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10 miles SW of Liverpool on Wirral Peninsula
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George Morris, Robert Chambers, Harry Colt
Championships hosted: Arnold Palmer Cup, Boys Amateur, Brabazon Trophy, British Masters, British PGA Matchplay, Curtis Cup, English Men's Amateur, English Women's Amateur, European Open, Men's Home Internationals, Senior Amateur, The Amateur, The Open, The Womens Amateur, Walker Cup, Women's Home Internationals, Women's Open
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, brother of Old Tom, and Robert Chambers 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.
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 stretching the course out in excess of 7,000 yards. We wonder if Darwin would approve 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.
Without doubt, Royal Liverpool is a tough links. Only six holes are in the dunes – otherwise there is little protection from the ever-changing wind. There is nothing artificial about the course. It represents a traditional, genuine test of golf and it was heart-warming to see that Hoylake examined the very best players in 2006. They came, they saw and Tiger conquered.
During the winter of 2009/10, Martin Hawtree carried out alterations which included a new 17th green, removal of fourteen bunkers, seven new swales added to green surrounds, and broken ground was added to the rough on six holes to toughen the challenge. The course measured 90 yards longer (7,312 yards) for the 2014 Open Championship when Rory McIlroy claimed his first Open and third major title with a two-shot victory over Sergio Garcia and Rickie Fowler.
At the start of 2020, having consulted with both the R&A and architect Martin Ebert, the club announced a series of course alterations to be made in advance of The Open returning to Hoylake in 2022.
These modifications included raising the front of the 4th green to allow more pin positions, moving the 7th green to the left of its current position and introducing new tees on the 8th, remodelling the 13th green with new runoff areas, creating a short par three 17th hole (with the new green positioned where the 15th tees were located), and lengthening the par five 18th.
As a club, Royal Liverpool has to be one of the finest. The Hoylake membership is one of the friendliest and most welcoming I’ve encountered. There’s clearly a pride that their members and staff exhibit about their club and this revered links’ history and place in the game. There’s a real sense of warmth to the atmosphere at Hoylake. And whilst Top100’s rating criteria is to base one’s judgement only on the course, it would be remiss of me not to mention these elements of the club that help make it stand apart from others.
The course itself is one that’s admittedly difficult to love, particularly at first sight, but it’s one that you must instantly respect. The course is classic in style. The ground is largely flat and it’s very subtle in its design. There are no gimmicks (if we ignore the new 15th) and the lack of dunes protecting the course means it’s completely exposed to the wind. The rough is also long and wispy so a genuine championship test is served to those who play here on a day when the wind is gusting. Fortunately, Hoylake is not an out-and-back course. Instead, the routing constantly changes meaning that it is not a constant slog into the wind. At Hoylake, you have to adapt your game with each change in direction and many of the holes actually play across the prevailing wind rather than with or into it. Also, as you’d expect from all Open venues, the condition is impeccable, and the crafty little slopes, bunkers and run offs, whilst understated, are all well located.
Each hole has its merits and there are no poor holes as such, rather each hole providing a steady examination. The most memorable segment of the course comes between holes 8 and 12 which encroach upon the low dunes that line the perimeter of the course next to the beach. Due to the land movement around these holes, they are more distinctive with some raised greens, semi-blind shots and doglegs around the dunescape providing the features. The new 15th will naturally be the talking point after the round. Whilst the dramatic nature of the hole with its large waste bunkering and tight slopes and elevation change is out of character with the rest of the course, I consider it to be a strong hole and will now be considered the course’s signature, albeit the group of members whom we spoke with post-round remain to be convinced.
Overall, I can understand how many people can be underwhelmed having paid over £200 for a green fee for an Open Championship course, but Open venues are chosen for many more reasons than their beauty alone. It may lack the wow-factor of other courses on the Open rota but Royal Liverpool is still graced with a very good course and moreover, this is a fine club and I’d highly recommend any visit should allow for spending some quality time in and around the clubhouse to soak in the atmosphere.
