'I've Never Played A Hole Like it' - How a 10-Handicapper Got On At The 151st Open Course

Michael Weston tees it up at historic Hoylake ahead of this year's Open, where a treacherous new hole awaits the pros

(Image credit: Future)

Open fever might not have taken grip just yet, but it won’t be long until we start picturing long sunny afternoons on the links. As a Formby Golf Club member, I’m already doing so, as is much of the golfing community in the north west of England, where the 151st Open gets underway at Royal Liverpool (Hoylake) on 20th July. And my anticipation for golf’s oldest Major Championship has only gone up a notch after playing the famed course this week. It’s going to be special – that’s for sure.

So, how did a 7-handicapper (more like 10, which is how many shots I got) get on around the same layout that the world’s best players will face this summer? More importantly, what can we, as fans, expect from an Open course that will look a little different in places to how it did back in 2014, when Rory McIlroy got his hands on the Claret Jug?

The Open Hoylake

The par-3 13th offers some of the best views on the course

(Image credit: Future)

What follows is not a tiresome blow-by-blow account of the round – no one likes those – but a summary of the highs and lows, a taster of the rollercoaster ride that an Open course can take you on. We are, after all, very fortunate to be able to walk the same fairways as the pros.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to play Hoylake on a few occasions, and the par-4 opener, with out of bounds all the way down the right, always petrifies me. Mercifully, for The Open, that tee shot right in front of the beautiful old clubhouse is being played as the 3rd, which gives everyone on the media day a couple of holes to iron out their slice.

Off we went to the 17th, then, for what will be the 1st hole in The Open. We will be playing The Open route, but not off the Championship tees, which is very important to point out given that many of these are in a different postcode to the yellow tees – pristine green rectangles almost hidden away from the amateurs amongst the long grass for health and safety reasons. 

Rather predictably, I pull my opener onto the fairway that now belongs to the Championship’s 18th hole. Up on the green, however, I manage to two-putt for a bogey, a respectable start.

I’ve played a third of the tracks on Golf Monthly’s Top 100 Golf Courses UK & Ireland 2023/24 Rankings, but I’ll never stop feeling nervous when I tee it up at such venues, like I don’t belong (many will say I don’t). The nerves and adrenaline have a habit of making my already quick swing even faster – and shorter – which is the reason why I connect with the ground a good two inches behind the ball on the 2nd tee (usually Hoylake’s 18th).

However, the swing settles into a decent rhythm after an ugly seven on the par-4 4th. This after I discover that the best way to avoid going out of bounds on the 3rd (usually the 1st), is to thin a 5-iron along the ground quite perfectly to the corner of the dogleg.

To borrow a phrase from the late Peter Alliss, I acquire something on the par-5 5th that are as “rare as hens’ teeth” for a 10-handicapper like myself, certainly on a track like this – a birdie. I then enjoy a five-hole stretch of even par, which includes holing a putt from off the green on 8, and nipping the ball off a tight lie to scramble a par at the long par-3 9th. A proper shot, that one. 

When I tot my score up on the 10th tee, I’m delighted to have 19 points to my name. There’s very little wind and, at this point, I start to wonder how The R&A will react when Jon Rahm shoots 30-under-par. No one likes seeing a great links taken apart in the type of fashion I'm now demonstrating.

Royal Liverpool hole 10

Short right on 10 is not the place to be when the pin is located at the front of the green

(Image credit: Future)

The wheels don’t come off on the back nine – they wobble aggressively but stay attached. As favourite holes go, the 10th is right up there. “Far” is described as a “relatively straightforward” par 5 in the course guide. Tiger Woods, should he be fit enough to tee it up here, won’t enjoy the topography, but it’s a special walk up the fairway as you reach the furthest point away from the clubhouse and climb up to a green that features a deadly bunker short right. 

It's here where I witness my playing partner, Pav, a monster hitter from Sky Sports, putt from the back of the green into this horrendous trap. He's quite bemused by what's happened, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see one or two pros suffer the same fate in July.

