British Open

What You Need To Know About Royal Liverpool (Hint: Hoylake)

Continued (page 2 of 2)

Liverpool's most famous export? The Beatles. But did they play—were the Fab Four ever a fab foursome?

The Beatles did spend a little time around the game. In 1963 they did a photo shoot at the Allerton municipal course in Liverpool, including the iconic "jump" shot. The following year, they were photographed goofing around with golf clubs at the then-Speedway Golf Course in Indianapolis. And in 1967 they shot a promotional video at Knole Park Golf Club, outside London, for their double release of "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Penny Lane." But they never did play. "They weren't interested in golf," says Beatles biographer Mark Lewisohn. "In fact, they weren't interested in sports, period."

Golf did play a key role in the Beatles' early success, however. Inspired by the jazz clubs of Paris, Alan Sytner opened the legendary Cavern Club in Liverpool in 1957. Sytner was a member at Lee Park Golf Club, where the apprentice golf pro was Nigel Walley—a school friend of John Lennon and also the manager of Lennon's skiffle band, The Quarrymen. Walley arranged a gig for the band in the clubhouse, and Sytner attended. Suitably impressed, Sytner booked the Quarrymen for the Cavern Club, where they performed for the first time on Aug. 7, 1957, and, as the Beatles, on Feb. 9, 1961. And that was the start of the long and winding road.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club at the game's holy land, St. Andrews, is the most high-profile, influential golf club in the world. (Technically the game's governing body outside the U.S. and Mexico is no longer the club but a corporation formed 10 years ago called "The R&A.") But it has long set a terrible example to the empire it lords over by being a boys-only club. (Hoylake has had women members since 1958.)


A (fake) queen for membership in the R&A?
Photo: David Cannon/Getty Images

Golf has always been conservative, tradition-bound and elitist. (Up until 1961, the PGA in America was only for people "of the Caucasian race.") Augusta National finally admitted its first two female members in 2012. On the back of that, the 260-year-old R&A announced in March that it was urging its 2,500 members to allow women to join the club. A ballot will be held in September. (The Queen, both royal and ancient, leads the early betting to be the first female member, followed by Kate Middleton and Condoleezza Rice.) In response to the news, from Land's End to John o'Groats, a deafening chorus could be heard: "About bloody time!"

Fourteen courses have hosted the Open, all bar one in Scotland and England. Five of them have been overtaken by the demands of the modern game and are no longer used, including Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, which hosted the event once, in 1951. Now, with Irish political tensions relatively stable, there is increasing chatter about a return visit to the links, which has hosted three Senior British Opens and the wildly successful 2012 Irish Open. "We will continue to make every effort we can in order to bring the Open to Northern Ireland," said First Minister Peter Robinson in April.

The course might need some work—the closing holes are weak—and all the usual logistical infrastructure challenges would have to be addressed. But the Irish Question is a hot topic for R&A championship-committee types. "We are looking at Royal Portrush to see what the possibilities are, and that process is continuing," says a spokesman for the R&A. Is there any truth to the rumor that Portrush has already been penciled in for the 2019 Open? "No decision has been made yet regarding the host venue for 2019."

Lee Westwood

Lee Westwood led after three rounds at Muirfield
before Phil Mickelson rallied.
Photo: Darren Carroll

Hoylake favors favorites. The top-10 betting odds in early May were as follows:

Tiger Woods 10-1
Rory McIlroy 12-1
Adam Scott 15-1
Phil Mickelson 20-1
Henrik Stenson 25-1
Justin Rose 25-1
Lee Westwood 25-1
Sergio Garcia 32-1
Jason Day 35-1
Dustin Johnson 35-1

Tiger remains the betting favorite despite the fact that it's doubtful he'll even be there—he has been out of action since back surgery on March 31 (Editor's Note: Woods returned June 26 at the Quicken Loans National, where he missed the cut). It would be great to mark his return with another Open triumph—his first major title in six years—but, unlikely. When he won at Hoylake in 2006—yesterday—all his troubles seemed so far away; now it looks as though they're here to stay. Defending champ Mickelson, Scott and nowhere-man Garcia all had good showings at that Hoylake Open. But the Cinderella story would be a win for Westwood, the Englishman who grew up just a couple of hours from Hoylake, and who has amassed 17 top 10s in the majors without a victory. He has met that parade of disappointments honorably, with stoicism, as if channeling the spirit of old John Ball. Perhaps it's his time. Let it be.

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