Thursday, June 15, 2006

Hoylake - The Royal Liverpool Golf Club - Far and Sure

Hoylake Clubhouse
Royal Liverpool's historic clubhouse


Legendary. Historic. Welcoming. A classic golf course. World renowned history. Welcome to the Royal Liverpool Golf Club (ranked #72 in the world), also known as Hoylake after the town it is located in. It has been 39 years since the R & A has held the open championship at Hoylake and the world is in for a treat. The last open held there was before the massive media and television coverage golf receives today. This is one of golf's true gems and the opening will most likely be its coming out party to the modern era of golf.

Hoylake is the third oldest course on the top 100 list, built in 1869, it is pre-dated only by The Old Course at St. Andrews and Carnoustie. The first Amateur Championship was held here in 1885. The course has hosted the open championship ten times. This is one of the four courses Bobby Jones won the grand slam on in 1930, winning the open championship here that year. The clubhouse at Hoylake displays its history better than any other we've been to yet. Where else in the world are there the signed original winning score cards of Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen and memorabilia from two of golf's early historical figures John Ball and Harold Hilton?

The one knock you hear about Royal Liverpool is that it has too many holes that have out of bounds and in particular too many with internal out of bounds, known locally as 'cops' which allegedly makes for bad golf. There are 10 holes that have an O.B. My view is that the 'rule' among golf's cognoscenti that too many O.B.'s makes a bad course is complete rubbish and Royal Liverpool proves it. Even for a non-scratch golfer, such as myself, I didn't find that the O.B. came into play that often. When it does, it is very strategically placed and you are duly penalized for hitting a poor shot.

I played the course recently while it was being prepared for the Open Championship. Located about 15 minutes outside of Liverpool on the Wirral peninsula, you leave the City of Liverpool through the Queensway tunnel. The tunnel is over two miles long and winds its way under the Mersey in an unsettling fashion for those who aren't used to driving on the left side of the road. Once you pull into the course the dramatic clubhouse (pictured above) is most inviting. The course is behind the clubhouse and is dramatic. Half the grandstands were up and the course was re-configured with the new routing. The original first hole now plays as the third, the 17th plays as the first and the 18th as the 2nd. Holes 4 through 18 continue in the original order, previously having been the 2nd through 16th holes. I found every hole to be a good hole. The routing is interesting and varied. The use of bunkers is very strategic. For example, on the 4th hole, a line of bunkers on the left forces you to hit where the fairway narrows on the right side with no margin for error.

Liverpool 1
A hole we are adding onto our list of the world's best is the third (pictured above), formerly the first. It is a terrifying par four with a dogleg right. The tee shot doesn't look that hard, but it is. You flirt with O.B. on the right off the tee and aiming left leaves you a longer shot into the green or in the rough. The dogleg is sharp and after the turn in the dogleg the whole is ruler-straight, with O.B. all the way down the right. There are NO bunkers on the hole but it is one of the best par fours in golf. I couldn't imaging how much harder it played being hole #1 without warming up first.

Holes 11-15 along the River Dee are gorgeous as you overlook North Wales across the way. The day we played the course there was a 4+ club wind. You had to aim your tee shot on the 151 yard par three 50 yards left at the TV tower setup off the green in preparation for the open. And even then your ball was blown off the right side of the green. It was good playing Hoylake in its difficult wind-blown condition, which it has a reputation for.

Liverpool Dining

The clubhouse is one of the most inviting, intimate and welcoming in the world of golf. They have a world class golf book library, memorabilia second only to the R & A and an awesome dining room with pictures of every club captain going back to 1885 wearing the red jacket bestowed on the office-holder.

Liverpool Smoke Room
The Smoke Room in the Royal Liverpool Clubhouse

Congratulations to the R & A for putting Royal Liverpool back in the rota. Now to really make things interesting drop either Royal Troon or Royal Birkdale and play the open here at least once a decade my friends!

Royal Liverpool should be ranked at least 30 places higher on the world rankings. Of the three world ranked courses on the Lancashire coast of England near Liverpool England, Hoylake is the best, easily a better course than both nearby Royal Lytham and Birkdale. Thus far, if there is one club overseas I would like to join, this is it. The place has it all.

As the club's motto says - Far and Sure!

Post Script - July 2006

Congratulations to Tiger Woods, The Royal Liverpool Golf Club and the R & A for hosting a fantastic championship. Hoylake proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it belongs back in the rota with a regular spot. I look forward to visiting again and seeing Tiger's signed winning score card hanging alongside Jones and Hagens in the downstairs bar. Great courses produce great champions.


Anonymous said...

Tiger's card is now hanging in the bar.
Glad you enjoyed your visit!

Anonymous said...

Dissagree. I played Hoylake in August this year (straight after the Brittish Boys Amatuer) and found it more suitable to wasted wheet paddocks than a host on the Open rota. There are about three holes you would consider playing again - the rest was boring. P.S. Lytham & Birkdale are way better courses!

Lindsay said...

Royal Liverpool is truly a great links course. It is not the best, nor is it in the top 5 in the British Isles (within which I would place Royal Birkdale), but it's history along with the quality of golf makes it a classic links venue not to be missed by lovers of The Game. Far and Sure!