There are certain golf clubs that resonate with you. Often it’s an intangible, the grounds have an aura or feeling that leave you content and fulfilled even if the weather was awful or you played like a wally.
Visiting Hoylake was ticking a box for me. I’ve said it’s too easy for The Open, it’s only there because of the space, even the night before playing I was saying it was the championship’s ugly duckling. And like that tale, the swan (or liver bird) rose up and shone – despite some of the worst conditions I’ve experienced.
So to try describe that intangible, we were totally taken aback by the bold, angular mowing lines and sprawling links land that few courses can offer. It has a grandeur and subtlety that it is a bit like Carnoustie, although I will admit mildly inferior. Given the lack of dunes near the clubhouse, you are extra exposed to the wind, then are rewarded with the more seaside holes around the turn. The 8th is a sweeping and swooping par 5 that plays to a raised green, and though these more hilly holes might be considered better, for me it’s just that the lower-land holes ask different questions.
Hoylake has a stellar set of par 3s, improved by our new 15th and 17th for the pros. This will be a lot of fun to watch as the yardage should require a wedge, but it is into the prevailing wind. There are cavernous bunkers either side (pictured), although I do wish there was less of the sand-blasted, waste area look about the hole. It doesn’t quite fit. Nevertheless, this improvement will push RL nearer or into the world top 100.
I’d also like our 1st to be the same as the pros, as our finish is a slight anti-climax after that par 3 and the par 5 16th – hug the OB for a better route into the green, or you are approaching over pot bunkers. It would be a grander finale to a grand course, but we’re all playing the same holes so it doesn’t really matter.
Once finished, the staff are attentive and friendly, so much so that I think they took pity on our drowned rat complexions and gave us a tour of some members’ areas. This was the icing on the cake of one of my best mornings of golf. I am now a Hoylake convertee so would rank it as a highly as Lytham and Birkdale, and will return when the weather’s hopefully better. Royal Liverpool is a lot more than merely ticking a box.
This is a very good course, but not a great course. The history and status elevate this place way above where it should be in the rankings. There are many fine courses in England which sit lower down in the rankings but offer a more entertaining and all round superior experience.
Having said all that, we found the course to be a stern challenge and it was in immaculate condition, especially the greens. We battled through heavy rain early in our round, but the free draining course didn't suffer at all. After an uninteresting opening hole, I liked the well bunkered 2nd, but the front nine only really gets interesting at the far end of the course where the dunes are.
The back nine starts well, and I enjoyed the two par threes the most, in particular the 11th with its long green angled across you. I like the short 13th too, but I understand this has now been replaced ready for the 2022 Open.
The finishing stretch from 14-18 are really bland. I just felt like I was knocking it round a wide open field. When I think how so many famous courses build to a crescendo, this was no fearsome closing stretch worthy of an Open climax. I believe the club is doing something about this and I hope we will see a more entertaining finish when the Open next returns.
The clubhouse is like a museum inside and well worth a visit. Practice facilities also excellent as you would expect.
I’m assuming your review was from your experience of playing the course before the new 17th was built?
Yes that's right, I played before the new hole was built. From the fly-over, the new hole looks great, although arguably out of character with the rest of the course.
Several years back, while walking down the eleventh fairway while playing Interlachen in Minnesota, I mentioned to a friend that I had an upcoming business trip in early October to London. He knew that I had already played the Old course at St. Andrews and Merion East earlier in the year. He smartly told me that if I added Royal Liverpool that I would have played the four courses in the same calendar year that Bobby Jones had done to complete his famous Grand Slam. The following day I called Royal Liverpool and arranged a round at the completion of my business trip. The round was to be three weeks later with a caddie. Upon meeting my caddie, I discovered he was a member and so I asked him to join me in playing the course promising to pay him for his “reads” on the green as well as pay for the drinks after. It was a marvelous experience.
