PREPARATIONS are already underway for the return of the Open to Royal Liverpool – even though there are still some 18 months to go.
But the prospect of Tiger Woods trying to tame the famous links at Hoylake as he did in 2006 is one to whet the appetite of local golf fans.
The course – the second oldest links in England – is being tweaked to provide the toughest examination it can for the world’s best players.
Now one of the events born out of the desire to create a more lasting legacy from Royal Liverpool’s return to the Open rota after a near 40-year absence is offering amateur golfers the chance to enjoy a sneak preview.
The Wirral Classic is in its fourth year and serves up a unique competition with a 72-hole Stableford held over four of the area’s most famous and challenging venues.
Royal Liverpool is on the list along with Wallasey, a final qualifying venue for the 2014 Open, Caldy, a final qualifying course for the 2012 Ricoh Women’s British Open and Heswall, venue for the Royal & Ancient’s Junior Championships.
The chance to test their skills on one of the greatest stretches of links golf in the country has previously attracted players from as far afield as America, Holland, Sweden, Germany and Spain.
The Open itself provides an obvious injection to the local economy – a report from the R&A on last year’s tournament at Royal Lytham puts the figure at a whopping £65m.
The figure includes £28m directly pumped into the Lancashire economy by spectators, organisers, sponsors, the media and the players themselves, with the vast majority of that being spent within a few miles of the host venue along the Fylde coast.
The R&A also includes the marketing value to the area as a tourist destination from global television exposure – tagging £37m to the 3,800 hours of coverage reaching 500 million households worldwide.
The local authority and golf officials on Wirral were determined to ensure that the momentum gained by an Open which pulled in crowds in excess of 230,000 – not to mention those millions watching on worldwide TV – did not go to waste.
Initiatives have ranged from the hugely ambitious aim of creating a new world class championship golf facility in the Hoylake area to the work of golf development officer Neil Price in areas like disability golf and the beginner-friendly Club TG, which is open in the summer months on New Brighton promenade.
The Wirral Classic was seen as a way of enhancing the tourism offer in the area and now adds £450,000 a year of its own to the local economy.
Organiser Helen Latham explains: “Royal Liverpool secretary David Cromie was the one to suggest that we followed the idea of the Causeway Coast Golf Tournament in Ireland, which now attracts 900 players a year.”
The event, which started in 1967, is played over a famous run of Irish links courses at Royal Portrush, Ballycastle, Castlerock and Portstewart Links .
“We spoke to the organisers about how it worked and it seemed a great way to be able to offer golf on four great courses at a very competitive price while attracting people into the hotels and restaurants,” added Helen.
This year’s Wirral Classic sees the Holiday Inn Express and Thornton Hall Hotel on board as partners while there are close ties to a number of other accommodation and eateries.
“As an example of how we work together, the restaurants will be providing snacks out on the course which will be a taste of what they serve and then following up with a further offer for anyone who books a table,” added Helen.
“It adds up to a complete visitor experience of playing golf, eating and drinking.
“The fact that places like Liverpool and Chester are so accessible, plus the other courses to be played in the area, means first-time visitors to the area find there is much more to it than they might have expected.”
The event has regularly attracted around 200 players – although that number dipped last year when it was moved to October to make room for the Ricoh Women’s British Open’s visit to Royal Liverpool in a summer of sport already dominated by the Olympics.
Organisers are hoping that the return to its September slot – when around 60 prizes will be up for grabs for those taking part – will see numbers return to previous levels.
A social media campaign and website presence will support the more traditional marketing efforts in print and flyers to golf clubs as the organisers seek to engage a new audience.
“The satisfaction and enjoyment report from the event is very positive,” adds Helen, “with 100% satisfaction rates in both 2011 and 2012 from competitors. We have players taking part from a number of countries and around the UK, while about a quarter are from the local region.
“But it would be great to see more local players taking the chance to play on an Open venue and courses of the calibre of Wallasey, Heswall and Caldy.
“It is not just about low handicap players, either. Last year’s winner was off 10 while the previous year the winning handicap was 15.
“While we don’t put players out in groups of four friends, we do mix it up to fit in with the requirements of the competitors as much as possible and to add to the social side of the event. There have been some great friendships made among the players, which is lovely to see.”
The 2013 Wirral Classic takes place from September 23-27 and is open to golfers of all abilities, male and female.
The cost is just £229 for those who book before May 1 – which equates to a discount of more than a half on regular green fees – with the opportunity to win more then £3,000 worth of prizes from Titleist. The Classic also includes two social events.
Further information can be found at www.wirralgolfclassic.co.uk, including promotional offers from accommodation and food providers in Wirral.