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Memories of a Magical Place

Confessions of a Yankee who has played Hoylake many times ' well, seven or eight
Its known formally as Royal Liverpool, but much more familiarly as Hoylake. Liverpool is across the River Mersey, separated by a tunnel and perhaps 15-20 minutes of winding road. Its in the little burgh of Hoylake, hence the name. The club is quite stodgy and ver-ry British.
It was probably 15-20 years ago when Steve Hershey, then the golf writer for the newspaper USA Today, and I ventured over to Hoylake for a round the week prior to the British Open. Hershey was aware of the course through his readings of past Opens, I believe. Hoylake wasnt generally known to Americans, wasnt one of Britains golf factories, was in a rather out-of-way location, and thus wasnt frequented by a host of tourists.
Plus ' the main street of Hoylake the town has one of the worlds greatest British pubs. Once Hershey had discovered The Ship Inn, it was nigh impossible to dislodge him from his bar stool. The pubs proprietor, one Ian Mackie, was a most jovial fellow, and it didnt take much encouragement to convince Hershey (and admittedly, myself), that this was the place to be. The golf course was only about a mile down the street ' ergo, Royal Liverpool became a permanent fixture on the White-Hershey pre-Open travels.
We were able to gain admittance with the old golf reporters sleight-of-hand ' liberally dropping the golf journalist occupation to the club secretary. And then we were off on a most baffling jaunt around the Hoylake property. The first hole is right out the door of the clubhouse, but after that, finding holes in numbered sequence was as difficult as finding a course named Royal Liverpool in a town nowhere near Liverpool.
Trying to locate the second hole from the first green, and third hole from the second green, is nigh impossible. You would find the tee box, but the fairway was lost amongst the landscape that is virtually inescapable from the surrounding flora.
But eventually we succeeded, of course. The course plays along peoples backyards and flower boxes until you get to the 7th, which runs parallel to the 10th, which is parallel to the Dee Estuary and the Irish Sea. The 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th are all adjacent to the sea, though sometimes the sea is hidden by the mounds and gorse.
One additional mention: the first, 15th and 16th holes surround the practice range, located interestingly enough inside the course. And each have out-of-bounds stakes on the practice range side. Hit it in the range and you are OB.
My wife and I went to England once on vacation and I had to include Hoylake, anxious to introduce her to the club, The Ship and the ebullient Mackie. On this visit I produced a small video feature on Hoylake for The Golf Channel, and I encountered Leslie Edwards, the club historian. Edwards, himself a former golf writer, was a very pleasant elderly gentleman who then invited the missus and me to meet him for 2 oclock tea in the clubhouse.
Of course, 2 oclock tea meant coat and tie, and a similarly dressy outfit for my wife. As I say, this course was ver-ry British. The two of us played a round at 9 a.m. ' the missus got a rather subtle scrutiny from the club secretary as she hit her opening tee shot. Luckily, she nailed it, and no further evidence of golf aptitude was required. And after the round, we showered, changed into our Sunday duds, went into the clubhouse proper and properly lifted tea cups. All so very well, British.
Over the years, I have frequently returned to Hoylake. The Ship Inn, the Green Lodge Hotel, Ian, the quirky old golf course ' all are wonderful memories. Throughout the years I have returned many times and made many memories.
I could never imagine that Hoylake would ever host another British Open when I first visited in the 80s. But the club purchased some adjacent land a couple of years back and suddenly it became a possibility. Then, the more the teas were held, and the more the discussions took place, the more realistic it became.
I, sadly, am going to miss this one. But the old red brick clubhouse of Royal Liverpool will be rocking, I am sure.
Well, not rocking gently swaying is a much more civilized phrase. Hoylake is just not that way. Ver-r-y British, you know.
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