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Royal Liverpool Golf Club

The strategic importance of Liverpool was not lost on the Nazis, who rained more aerial destruction on it than any English city save London. The Battle of the Atlantic, the longest-running campaign of the war, was coordinated from headquarters in Derby House in the city center. (Situated on the leafy Wirral Peninsula, Hoylake escaped damage. The game of golf went on, albeit with a new local rule: If you hooked your ball into the minefield and barbed wire along the dunes flanking the ninth through twelfth holes, you could drop another in the fairway without penalty.)

Pummeled but proud, postwar Liverpool limped along. Rationing continued well into the 1950s. To working-class young men, the future looked dim. Gerry Marsden, whose band Gerry & the Pacemakers would help launch the rock 'n' roll scene called Mersey Beat, recalls, "You either boxed or sang or were a comic. We used to say that if you come from Liverpool you have to be a comedian, just to put up with the crap."

That was the milieu that produced the Beatles. Their fame had an almost jujitsu-like effect on Liverpool's reputation and self-image. Tony Aldwinckle, a member of Royal Liverpool who was a teenager in the sixties, recalls with a chuckle the way well-to-do suburbanites "suddenly were saying they were part of Liverpool."

(Liverpudlians did not necessarily return the favor. Cynthia Powell, John Lennon's first wife, grew up in Hoylake, where she sang in the parish choir. "I met Cynthia at art school," Lennon once recalled. "She was a right Hoylake runt. Dead snobby.")

Nowadays, the cultures of rock music and golf overlap. If you mention Hootie in golf circles, you really have to specify whether you mean the frowning frontman of Augusta or the grinning frontman of the Blowfish. But that was not the case in 1967, in that fervid moment known as the Summer of Love. In June of that year, the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band—one of rock's first and arguably still greatest concept albums. In the eclectic group of celebrities depicted on the cover were only three athletes: Johnny Weissmuller, Sonny Liston and the English footballer Albert Stubbins, who led Liverpool to the 1947 league championship. Ben Hogan?Bobby Jones?Arnold Palmer?Nah. The Beatles cared nothing for golf, and the young John Lennon was openly hostile to it. "John was my best friend, but he never did play with me," recalls Marsden, whose band had hits before the Beatles did. "I'd say, 'John, come and have a game of golf,' and he'd say, 'Oh, piss off!'" Marsden, an avid sixteen-handicap who picked up the game as a Liverpool teenager, laughs at the thought of Lennon on the tee. "I think if John had got a hold of a golf club," he says, "he'd either have tried to play it like a guitar or hit you with it."

Guitars, or golf clubs—people then tended to like one or the other. Marsden, liking both, was an anomaly. But to him it made perfect sense. "Musicians only work in the evening," he explains, "so what could we do in the daytime beside hang around the pub?'I know! Let's hit a little ball around.' You don't get kicked to death, like you do in football. And it's not as boring as cricket, which nobody knows the rules of anyway."

By 1967 the Fab Four were still riding high (though they had long since decamped to London), but Liverpool continued its slide. "In the seventies, Britain as a whole went into a financial slump, and Liverpool suffered particularly badly," says David Charters, longtime columnist for the Liverpool Daily Post. "The primary reason, perhaps, was England having joined the Common Market. It was no longer best to be an Atlantic port. There were a lot of strikes and terrible labor relations on the docks as well, which disillusioned a lot of people."

Worse was to come. Incendiary race riots struck the chronically poor Toxteth area in 1981. Liverpool soccer fans were blamed for the collapse of bleachers at a stadium in Belgium in 1985 that killed thirty-nine people, and for the crush that claimed ninety-six lives at Hillsborough Stadium in England in 1989. Then, in 1993, two ten-year-old boys abducted two-year-old Jamie Bulger from a Liverpool shopping mall, tortured him and beat him to death. With this widely reported crime, the reputation of Liverpool had reached its nadir.

The long and winding road back to vitality, however, had begun shortly after the Toxteth riots. Reconstruction money flowed in (though Toxteth itself benefited little). Garden festivals were launched to jump-start the tourist trade. The old docks, which had been superseded by container ports, were renovated, beginning with the Albert Dock in 1984. It now houses shops, restaurants and three museums: a branch of the Tate Modern art gallery, the Merseyside Maritime Museum and the Beatles Story.


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