A hole-by-hole review of an amateur golfer’s experience playing The Open course at Royal Liverpool Golf Club

Brian Harman plays out of a bunker at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club

It’s easy enough to imagine an Open Championship host course as a hoity-toity place for the average golfer.

You might think of the grand clubhouses that overlook the 18th greens and assume they are full of stuffy members looking down on the action (and maybe those of us stood outside too).

A venture to Hoylake and Royal Liverpool Golf Club will disabuse you of any such notions. True, there is a very grand clubhouse, but both it and the members within are very definitely of the welcoming kind.

I kicked off my two days on the Wirral with a walk across water to Hilbre Island. That might sound a little far-fetched, but when the tide is out, the stroll into the middle of the Dee Estuary is both very possible and very beautiful. Moreover, it grants the golfer an exceptional, and unusual, view of Royal Liverpool.

Next day I was on genuine terra firma and ready to tackle the host of three Opens in the 21st century, won by Tiger Woods in 2006, Rory McIlroy in 2014, and Brian Harman in 2023.

The last of those took place in a wet, cold and windy week in July, but I got lucky: it was warm, dry and, okay, quite windy. But who wants to play an Open course without a breeze, even a strong one?

Two oddities

Playing Royal Liverpool rather than watching the Open there always presents two curiosities.

The first is that the 18th hole in The Open is the 16th for members.

The second is that the practice ground, which is full of tents, marquees and pavilions during The Open, is a large flat space around which the first (third in The Open) and 16th (18th in The Open) play.

It makes for quite a discombobulating experience. For the purpose of this article, and to avoid confusion, I’ll refer to the course as we all know it, starting from The Open’s first hole.

The front nine

I’m quite fortunate because I’ve played Royal Liverpool four times now – but I’ll confess that after the first circuit I was a little underwhelmed.

It just seemed so … flat.

But the more you walk this course, the more it becomes clear that the holes are wonderfully nuanced, expertly crafted, and far from flat.

It is also a course that asks lots of questions of your ball striking, as revealed by the routing.

Take the first and second holes, both par-4s. The first is a subtle right-to-left dogleg played towards the sea, the second a left-to-right dogleg played away from the sea.

Immediately, your long game has had questions asked of it and you’d better expect more to come.

The third is an oddity because, well, it really is the one hole that is flat, and a dogleg, and the inside of the dogleg is that practice ground. It tests your faith in the scorecard and the course map.

The fourth and fifth repeat the first and second in that they go away from and to the sea, and are once again contrastingly subtle doglegs. The same can be said of the seventh and eighth.

These four holes are the ones that fooled me on that first lap. Now, however, I love them. There are undulations that lie below the horizon rather than above it, hence my initial confusion, and they are wonderfully contoured, classical linksland tests.

The turn

The 10th and the 11th are at it again, but in slightly different fashion. The 10th moves away from the clubhouse and parallel to the beach then the 11th comes back in the opposite direction.

The first of them requires an approach to a green high in the dunes, then the next approach plummets to a putting surface tucked between the base of the sandhills.

It is from the 11th tee that I spot Hilbre Island and, now that the tide is in, I wonder how I survived my trek 24 hours earlier.

The turn also marks the start of the run of holes that cling to the edge of the property, dipping and rising above the dunes.

The back nine

The par-4s at 12 and 14 are eerily similar. They require a tee shot from high in the sand hills to boomerang-shaped fairways that, if you find them, set up approaches to greens situated in the heights of the dunes.

We take a minute on 14 to remember and appreciate the 4-iron that Woods holed from the fairway in 2006. One of his greatest blows…and none of us come emotely close to replicating it.

The 15th is a tough hole. A long par-5 back towards the clubhouse, but it is followed by a long par-4 which goes in the opposite direction.

The good news? You’re pretty guaranteed one of them will be downwind.

The bad news? The other will be into it.

And then there is the closing par-5 at 18. Another long, long hole for handicap golfers.

But what an approach, with the Victorian clubhouse visible to us if not for Open competitors (for whom the grandstands block the view).

The green tempts you. A running draw has an opening front right, but there are bunkers waiting to snaffle any errant blow.

The short holes

We haven’t forgotten the par-3s. They just need their own section.

The sixth calls for a tee shot to a raised green and it is all carry, while the ninth green is below the tee and you can run the ball into the middle of the green.

A lovely contrast and so typical of this layout.

On the back nine, the 13th is a terrific hole played across the top of the dunes with Hillbre Island on the horizon and North Wales as a spectacular backdrop.

And then there is the 17th. The new hole, was conceived and designed for the 2023 Open, and some might say that it has been created with professionals rather than handicap golfers in mind.

That was my opinion when I first encountered it, feeling that the tee shot, from low down to a green high in the dunes and largely hidden from view, was too difficult for lesser golfers to visualise never mind execute.

But a second crack at it changed my mind. You learn that the putting surface has space, you appreciate that it is a spectacular location and pure golfing theatre.

I’ve flipped and not for the first time.

As with the entire course itself, a second date, convinced me.

I’m a fan. A big one – of both 17 and Royal Liverpool in its entirety.