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The barometer will be as crucial as the stimpmeter. Club members are so concerned about the weather that they employed an actuary to show that there is only a 10% chance of four straight dry days in July. A score of level par might win the claret jug if the wind howls and the rain goes sideways as it did on Friday in '67, when a lightning bolt struck the 5th-hole flagstick and zapped a star-shaped tattoo around the cup. "You hope for some help from nature," says Royal Liverpool officer Graham Brown, longtime holder of the club's amateur record. "If the wind blows, par's not a bad score. With normal weather we'd expect the winner to be at 10 or 12 under. And if it's flat calm, the professionals will take the course apart. But we will not do what they do at the USGA. They've got this thing about 70. All we want is a good event."
Returning to Royal Liverpool is a gamble, and you can bet there'll be a backlash if the 2006 Open fizzles. As one English golfer blogged, "If you like tradition and looking at big shiny cups in display cases, then you will like this course. Apart from that it is very flat and boring." There are also doubters in Scotland, where some who know Royal Liverpool are quick to dismiss it as "the weakest course in the rota." But then it's not officially back in the rota, not yet. The R&A plays its cards close to the waistcoat on such matters, reserving judgment. Still, the locals think it's a done deal. "It would take a monumental cock-up for this to be a one-off," says Championship Committee member Brown. He and other Hoylake golfers expect to host the Open every 10 years from now on, and what's more, they expect to deserve it. The par-5s may be pushovers for today's pros, but Royal Liverpool's four trickily bunkered par-3s, ranging from 159 to 200 yards, are no tea party. Such demanding par-4s as the 3rd (iron off the tee, O.B. on the right) and the 12th (cambered fairway, fallaway green) present what Brown calls "stiff questions."
Hoylake has its own answers to the postcard images at other Open venues. St. Andrews has the spires of the Auld Grey Town. Troon has the Isle of Arran. Hoylake has Hilbre, an island you can walk to at low tide. Just don't wade out: The tide is fierce, and so are the jumbo jellyfish. Seals frolic on the rocks near the wreck of the steamship Nestos, which ran aground in 1941. Hoylake's scenery can even top those nuclear reactor towers at Royal St. Georges; several miles off the coast is a clutch of gigantic, eco-friendly windmills. Those towering, three-bladed constructions spin lazily most of the time, but they whir when the offshore breeze sweeps toward the old links.
" Hoylake, blown upon by mighty winds, breeder of mighty champions." The Times of London golf correspondent Bernard Darwin, grandson of Charles, wrote that line when the course was among the most famous in golf. Now what's old is new again, at least to most Americans. There are no sure bets, given Hoylake's oft-wild weather and the oft-wild drivers of Tiger and Phil, but the 135th Open Championship is sure to be a bigger spectacle than the 96th. In '67 only 29,880 paying customers attended the Open; this year there'll be 9,000 a day in the stadium seats around the final green. As the World Cup proved, that many sporty Brits can make a mighty noise.
they're in for a treat. "I expect the contenders will plot their way
around, flipping irons off the tees," he says. "And then, if it's close
at the end, they will take the big stick and go for it." If it's glory or
disaster you're after, you've come to the right place.
Land of Lake
Lengthened by 263 yards since 1967, Royal Liverpool presents tantalizing possibilities--particularly at 18.