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The 3 Royals Adventure

11 May, 2015

The 3 Royals Adventure

Playing three English Open Championship courses in two days

By Javier Pintos
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During the last days of July 2014, with Rory McIlroy’s win at Liverpool still fresh and before a 7-day trip to Northern Ireland (which will be described in a future article), I was blessed to play three of the current English Open rota courses. It was not just playing golf, it was more of an adventure due to the long trip and the short time I had in Liverpool to complete this 3-day trip.

Invited by my good friend Andy Newmarch, I arrived to Formby Hall Hotel on a Wednesday morning to experience something that was still pending in my golfing life: playing in England. After the long trip from Buenos Aires we had some breakfast (coffee for me, beer for Andy as usual) and after checking in at the Hotel we played Formby Hall Golf Club (which is not the classic Formby Golf Club) in what was a sort of warming up round before being tested by the 3 Royals, something that I was really looking forward to.

Formby Hall is a very fun course, nothing to do with classic links but more parkland in nature. There are no signs of the sea while trees, bunkers and water hazards mark the surroundings of the course. It is very playable, with fast and true greens, very well kept and on a good day you can score. I had a decent 77 with a couple of birdies and of course some mistakes that were bound to happen after such a long flight. I really enjoyed meeting Andy again, we share passion for golf course rankings and design after every hole there is always a chat about how the design could be improved, modified, toughened or adapted to modern golf. We played with fellow Golf Tour Operator Rob Stinson and England’s Golf Coast Director Geoff Harris. It was a fun match won by Rob (who played far better than his handicap) and me. Then we had dinner at the hotel, a couple of beers and off to bed – two very big days where ahead of us.

One of my first memories watching golf on TV was Seve’s win in 1979 after driving the ball all over the place in those last six holes, including that shot on 16 from the parking lot where they had to move a car in order for him to be able to hit the shot. Ever since I got my handicap I wanted to visit and play Lytham – a dream that finally came true thanks to my dear friend Andy.

We arrived early in the morning although we had an 11.20am tee time, with the aim of getting an earlier tee time in order to be able to arrive to at Birkdale with enough time to play all 18 (I finally did and played them on my own). Unfortunately there were no earlier tee times so we had enough time for a nice coffee in the Members Lounge and a walk around every bit of the clubhouse, which shows memories of Seve and Bobby Jones everywhere – pictures, frames, scorecards, old clubs, trophies and a lot more give the clubhouse that historic touch that only these type of venues have. All I can say is that it was unforgettable. We then headed to the practice green which we enjoyed for nearly 45 minutes before heading to the first tee.

I won’t say nervous, but I really wanted to hit that 7 iron. There are a lot of memories from that hole: Woosnam’s 15th Club in 1996 while Jack Nicklaus was in contention and Duval’s masterful performance are two examples of the images I had in my head. My iron shot landed 15 feet from the cup and I nearly made it a birdie. From 2 to 7 my golf was not good, I got caught by some cross bunkers, missed some putts and the worst came on 7th where after a 314-yard drive and a good hybrid I was not able to get out of the bunker and another bogey for a +4 before starting 8th hole. The fast fairways became a problem and I had no clue as to how to solve it, but from that moment onwards my game arrived and I really enjoyed it. Two putts from “the moon” on the 8th for par, a PW to three feet on the 9th, a fabulous up and down on 10 from the left side and another birdie on 11 put the round in place. That hole 12th is a great par three where it is tough to figure out the true distance and where the angle to attack to the green makes it even tougher.

We finally arrived at the famous six final par fours, all of them very different from each other but with challenge in every shot you make – without missing a shot I scored four pars and two bogeys, it was tough to solve it but in the end 76 shots was good and I was very happy. When standing on the final tee I still had in mind Adam Scott getting caught by a cross bunker which I flew over with the driver (the tee was 20 yards further forward, downwind and I was not playing the 72nd hole of the Open Championship!), but my ball stayed in deep rough and only just managed to get to the green before a two putt par. The view of the clubhouse standing on the 18th tee is just fantastic. We finished the round but we didn’t have time to eat anything, just a quick visit to the pro shop to buy some stuff and then rush to Birkdale, as I had to complete the second stage of The 3 Royals Adventure. It was great to share this round with a friend like Andy, having a lot of time to chat and discuss golf, The Open, Ernie Els, Adam Scott, Seve and a lot more. My visit to Lytham is another huge memory that I will forever keep in my golf treasure box… and just want to add: If you like the game of golf, Royal Lytham and St Anne’s is a place you really need to visit.

Immediately after finishing the round we called the pro shop to see if we could play, if not we could have gone to the fabulous Hillside. But we were encouraged to go and so we did. Andy was tired so it was going to be just me. The negative part is that I didn’t have the course so fresh in my memory and playing it alone got some strokes from me on the front nine.

We arrived 4.30pm and after almost no time the pro shop manager told me: “Get your driver and fire it before any member shows up.” I had no time to spend in the shop and only bought a flag, but at least I could play the course on my own. It was tough as I had no caddie, no yardage book, I was not that familiar with the course and although sunny it was windy. But it was a super experience, I got to know and play the course and under an amazing twilight sky I enjoyed one of those great golfing afternoons.

