Special guest sports writer Art Spander offers up thoughts and reflections on Hoylake: “blown upon by mighty winds, breeder of mighty champions.”
The words were more ominous than welcoming. A visitor to Hoylake sat in the locker room, tying his shoes, when the man nearby, a total stranger no less, spoke out. “Hope you brought enough balls,” he said. “The rough is long.”
Thanks. Just what one needed to hear. A warning. Please, I am a sports columnist, a golf writer, certainly not a golfer, although I accept the challenge. I have trouble when I can find the ball. Still, I am not easily frightened by double- break greens.
How come Tiger, that lucky dog, gets Royal Liverpool for the 2006 Open at its most inviting but I get what the man in the locker room said would be a “true test.” Who needs a true test? What was needed were pars. Isn’t golf supposed to be fun?
Not at all.
Two months after my summer visit, at the Ricoh Women’s Open, golf at Royal Liverpool was agony.
The course had become a beast, a situation seemingly unimaginable in Britain. The entire Friday round was scrubbed because the wind was blowing something like 60 mph. Karen Stupples, the 2004 winner, said conditions were “laughable,” although not in the comedy sense.
Kind, enticing Hoylake, such a gentle, delightful venue, with Wales just across the River Dee, had become as nasty as a dock worker at midnight.
But that is links golf. And that is Royal Liverpool. Always has been apparently. “Hoylake,” wrote the legendary Bernard Darwin eight decades past, “blown upon by mighty winds, breeder of mighty champions.”
Champions like Harold Hilton and Bobby Jones, Roberto de Vicenzo and Tiger Woods. And after that tormented but rewarding women’s Open, the first ever at Royal Liverpool, Jayai Shin of South Korea.
My introduction to Royal Liverpool came vicariously, when the sports editor of the paper for which I then worked, Art Rosenbaum of the San Francisco Chronicle, won a trip to the 1967 Open and described in full the charms and dangers of the course across the Mersey from the Beatles’ home.
It slipped out of mind, if not out of sight, without an Open. The tournament would come to Muirfield, to Royal Birkdale, to Royal St. Georges. What happened to Royal Liverpool? Very little, and that was the problem. The Open had evolved into carnival as well as a competition, and no less important than 18 holes were areas for champagne sales and merchandise tents – which Royal Liverpool lacked.
The Open in 1990 was played at St. Andrews, and at the conclusion a couple of American journalists motored back to London, with recreational stops along the route. “Ever heard of Hoylake?” the conversation began. “Yeah. Isn’t that the place with the in course out-of-bounds?” Indeed, and so much more.
As bad as the weather was for the ladies of last year’s women’s Open, it was that spectacular on a July afternoon 13 years ago when I played. Sunny and still. Not a test, perhaps, but a joy,
Who wouldn’t be enamoured? Those holes on the back nine with the bunkers tucked into sandhills that rise toward the water? The little lighthouse? Wonderful.
That the R&A and Royal Liverpool after 39 years of silence were in tandem able to bring back the Open was no less wonderful. Switch a few holes. Buy a few pieces of property, and there it was from out of the past, history with some mystery, except no mystery to Tiger.
The man used his big club, his driver, only once in 72 holes. Keep the ball in play and out of the sand. Brilliant strategy, with an assist from Mother Nature who permitted such a game plan. And such a performance.
Hoylake was brown for that ’06 Open, other than tees and putting surfaces. It was strikingly green for my round in 2012, after a summer of rain frequent enough one never left the Clubhouse without waterproofs or, wary of the warning, plenty of golf balls.
Needed a great many too, but didn’t need the rain gear. The course was magnificent, the golf was, well, testing, and tough. But with the rare exception of the summer of ’06, that is what one invariably gets on a great course, and Royal Liverpool is a great course.
No surprise then the open is returning in 2014 and, one would think, regularly after that.
“Hoylake golf is never slack or casual,” Bernard Darwin said in the colourful, determined prose of his day. “It is the golf of men rigorously brought up, who will always do their best and die in the last of their own sacred ditches. To play on such a course must make a man humble, so that he wants to learn and be proud.” And never fails to bring enough golf balls.
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