Do you want to know a secret? What to expect at HoylakeJuly, 2014
To learn about Hoylake's true character, look further back than 2005, says Dan Murphy, as he sets the scene for the 143rd Open Championship
There is usually much to learn from a look back to the most recent time the Open Championship came to town.
In Hoylake’s case, that takes us to 2006 and the hottest and most scorched Open in recent memory.
It would be exaggerating to say the scene was Saharan but the key ingredients of oppressive heat and plenty of sand are the abiding memories of that long-awaited week on the Wirral.
Ahead of that Open, there was precious little to go on, 39 years having passed since Roberto de Vicenzo became the first and only South American to date to lift the Claret Jug.
It is only eight years since Tiger Woods’ third and most recent Open win, yet it feels like a different era and, what’s more, anyone expecting the challenge to bear even a passing resemblance this time around will surely be disappointed.
It is not always hot and baked at Hoylake and nobody is likely win this year without regular and effective use of the driver.
After a warm, wet spring, the rough will be healthy and green, a far cry from 2006 when the challenge was to find a way of drawing tee shots to a standstill before they eventually reached a bunker.
So what can we expect from storied Royal Liverpool, which first hosted the Open in 1897? Well, no views for a start.
“Some believe at first glance the course doesn’t possess as aesthetically pleasing a layout when compared to some,” says Alun Evans, the golf historian.
“Set in red-brick North of England seaside suburbia, flat-lying Hoylake may have few features to wow the newcomer; but most who play England’s second-oldest links after Westward Ho! have their initial perceptions changed for the better.”
For a few holes on the back nine, there are views across to North Wales but more often it is more Lytham than Turnberry in terms of backdrop.
Experience, it seems, is likely to tell, which you would imagine is what Woods was thinking as he recuperated after back surgery" As in 2006, the competitors will begin at what is usually the 17th. This is a shame because the regular 1st is Hoylake’s most memorable hole, turning sharply right at driving distance with the practice ground providing an internal out of bounds every inch of the way on the other side of little more than a speed bump.
It is less intimidating as the 3rd.
The other implication is that it makes the last hole a par 5, the only one on the Open rota, and the green will be housed in a horseshoe of stands, it also being the only closing hole with so much room behind the green.
The winning score in 2006 was a remarkable 18 under, with 47 players breaking par for the week.
Caveats include the highly unusual conditions and also Hoylake’s par of 72, a real rarity these days in Major golf, with the exception of Augusta.
We can safely say the scoring will be nothing like so good this time over a links that has been slightly extended to 7,312 yards (Hoylake was the first Major venue over 7,000 yards, in 1936).
And although the crowds will be healthy, they will not reach 2006 levels. Around 200,000 fans are expected, compared to the 230,000 who flooded across the sun-baked links then.
Still, after only 142,000 came to Muirfield 2013, the R&A will be grateful to be heading for densely populated North West England.
As for clues towards the winner, we have seen three consecutive Open champions in their 40s – Darren Clarke, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson.
In 1967 here, de Vicenzo, at 44, became the oldest Open winner since Old Tom Morris, exactly 100 years earlier.
Experience, it seems, is likely to tell, which you would imagine is what Woods was thinking as he recuperated after back surgery.
“Whatever anyone may say, Hoylake can look lovely when the summer dusk is coming on and the lights are beginning to twinkle in the houses,” said the peerless Bernard Darwin.