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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.
However despite not experiencing the full test of the course, it was plain to see why it is one of the more popular Open Venues for both players and patrons! For a start, there is what first greats you as you arrive at the club, the great and illustrious clubhouse. Then inside the helpful starter greats you with the upmost hospitality showing you to the locker room and the extremely well stocked Pro Shop silently urges you to buy some of the great items for sale. As you go further into the clubhouse the sense of history and the ghost of golfing greats only go further to arouse the anxious feelings of the impending round.
And what a round it is! You know right from the off that you need your 'A' game at hand! The first is probably the hardest opening hole I have played. The clubhouse windows on the left shudder in fear of the horrendous hook shot that may fly off your club, and to the right Out of Bounds lies the whole way up the hole. Then also the fairway narrows to less than 20 yards at prime 3-wood range, so you are left with the quandary lay up and face a 200 yard approach shot over Out of Bounds or try and carry the corner with the big stick, personally I was happy to take a five! The second is a great short hole where again the emphasis is on driving accuracy, however once on the fairway good luck stopping the ball on a green that slopes away from you into deep swales. The third is a great risk/reward Par 5 where bunkers are a plenty but a good score is to be had so long as you find the right tier on the green. The fourth is a great par three with another tricky green, and cavernous bunkers awaiting the wayward tee shot. The fifth is another tight hole where accuracy on the drive and the approach are vital. There is a reason why it is S.I 1!! The sixth, although with a daunting tee shot is actually a kind respite from the previous 5 holes. But nevertheless danger still lies in wake! The seventh is another must hit Par 3 as complex swales leave a very tricky up and down. The eight is a cracker of a Par 5! You drive towards a narrowing fairway and there is a distinct possibility of leaving yourself a chance of getting on in two! However too close to the large mound at the end of the fairway and there is no choice to lay up! If you do go for it in two avoid the front right bunker at all costs! It is deep… The front nine then finishes with a great short Par 4 at which a 4 is a very good score!
At the start of the back nine the course comes into its own, with 10, 11 and 12 along the shoreline, where the views over the Dee estuary are so beautiful they make the sudden growth of bogeys on the card seem not that bad! The 13th is another Par 3 but where length is not the issue, but again accuracy. Miss this green at your peril! The 14th is a superb 3 shot Par 5 with danger lurking in the form of bunkers at the drive, lay up, and approach. The 15th is one of the hardest holes on the course, with Out of Bounds to the right and two big blows required to reach the green! The 16th is the final time that the Out of Bounds comes into play, but avoid that and there is a strong possibility of a rare birdie. The 17th has plenty of protection from bunkers at the front so take an extra club on the already long approach! Then the 18th closes the round in the same way it started, danger left and right off the tee and with a new bunker front right, there is an imperative on accuracy with the approach!
In all this is a course that is not for those who like the undulations of St Andrews, nor for those who like to smack a driver on every hole (I used mine 3 times!), but if one wants a supreme test of golf and great history, Hoylake is the place.