. And this time we played the original layout where 1st hole is number 3 at The Open, that time I played the “Open Layout” and it is said there are considerations to make it the official one as the last 2 holes are a sort of weak finale for such a great course. As in 2014 some rain showed but it was for a couple of holes, not for almost all the round as that time.
Is the course worth the visit? Yes, not only as an Open Venue with the charm and challenge that has, but also a very good course with some great holes (3-5-8-9-14-15), greens rolling true and fast and one of the best club houses I have visited. And if you are by the area you can add Birkdale, Formby, Hillside, Lytham and Wallasey to make it a great golf tour.
There’s no hiding away from the fact that Hoylake isn’t easy on the eye, certainly for the opening and closing holes where the exterior views are predominantly residential. The first seven and last five are also played on what can almost be described as dead flat terrain blockaded in by the housing on both sides and to the rear. Remember though that beauty is always in the eye of the beholder and there are some subtle low level ground undulations and, should one strain their eyes to the west, more turbulent land can be spied in the distance out towards the Dee Estuary. Hope springs eternal.
If first impressions are not great it is full credit to the layout that huge interest and high levels of strategy are retained over what is the bulk of the course on this uninspiring terrain, formerly a racecourse. It’s a wonderful example of what can be achieved on flat land where decisions have to be made on every shot.
The first and 16th holes undoubtedly hold your attention, as well as a significant amount of fear, with the quite brilliant use of internal out of bounds. I dare say there isn’t a more terrifying opening drive than here where the corner of the practice ground, defined by raised cops, juts out at the ideal driving distance as the fairway narrows and angles around it. With a tail wind you may choose to try and cut a bit off, with the risk of stroke and distance, but most will sensibly shy to the left. The only problem with this approach is that the OOB runs all the way up alongside the hole and is always only a matter of feet away from the fairway and green! Take your bogey five and get out of there I say.
Apart from the aforementioned 16th there is less to write home about regarding the last five holes. The par-five 14th is arguably the best birdie chance on the course but the angled bunkers short of the green must be respected and avoided. As easy as the 14th might be the par-four 15th is just as difficult as you turn back on yourself, probably now into the wind. The 16th is a fine hole but by the time you get to the 17th and 18th you may just have the feeling of wanting the round to be done as you trudge away from the nearby clubhouse to play two more holes on the flat.
The heart of the course at Hoylake is the stuff of dreams though. From the eighth to the 13th the course is at its scintillating best (in all fairness you could tag the seventh on too). The terrain comes alive with movement and the natural changes in elevation which add soul and strategy to the game is in glorious abundance. These six holes are just about as good as anything you will find on any British links.
The wild fairways of the eighth and ninth can create all sorts of unusual bounces and lies but the exposed nature of the green at the former, coupled with a deep and deadly bunker to the front-right, and the secluded front to back surface at the next is what makes each hole so great.
To sum up Hoylake I felt a little bit like an interviewer trying to get some interesting answers out of an introvert. Initially they weren’t forthcoming and despite probing away it was very hard at first but under the right circumstances, and if you are willing to listen carefully, you can get some extremely enthralling responses.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Im a big fan of Hoylake and cannot understand the negative reviews. Everyone knows that Lytham is the worst course on the Open rota ! Yes its relatively flat and the dunes are subtle, but the design is solid with a good variety of holes that have different looks. Turf is outstanding as are the green surfaces. Standout holes are:- 3, 5, the stretch 8 to 13 and 15.
(This review will detail the holes in the manner which the Member’s play and not the routing they use for the Open Championship; holes 17 and 18 will be the closing holes and not the opening holes.)
I have been lucky enough to play Royal Liverpool on many occasions but not for a few years now so I was very excited to go back and see how the course was faring. Let me get out of the way that I feel a slight affinity with this course as I played it as a junior many times and fell in love with the place, not just the course but the whole club.
