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10 miles SW of Liverpool on Wirral Peninsula
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George Morris, Robert Chambers, 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, 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.
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.
What a disappointment to be honest. Flat and boring and cant believe this is on the open circuit.
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 !
Despite playing 65+ of the top 100 courses listed on this site, and most of the top 40 or so in the UK, this is my first review on this web site. I felt compelled to somewhat 'defend' Royal Liverpool in the face of so many negative comments. And for some context I'm a 52 yr old scratch marker and golf architecture nut.
I played Royal Liverpool yesterday, the only course on the Open rota I had not played. It only took a few holes to realise how hard done by this course has been in terms of the comments, and the rationale for these comments. Put simply, this is fantastic test of golf and an architectural gem. 1 thru 6 and then 14 thru 18 are basically on dead flat land. To create such challenging golf holes where you had to think on every shot, on this type of land, is fantastic. 17 is a classic example, and reminded me of holes like the 2nd at Oakmont. The architect had nothing going for him. But you stand on that tee and have to think seriously about how you're going to play the hole. Do you take on the bunkers, do you lay up short right and have a longer second, do you try to play up towards the left bunker and bring the right bunkers into play, etc. And then the green complex - swales and bumps = strategy. Think about it - that was a dead flat piece of land turned into a fascinating green complex.
And I loved the internal OOB - quirky, just like Prestwick, North Berwick, etc. That second short on 16 really made you think - something very different and unique. And the first, dead flat, no bunkers but I hole I will always remember.
As for the holes through the dunes - world class. You won't play a much better stretch of golf holes than 9 thru 12
My only mild criticism is the par fives, 8 and 14. With today's technology they're probably a little short as they are not risk-reward, like the 3rd is.
In terms of nearby comparisons, I'd play Royal Liverpool before Royal Birkdale everyday - the main reason is that there is more strategy at Royal Liverpool and a greater variety of lies. I suspect it's the lack of dunes that leads some of the folks to rate the course as they do. But, if you want dunes, head to Ballybunion or Cruden Bay - they'll make you happy :-)
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.
Seriously - 3 balls? Glimpses of the sea do not make a good golf course :-)
The only think I can think of is you played the very front tees? The 10th from the championship is a driver and then mid-iron with no breeze (I hit my driver around 270 yds). Playing from the front tee's take's most of the strategy away - which is the main feature of this golf course
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.