Hoylake Reborn—and Rerouted
You might expect that a starting hole as famous as number one at Royal Liverpool—Peter Alliss once called it "the most intimidating first hole in championship golf"—would inviolably remain, come tournament time, the starting hole. But in this year's British Open, the demanding, dangerous 429-yard dogleg par four will play as the third. Why?The competition committee could have been channeling Bernard Darwin, who once wrote, "The first hole is so good and difficult that it seems almost a pity that we are compelled to play it before we have got thoroughly into our stride." More likely they were listening to the R&A, which wants the Open to finish with a flourish on a do-or-die hole whose green is near the clubhouse.
That would be the current sixteenth. In 1967, Roberto De Vicenzo nailed a bold three-wood on this 560-yard par-five dogleg right to make a birdie and help stave off Jack Nicklaus in the final round. This year it will play as the eighteenth, confronting players with OB on the right all the way from tee to green.
Royal Liverpool really didn't have a problem with the renumbering. The players will start each day on the present seventeenth. The tee is close to the clubhouse, and the 454-yard dogleg-left par four makes a strong opener. Graham Brown, a former club captain, thinks most players will hit three-wood off the tee to avoid the fairway bunkers and take the OB to the right out of play. British architect Donald Steel was commissioned to toughen the course for the Open. Among other things, he moved the narrow green on this hole to the left. Bunkers on the right crowd the approach, which is into the prevailing wind. "It's no walk in the park," says Brown.
Truth is, the members' eighteenth is a vanilla par four (the number-sixteen handicap) that works better as a second hole. Then the players will tackle the famous first. The tee shot has to avoid the clubhouse (left) and OB (right). Just where a good drive will land, the hole doglegs ninety degrees right. More OB awaits any approach pushed right. (Of the world's great courses, Hoylake may violate the unwritten rule against internal OB more than any other.)
The course plays in order the rest of the way, the second becoming the fourth, and so on. On what will be the eleventh tee, the glory of the seaside stretch begins to unfold. From here until the (renumbered) fifteenth tee, mounds and undulations and elevation changes give each hole a unique feel and challenge. But always on your left lies the long white beach, the Dee Estuary and, in the distance, the hills of North Wales. Wild rose bushes that swallow balls like hungry fish populate the seaward side of the rough.
On the 158-yard (renumbered) fifteenth, the sea is behind you and very likely the wind will be, too. Factor in a well-bunkered green, and a birdie is no gimme. If the 554-yard sixteenth is playing downwind, it's the last clear scoring chance. The 459-yard seventeenth is fairly straight, but it's narrow and subject to a crosswind that could bring OB on the right into play off the tee. "You've got to just hang on to make par here," says Brown.
That leaves the erstwhile sixteenth, now number eighteen, on which someone may need to live dangerously in order to win.
Trip planner: Liverpool
WHERE TO STAY
Britannia Adelphi Hotel When Bobby Jones slept here during the 1930 Open, the palatial 1914 Adelphi was considered England's best hotel outside London. Despite a face-lift when taken over by the Britannia chain, the Adelphi today is a doddering dowager, though still just a one-minute walk from Lime Street Station and the train to Hoylake. Stop by for the excellent full English breakfast buffet and a glance at the exuberantly ornate Baroque architecture of the Vines pub next door. Ranelagh Place; 011-44/151-709-7200, adelphi-hotel.co.uk. Rooms from $150.
Crowne Plaza Liverpool Built on the Mersey waterfront in 1998, the Crowne Plaza is thoroughly modern and well equipped, and its brick facade blends in nicely among the older dock structures. St. Nicholas Place, Princes Dock, Pier Head; 011-44/151-243-8000, cpliverpool.com. Rooms from $223.
Hope Street Hotel Step inside this restored Victorian carriage works near Philharmonic Hall and you enter a triumph of postmodern design, as luxurious as it is understated. The forty-eight rooms feature amenities like heated hardwood floors, handmade cherry wood furniture, in-wall LCD screens with DVD players and bathtubs built for two. The London Carriage Works, one of Liverpool's best restaurants, is on the ground floor. 40 Hope Street; 011-44/151-709-3000, hopestreethotel.com. Rooms from $245.
THE PUB SCENE
"If you go into a Liverpool pub on your own, within ten minutes you'll be pulled into a crowd," says Gerry Marsden, who wrote the best-known ode to the city, "Ferry 'Cross the Mersey." "That's the beauty of Liverpool—friendly people."
The town's pubs are so plentiful you could use a sand wedge to play your way from one to another. The smaller ones are hole-in-the-wall cozy, the bigger ones can be zoolike on weekends. They all tend to be warm-toned and wood-paneled, embodying a line from Marsden's signature hit: "We don't care what your name is, boy/ We'll never turn you away."
If you can visit only one pub, make it Thomas Rigby's, at 2325 Dale Street (011-44/151-236-3269). It has won several awards for its classic pub food and broad selection of domestic and European beer and ale. You won't find better beer-battered cod. It comes with "proper chips"—terrific fries made from slab-cut fresh potatoes—and an age-old English dish called "mushy peas," which tastes better than it sounds.
In the village of Hoylake, the place to be on a Friday or Saturday night is Hoylake Lights, 5254 Market Street (011-44/151-632-1209). A branch of the giant J.D. Wetherspoon chain, Hoylake Lights is a big place with good food and drink and a gregarious clientele that runs the gamut from sexy singles to married couples to the occasional white-haired mum pushing a walker. For an old-fashioned neighborhood pub, it's hard to beat the Plasterers Arms (011-44/151-632-3023), tucked away on Back Seaview Lane in a neighborhood of small row houses. It's a little hard to find, but a fine place to pull up a stool and chat.
Liverpool's devotion to its Beatles landmarks runs so deep that a significant outcry was raised last summer when a childhood home of Ringo Starr's—a Toxteth flat he lived in for all of three months—was scheduled for demolition. As the city moves into the twenty-first century, it has been careful to preserve pieces of the world the lads knew. For visitors, the Beatles Story (011-44/ 151-709-1963, beatlesstory.com) has to be the first stop. This is one museum where you really want the audio tour, as Paul McCartney, Gerry Marsden, producer George Martin and others trace the rise and fall of the band in eighteen exhibits. The museum also runs a two-hour "Magical Mystery Tour" by bus, which covers hallowed locations like Penny Lane and Strawberry Field before ending at the Cavern Club (cavern-liverpool.co.uk). While not the exact structure the Fab Four rocked back in the day, it's still a thriving venue that's a must-play for bands on the rise. For completists, the childhood homes of Lennon and McCartney, Mendips and Forthlin Road, respectively, are both operated by the National Trust (nationaltrust.org.uk) and are open for tours. Finally, grab an afternoon coffee or evening pint at the Jacaranda (2123 Slater Street, 011-44/151-708-9424), a lively café/pub that was once a Beatles haunt, with a mural allegedly created by John Lennon and Stuart Sutcliffe during their art school days.