The course was in pristine shape (maybe even better than Lytham and Hoylake), greens rolling extremely true and fast, fairways hard and like carpets, rough dense and tough, all in all in brilliant condition. I loved all the holes, but especially 1st, 4th, 6th, 9th, 17th and 18th. It was nice to finish birdie on 17th and then make a thirty-foot putt for eagle on 18th for a great 74 from the tips, finishing three under in the last ten holes. Once I made the putt some members on the terrace clapped and I felt really proud, as they invited me to join them for a beer. A complete golfing day ended walking around another special clubhouse steeped in history.

One last note: I cannot believe the Senior Open lost by Bernhard Langer in 2013. I walked into that bunker and the shot is not that difficult for a player of his status. It is unbelievable what pressure or lack of concentration can do, but he lost it.

My day didn’t finish there; a mistake with my GPS took me to the wrong hotel (in downtown Liverpool instead of going to Hoylake) so I had to drive for 90 minutes before getting to my room and I was very late for dinner with Andy. We had a great meal near the hotel and then took a short stroll to Hoylake, our final stage, which provided more excitement as Rory McIlroy had won there just ten days earlier and all the grandstands were still up!

The weather forecast was not good at all and after breakfast it was confirmed. It was raining and it wasn’t going to stop for any part of the round, so rain gear plus umbrella were needed.

I imagine that one of the best experiences in golf must be walk the 18th Hole of the final round in The Open Championship with the tournament in your pocket. But as that will probably never happen to me, walking an Open course just ten days after the tournament with two very kind Members (Anne and Alasdair) and a true golfing friend (Andy) was one of the best moments in my long golfing life and I will always be grateful for those seven hours spent at Royal Liverpool Golf Club.

The day started very early with a 7am breakfast with Andy and exchanging word on what would for sure be a very special day.

Anne and Alasdair arrived 7:45am and we just set up for the round of golf. You need to know that the layout for the members is different from the Open, as holes 1-2 for the Open are the regular holes 17-18 which gives the course more action and drama as you have two par fives in the final three holes where some birdies and eagles can be scored, as Rory McIlroy did. The story will be told following the Open layout, as we were allowed to play the course that way.

We teed off in heavy rain, but I didn’t care, as I believed the Open Championship was taking place. The first two holes are demanding par fours where you need to keep it straight and approach shots are not easy at all. Then it’s very important on the dogleg 3rd to make a wise decision with the tee shot, as OOB is all along the right side. When you arrive at tee 7th you really find difficulty and I have to say this par four is one of the toughest of my “3 Royals Adventure”. Tee shot at 8th is blind and you really need to be in the right spot to have a decent angle to go for the green. The 9th is a demanding and long par three that’s typical of links golf while the 10th (we played it into the wind) is an accessible par five which I bogied after missing the first three shots. It is the furthest point on the course before you start the way back. In those final eight holes I played my A game, hitting all GIR but only making birdie on 13th. It was disappointing but a +4 76 was the final result and I have to be pretty happy with that.

The final holes, the grandstands and the tents made it so special that it makes me want not only to go back, but also to play other Open venues with the stands erected – it makes a world of difference. Many pictures were taken on the 18th, with Andy, Anne and Alasdair, dreaming to be an Open Champion but all of them remind me how special that moment was.

After the game and a hot soup, Andy had to leave but I stayed a couple of hours at the club, had a shower in the members locker room and lunch in the lounge before spending two hours in the pro shop buying all kinds of merchandise. I have to say that this pro shop teaches others how to treat visitors and the variety of products they have is incredible. It also shows how much they care that every visitor takes a souvenir from the club. I keep my sweater and coffee cup in a very special place and only use them for special occasions!

Having said all this, if you are an amateur (a lover of the game as Bobby Jones stated) you have to visit Hoylake, play it, experience it and then have the certainty that not many clubs in the world hold so much respect for golf as they do here at Royal Liverpool.

Final Stand: Roberto De Vicenzo from my beloved Argentina won in 1967 his only Major Championship after a two-stroke victory over Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player. There is memorabilia of “El Maestro” all over the club, he is loved by the members and when I mentioned I was from Argentina, everybody showed me how they venerated Roberto, so it made it even more special.

If I have to compare the 3 Royals I would say: Birkdale is the nicest, Hoylake is the one that I felt most charming and Lytham was the toughest to score. But loved all three of them and hope to return in the future, they are all really worth playing again. It is a trip I thoroughly recommend and to make more than once, which you can combine with Formby, Hillside or even repeat one of the royals.

A one-week trip to Northern Ireland was now ahead of me, but these three days and four rounds of golf are to be cherished. In 2017 when The Open returns to Birkdale, I will remember my lonely round during the afternoon of July 31st 2014.

To read my player reviews click the any of the links below:

Javier Pintos

Formby Hall
Royal Lytham & St Annes
Royal Birkdale
Royal Liverpool


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