This week we‚??ve had a few lessons on the geography of the Lancashire Coast in England‚??s North West.¬† Manchester, Liverpool & Preston are all twin cities and pretty much blur into one and this being a very heavily populated part of the world means that getting to and fro each coastal golf course has had its moments. ¬†We‚??ve had two bases for the week, Wayne & Gail‚??s place on the west of Manchester, and with Charlie and Vera Donald in Southport.¬† The destination for today was equidistant of the two, south of Liverpool at Hoylake.¬†¬† So the plan was hatched that we‚??d stay with Wayne & meet Charlie at the course at 745 sharp before heading back to Southport to stay for the next couple of nights.
So it was up at 520am & farewell to the family before we hit the road by 6, JP singing you'll never walk alone at the top of his lungs and the tank well and truly at sixes and sevens.¬† Firstly she wouldn‚??t start, and then we drove along with our broken window flapping as I struggled to look out through the crack in the windscreen. ¬†¬†Fortunately we‚??d allowed for plenty of time and after a congestion free ride down the M58 & M6 we pulled into the township of Hoylake well before 730am to a deserted clubhouse.
The course at Hoylake, of course, was Royal Liverpool and this would be our third Open Championship venue in the last four days. ¬†At last count this was our 10th course we've played to host the Open and hopefully by the time we leave these fair shores we would have had a crack at 'em all. ¬†Pulling into the car park I was taken by the formality of the club as the clubhouse sits grandly covered in ivy and the memorabilia almost pours out from the walls inside.
Our host for the day, who had arranged the game early before an invitation tournament was to close the course the rest of the day, was [ a proud member named Michael, a local lawyer whose family practice has gobbled up a few firms over the years and now is about the size of our old stomping grounds back in NZ. ¬†
Lets talk about Hoylake, the course which has recently got back on the Open roster since 40 years or so in the wilderness and hosted the 2006 Open where Tiger triumphed by hitting 2 iron all week off the tee. ¬†Hoylake was founded in 1869 on what was then the racecourse of the Liverpool Hunt Club. ¬†The majority of the layout is what was laid out by Harry Colt in the early 20th century. ¬†Since Colt's work the course has seen a number of changes, and our host Michael, being a long serving member of the club was able to tell us about much of the history of the routing of the course.
What was still close to mind was the week of the 2006 Open where the famed winds did not blow but the course was set up hard and fast, far more difficult than the softer conditioning we experienced and what the members are used to. ¬†Michael told us there was so much roll that all of the par fives were easily reachable in two (making it effectively a par 68 and so no-one beat the course). ¬†Today we were fortunate enough to have a whirl from the championship tees and with a light breeze getting up the course played long but was very fair.
The course has its share of quirks such as the internal out of bounds around the practice ground to the right of both the 1st and 16th holes. ¬†Both these holes bend at almost 90 degrees around the practice ground (which for the Open becomes a tent village making the OOB far less imposing). ¬†¬†The first is "Prestwick style" daunting ‚?? on both the tee shot and the approach shot the OOB looms directly on the right ‚?? it is barely 5 feet from the edge of the green!¬† During the Open the course started on the 17th hole, and so it wasn‚??t the first and second swings of the day that those boys had to hold their nerve 7 not go right to prevent a disaster start.
Internal out of bounds used to be more of a quirk here when it was originally built around the racecourse and the club didn‚??t own all the land, but over time this issue has subsided and now the only internal OOB is the aforementioned practice ground. ¬†The best way to understand the internal OOB by the practice ground is to look at this overhead photo:
[a profile view of the first green - see how close the OOB is]
The bunkering here is quality, like other open venues and any links course worth its salt. ¬†The two biggest factors you need to control around a flat and exposed links like this are your line, and your trajectory. ¬†If you get the ball running at the bunkers, it will invariably go in. ¬†If you hit it high in the wind - you're in the hands of the golfing gods. ¬†Below is an indication of the bunkering - in this instance around the green of the short par four second hole. ¬†
For the Open a few championship tees were used to really stretched the course out.¬† The first such tee was on the stroke one, 490 yard par four 5th hole where neither Jamie or I could reach the fairway with our drives.¬† ¬†But we both escaped the gorse left and right and from just short of the fairway I knocked a 3-wood onto the green and made birdie which felt like eagle.
[the view from the championship tee on 5]
[the 5th green complex. ¬†The simplicity of the greens is a feature here]
The next hole has a brilliant blind tee shot over a hedge with out of bounds left.¬† Not knowing what awaits us at the fairway is a feeling we have become well & truly used to after playing 270 new courses in a row so it was a case of head down and good contact over the stake.
