WHEN the world’s best women golfers gather along the edge of the River Dee to pit their wits against one of golf’s oldest challenges, it will be with one eye on the weather.
For Hoylake – which is playing host to the Ricoh Women’s British Open for the first time in its long and distinguished history – offers up a classic links test.
Only a few of the holes actually duck and dive through the dunes – the majority of the course is wide open to the ravages of any winds that whip across the Wirral peninsula.
The combination of a beguiling series of holes which can alter character in Jekyll and Hyde mould prompted legendary golf writer Bernard Darwin's to declare: "Hoylake, blown upon by mighty winds, breeder of mighty champions."
Wind is Hoylake’s greatest natural defence – although the players will find plenty of bunkers that can wreck a round and a putting challenge that will require a keen eye and a sure touch.
There are plenty of white posts indicating ‘Out of Bounds’, too, with ten holes posing a threat to the wayward.
The wind went missing in the summer of 2006 when the course returned to the Open roster for the first time in 40 years, but a Tiger Woods at the height of his playing powers offered the utmost respect by keeping his driver under wraps for the Championship and plotting his way to a memorable victory.
This summer’s rain-drenched summer is unlikely to produce a repeat of six years ago when the ground was baked dry and the rough struggled to survive.
Hoylake’s roots go back to 1869 when it was established on the site of the racecourse of the Liverpool Hunt Club and is the second oldest of all the English seaside courses, pipped by a few years by Royal North Devon.
Robert Chambers and George Morris laid out the original course, which was extended to 18 holes in 1871, the year it received its Royal title due to the patronage of HRH The Duke of Connaught.
For the Open – as when the men visited – the order the holes are played in will be shuffled from the usual daily routine to offer up the potential for a dramatic finish.
The existing first hole plays as the third, with competitors starting out at what is today the 17th and the 18th. It means the championship will come to a crescendo on what is now the 16th – a par five which offers up the chance to a big swing in fortunes.
Club secretary David Cromie has no doubts about what will be the biggest challenge for the players.
“The wind, if it blows,” he says, “but the rough is also quite penal.”
There will be an adjustment to the yardage of the course – with the ladies taking on 6,600 yards, rather than the usual 6,000 a visiting female player would be asked to navigate. The men’s championship course reached 7,350 yards.
One of the features of the course is the collection of par 3s, with David Cromie explaining: “The par 3s are strong and unique as they all point in different directions of the compass, which means they all offer different challenges particularly in the wind!
“The players will also find 83 bunkers and all can only be escaped with a sand iron – the fairway bunkers are likely to result in the loss of a shot!
“As a links, it never plays the same two days in row.
“But Royal Liverpool is a course that rewards accurate golf – and severely punishes the wayward.”
So where will the championship crown be won and lost. David Cromie offers up the following key holes which any player with title aspirations must negotiate safely to keep their dream intact.
1st: 392 yards, par 4
Difficult Par 4 hole that has been considerably lengthened and reshaped.
A very difficult opening tee shot with tight bunkering, you can lay back to leave a longer second into a funky green that is unusually undulating at the front. Into the prevailing wind the second can play as long as a 3 Wood. Happy to walk off with a par.
6th: 157 yards, par 3
A stunning golf hole. A small green runs across you from the tee and the wind tends to be into and off the right.
The left traps are very deep, making a left pin position very difficult. Think four-iron into the middle of the green and four easy two-putt pars.
8th: 382 yards, par 4
Not everyone’s favourite hole because of the blind tee shot over the orchard.
A driver brings the gorse into play, so it's probably a three-wood with an five-iron in. You can take a lot if you're not smart, but otherwise a birdie opportunity.
12th: 397 yards, par 4
It's a long way back to the new tee box and is a very tough drive.
It's a six or five-iron in and if the wind is off the left you are fighting it all the way. Possibly the toughest hole on the course.
You ought to get a gold medal for par on all four days and would be well on the way to the Championship.
14th: 400 yards, par 4
The fairway cambers in from the left and is typical of a very tough driving course. Hit it down the right side short of the traps with a driver or three-wood depending on the wind.
Favour a miss short right with the second shot, because anything left is just hassle. Play the run from 11 through 14 in level par and you could win.
17th: 457 yards, par 4
Did I say the 12th? Now the 17th looks like the most difficult hole on the course. It's very narrow, usually into the wind, you must hit the fairway and even then only half the job is done. It's still anything from a four-iron to a three wood into a narrow, slopey green. If you make par on all four days you will make up two shots or more on the field.
18th: 540 yards, par 5
A great finishing hole.
The Out of Bounds on the right is in play and it is such a fiery fairway that the ball can take one hop and be gone.
It's narrower than it feels from the tee and if a player decides to play safe to the left it leaves too long a shot into the green.
But hit the fairway and it's an eagle chance with a four or five-iron.
Down wind for the longer hitters, it offers a great climax in front of the clubhouse.
Three strokes could change hands here and there is every chance of high drama.