In the coming weeks, Royal Liverpool will take center stage in the golf world as The Open Championship returns to Hoylake once again. For sure, commentators the world over will wax lyrical on the course, its notoriously penal bunkers, Tiger’s 2-iron exhibition in 2006 and, of course, that little band from Liverpool. But in the process, they’ll likely overlook many of the lesser known nuances of Hoylake, that combine to make it one of the game’s most storied arenas.
After a recent Expedition to Royal Liverpool, Jason Sciarro of Bull Valley Golf Club returned with a bit of sage advice for those set to play golf across the pond…
“Enjoy the golf clubs in their entirety. Have a pint or two and walk around the clubhouse to check out the history. Be in the moment.”
Perhaps no where is this more important than at Royal Liverpool, where inside the clubhouse you’ll find a collection of memorabilia that is second to none. From championship trophies and medals to portraits of the greats of the game, the historic space seemingly doubles as both clubhouse and golf museum.
Royal Liverpool was laid out across grounds that originally belonged to the local horse racecourse. Several years after the club debuted, the track was no more and Hoylake began its life as a golf only facility. Some of that early history still remains, however, in the form of pineapples which adorn posts near the clubhouse and were often prizes for winning jockeys, in addition to the appropriately named 1st and 18th holes – “Course” and “Stand.”
Note: During The Open, the 1st is played as the 3rd, and the 18th as the 16th.
There are many that will argue that the dogleg left 12th hole (14th during The Open) is the finest at Royal Liverpool. As you survey the demanding second shot, and the steep fall off to the right of the green that is sure to punish the slightest of push, take comfort in the fact that Tiger Woods holed a 4-iron here during the second round of the 2006 Open. Or simply enjoy the view of the Dee estuary, and remember that this is why you traveled across an ocean.
Some might see just an ordinary clock, but like most things at clubs across the pond, there’s a story which accompanies this timepiece.
When Royal Liverpool first opened, the clubhouse was nothing more than a couple of rooms at the adjacent Royal Hotel. The hotel’s owner was John Ball, Jr., whose son – John, III – would go on to win the British Amateur and Open Championship a combined 6 times. Although the hotel was razed long ago, the 17th hole is called “Royal” in tribute, while the legacy of John Ball, the champion, was commemorated by the installment of this double sided clock on the clubhouse.
This one is perhaps better described as “Something to avoid at Royal Liverpool.” Along the front right of the 14th green (16th during The Open) is a grassy hollow known as “Farrar’s Folly.” The pit is named for Guy Farrar, the former club secretary who penned an official history of Royal Liverpool in 1932. This straightaway par-5 is an excellent opportunity to pick up strokes, unless you find this famous valley, in which case the folly is most definitely yours.
The Clubhouse Lounge
In addition to perusing the impressive collection of memorabilia, no day at Royal Liverpool would be complete without enjoying an extra hour or two in the historic clubhouse. Sure, the view from the lounge is inspiring, but it’s the hospitality from the club’s members that will prove to be truly memorable. It’s for this very reason that Sam Baker lists the clubhouse lounge at Royal Liverpool as one of his favorite 19th holes, and why it should be an important part of any itinerary.
The Bobby Jones Bunker
When Bobby Jones came to the 16th hole during the 1930 Open Championship (18th for the modern versions) his path to the Claret Jug was still very much in doubt. His brassie on this par-5 found a perilous lie in one of the greenside bunkers, which required him to play with one leg propped on the cavern’s edge. What happened next was best described by the man who coined the phrase “Grand Slam,” Atlanta newspaperman and Jones biographer, O.B. Keeler:
“Up came the ball floating in a geyser of sand, flopping like a tired frog, then rolling, rolling, until it reached the cup, circled the rim as the crowd shrieked, and settled 3 inches from the hole.”
Exactly which bunker Jones was in has been lost through the sands of time, but chances are when in sight of them that detail won’t really matter. One last round of goosebumps will be a final reminder that Royal Liverpool is a truly special place.
All Images Credit: Royal Liverpool Golf Club