- The difference between the course at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in 2006, the last time The Open Championship was hosted there (top image), is a stark contrast to what was observed on Wednesday. (Photos by Getty Images)
It would have been almost impossible to replicate the conditions that golf’s pros faced the last time The Open Championship visited Royal Liverpool.
Heat and persistent winds in 2006 turned the Hoylake layout into a baked-out, dusty highway that prompted players to throttle back upon seeing 80-yard rolls on their tee shots. Tiger Woods used his driver just once, scooted around bunkers and won at 18-under par.
So when Open veterans say England’s second-oldest course is “soft,” it’s a relative term.
“The course is green,” Matt Kuchar said, “but I don’t want to mistake green for soft.”
Said Graeme McDowell: “It’s got kind of a deadness to the ground, if you like. You’re certainly not going to see balls spinning back. This is the Open Championship; that’s not really going to happen much.”
Side-by-side photos, however, do illustrate how different the Hoylake landscape is compared with eight years ago. Royal Liverpool may not exactly be considered lush, but its greenness is accentuated when compared to the brown of 2006.
Either way, Craig Gilholm is simply working with what Mother Nature presented him.
“As ever, nature is in charge,” Royal Liverpool’s superintendent (or “links manager” in English parlance) told the The Scotsman newspaper.
Gilholm arrived at Hoylake a year before The Open last visited, brought over from Muirfield to oversee preparations as the course ended a 39-year absence from the rotation. With an affinity for fast, firm conditions, one of his first moves was to stop watering.
It almost worked too well, with Hoylake playing on the edge over its four days in the sun. But player reviews were generally complimentary and, more importantly, the R&A was pleased.
This year brought a wet spring to the Wirral Peninsula, leaving several observers to suggest soft conditions for the Open. But a drying spell has allowed Gilholm and his crews to strike a balance.
“It’s been presented beautifully,” said world No.1 Adam Scott, who has failed to close out a Sunday lead in each of the past two Opens. “Every aspect of it is perfect.”
Peter Unsworth, head of the R&A’s championship committee, praised Royal Liverpool for being in “immaculate condition.”
“It certainly has a greener hue this time around, but don't let that fool you,” he continued. “The course is firm and if the weather stays fair, I expect it to become firmer still.”
That could be difficult if summer storms in Saturday’s forecast come to pass. But the chance of rain has decreased in recent days, lifting hopes that Sunday will produce another firm, on-the-edge finale.
“It’s soft by Open Championship terms, but it’s far from easy to get balls close to the hole,” McDowell said. “It’s typical links. If it blows, it’s going to be a real test.”