After finishing the round at Royal Liverpool, I figure Mr. Jones probably only beat me by 65 shots over the four courses although it is impossible to know given much of his Grand Slam was contested at match play and his scores would have varied by match. Of course, Mr. Jones competed under pressure against the world’s best amateurs and professionals. I generally had friends with me. Yet I did feel a bit of a connection to him as I played my way around Royal Liverpool thinking of him as he won his second leg of the Grand Slam.
Perhaps some day I will play the four courses in the same year in the same order as Mr. Jones.
The course has changed since I played it with Martin Ebert making more changes. As such, I will keep this review at a high level. When I return to the area again, I will do a hole-by-hole review as my notes of each hole are outdated due to the many changes made since I played it. This review is met to address the “essence” of the course.
Royal Liverpool was built on land that was the racecourse for the Liverpool Hunt Club. It is the second oldest of the seaside links courses in England. Nine holes were laid out by George Morris and Robert Chambers in 1896 with the first professional being his son, Jack. In 1871, nine additional holes were added. In 1872, the first professional tournament in England was held, followed by the first British Amateur in 1882. In 1902 the first international match was held between England and Scotland. In 1921 the first amateur match was held between Great Britain and Ireland against the United States. This later became the Walker Cup.
People disparage Royal Liverpool for its flatness, interior out-of-bounds, and no real views of the sea. The setting can be bleak as my understanding is that there seems to be a lack of consistent sunshine in the area. The wind often blows making a round feel like a “forced march.” On the three trips I have taken to the area I have not once had a day of sunshine but I have also never had a long, soaking rain. There has always been some rain, but mainly it has been overcast and dreary.
Due to the flatness of the course, the designers had to rely on higher grass, the wind, a few gullies, and mounds for its more natural defenses. The primary defense is the large number of out-of-bounds on the course, although some would take a truly terrible shot to go over the boundaries.
Indeed, after playing it, I did not consider it to be a top 100 world course, but I could certainly see why it would be on the Open rota even after being left off for so many years. My opinion is that it is the least worthy Open course, but that is not a criticism. It is certainly good enough and interesting enough to conduct an Open championship. The last two have been compelling although when “the greats” win that always adds a sense of weightier history to the course.
I do wish that the Royal & Ancient would award the Open to Royal Cinque Ports again as well as Royal County Down, Portmarnock, and Royal Porthcawl. Even if more courses were added to the rota, I would not remove the Open from Royal Liverpool as it offers more than enough challenge in the competition to find the Champion Golfer of the Year. Additionally, the course continues to improve. The beauty of the course is in its subtleties and is routing.
If one took away the town of St. Andrews, then the Old course would be the least visually interesting course. As of now, Carnoustie is the least attractive course followed by Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham & St Annes. However, sometimes players can get distracted by the environment and do not focus adequately on the merits of the course. I believe this is the case at Royal Liverpool where are many good qualities in its design.
Here were my thoughts of the course after playing it:
- Royal Liverpool is the easiest “Open” course because the tee shots are straightforward here with the exception of a couple of holes. You rarely get a bounce leading to a result that you would not expect.
- It has a nice routing where typically there are only two consecutive holes going in the same direction other than nine through twelve (11-14 for the Open).
- The green complexes are primarily uninteresting with not enough interesting fall-offs or micro-sculpting both on the greens or near it. (again, I have heard this has been addressed).
- Due to the two comments above, I thought the course lacked strategy and decision-making both on the tee and near the greens.
- I do not like interior out-of-bounds to a course, particularly a large open parallel field, although it certainly does make Royal Liverpool unique. The use of “cops” to define the out-of-bounds is low cost but not the most intimidating. It also does not provide adequate definition to the boundaries of the hole.
- There was not one truly outstanding or memorable hole. While I liked eight holes, none of them made my “best holes in the world” list.
- The routing was not maximized. When I played it, I saw areas on the course that I thought would be better for tees and green locations. (I look forward to see if this has been addressed).
