Image by Kevin Murray.
To view some of Kevin’s work from around the world [CLICK]
To view some of Kevin’s work from around the world [CLICK]
Built in 1869, on what was then the racecourse of the Liverpool Hunt Club, Hoylake is the oldest of all the English seaside courses with the exception of Westward Ho! in Devon, which was established just a few years earlier. Robert Chambers and George Morris were commissioned to lay out the original Hoylake course, which was extended to 18 holes in 1871. This was also the year in which the Club was granted its Royal designation thanks to the patronage of His Royal Highness The Duke of Connaught.
Hoylake has a long and distinguished history of golfing firsts. It was originator and host to the inaugural men’s amateur championship in 1885, which became The Amateur Championship. It was host to the first ever international match between Scotland and England in 1902. It hosted the first Home International matches, and the first transatlantic contest between Great Britain & Ireland and the United States in 1921, an event which became the Walker Cup the following year. In fact, it is Hoylake’s contribution to the amateur game that has set it apart from all other clubs in England. Although, at the end of the nineteenth century, it was the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews that took on the role of the governing body in golf as the game developed, it was at Hoylake that the rules of amateur status were laid down.
Hoylake hosted its first Open Championship in 1897, joining Royal St Georges in becoming just the second English course to do so. It feel off the rotation after 1967 for a 39 year spell before returning in 2006 when in benign conditions Tiger Woods smashed it 18-under taking just one driver all week, a far cry from Fred Daly’s winning score of 1947 of 293. In 2014 it was Rory McIlroy’s turn who only missed out on matching Tiger’s score by single shot (the result of playing conservatively on the final holes). The Open has been confirmed for Hoylake in 2022
|Yardage||Championship tees 6907 yds|
|Handicap Restrictions||Gentlemen – 21, Ladies – 32.|
The Course itself
It’s been suggested before that Winged Foot might be the ultimate testimony to what a visionary architect can do with an erstwhile unpromising estate. Hoylake might be in the same bracket as there’s little getting away from the obvious here. Hoylake isn’t easy on the eye, there are few sweeping dunes or arresting coastal panoramas, certainly for the opening and closing holes where the course has a predominantly residential feel about it. The first seven and last five are also played on what can almost be described as dead flat terrain blockaded in by the housing on both sides and to the rear.
If first impressions are not great it is full credit to the layout that huge interest and high levels of strategy are retained over what is the bulk of the course. It’s a wonderful example of what can be achieved on flat land where decisions have to be made on every shot. Anyone can route a course through the most dramatic of dunes. The true skill of an architect comes out when they make something truly great out of an average property with limited space among other restrictions. Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder however and there are some subtle low level ground undulations which strangely enough seem to draw a stronger appreciation from stronger players (as opposed to the likes of ourselves who are more easily seduced by landscape and scenery).
The Royal Liverpool and Royal Ancient Golf Clubs appear to have a slight difference opinion about the optimal routing. When used for the Open Championship, the members 17th and 18th becomes the 1st and 2nd. It’s much more likely however that a vast majority of visitors will play the course in the traditional sequence
The first hole is one of the most terrifying opening tee shots you could be greeted with. The corner of the practice ground juts out at the ideal driving distance as the fairway narrows and angles around it on a severe dog-leg creating an internal out-of-bounds. With a tail wind you may choose to try and cut a bit off, with the risk of stroke and distance, but most will sensibly shy to the left. In 2014 Ernie Els all but finished his challenge on the first hole, and Tiger Woods was another who walked away battle damaged a few times during the week
The first par-5 comes at the third, long doglegging left hole where you have to be brave to aim far enough right and consequently straight at the pot bunkers, so as to not have to go over any gorse for your layup second.
Despite the first seven holes being flat, the green complexes more than make up for it, the greens are raised or have deep run offs and pot bunkers surrounding all of them and are particularly hard to get up and down from if you have short-sided yourself.
The middle section of the course is usually regarded as the best. The terrain comes alive with movement and the natural changes in elevation which adds soul and strategy to the game in glorious abundance. These six holes are just about as good as anything you will find on any British links.
The first sighting of dunes come from the eighth, a long straight par 5 hole to a back to front raised green with the deepest pot bunker guarding the front right. It is here you start to get the uneven lies and (un)lucky bounces and rolls around the greens.
Holes nine and ten are fantastic in the dunes. Number nine really gives you some awkward bounces and interesting stances for your approach shot. The tenth is a dogleg left, quickly followed by Hoylake’s signature assignment, the famous ‘Alps’, a beautiful par-3 of medium length played to an angled green. If the flag is back left, it is going to be semi-blocked by a dune. Good thing there is a deep pot bunker front right to catch those who don’t have the nerve to attack the flag.
The twelfth is a very difficult long par 4 sweeping to the left with pot bunkers exactly where you want to try and bite off more than you can chew. The green is a long way back behind a dune and if you are slightly right the ball will run down a steep bank and leave you a very difficult chip back up to the green. The thirteenth is a very tight par 3 with a steeply sloping green but more dangerous are the 5 pot bunkers guarding it. Once on the green you realise quite how small the green is, and actually on a whole, the greens are long and deep but not wide.
The sixteenth will reacquaint you with the internal out-of-bounds on the right side and the closing hole in it’s Open Championship configuration, a fantastic par-5 where the second shot has to fly the corner of the OB and carry onto the green. It is a dogleg right where only the perfectly placed drive will leave you with an accessible shot to the green. Due to the angle of the hole, the layup is not easy either because you are coming across the OB and the further away from it you hit, the more exacting the third onto the green will be as you are now coming over pot bunkers and trying to stop it before a run off.
The finishing two holes are differing slight doglegs and are more about the second shot, the tee shot obviously has to be in perfect position, but the second shot on both holes cannot miss as the greens are more undulating than others and offer some interesting hole locations.
Hoylake tends to get better and better the more you play it, purely for the subtleties. If you just want a “wow factor”, then the chances are Hoylake won’t leave the impression on you that other tracks will do. You probably have to play Hoylake with a degree regularity to understand how it works and what makes the holes so interesting.
Naturally Hoylake does seem to generate a difference of opinion amongst visitors, and it would be wrong to suggest that everyone falls in love with the place. One thing that everyone does seem to agree on however (enough to give it a legitimate mention) is the club house, facilities, staff and food. Faraway Fairways aren’t sure what it says about the course when so many visitors remark how interesting and steeped in history the clubhouse is, but when we keep hearing about the warm reception that visitors receive (and we do) then we have to consider it a positive
Buggy hire, Trolleys, Caddies and Clubs
|Driving Range Available||Yes|
|Rental Carts Available||Yes with medical certificate|
|Rental Clubs Available||Yes|