The Hoylake Golf links can be beautiful, uplifting, awe inspiring and, on occasion, soul-destroying. They were created to be a demanding test of golf and remain so and they lie at the very heart of the history and development of golf in Great Britain.
Built in 1896, on what was then the racecourse of the Liverpool Hunt Club, Hoylake is the oldest of all the English seaside courses with the exception of Westward Hall in Devon. Robert Chambers and George Morris were commissioned to lay out the original Hoylake Course, which was extended to 18 holes in 1871. This was also the year in which the club was granted its Royal designation thanks to the patronage of His Royal Highness The Duke of Connaught.
For the first seven years of its life this land doubled as a golf course and a horse racing track, the original saddling bell still hangs in the Royal Liverpool Golf club house. Once the horses had been dispatched Hoylake began to take its place in the history of golf.
In 1885 the links hosted the first Amateur Championship; in 1902 the first International match between England and Scotland, later to become the Home Internationals; and, in 1921, the first International match between Great Britain and the United States of America, which we now know as The Walker Cup. At the end of the nineteenth century, it was the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews that took on the role of governing body in golf as the game developed, it was at Hoylake that the rules of amateur status were laid down.
John Ball’s influence on amateur golf, together with that of Harold Hilton, who was also a Hoylake player, cannot be over emphasised. Between them they dominated the amateur game of that era and pair were also a major influence on the professional game, each of them winning the Open Championship as amateurs. John Ball won the Amateur Championship eight times between 1888 and 1912. He won the Open Championship in 1890, the first Englishman and the first amateur to do so, and also took the amateur title the very same year.
Harold Hilton’s record was just as impressive. He won the Open twice, in 1892 (the first year the Open was played over 72 holes) and again in 1897, making him the only amateur apart from John Ball and Bobby Jones to win the titles. His victory at Hoylake in 1897 was marked 100 years later by the creation of a new, annual Harold Hilton Medal tournament open to amateur golfers aged 30 or more and handicap of 5 or less.
Many of the greatest names of golf has ever seen have graced the Hoylake fairways but only 11 have had the honour of lifting the Claret Jog. As well as H. Hilton, there was A. Herd in 1902. Frenchman A. Massy became the first man outside the U.K. to become Open Championship when he won in 1907. JH Taylor won his 5th Open here in 1913 with a then record total of 304. The legionary W. Hagan claimed victory in 1924 with a new record low of 301. No history of Hoylake would be complete without the mention of the legendary Bobby Jones. In 1930 the club was privileged to host his winning of the Open Championship, a victory that would become the second leg of his remarkable Grand Slam – the winning in the same year of the Amateur and Open Championships of both Great Britain and the United States. A. Padgham finally won in 1936 after finishing 2nd the previous year. 1947 saw F. Daly come home first, he is still the only ever Irishman to have lifted the Claret Jug.
P. Thomson, the Australian picked up his 3rd consecutive Open at Hoylake in 1956, a feat that no one has managed since R. de Vicenzo, then 44 finished two shots ahead of a certain J. Nicklaus to win his first & only Open in 1967.
Much time has passed since then, but the Hoylake links, despite their at first glance, flat and benign appearance, are still very much among the toughest and most demanding tests of golf. Recent changes under the guidance of renowned course architect, Donald Steel, and more recently by Martin Hawtree the course has been lengthened and upgraded to take on twenty-first century technology and increasingly athletic big hitters.
In July 2006 the fabled mighty winds did not blow. But there was no denying that another mighty champion was born…in the shape of one Eldrick ‘Tiger’ Woods.
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