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Links to the past

July 17, 2006|Daniel Wexler | Special to The Times

It has been out of the British Open rotation since 1967, but Royal Liverpool Golf Club has been one of the game's most celebrated proving grounds. Here are a few of the elements that make Hoylake, as the links are known, stand out.

Old-school charm

* Golf has been played at Hoylake since 1869, the game's second-longest tenure -- behind only Royal North Devon -- among English seaside courses. Situated on a large, triangular expanse jutting westward into the Irish Sea, Hoylake has been the site of 18 British Amateurs, including the inaugural event in 1885.

All about the ball

* The British Open has been played at Hoylake 10 times, first in 1897. At the course's second Open Championship, in 1902, Scottish star Sandy Herd was the only serious contender to use the new rubber ball developed by American Coburn Haskell. When Herd broke through for his only Open victory, the game's first great equipment debate was effectively settled, with the time-honored gutta percha ball quickly disappearing from the landscape.

Short memory

* In 1924, Walter Hagen became the first American golfer to win the Open Championship at Hoylake. Hagen, facing a tricky, downhill six-foot putt at the 72nd hole to claim his second Open title, appeared stunningly nonchalant in simply stepping up and knocking the ball into the cup. Asked afterward if he had, in fact, been aware that the putt was to win, Hagen famously replied, "Sure I knew, but no man ever beat me in a playoff." That was a splendid bit of bravado, considering that only nine months earlier, Gene Sarazen had turned out his lights on the 38th hole of the 1923 PGA Championship finale.

Two legs up

* A different kind of history was made six years later when Bobby Jones won his third Open Championship, firing a three-over-par 291 to defeat fellow American Leo Diegel and Macdonald Smith by two. The full significance of his title was not immediately apparent, for although the victory made Jones only the second man to win the British Open and British Amateur in the same season, it would be three months -- until the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur were added to Jones' ledger -- before it would be recognized as the second leg of the legendary Grand Slam.

The third man

* The last Open Championship at Hoylake, in 1967, was won by popular Argentine Roberto De Vicenzo, whose 10-under-par 278 beat runner-up Jack Nicklaus by two. His victory was keyed by a record-tying 67 during the third round, a superb effort recorded over a course that played more than 200 yards shorter than this year's Open layout.

Berm factor

* Hoylake has long been known for a series of low, berm-like ridges called "cops" that demarcate internal out of bounds -- an ancient and unusual hazard left over from the game's early days. Though minimized in recent years, the cops remain in evidence on several holes, especially along the right side of this week's 558-yard, par-five finisher.

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