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the open course

Four things you need to watch out for at Hoylake

A swift stroll can reveal much about this week’s Open venue. Here are some of Steve Carroll’s early takeaways from wandering around Royal Liverpool

 

I love practice days at The Open. It’s a relaxed vibe, you know the really great stuff is just around the corner, and you can get around the golf course without getting stuck in a snarl up.

It’s a great time to trek around what is a fantastic layout at Royal Liverpool, and you can learn plenty about how the championship might shape up.

This is not an exhaustive list. I’ve only been a here a day! But here’s a couple of things I’ve learned from having a wander round the course…

Hoylake golf course walk: What to watch out for

It’s very green

The Open course

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Well grass is, isn’t it? But it feels like it was only a couple of weeks ago we were all envisaging Hoylake as some dry dusty bowl a la Tiger Woods in 2006.

The reality is rather different. It’s a striking verdant out there. It bucketed down on Tuesday and, with other bits of rain forecast throughout the week, it’s clearly going to play much softer than we all expected.

Good news for Rory McIlroy, but perhaps not what those of us who like our Opens to be firm, bouncy, and really fast-running were hoping for.

It’s hard to get a handle on possible scores but, if the wind doesn’t show up (and the most I’ve seen forecast so far is about 15mph on Saturday), we’re probably looking at 2014 levels. McIlroy finished at -17.

Hoylake golf course walk: Find the rough and cross your fingers

The Open course

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It was low, very left, and followed by a rousing shout of ‘fore’. Nothing surprising about that, it’s a championship links. But when the yell comes from Rory, and he’s hit it like you or me trying to carve it out, then it raises an eyebrow.

The rough is not uniform by any stretch. In some places, it’s pretty fluffy. Therein lies its beauty. It’s completely dependent on luck and the bounce of a ball.

Players are going to moan about the 17th

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They’re already getting their shots in. Caddie Billy Foster called it a ‘monstrosity’, while his charge – Matt Fitzpatrick – diplomatically called it ‘interesting’.

Little Eye even divides opinion within the club. The members are mixed on Martin Ebert’s creation, though many of their complaints surround the steep incline stopping their balls getting up to the green.

While it looks a level shot from the championship tee, get about 60 yards away and all you can see is the top of the flag. It must rise about 15 feet.

There are going to be some birdies and, conversely, there are going to be some big numbers.

The green is actually on the bigger side compared with some at Royal Liverpool. Sit in the grandstand that flanks it and you can see it’s got a load of depth. The issue is when you don’t hit it.

I’m not sure the sandscrape in front, as visually impressive as it is, is going to cause these players any problems. It’s the bunker, right in front of that grandstand, that is going to have them all up in arms.

It would be great to see the end-of-week percentage of sand saves from that trap. I’m going to guess the figure will be low.

It’s deep, revetted, and depending on the conditions, completely dead for whoever is in it. They’re going to have to get it high, to a flag they can’t see, and stop it on a sixpence. Anything slightly chunked is coming back at them. Anything slightly thinned is going over the other side.

When the scores get high, and they will for some, wait for the whinging to start.

Royal Liverpool golf course walk: Someone is going to go out of bounds on 18

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Matthew Jordan loves the changes to this mammoth 600-yard finishing hole, but then the Hoylake member has been able to get in plenty of practice. “I think it’s a lot better,” he said. “I think it makes it a proper risk and reward hole. If you hit a good drive, you can go for it.”

Yes, you can, but out of bounds – which runs all the way down the right of this finisher – looks very tight indeed to the fairway.

There are only a few yards off the short stuff before you hit the white line and someone is going to come a cropper here in heart-breaking circumstances.

Here’s what they’ve done to the hole. Not only have they moved the championship tee back about 50 yards – and much more to the right – they’ve shifted that out-of-bounds line 20 yards further left.

That’s made the fairway look impossibly narrow from the tee, but it’s also left those trying to go for the green in two rolling the dice.

It won’t take much at all to send it outside the boundary and it feels a certainty to me that some players chasing, or having to make something happen, are going to come to grief here.

Could the Claret Jug come down to such a shot? It’s not without possibility. Just imagine the drama!

What do you think of our Hoylake golf course walk? What do you think of Hoylake golf course and where is The Open going to be won and lost? Let me know on X.

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Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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