- The course lacked length as well for the better players. (somewhat addressed but in reality it needs to be 7700 yards at least on a low wind day given the flatness of the terrain).
With the exception of the internal out-of-bounds, through the years Royal Liverpool has done the most to address its weaknesses of all of the Open courses, although one could argue the case for Royal Portrush Dunluce removing two weak holes and adding two very good holes. The changes that have been made and continue to be made to the course certainly address most criticisms I had of the course. However, I need to play it again to see whether they do enough. Green surrounds have been enhanced. Tees have been relocated. Greens have been relocated. Yardage has been added. The members of the course are allowing it to achieve its potential although the loss of the famous par 3 seventh hole named Dowie which sat right next to the out-of-bounds is hard to understand. When the R&A changed the rules in 1932 to make the penalty for a ball hit out-of-bounds off the tee stroke and distance, it contributed to the demise of this hole which was feared throughout championship golf.
The new seventeenth (soon to be completed) might possibly turn out to be the most memorable “short” par 3 on all of the Open courses given its location, its importance to a tournament, and the significant raised green with deep bunkers. Most professionals do not like short par 3’s as they often do not have to play them. The short ones they do play often have a very high probability of a successful recovery. But this par 3 might be as good as the Postage Stamp at Royal Troon, or the 13th at Muirfield (hard to say its short now), or the 11th on the Old course at St Andrews. This new par 3 is a much more significant change than lengthening the eighteenth to over 600 yards.
There will still be plenty of professionals reaching the eighteenth with their second, unless the wind is strongly in their faces. I only have to look at my home course, Aronimink, with the ninth hole stretching to 615 yards and it plays uphill adding another 20 yards, yet half of the field could reach it in two at our recent BMW tournament.
One should play the course even if they are not checking off a list of playing “Open” courses. I do marvel at what has been created here on a somewhat featureless piece of land. There is good links golf here, and I am certain it has gotten much better.
Our trip to Royal Liverpool was played under the threat of lockdown. Elbows were used instead of handshakes and we made sure we sat away from people in the bar. We did however sit in the bar and pre game had a lovely egg and bacon sandwich watching the members tee off.
There was a bit of work going on on the course, so the 2nd and 5th greens were out of play but this I understand is development of the course. As other people mention the course comes alive, really alive on 7 and I thoroughly enjoyed the run from here 13 (especially 8, 9 and 11) however I think this does the course a disservice. Actually 4 is a lovely par 3, 5 is not half bad and the tee shot at 6 is great, I hit one down the middle and I walked to the ball with a big smile on my face.
They are doing some work in creating a new 17th par 3 which we took a little look at and will definitely improve the course.
I have a played a few of the open venues and this for me is not as good as those but this is still a lovely links, full of history and very welcoming.
It is a popular opinion that Hoylake is the 'worst' of the courses on the Open rota, and I would have to agree. This being said, I still love it, but don't think it belongs in the world top 100.
The property is extremely flat for 12 of the holes. Holes 8-13 are in the dunes and are some of the standout holes. 8 and 9 were personal favourites. 11 and 13 are good par 3s, although 13 has just been completely rebuilt so I haven't seen the new one. My criticism of this stretch is holes 10 and 12 are very similar par 4s.
The flat 12 holes do have some really good holes too. 2 is a nice par 4, 3 a really good par 5, 5 and 6 are great par 4s and 14 is a very good long par 5. The best holes I thought were 1 and 16. The sit opposite sides of the square driving range, and both dogleg around its corners. 1 is arguably the best flat, bunker less par 4 in the world. The driving range acts as a perfect hazard for both of these holes and it's very clever design.
The reason I think Hoylake is held in such high regard (except its Open pedigree), is it does all of the small things well. The walkways are perfect, the tee boxes are well positioned and the lookouts of blind shots are really well built and integrated. When you add everything up, including the amazing clubhouse, Hoylake gets the most out of the land that it can get.
