Royal Liverpool (often known as Hoylake) is the second oldest seaside links course in England, having been laid out in 1869. It has hosted the Open Championship eleven times since first appearing on the rota in 1897, the most recent time being in 2006. It has a long and illustrious history in the game of golf, as it was here that the Rules of Amateur Status were laid down after the course hosted the very first Amateur Championship in 1885. The course lies on the Wirral peninsula west of Liverpool, where it is exposed to the strong winds which led the famous golf writer Bernard Darwin to comment, “Hoylake, blown upon by mighty winds, breeder of mighty champions.”
The course at Royal Liverpool drains exceptionally well and with an annual average of only about 850 mm of rainfall, the fine leaved fescues and bents dominate the course. The greens are predominantly browntop bent with small amounts of fescue, and about 25% of annual meadow grass, Yorkshire fog and ryegrass. The club has been very successful with fairway improvement over the past 10 years to produce surfaces composed almost entirely of bent and fescue. Inputs of nitrogen across the course are low (an average of 25 kg/ha per year on fairways and 60 kg/ha on greens). Some 30,000 rounds are played annually and the course provides good playing surfaces throughout the year. Winter greens are used only when the greens are frosted.
The club is conscious of water costs, and have a deliberate policy of using water only as necessary to keep the grass alive. Water use is limited to an annual average of 10,000 m3 across the course. The golden colour achieved during the 2006 Open proved that grass does not need to be bright green in order to produce excellent playing surfaces which present a stiff test to the elite golfer.
A particular problem with fairy rings in 2010, which was resolved through use of a wetting agent applied through the irrigation system across the whole course. The club now sprays fungicide preventatively to protect greens against fusarium and fairy rings every autumn.
Royal Liverpool keeps good records of expenditure on golf course management, being able to separate out the figures for water, chemicals, fertiliser, soils, top dressings and sand.
The club is also looking to cut its energy bills and is actively exploring the possible use of solar panels and wind generators to provide green energy sources for the greenkeeping compound.
Royal Liverpool lies within a series of fixed dune grasslands. The western section has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (known as Red Rocks SSSI), and the majority of the golf course is a Site of Biological Importance. The golf course provides one of the best examples of sand dune habitat in the region, along with wet areas (known as dune slacks) and some areas of reed bed. The club has incorporated the need to safeguard these important features within its Links Management Policy and it has a good relationship with Natural England, the official body responsible for wildlife protection in England.
A combination of trampling and periodic cutting of the routinely managed dune grassland roughs at Hoylake provides for a mix of wispy grasses and colourful herbs. Scrub invasion is controlled through cutting. Blackthorn borders some of the fairways in places and extensive planting of hawthorn hedges took place during the winter of 2010. Both provide habitat for breeding birds.
The most important species found on the golf course is the rare and vulnerable amphibian the natterjack toad; one of the rarest species in Britain.
The club operates a comprehensive composting system for treating mower clippings, old soil and bunker sand, and wood chippings, producing good quality compost which is used for rootzone material across the golf course.
Royal Liverpool has a comprehensive waste management plan, whereby all waste is removed from site by a specialist contractor who separates the various waste streams, recycles as much as possible and secures safe disposal. Glass, paper and cardboard are separately taken to local recyclers.
There is an artisans club associated with Royal Liverpool – The Royal Liverpool Village Play Artisans Club – whose members contribute many hours of work on the course, receiving specific playing rights in return. These historic ways by which golf clubs engaged with their local community are now sadly few and far between and it is good to see that a club as historic as Hoylake still upholds these traditions.
Royal Liverpool makes a substantial contribution to the economic wellbeing of the area, through hosting major events such as The Open and attracting numerous visitors, societies and corporate events.
Royal Liverpool has a long and important history in the development of the game. It is fitting that it retains a strong commitment to sustainable golf course management on this classic links.
The 11th green, in amongst the dune system that fringes the coastline at Royal Liverpool.
Fairway bunkers to the par 4, 12th hole.
The natterjack toad, a very rare amphibian, which enjoys European protection.
Rough grassland dominated by indigenous links grass such as marram and sea lyme.
Tiger Woods on the tee during The Open Championship 2006; an Open as famous for its dry looking course as for its illustrious champion.