Talking of bunkers, they are, of course, of the pot variety here. Beautiful to look at, they can hurt your scorecard, and your wrists for that matter, if you come to rest up against the face of one. On the fairway, you have no option but to take your medicine and chip out sideways – or in some other direction.

If the lengthened 13th at Augusta National was the major talking point on the eve of The Masters, it’ll be the new par-3 17th that dominates the pre tournament course discussions at Royal Liverpool. I see a red flag gently flapping in the breeze a fair distance away as I come off the 16th green (a gritty bogey if you’re still interested), and had I not already known about Martin Ebert’s new creation, I would maybe have been thinking it belonged to another course on England’s Golf Coast. This is “Little Eye”, the penultimate hole for the 2023 Open – and it's going to split opinion.

Little Eye Hoylake

There is no margin for error on "Little Eye"

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Really, you’re only looking at the flick of a wedge. This is what I attempt with my 54-degree Vokey. It lands a few yards right of the pin, I assume no more than 15 feet away. However, the ball hasn’t gripped; instead it has trundled off into the deep bunker on the right. I escape first time with what feels and looks like an all time best bunker shot, only to find out moments later that I have gone long through the other side. 

Back across the green I go, only to revisit the same bunker. One, two (maybe three, I've lost count) more bunker shots are well struck but roll agonisingly back to my feet, failing in their quest to reach the putting surface well above my head. I've never played a hole like it – it's devilish.

For the pros, even from 130-odd yards back, that tight wedge control will see them overcome the danger more often than not. Some, however, will see their Open dreams dashed here in the space of 20 minutes, perhaps even on the 71st hole of the Championship. I can’t help but feel that Ebert’s ears will be burning at approximately 6.30pm on Sunday 23 July – but let’s just wait and see.

Grandstands Open 18th

The par-5 finishing hole at Hoylake promises great drama 

(Image credit: Future)

I will add that the par-5 18th is an absolute cracker. Maybe it's the grandstand that makes it feel extra special on the day. I find another pot bunker with my tee shot, which isn't a bad result given the out of bounds of the practice ground down the right. Once you’ve reached the dogleg, the last obstacles are all laid out perfectly in front of you – just a wonderful finish that is set up beautifully to offer the pros one more shot at glory. 

As for me, the sum of 34 points is about 10 more than I had expected, but we were off forward tees and, for most of the afternoon, the wind, although certainly a factor at times, was by no means unplayable.

Hoylake will be 65 yards longer for this year’s Open than it was in 2014, but length won’t be the issue. The danger will be those pot bunkers and, of course, the 17th, particularly if it’s blowing hard. There are plenty of slopes and run off areas to negotiate around the greens, too, which will test the creative skills of the world's elite to the full.

Claret Jug Hoylake

The Claret Jug on display at Royal Liverpool ahead of the 2023 Open

(Image credit: Future)

I leave Hoylake and head for the Kingsway tunnel with my excitement for the 151st Open most definitely heightened. I also leave with a huge grin, not just because I’d just had the honour of playing such a historic links, but for the the words offered by one of my playing partners, Nick Rodger, who, on exiting the showers, treated the mostly beaten golfers huffing and puffing in the locker rooms to this wonderful line: “There's nothing better than a hot shower for washing away the foul stench of incompetence.” Out of respect, I won’t mention his score.

Michael Weston
Contributing editor

Michael has been with Golf Monthly since 2008. As a multimedia journalist, he has also worked for The Football Association, where he created content to support the men's European Championships, The FA Cup, London 2012, and FA Women's Super League. As content editor at Foremost Golf, Michael worked closely with golf's biggest equipment manufacturers, and has developed an in-depth knowledge of this side of the industry. He's now a regular contributor, covering instruction, equipment and feature content. Michael has interviewed many of the game's biggest stars, including six world number ones, and has attended and reported on many Major Championships and Ryder Cups. He's a member of Formby Golf Club.