The par three 7th hole was remodeled some years ago.¬† The old hole was polarizing ‚?? from what I understood there was a road and out of bounds directly to the left of the green such that a shot hit even on the green would often roll out of bounds.¬†¬† The staunchest supporter of the old hole had actually made a score of 12 there during one medal round but he still stood by the hole through numerous deliberations at the club as to whether it should be changed.¬† Now this hole is normalized into a state where the course can host a modern Open Championship.¬† Still, I would have loved to see and play the old 7th to see what all the fuss was about!
The stretch from 9 through 12 plays along the coastline with the Welsh coast and a huge windfarm framing the panoramic view.¬†¬† These holes play with the prevailing wind coming from the left and are a great stretch.¬† 9 is an old fashioned sunk green, something not ordinarily seen on a modern championship course, 10 is a strong par four to an elevated green with a huge roll-off right, 11 is a long par three to a green amongst the dunes, and 12 is Tiger‚??s hole ‚?? a 450 yard par four through fairway bunkers to an elevated green perched on the perimeter of the property with all kinds of trouble (read the ocean) left and again a severe roll off right.¬† It‚??s Tiger‚??s hole because he knocked a 2 iron, 4 iron into the hole to make eagle 2 here en route to his victory in ‚??06.¬†¬† Trying to emulate him I managed my flushest two strikes in a month to hit 2 iron, 6 iron to 20 feet and saw the putt drop for a memorable birdie.¬† Such shots have been few and far between of late as my scoring average has increased by almost 10 shots per round as fatigue ‚?? both mental and physical, and a dodgy swing have got the better of me since leaving Scotland.¬† Today was like going back in time a couple of months and there was some semblance of consistent ball striking. ¬† Unfortunately for Michael and I, the opposition of Charlie and JP were dovetailing beautifully and the match was quickly getting out of our grasp. ¬†Charlie, after his putting woes of the last couple of days had resisted temptation to resort to his old side saddle style and was starting to roll one or two in.. that cheered up the old bugger - he's a competitive chap and doesn't like losing!
[the old fashioned sunk 9th green. Blind from the fairway unless you can bomb it well down the left]
[looking back down the 10th hole]
[the par three 11th - the ocean in the backdrop]
[from both the tee and the green on the classy 12th hole]
After the par three 13th (which rounds off a solid set of par threes all of different distances and all which play to different directions of the compass) the course loses a tad of momentum.¬† 14 and 15 are up and back and very flat with the defense being the wind and the pot bunkers (although 15 is one of few greens on the curse with a tiered green) and could do with a couple more strategically placed bunkers.¬† 16 is an interesting par five played at right angles around the practice ground (see the aerial photograph above coming back towards you) such that if you take the racing line down the right your second will be all carry across the out of bounds and onto the green.¬† A daunting hole where you could easily make a 3 or 7..¬†¬† 17 and 18 are out and back par fours from the clubhouse, 17 with a new green replacing what was once the Lancashire equivalent of the road hole where the road was immediately beside the green ‚?? but health and safety got the better of that quirk and now the new Hawtree designed green has plenty going on but doesn‚??t push my buttons. ¬†Didn't help that on this green it was caps off and hand shakes all around as Michael and I were finally put out of our misery.
[charlie knocking it on the green on the 16th]
As we were walking down the 18th attention turned to the clubhouse where gentlemen from across the North-East of the USA had congregated to take part in a match with the locals. ¬†Michael informed me he had another round to play this afternoon, followed by 2 the following day - now that's commitment! ¬†So in we went to shower up and tour the clubhouse. ¬†We saw all kinds of memorabilia from Tiger's nike bladed 2 iron to celebrations of Bobby Jones' triumph in the 1930 Open here en route to his famous grand slam victory.¬†
In the bar we were meeting other traveling golfers left right and centre from clubs such as Myopia, Brookline, Pine Valley and Somerset Hills. And who would we see from Somerset Hills but our host from that fine day a couple of months back, the great Rory Corrigan - the legend who the day after our round took Dodgy for an early morning drive, on his 60th birthday no less, to meet us for a quick coffee before our sleep deprived but extraordinarily memorable round at Plainfield (it's a long story but I encourage you to work your way back through the blog roll to read all about it). It's a small world this wide world of golf - and Rory is one of those champions that just epitomise the collegiality of it all. ¬†We had a team hug & wished Rory well for his afternoon match (I believe he was captaining the side for the afternoon). [Postscript - I have just heard that today Rory, John Miller (from Plainfield) and Slambino have been out golfing together which is very cool]
And with that I must bring this rant to an end. ¬†Hoylake was epic - an absolute must play course for any golfer. ¬†Thanks to Michael for looking after us, and a huge thank you to Charlie for rounding up his lads from the Mersey to help us with this week. ¬†
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