Royal Liverpool Golf Club

Links Manager: Craig Gilholm

Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, Harry Colt, Dowie, Fred Hawtree, Donald Steel

Hoylake moved its clubhouse here just before the turn of the 19th century, where it has since stood guardian for the finest virtues of the game. The flat ground around the clubhouse coupled with...

Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, Harry Colt, Dowie, Fred Hawtree, Donald Steel

...the dunes land at the far end of the property led Bernard Darwin to write that the golfer is emphatically on classic golf terrain. This terrian, the ever present wind and the long views at Hoylake cast a spell over all true golfers. The Welsh hills are in the distance.

What if onewere to take away the 16th and 17th holes at The Cypress Point Club? Or the 11th and 12th holes at Augusta National Golf Club? Or perhaps the 11th and 17th holes from The Old Course at St. Andrews?

In lieu of those holes, suppose two solid though not especially noteworthy holes took their place. How would the losses of such holes affect both the perception and the reality of the quality of such courses?

Clearly it would be a terrible blow. However, as witnessed during the play of the 2006 Open Championship, The Royal Liverpool Golf Club has overcome – with apparent ease – such a loss. In doing so, the golfing world was reacquainted with this historic links and its holes of resounding quality.

As successful as the 2006 Open Championship was, two of Hoylake‘s most heralded holes were gone from the mix.In 1930, when Bob Jones won the Open Championship here, the course possessed two of the world’s most feared – and revered – golf holes, the one shot Dowie and the two shot Royal with its long green but a few feet from the boundary line of the property. One definition of a great hole is that it works on the golfer before he plays it and these two holes fit that definition as well as any holes ever have.

In 1910, Darwin, the keenest judge that the world has known regarding what makes for good golf,described The Dowie in The Golf Courses of the British Isles as follows:

Next comes one of the finest short holes in the world, ‘The Dowie‘, which is not only very good, but very unique. There is a narrow triangular green, guarded on the right by some straggling rushes and on the left by an out-of-bounds field and cop; there is likewise a pot-bunker in front. To hit quite straight at this hole is the feat of a hero, for let the ball beever so slightly pulled, and we shall infallibly be left playing our second shot from the tee. Nearly everybody slices at the Dowie out of pure fright, and is left with a tricky little running shot on to the green. The perfect shot starts out of the right, just to show that it has no intention of going out of bounds, and then swings round with a delicious hook, struggles through the little rush hollow, and so home on the green; it is a shot to dream of, but alas! seldom to play.

The shallow area to the right of the green was termed by Herbert Newton Wethered and Tom Simpson in their 1929 book The Architectural Side of Golf to be a ‘gift of the gods.’

The Royal Liverpool Golf Club, with its green across the road from the Royal Hotel, drew equal praise. As the penultimate hole, and with the opportunity to putt out of bounds, the golfer’s frayed nerves were truly tested. Three bunkers guarded the outside of this dogleg to the left but the angle of the green flush against the out of bounds of the road meant that the golfer sought to be as close to the bunkers off the tee as possible.

Alas, both the holes are no more. As the world became a more litigious place around the turn of the twenty-first century, The Royal Liverpool Golf Club was lost as approach shots too readily left the property of The Royal Liverpool Golf Club. Though sad, the Club had no practical choice in the matter and they turned to Donald Steel to bring the 17th green complex some 30 yards away from the road. He did an admirable job with this task, though some members with their keen eye feel that the green might be a bit out of character (e.g. slightly too big and rolling) with the others on the course.

The demise of the Dowie (named after the first Club Captain, J. Muir Dowie) is more complex. Hoylake, famed as Darwin says for its mighty winds and mighty champions, has always lent its course for the contest of the biggest events. It hosted the first Amateur Championship in 1885, the first contest between amateurs from Great Britain & Ireland and the United States in 1921 (which became the Walker Cup), and in 1967, it hosted its tenth Open Championship. By then though,the game was changing with professional golfers carrying more sway than before. The concept of internal out of bounds was a particularly prickly subject with the professionals and it was decided for the 1967 Open that the area left of the cop on the 7th would not be treated as out of bounds. The course identified the popular Roberto De Vicenzoas the Champion Golfer of the Year and the Club began to become comfortable with the notion that the area left of the cop would not be internal out of bounds.

