17 July 2014 by Dickie
Less than a week since America’s Mo Martin stormed through the field to win the Women’s British Open at Royal Birkdale, the world’s oldest golf tournament, The Open Championship, tees off at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake.
Paul Gallagher, Acting Senior Curator of Urban History at the Museum of Liverpool, explores our rich links with this major tournament.
Golf is woven in to the sporting heritage of the Merseyside region; it is home to some of the finest courses in the world, has witnessed the greatest names battle it out for major honours and has also helped shape some of the rules of the game.
The Open is played on a ‘links’ course – the link between the arable land and the sea – and the natural topography of the region’s coast makes it perfect for golf. Merseyside has the greatest concentration of courses in Britain and if you take the train from Crosby to Southport and you will pass alongside four championship courses, with another six in close proximity.
If you have you ever hacked your way around your local course you’ll know that your best friend is the handicap system that allows you to compete on an equal footing. In 1898, Wallasey’s Frank Stableford invented a system to deter golfers from giving up on their round after just one or two bad holes and the Stableford system is still used today. The other blight to a great round is the dreaded ‘yips’ – an inability to control putts – is an affliction that affects between a quarter and half of middle aged golfers.
Half Man Half Biscuit, four lads who shook the Wirral, are no strangers to the absurdities of life and felt inspired enough to pen the song, ‘My Baby Got The Yips’! Arnold Palmer and Peter Thompson are just two golfing giants to lift the Open’s claret trophy at Royal Birkdale, and it was here in 1976 that a young Spaniard called Severiano Ballesteros burst onto the scene, finishing second.
But did you know that Birkdale hosted the Ryder Cup in 1969 when the USA played Great Britain and Ireland? The competition ended in a draw after America’s Jack Nicklaus conceded a missable putt to Britain’s Tony Jacklin at the 18th hole in one of the most famous gestures of sportsmanship in all of sport.
We displayed that very ball in the Wondrous Place gallery of the Museum of Liverpool until recently and thank Mike Gilyeat at Birkdale for his wonderful support. We are also working with the Heritage Committee at Royal Liverpool and hope to display some more golfing gems from their collection very soon.
Established in 1869, Royal Liverpool is steeped in history. It has hosted the Open eleven times and in Harold Hilton is the only host club to have a member win the competition. Tiger Woods won his last Open there in 2006 and is back to try again. Whoever wins won’t be able to enjoy the benefit of the Stableford system and will need to hope the dreaded ‘yips’ don’t strike.
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