A hacker’s guide to Royal Liverpool

A high handicapper attempts to get to grips with Hoylake, venue for next week’s British Open

 A view from behind the green of the 448 yards par 4, 10th hole ‘Dee’ which will play as the 12th hole in the 2014 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, Wirral, England. Photo:  David Cannon/Getty Images

A view from behind the green of the 448 yards par 4, 10th hole ‘Dee’ which will play as the 12th hole in the 2014 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, Wirral, England. Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 01:00

“The Hoylake Golf Links can be beautiful, uplifting, awe-inspiring and, on occasion, soul-destroying.”

It isn’t until a few days after playing Royal Liverpool, or Hoylake as it is known locally, the venue for next week’s British Open, that I stumble upon the above line in a hitherto-ignored Strokesaver.

Strokesavers have never really been my thing – I’ve always been more of a ‘hit it, lose it, lose it again’ kind of guy – the detailed course guides always seeming more appropriate for proper golfers. But it would have seemed crass to turn down the offer of one from my playing partner, even though its promise of helping me “Play the Course like a Pro” was about as likely as a Garth Brooks five-in-a-row.

The line struck a chord, though, and I could identify with almost all of the sentiments expressed. Hoylake, with its fearsome bunkering and brutal rough, is genuinely awe-inspiring, particularly from the 10th when a stunning stretch of holes wind their way through the dunes hugging the coast. To add to the sense of occasion when we played some six weeks ago, the giant grandstands that will house the 230,000 or so fans were already in place and the small army of workers leave you in no doubt that something special is just around the corner.

Irish winner

But it’s the history that truly gets you. This is a course where you tread in the footsteps of giants. Walter Hagen, Bobby Jones and Tiger Woods all won British Opens at Hoylake. As, of course, did Fred Daly who became the first Irish winner of a Claret Jug in 1947, a feat not matched until Pádraig Harrington bridged a 60-year gap just up the Lancashire coast at Royal Birkdale in 2007.

So yes, Hoylake was unquestionably beautiful and at times inspiring. But briefly, I’m sad to report, soul-destroying.

At times during my round, it wasn’t so much that my soul had been destroyed, as there is always at least one good swing to paper over a multitude of cracks, but all too often it developed a tactic of cool detachment and could often be found keeping its distance lest it suffer some permanent, irreparable damage.

In the interests of full disclosure it should be pointed out that when it comes to golf I do not possess what our American friends like to describe as ‘game’. Never have, and slowly coming to terms with the fact that I never will. Self-taught by a poor teacher, I have a swing that David Feherty might describe as looking like an “an octopus falling out of a tree”.

Standing over my first tee shot, in the shadow of the enormous stand that horseshoes around the 18th green, I am able to compartmentalise these inadequacies in order to focus on my swing thoughts. Don’t fresh air, and please God don’t hit the stand. To a certain degree this works insofar as the ball got airborne and scampered into the first cut of rough a couple of hundred yards away in the right direction.

My second shot doesn’t quite make the green, which has been remodelled since 2006 and is now 40 yards long, but a half decent chip and two putts later I’m walking towards the second tee with my dignity intact.

Prudent tactic

In fact, I managed to negotiate the first few holes without any great stains on my character. There are no pars, but more importantly there are no disgraces. The out-of-bounds running down the right of the third is successfully avoided by the employing the prudent tactic of hooking my drive miles left, and after coming through the fourth unscathed I have a reasonable score going.

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