The Royal Liverpool Golf Club is one the UK’s longest established clubs. Over the years it has hosted some of the greatest matches the the sport as ever seen. Here, author Stephen Proctor looks back on the history of the club, the course, and its immense contribution to golfing history and development.
One the eve of the 151st Open Championship, it’s worth taking a moment to remember the enormous contributions this year’s host, Royal Liverpool Golf Club, has made to the greatest of games.
Founded in 1869, and perhaps better known by its nickname Hoylake, the club established itself during the years before the Great War as the most influential outside Scotland. Its forward-thinking leaders introduced two events that would have a lasting impact on golf.
In 1885, Royal Liverpool started the Amateur Championship, which was played this year for the 128th time. Almost as soon as it began, the Amateur was considered every bit as important as the Open, a major championship in all respects.
Just after the turn of the century, in 1902, Hoylake made another bold stroke, conducting the first Amateur International Match, featuring sides from England and Scotland competing to see which nation reigned supreme in golf. The match was such a sensational success, overshadowing every other event that season, that the very next year professionals launched a nearly identical International Match of their own.
It is no exaggeration to say that Royal Liverpool deserves the thanks of every golfer who finds themselves riveted to modern international competitions like the Walker, Curtis, Ryder or Solheim cups. All of them are an outgrowth of that first Amateur Match at Hoylake in 1902.
Indeed, the first time teams from the U.S. and Great Britain ever clashed was during a friendly match that unfolded at Royal Liverpool in 1921, during that year’s Amateur Championship. The U.S. won convincingly, a sign of things to come. The following year the event would be formally inaugurated as the Walker Cup Match, the oldest of the international competitions.
Beyond having introduced these major innovations, the leaders of Hoylake deserve enormous credit for foreseeing that golf needed to be run by the leading organization in the birthplace of the game — The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews.
Immediately after the first Amateur in 1885, Hoylake’s leaders wrote to St. Andrews and asked the club to take charge of the Championship. They knew it would never be accepted as a true national competition without the R&A’s endorsement. That was the first step on the long road to the Royal and Ancient becoming what it is today, the governing body for golf in most of the world.
Few indeed are the clubs that can claim such a remarkable legacy, and yet even those contributions have been overshadowed by the deeds of two club members who turned out to be greatest amateur golfers Britain has ever known — John Ball and Harold Hilton.
In 1890, Ball earned one of the most transformative victories in the history of the game. Having already claimed his second Amateur Championship that season, Ball won the Open at Prestwick, becoming both the first Englishman and the first Amateur to hoist the Claret Jug.
Ball’s victory spurred enormous growth in the game south of the Scottish border, lighting the fire of the Great English Golf Boom that would follow in the years before World War I.
Ball would never win another Open, but he would go on to prevail in an unthinkable eight Amateur Championships, one of them when he was a 50-year-old man. That is a record that surely must stand for all time.
Hilton would win the Open twice himself, once on his home links, and come tantalizingly close to victory in that championship on two other occasions. He also would win the Amateur four times, and in 1911 become one of only four men, among them Bobby Jones and Lawson Little, to win the Amateurs of both nations in a single season.
This year will mark the 13th time the Open has been conducted over the storied links of Royal Liverpool.
The club’s Honour Board consists almost entirely of legends — Sandy Herd and John Henry Taylor, Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones, Peter Thomson and Roberto De Vincenzo, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy.
Those names leave little doubt that this testing course along the Dee Estuary will give us another champion for the ages. So, before we are swept away by all the excitement at Hoylake, let’s raise a wee dram to a club that has done so much to enrich the Royal and Ancient game.
Stephen Proctor has served as a senior editor at The Baltimore Sun, The San Francisco Chronicle and The Houston Chronicle. He is an avid golfer and has spent the past decade studying the history of the royal and ancient game. He lives in Florida. He is the author of The Long Golden Afternoon and Monarch of the Green.
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