I love the feeling you get as you are approaching the drive of a world renowned course that is full of tradition and history, especially if it is in middle of nowhere or in Hoylake’s case, in the middle of a small town, you just think to yourself “Just on the other side of these houses is a piece of golfing history!”. The same can be said for most of the Open courses and Royal County Down. I havent played in America but I imagine the feeling is exactly the same at places like Pine Valley, Shinnecock, and obviously Augusta.
You pull into the drive and park in front of a majestic clubhouse knowing that right behind it the land just opens up to perfect links turf and dunes and the initial view you get when you round the corner and see the links in front of you is one of “Where do you go?”. You can see many holes and many flags and are not quite sure which one is from which tee, the immediate area around the clubhouse is flat, there is no way around that, but that doesn’t mean for a second the holes are uninteresting!
We played with a 3-4 club wind on a sunny day, but even without that, the first hole is one of the most terrifying opening tee shots I have played. Dogleg right with internal OB along the right and Members sitting in the Spike Bar and on the putting green watching you from the left. The condition of the tees and fairways was exquisite, the tees blended seamlessly into the fairway. Once you have hit your first shot and are walking up to your ball, you start to gauge just how close to the green (and flag) the OB comes all down the right side. I am not a tall person and I paced it out as 3 paces to the green, and 2 more to the flag. This really sets you up for the round, if your ball striking is on then you should be able to hold your shot into the cross wind and run it up onto the green.
The greens are not immediately obvious with slopes but there are more than enough internal burrows to fool a decent putter. For the time of year the course was in impeccable condition and the greens were incredibly true but the Members I was playing with said they hadn’t been cut that morning which made them a little bit slow, but that was fine as they were very very true.
The first par-5 comes at the long doglegging left hole where you have to be brave to aim far enough right and consequently straight at the pot bunkers, so as to not have to go over any gorse for your layup second. Despite the first 7 holes being flat, the green complexes more than make up for it, the greens are raised or have deep run offs and pot bunkers surrounding all of them and are particularly hard to get up and down from if you have short-sided yourself. I played in March and although it being very dry and sunny, it wasn’t quite the right time to putt from these hollows unless you are very used to doing so.
The first sighting of dunes and the best stretch of holes come from the 8th, a long straight par 5 hole to a back to front raised green with the deepest pot bunker guarding the front right. It is here you start to get the uneven lies and (un)lucky bounces and rolls around the greens.
Holes 9 and 10 are fantastic in the dunes and 9 really gives you some awkward bounces and interesting stances for your approach shot. 10 is a dogleg left and is a warm up for the harder 12th hole coming. Before you get there though you have to play the famous ‘Alps’. A beautiful par-3 of medium length played to an angled green where if the flag is back left, it is going to be semi-blocked by a dune. Good thing there is a deep pot bunker front right to catch those who don’t have the nerve to attack the flag.
12 is very difficult. Long par 4 sweeping to the left with pot bunkers exactly where you want to try and bit off more than you can chew. The green is a long way back behind a dune and if you are slightly right the ball will run down a steep bank and leave you a very difficult chip back up to the green. I love this hole when it is playing hard and fast because you really can play a long iron and punch it up the left and watch it run down the way of the land to the hole.
13 is a very tight par 3 with a steeply sloping green but more dangerous are the 5 pot bunkers guarding it. Once on the green you realise quite how small the green is, and actually on a whole, the greens are fairly small, some are long and deep but not wide.
Hole 16 now comes back to the internal OB on the right side and as a finishing hole in the Open is a fantastic par-5 where the second shot has to fly the corner of the OB and carry onto the green. It is a dogleg right where only the perfectly placed drive will leave you with an accessible shot to the green. Due to the angle of the hole, the layup is not easy either because you are coming across the OB and the further away from it you hit, the more exacting the third onto the green will be as you are now coming over pot bunkers and trying to stop it before a run off.
