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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.
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
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 !
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