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Royal Liverpool Golf Club

The murder of John Lennon in 1980 began a trickle of pilgrims to Mendips (the house where he had grown up), Mathew Street (where the Cavern Club, notoriously demolished in the seventies, had been reconstructed) and other incipient Beatles shrines. Mike Byrne, a local rocker turned promotion manager, joined forces with others in the nascent Beatles tourism industry and ultimately raised $1.3 million. In 1990, Byrne opened the Beatles Story, of which he is still director.

For the past 350 years, the official symbol of Liverpool has been a concatenated creature called the liver bird. Sometimes spelled "lyver," which is how it's pronounced, the liver bird has the graceful neck of a cormorant and the stout legs of an eagle. You can see images of it everywhere in Liverpool, from the top of a famous skyscraper overlooking the harbor to Royal Liverpool's blue-and-white crest.

But these days, the liver bird has competition. The new winged wonder is the construction crane. These T-shaped skeletal creatures are laboring day and night to bring about the new Liverpool, the foremost example of which is called the Paradise Project. This $1.6-billion undertaking will encompass forty new buildings, including hotels, residences and oodles of high-end retail. (It takes its resonant name from Paradise Street, but it has more frontage on Wapping, which runs along the Mersey waterfront.)

For Royal Liverpool, the first glimmer of hope of the Open returning came in 1995, when the club hosted the British Amateur for the seventeenth time (the 2000 event was the eighteenth). Hearing rumors that the R&A thought the grounds were too small to accommodate the massive crowds and corporate tents of a modern major, the club mounted a campaign that included sending aerial photos of the site to the governing body in St. Andrews. It also bought some adjoining property that could serve as parking and hospitality, and in 2002 these efforts were rewarded when the R&A welcomed Royal Liverpool back to the rota, announcing it as the site for the 2006 Open.

Strings were attached, of course, including alterations to the course, a renumbering of the holes (see sidebar, page 119) and renovation of the clubhouse. Traffic and street improvements would also be required—in 1967 only 30,000 people total attended the Open; this year, the club is expecting 40,000 per day. But things fell into place. The nearby municipal Hoylake Golf Club (HGC) was enlisted. During the Open, the ten-pound-a-round public track will serve as what the English call a car park and as the practice range for the pros.

Phil Davies, a twenty-four handicap who plays in an HGC foursome who call themselves the Hoylake Hackers, says the muni regulars are happy to make the sacrifice. "People feel quite proud to be part of it," he says. "That the big players are going to practice on our humble little ground makes us feel great."

Seen from the Club Room, with the red-jacketed past captains peering over one's shoulder, the famous links of Hoylake look much as they did almost a century ago, when the legendary Bernard Darwin described them. "On a first view they are not imposing," he wrote in The Golf Courses of the British Isles. "All that appears is a vast expanse cut up into squares and strips by certain cops or banks, partly walled in by roads and houses, with a range of sandhills in the far distance. Yet this place of dull and rather mean appearance is one of the most interesting and most difficult courses in the world, and preeminently one which is regarded with affection by all who know it well."

Now, as then, Hoylake's narrow fairways and subtle contours "make very exacting demands in the matter of length and straightness." It will play at 7,258 yards for the Open this year—third longest on the rota after the Old Course and Carnoustie. Complicating matters is the capricious wind. Sometimes nonexistent, sometimes fierce, it can bedevil the golfer from different angles. As Darwin observed, "... there are few courses on which a change of wind more completely alters the character of each individual hole. Blessed indeed is the hole which can keep its good character whichever way the wind is blowing." Darwin reckoned Hoylake eighteen times blessed.

So Hoylake is back, Liverpool is back, and next month the best golfers in the world will be back. Darwin died in October 1961, eleven months before the Beatles released their first single, "Love Me Do." He was old-school, but if he could see his beloved Hoylake today, he might go along with these lines from Sgt. Pepper's: "Having been some days in preparation/A splendid time is guaranteed for all."


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