The finishing two holes are differing slight doglegs and are more about the second shot, the tee shot obviously has to be in perfect position, but the second shot on both holes cannot miss as the greens are more undulating than others and offer some interesting hole locations.
Walking off the 18th and back to the changing room you will look at the first hole again and ask yourself why you feel so battered and bruised! That’s exactly the nature of the course and links in general, despite the flatness or the calm day, you still have every aspect of your game tested and your poor shots are punished. This is why I think Links golf is the purest, you have to hit every shot in the bag and unlike parkland courses, up and direct at the flag is not always the best approach. I saw my playing partners and I all hit the ball into the same runoff and each of us hit a different type of shot onto the green and we all made par. A putt, a fairway wood putt, and a chipped 6-iron bunted into the slope to pop it up and roll up to the flag.
I wont bore you with the standard “this links is too flat” talk, because there is more to it than that, golf isn’t about how hilly a course is, its more about the playing angles and whether just being on the fairway is a good thing. You have to be on the correct side of the fairway to have any chance of getting the ball close for a makeable birdie, its about judging the way a ball will react as it hits the slopes around the greens so that you can avoid the bunkers.
As well as a fantastic links, the clubhouse is one of the best I have been in, coupled with Royal Lytham and Royal Portrush. You feel this aura of tradition and can see a piece of history on every wall in the main room. Also head to the upstairs drawing room for a fantastic view of the links and estuary in the background.
This course gets better and better the more you play it purely for the subtleties, if you just want a “wow factor” course that you will play once and be impressed with then this is not the place. You have to play this course on many occasions to work out how course works and what makes the holes so interesting and that is why it is such a fantastic test of golf.
Legendary. Historic. Welcoming. A classic golf course. World renowned history. Hoylake is one of my favorite places to play in England. The one knock you hear about Royal Liverpool is that it has too many holes that have out of bounds and in particular too many with internal out of bounds, known locally as 'cops' which allegedly makes for bad golf. There are ten holes that have an O.B. My view is that the 'rule' among golf's cognoscenti that too many O.B.'s makes a bad course is complete rubbish and Royal Liverpool proves it. Even for a non-scratch golfer, such as myself, I didn't find that the O.B. came into play that often. When it does, it is very strategically placed and you are duly penalized for hitting a poor shot. I particularly enjoyed the 9th Punch Bowl par four and the par three 11th Alps hole. Far and sure!
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
This is the Worst of the current Open rota venues. Terrible property as far as Sand dunes and undulations are concerned. The design is bland, lots of boring holes with rather blah all over the place. Sure the length and bunkers are up to major championship stature but that isn't everything. The one good note at Holyoke is that there are a few pleasant holes along the shoreline of the clubs property, and the downside is there are about 12 forgettable holes. Save your money and play anywhere else. The clubhouse is pretty to look at, the history inside is worth a look for sure. Never understood why this is ranked where it is on any list for that matter, you'll have a better time and get better value on about 50 other courses within GB&I. Don't bother making any effort to play here.
Max, these comments are fairly harsh but hey that's your opinion and you are very entitled to it. It could be interesting to consider why so many other people find this course great, in spite of the fact that the property leaves something to be desired. I'd argue this comes down to wonderful architecture, making the most out of the space given, utilizing the unique features of the property in the best possible way. Anyone can route a course through the most dramatic of dunes. The true skill of an architect comes out when they make something truly great out of an average property with limited space among other restriction. I've read some of your other reviews so you are well travelled and I enjoy them. This one for me is questionable and on top that I note you have reviewed the course twice, also back in July of 2011. You also gave it a poor review, but still you decided to return? Maybe to give it another chance? You're right, the property is nothing to brag about, however, I'd argue you are missing something in terms of architecture and how the course plays with varied winds. It may not be the best Open Rota course or perhaps not even a Top 100 but it's surely a great test of golf and certainly extremely solid architecture in the least with no two holes alike and great variation full of subtlety.