he links at Royal Liverpool, next to the Cheshire town of Hoylake on the Wirral Peninsula, is one of the delights of England’s northwest coast—a capricious creature that can be benign on a calm day and a monster when rough weather blows in from the Irish Sea.
Laid out in 1869 on the site of a racecourse, it hosted its first Open in 1897. Local amateur Harold Hilton prevailed but was not eligible for the winner’s purse of £30. Scotsman Sandy Herd won next up in 1902, France’s Arnaud Massey became continental Europe’s first Open champion five years later, and England’s J.H. Taylor took the honors in 1913.
Royal Liverpool’s position as a classic Open venue was consolidated in 1924 and 1930, following a redesign by Harry Colt. The former saw Walter Hagen capture his second Open, while the latter was the second leg of Bobby Jones’s grand slam.
The next four winners were Englishman Alf Padgham (1936), Northern Ireland’s Fred Daly (1947), Australian Peter Thomson—completing a hat-trick of Open triumphs in 1956—and Roberto de Vicenzo of Argentina (1967).
Then followed a 39-year hiatus as the club, the R&A and Wirral Borough Council worked to upgrade the infrastructure around the course. When The Open returned in 2006, the winner, exploiting hot, dry, windless conditions, was Tiger Woods. Royal Liverpool’s 12th Open, in 2014, went to Rory McIlroy, who edged out Rickie Fowler and Sergio Garcia by two shots before claiming the PGA Championship as well, a couple weeks later.
The hope now is for Bernard Darwin’s description of nearly 70 years ago—“Hoylake, blown upon by mighty winds, breeder of mighty champions”—to ring true again for number 13 this summer…