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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Royal LIverpool (Hoylake) ready for return to Open Rota

After a long absence, the Open returns to the home of the Beatles. With only two Opens contested at Royal Liverpool - referred to by many as simplky "Hoylake" - in the last fifty years it feels we're rolling up on a magical mystery tour. As this will be Liverpool’s first Open in my lifetime, it will be tough to pick a winner when nobody’s won here in an age.

My dad remembers the last time the Open came here. It was ’67. Peripatetic Argentine Roberto de Vicenzo won what should have been his second career total major here. He edged Jack Nicklaus by two shots. Before that, Peter Thompson won in 1956. As many of you remember, de Vicenzo missed out on a playoff in the '68 Masters when he signed an incorrect scorecard. He then uttered the sound byte for which he became infamous - "What a stupid I am." Still, the well heeled de Vicenzo won over 230 tournaments world wide and had 5 top 10s in the Open Championship.

It’s also more than an interesting footnote that Bobby Jones won the second leg of his Grand Slam here in 1930. Now also factor in that Jones kicked off his hot streak with a Sunday overtime win at the 1929 U.S. Open at Winged Foot over Al Espinoza (remember, back then they played 36 on Saturday and settled ties with 36 on Sunday) and things get really interesting...

Hmmm…Bobby Jones won majors at both Liverpool and Winged Foot. Well, who has the same attributes as Bobby Jones?

Well, that’s a question for another day, specifically, my U.S. Open preview piece for Cybergolf coming soon.

Liverpool will be doing something strange to the routing of the course for the tourney. They are starting play on the par-4 17th and then circling the course in order, finishing play at the short par-5 16th. Conveniently, 16 green is not far from the club house, across one other hole.

This does two things. First, people can finish the day with birdie or eagle, but with OB all along the right side it is a perilous play. They’ll make anything from 3-8. And that makes things interesting!

Second, Peter Alliss called the real First Hole at Liverpool the hardest opener in championship golf and the old time players agreed. Again OB rolls all down the right, so miss your first drive of the day and you’re fighting uphill out of the gate. At least now the players get two holes in beforehand. Chances are less likely that round will get out of hand and the tournament get out of reach right out of the gate.

The course will play 35-37 with a yardage card of 3,495-3,763=7,258. The length alone won’t overpower the players (the par-3s are fairly short), but if the wind is up, winning score will be about level par.

Liverpool is a rather narrow course with the added nuisance of plenty of OB besides the wind and some of the UK’s deepest, most penal bunkers. Think exactly like it’s neighbor Royal Lytham: sheer sinkholes with vertical faces. Coffin Bunkers. They seem like 103 little ponds peppered throughout the golf course.

Most agree that the scenery is not the star here. This is not Turnberry, nor is it Troon. As one commentator waxed that he felt the course separated those that really love links golf and those that only kind of understand it.” With its rumbling ruddy multi-gabled red-brick clubhouse, complete with two inverted cones and a huge clock, it won’t win a beauty contest, not even against Royal Lytham, whose clubhouse Art Spander said “looked like the former home of Count Dracula, but if you really wanna get scared, go look at the golf course.”

Personally, I can’t wait to see Lytham and Liverpool for myself this October. I’m into Tudor architecture having gone to school in New England. Both courses are among the most excellent links England has to offer.

Started in 1869 and finished in 1871 by Robert Chambers and George Morris, the course was granted the Royal Distinction due to the patronage of the Duke of Connaught.


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