Open Championship: Sky Sports checks out Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake
Paul Higham reports from the Wirral ahead of the 143rd Open Championship
By Paul Higham Twitter: @SportsPaulH. Last Updated: 04/07/14 11:18am
The third major of the year is almost upon us, so we made the trip to the Wirral to find out how Royal Liverpool Golf Club is preparing to stage the most prestigious event in golf.
It’s only been eight years since the Open was last at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, but the way this one will be delivered will see almost as big a change as there was in the 39 years between the previous two.
These fabled old Open courses are still seen by some as exclusive and even stuffy, behind the times, but Royal Liverpool are keen to promote an open and inclusive atmosphere at the tournament, while the R&A have also ensured the event at Hoylake has really moved with the times.
This will be the most technologically advanced Open yet, with fibre optics being run around the course to ensure a strong connection for fans, while electronic scoreboards will show more information and video highlights so spectators don’t miss a thing.
The famous old yellow scoreboard on 18 will remain in place though – some traditions just cannot be messed with.
The horseshoe grandstand at the 18th hole at Royal Liverpool provides a stunning finish
A full horseshoe stand will wrap around the closing hole for the first time, just standing on the green even with just some workmen tinkering around you can still conjure up images of a thrilling Sunday afternoon, it should be some atmosphere.
Paul Shaw from the club showed me around the course, which will stage its 12th Open Championship after their return to the rota in 2006 following a 39-year gap proved such a success.
“It’s the first time really the R&A have had such an active club in terms of the web activity and social media side of things,” said Shaw.
“You could argue that the way the fans now consume the Open has changed the event more in the last eight years since we last held it than the 39-year gap between the last two we had here.
The bunkers provide extra protection at the last
“Also with the wraparound stand on the 18, the first of its kind used in The Open, will just make for a tremendous atmosphere on the closing hole, especially if it comes down to the wire on Sunday.”
And what of the course itself? Interestingly, they change the course set-up for the Open at Hoylake, starting on the usual 17th so that they can finish on what for members is the 16th hole – a risk and reward par-five that is also well positioned for the huge stand.
“It’s just such a great finishing hole for the Open,” added Shaw. “There’s out of bounds down the right so if you’re going for the green in two you need a great drive and then be brave with the second.
“The old kidney shaped greenside bunker has been replaced by three deep pot bunkers that seem to capture a lot of shots, and with the thick rough around them and under the stands you could be in all sorts of trouble if you get it wrong. It should be exciting anyway!
The usual 1st is now the third hole for the pros - a big dog leg with trouble both sides
“We’re very proud of the course and think it’ll play really well. It’s a bit flatter than some links courses, but we think it’ll be a great test of golf.
“We don’t think any of the big-hitters will be able to just bomb it, you have to shape your shots and you have to find the fairways, which is not easy when there’s a lot of run. The rough is tough to get out of as it tends to wrap around the club.”
Being back on the Open rota is a huge boost for the club and the region, with huge numbers of around £75m talked about in terms of benefit to the local economy, and while increased interest is measurable, just staging the Open again is the major concern.
“You here about 70-80 million boost to the economy, the R&A have done a lot of research so they know the numbers, from a golf club point of view its a bit harder to measure,” Shaw continued. “I know we’ve already had huge interest in bookings so we should see more people coming in years to come.
"We've seen a spike in web activity and we can see where this interest is coming from around the world - we've had a big surge in interest from America for example so that's good to see.
“But it’s more about the prestige of staging the Open for us, and showing so many people from all over the world our course, that sort of exposure is priceless."