(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.
Date: April 04, 2017