Still, in 1971 when Tony Jacklin and Arnold Palmer were filming a series on the best holes in Britain, two of the eighteen holes were selected from Hoylake:the 1st (of course) and the 7th (equally of course). Holes like the Alps and Hilbre were excluded in favor of Dowie.

Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, Harry Colt, Dowie, Fred Hawtree, Donald Steel

Colt's glorious one shot 11th Alps was no match for Dowie in the eyes of those who produced the 1971 television show on the best holes in Britain.

By the time of the author’s first round here in 1990, the use of internal out of bounds to the left of the 7th was not in practice. {Side note: this did not stop the Morrissetts from deeming it to be out of bounds during their match. The resulting four tee balls were so far right as to only confirm the praise that the hole hadl ong garnered}.

With the out of bounds gone, there was no reason that the hole couldn’t be re-configured, in part to firm up the marshy area that was near the green.Cameron Sinclair oversaw changes to this hole in 1992/1993.

Thus, when the Open returned to Hoylake in 2006, it did so without two of its most famed holes, holes long admired by such keen judges as Bernard Darwin and Tom Simpson. As posed above, very few courses could possibly sacrifice two holes of such distinctionand still present the ideal test to the world’s best.

Yet, that is exactly what Hoylake did. Indeed, in its course set-up and preparation, Hoylake was determined by more than one critic to have been the finest set-up of a non-St. Andrews Open Championship since World War II. Tiger Woods turned in one of the game’s most masterfully controlled performances and in doing so, he highlighted the architectural strength and integrity of the holes at Hoylake.

Who deserves credit for Hoylake of today? From the grounds perspective, the work accomplished by the late Green Keeper Derek Green from 1985 to 2005 deserves special recognition. During the period, various events of great significance were played here, including the 1992 Curtis Cup and the 1995 Amateur. Hoylake hosted the first Amateur in 1885 and the 1995 event marked its 100th playing. The course and its preparation drew rave reviews and acted as springboard for events over the next six years that eventually led the announcement of Hoylake hosting the 2006 Open Championship.

Craig Gilholm succeeded Derek Green in 2005. Coming from Muirfield, Gilholm was well versed in the preparations required for presenting Hoylake in peak form in July, 2006. Everyone who witnessed the 2006 Open marveled at its firm and fast running conditions. Bob Jones remarked much about the keenness of its greens after his 1930 Open victory and Hoylake‘s legacy for the quality of its playing surfaces is once again firmly intact.

As to the design of the holes themselves, Hoylake has evolved and kept pace with changes in the game ever since the course opened in 1869 as nine holes. Laid out by Robert Chambers and George Morris (Old Tom’s brother) over Liverpool Hunt Club’s racecourse, the course was quickly expanded to eighteen in 1871. In fact, through 1876, horse racing was still carried on.

Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, Harry Colt, Dowie, Fred Hawtree, Donald Steel

Looking across the 15th and 14th fairways and toward the 3rd green shows what Darwin termed the 'dear, flat, historic expanse of Hoylake.' The dunes land that the golfer enjoys from the 8th through the 13th tee is seen in the distance.

Morris and Chambers deserve credit for their work as it was deemed good enough to host four Open Championships and eight Amateur Championship prior to 1924. However, numerous changes have now occurred to their work to the point where little remains. Indeed, the 2nd green is their only green remaining, though their hole played from the direction of the clubhouse. The vast majority of the changes that occurred were often made in preparation for big events. Harry Colt‘s work in 1924,Fred Hawtree’s work in the 1960’s and Donald Steel‘s work in 2000/2001 form the nucleus of the course today, as we see below.

Holes to Note

First hole, 430/425 yards; A poor time to panic, though everyone does, all thanks to a seemingly innocuous three foot cop that divides the right of the hole from the Club’s practice field, which alas is out of bounds. The fact that the cop is relatively low holds two pieces of unwelcome news for the golfer: first, balls that land in bounds can finish out of bounds and secondly, the golfer is afforded absolutely perfect visuals. Like a car wreck, he seems unable to tear his eyes away from the trouble. Wethered and Simpson regarded this as the world’s finest 19th hole (though members at Prestwick Golf Club and Pine Valley Golf Club would like their case heard too). Simpson viewed out of bounds as a crucial element for any great course and he told Henry Longhurst that he considered Hoylake the finest course in England ‘without any doubt.’

Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, Harry Colt, Dowie, Fred Hawtree, Donald Steel

When played into a westerly, this might well be the view for one's approach: a terrifying shot over the out of bounds practice field to the green on the far side of the cop.

Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, Harry Colt, Dowie, Fred Hawtree, Donald Steel

A view back down the 1st fairway during the Open shows how tight the out of bounds is to the fairway and the green (save for the Open Championship, the practice field to the left is just that, devoid of any man-made structures).

Second hole, 370/370 yards; Though the holes in the dunes are more loved, the character of the holes in the flat defines Hoylake – and help it stand utterly unique in the golf world. The nearby Wallasey Golf Club is blessed with bigger dunes and more of them but the relatively lack of merit of its holes in the flats hinder the course’s rise toeven greaterdistinction. Years and years of attention to detail at Hoylake have perfected how this hole plays with two bunkers 275 and 295 yards from the back markers down the left of the fairway matching up perfectly with the green’s left to right axis. The firm playing conditions and the downwind nature of this hole confounded the best during the 2006 Open Championship.

Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, Harry Colt, Dowie, Fred Hawtree, Donald Steel

The golfer's eye is pulled down the right edge of the fairway toward the red flag but the angle of the green insists that the better play is left.

Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, Harry Colt, Dowie, Fred Hawtree, Donald Steel

Woefully out of place, the golfer has not only shortsided himself but his recovery shot is now downwind.

Third hole, 530/530 yards, Long; The original hole was much loved by the members and played in a straight direction back along side the14th hole. It too enjoyed an internal out of bounds. Nevertheless, in preparation for the 1967 Open Championship, Fred Hawtree was called in and he gave the hole its great sweep to the left. Donald Steel in turn moved the green back another sixty yards, all being examples of the steps and commitment that Hoylake willingly undertakes for the sake of remaining relevant to stage the game’s finest contests.

Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, Harry Colt, Dowie, Fred Hawtree, Donald Steel

A view from the 3rd tee shows the golfers following the sweep of the hole left with gorse protecting the inside of the dogleg.

Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, Harry Colt, Dowie, Fred Hawtree, Donald Steel

Steel's beautiful 3rd green fits in with the other greens at Hoylake.

Forth hole, 200/190 yards, New; As the name suggests, this hole was added after World War II and was done by Hawtree at the same time when he brought the3rd hole to the left. There is much to admire with this one shotter as we see below and it is the golfer’s first brush with a dune in his round so far.

Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, Harry Colt, Dowie, Fred Hawtree, Donald Steel

Though some old guard members lament the passing of the old 3rd, no one contends that the old one shot 4th was as good as Fred Hawtree's 4th.

Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, Harry Colt, Dowie, Fred Hawtree, Donald Steel

As seen from the left of the green, Hawtree benched his green into a dune and bunkered it front and down the left. The green slopes off the dune, which is to say that it slopes predominately right to left.

Fifth hole, 455/425 yards, Telegraph; Why the flat holes work so well at Hoylake is a must study for all golf course architects. The clear answer is the variety of challenges that, although flat, these holes possess. Be it the cop or the bunkering or the playing angles, there is not a dull one in the bunch. This hole only adds to the variety with its broken ground slashing diagonally across the fairway eighty yards from the green.

Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, Harry Colt, Dowie, Fred Hawtree, Donald Steel

The broken ground well in front of the 5th green complicates distance judgment on one's approach.

Sixth hole, 425/380 yards, Briers; A long time famous hole made by the out of bounds hedge that seemingly walls off the fairway 180 yards from the back marker. With out of bounds left off the tee, the golfer is forgiven for feeling hard done by on days when the hole is played either into the wind or when the wind sweeps right to left across. On the other side of the hedge is one of the wider fairways on the course, as well as one of the best greens as it runs from front to back. Like Royal Melbourne, the tournament committee can make Hoylake a beast by judging the wind in the morning and setting the hole locations accordingly. In this case, the deep front bunkers coupled with the front to back nature of the green make the front hole locations the most tricky.

Royal Liverpool Golf Club, Hoylake, Harry Colt, Dowie, Fred Hawtree, Donald Steel

Famous for well over 100 years, the ideal tee ball at the 6th flies over out of bounds.

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