THE arrival of the world’s best women golfers to Royal Liverpool Golf Club next week confirms its return to the pinnacle of the sport.
The club has a long and distinguished history dating back nearly 150 years, but the end of the last century saw it slip from the list of venues for the sport’s biggest events.
Thanks to a proactive reaction from members which has seen the club develop its facilities to cope with the demands of staging a professional tournament in the corporate and multi-media age, the tag ‘Open venue’ can once again be attached to the famous links course at Hoylake.
Tiger Woods marked the return of the Open Championship to Royal Liverpool for the first time in 39 years in 2006 with a commanding victory and now the club is preparing to welcome the women’s equivalent for the first time in the Ricoh Women’s British Open from September 13-16.
The men are also booked in for a return in 2014 which means the club has an ideal platform from which to showcase itself around the world.
The club’s links with the amateur game run long and deep – the British Boys Championship will be held on Wirral next year – but the professional game was beginning to outrun Royal Liverpool. The opportunity to purchase land around the perimeter of the course on Meols Drive has proved pivotal. The growth of the tented village, parking demands, corporate customers and media centre – Royal Lytham had to accommodate global requests from around 700 representing TV, radio, digital and print at this year’s Open – has led to unprecedented demands on space.
The course, too, has been improved over the years.
Paul Cassidy, chairman of the club’s Championship Committee, explained: “In the 1970s the course was less well attended, but in the 1980s a new greenkeeper in Derek Green helped bring it back to its full potential. Following his death Craig Gilholm, who joined us from Muirfield, has helped take it to a new level. It is in fantastic condition – and not just for the big events, but all year round for the members, too.”
He added: “We were delighted to get the Open back in 2006 after a long absence and now all the members are looking forward to the ladies playing here. I think the success of 2006 gave the club the confidence that we could stage the big events again. The Ladies tour has gone from strength to strength and the Women’s British Open will attract a truly international field. Ricoh have been tremendous supporters of the event.
“The history of amateur golf at Hoylake at all levels is second to none, but the Ricoh offers a chance to see the world’s best women professional golfers close up.
“There is so much to learn from them. Their swing control is excellent and short game is unbelievable. It will be interesting to see how they cope with the greens and bunkers and all the kinds of pitches and chip shots needed to play links golf.”
While the top events do no necessarily provide a substantial injection into the club’s coffers, the chance to be paraded before a worldwide audience does bring potential financial benefits.
“After the 2006 Open we had a huge amount of interest from people wanting to play the course,” added Cassidy, himself a 14-handicapper who has been a member of the club for nearly 30 years. “Royal Birkdale and Royal Lytham have been on the Open list for a long time, but Hoylake was something new. We have always had a lot of interest from America, but there are golfers coming from a much wider number of countries since 2006.
“With so many other great courses in the area, it is an ideal place to come for golfers. There has been great support from Wirral Council and the infrastructure in terms of transport links and hotel accommodation is in place.”
Final qualifying takes place at Caldy GC on Monday with Hillside amateur Emily Taylor among those bidding to clinch a place at Hoylake.