If I had to split 10 rounds at Lytham, Birkdale and Hoylake, I'd go:
4 Lytham 4 Birkdale 2 Hoylake
I played here a few years ago during the winter, when the course was still in remarkable condition despite the time of year. Like others who have described their experience on the course as underwhelming, I too came away from Hoylake scratching my head a little and wondering what all the fuss was about – then again, I did the same after I first played at Muirfield so perhaps it’s time I visited Hoylake again to find out what I missed, especially now that Martin Ebert has embarked on a raft of course improvements.
Royal Liverpool was a world ranked course on this website until just a couple of years ago so expectations are naturally very high when playing such a track and it frankly failed to deliver. The topography of the opening and closing holes (complete with ghastly internal out of bounds mounding) was even duller than I’d imagined beforehand and the superior quality of the terrific half dozen holes in the middle of the round just wasn’t enough to outweigh my indifference to the others.
If Top 100 Golf Courses did a Top 100 chart for clubhouses then Royal Liverpool ‘s would feature very prominently in the listing (the huge library upstairs is absolutely sensational and you could spend a week browsing in there) as it’s a magnificent edifice with all the welcoming amenities a visiting golfer would expect to find inside. Unfortunately, the course didn’t quite match up to the grandeur of this building for me so the club didn’t offer the complete package I was looking for.
Everybody and everything deserves a second chance so maybe I’ll get the opportunity to return some day and perhaps change my opinion.
What a disappointment to be honest. Flat and boring and cant believe this is on the open circuit.
You obviously either hate golf or played so bad you forgot to open your eyes and understand what you were looking at...not every links course needs views to the sea from every hole, nor does it need big dunes to compete. Every hole is different and presents it’s own challenges. Golf course reviews are built purely on opinions and what people like & dislike, but you don’t even quantify yourself!? Obviously the R&A don’t agree with you and your mighty expectations....
I played Hoylake last week, invited by an Artisan member. I have read a lot of the comments around Royal Liverpool and it certainly divides attention.
Arriving at the Artisan clubhouse which in all honesty is at the 'scabby' end of the course one is less than impressed, but a stroll down to the pro shop, with glorious late afternoon sunshine casting it's light over the course I knew I was in for something special.
I crouched down and took a picture of the course and sent it to my wife. 'Looks like a big field' she said. And to a certain point in the part of the course away from the dunes is like that. because the course is defined by how the fairways have been cut through the long wispy grass, a picture 3 foot above the ground does look just like that as you cannot see the fairways at all.
But when you play the course, you realise what quality design went into its routing.
The 1st is a little quirky, oob internal to the right, and a dog leg so I played down to the corner, onto the green and a par to start. I then followed it up with a birdie on the 2nd and 2 more pars so will always remember being 1 under after 4.
I though the clever run offs on the fairways and around the greens were magnificent.
With no wind to speak of this course was very playable and my score of 35 points reflected that.
The section amongst the dunes and over looking the estuary offers stunning views and is a really special part of the course. Some quality green locations and designs.
You face internal oob again on the par 16th but even for me taking the corner off was straight forward enough with my 2nd shot opening up a birdie opportunity.
This is the finishing hole in The Open (start on 17th) because it offers better grandstanding area and for the pro's helps the course offer a stronger start than the quirky short 1st.
The green and bunkering on the 17th is excellent and it was nice to finish with a par on the 18th
The rough varied across the course with the back nine rough thicker and denser than the opening holes so you really had to keep an eye on where your ball was landing (or not go in the rough in the 1st place)
Is it as pretty as other Open venues or even courses on the Lancashire Golf Course - no, but is it a top quality course, one which no doubt on a breezy day would be an absolute brute for the average golfer - yes!
Superb evenings golf, great merchandise to be bought in the pro shop and the pub down the end of the road for a meal and drink before heading back home made for a wonderful overall experience
Great linksy starting stretch but it sort of peters out and goes a bit bland (albeit still mighty tough especially, obviously, when the wind howls across the old race course area). For me better than Lytham but not as good as Birkdale....or Wallasey !