James Somerside from Golfbreaks.com reached out to us to discuss the idea of introducing Soly and I to a sample of what northwest England has to offer. We managed to pull together a trip on relatively short notice, at which point James started working his magic planning out the golf and logistics. As we hopefully capture in this and the posts to follow, both the quality of the golf and the richness of the experience along England’s “Golf Coast” were revelatory.
In addition to this summary post on Liverpool and the other posts that are to follow, please check out both Part I and Part II of the podcast that we recorded on the last night of the trip prior to flying back to our respective locales. The trip included six incredible courses over the course of four days, starting with The Belfry, and followed by West Lancashire, Royal Birkdale, Royal Liverpool, Wallasey, and Royal Lytham.
Royal Liverpool played host to day three of the trip. Our batteries fully charged after sleeping in a bit, Soly, James and I relished the opportunity to show up early and spend a leisurely day at one course after a couple hectic ones. The club is located in the town of Hoylake, a quick drive west from Liverpool, and we were charmed from the moment we pulled up. The club’s PGA pro, Michael Jones, provided a warm welcome and would later join us for a few holes on the inward nine.
As soon as you pull past the gate into the intimate car park, you’re hit with this stunning clubhouse view.
With the luxury of time on our hands, we wandered through the halls soaking up the memorabilia related to Big Cat’s ’06 triumph, and Rory’s ’14 ball-striking fiesta. All of the greats are pictured, going all the way back to the early 1900’s. There was even a Francis Ouimet sighting! From the dining room, you can see right out onto the putting green, the first tee/fairway, and even all the way to the edge of the property and the houses that manage to compliment the periphery without being intrusive. A vast piece of land with a quaint Dickensian border – vibes!
After a standout meal at the club china, we headed out to the driving range for the only range session of the entire trip. This proved to be a disastrous decision, as I started thinking about my swing and quickly entered a dark place. I scurried over to the putting green directly behind the clubhouse and spent a few minutes putting and marveling at the expansiveness of the property. Based entirely upon watching The Open, I arrived expecting a flat, rather nondescript piece of property. And while it is a flattish property, that is immediately overshadowed by the sheer scale and enormity of the course. For that reason Royal Liverpool doesn’t appear all that sexy on tv – the grandstands chop up the expansiveness, making the property feel compartmentalized and small. Liverpool’s scale is its charm.
We stepped to the first tee (The Open routing is different, with the normal 17 & 18 serving as 1 & 2 during The Open – for the purposes of this recap I will refer to the regular routing) recalling the strong opinions I was bombarded with in the lead-up to the trip: everyone had a take regarding the first hole. What otherwise would be a bunkerless, flat par four is complicated by OB stakes on the inside corner of the dogleg guarding the driving range in the middle of the property. I didn’t find this at all troubling – this feature added a much-needed air of danger to the hole and rewarded a bold line coupled with a demanding butter-cut.
The polarizing opener (on our second loop)
The next few holes, “Road” (a timid par four), “Long” (a well-bunkered par five) and “New” (a normally demanding one-shotter that played easier in the benign conditions) meander in and out of a residential corner of the property. I realized early on that Liverpool isn’t the type of course that will beat you down or trick you – the terrain is largely flat, even the greens, and it’s just a matter of driving the ball well and being decisive with approaches. The fifth hole, “Telegraph,” is an excellent example of that ethos – a long four that puts the onus on getting off the tee and onto the right side of the fairway. From there you navigate gorse and two devilish greenside bunkers to get an outside look at birdie on a flat green. The greens are pretty chill once you’re on them, the trick is coming in from the correct angle.
The holes got progressively funkier as we from there, with a 400-yard par four with a blind tee shot over a briar patch that sits out of bounds down the left. Navigate that and you’re home free. Once you reach the eighth it’s game on. “Far,” by way of a straightforward par five, takes you way out to the edge of the property where you feel a distinctly San Francisco vibe – baller spreads, funky trees…shit, I felt like I was playing a nicer version of the Presidio course!
(Pictured above: The 8th)
(Pictured above: The 9th)
I can’t overstate how perfect the dunescapes on this side of the course are for golf. Holes nine (Punchbowl) and ten (Dee) are exceptional fours that demand stellar drives and deliver gorgeous views of the River Dee. Next is the eleventh, aptly labeled “Alps” for its simple yet effective mounding. The twelfth “Hilbre” is the best hole on the course – a long, sharp dogleg left that forces commitment and strategy off the tee to prepare adequately for the approach into one of the more severe greens out there. Thirteen was a short, enjoyable part 3 to a nuanced green that can yield unforeseen challenges. Fourteen is a beast of a par five wiggling right through the meat of the property. Fifteen is no easier – a long four into the wind featuring eight bunkers.
(Pictured above: The 12th)
(Pictured above: The 13th)
Playing the 16th was a highlight of the trip, especially considering Soly’s affinity for Rory and his legendary 5-iron approach there from a gratuitous distance. Another hole flanked by OB on the inside of the dogleg, you must go over the driving range on your second shot if going for the green. The green is well-bunkered and much more attractive with the clubhouse set behind it. The last two holes are both long fours featuring newish green complexes with more slope than many of the others on the course. After playing these two I certainly feel the club/R&A made the right decision to use these two as the opening holes for tournaments.
(Pictured above: The 16th)
(Pictured above: The 18th)
In all, the course features a wide variety of holes and distinct areas of the property that feel starkly different from one another. The variety adds flavor to the course but also makes it feel a little chopped up at times. A few of the new greens don’t quite match the others on the course as they are narrower and feature more undulation, though these greens were some of my favorites on the course (13 & 17 in particular).
Of all the courses we played on the trip, Royal Liverpool was the best experience. Perfect weather, long sunset, great company, and a club that truly emphasizes hospitality. We were encouraged to play extra holes, enjoy a few beers in the clubhouse and hang out as long as we so desired. And all of this despite the fact that the club was holding its Annual General Meeting and there were scores of members in the clubhouse, many of whom were in from out of town. Not once did we feel anything but welcome. Can’t wait to get back.
Not a bad view from the bar.
Can't say enough good things about @RLGCHoylake. Authentic vibe, phenomenal hospitality, and a lively layout. Stern but fair. #NLUK pic.twitter.com/UsoHklPs11
— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) March 25, 2017
Hoylake was transcendent. Pure class. Floored by the level of hospitality and vibe.#NLUK pic.twitter.com/q0WECBweLS
— Tron Carter (@TronCarterNLU) March 25, 2017