Royal Liverpool will once again host The Open in 2023, and present players with new challenges since it last staged the Championship in 2014, including a brand new par 3.
Hoylake has had a rich history of winners, none more so than Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in the previous two Championships held at Royal Liverpool this millennium.
This year, however, tweaks throughout the course, with additional bunkering, harsher run-off areas in places, new tees and an eye-catching new hole, will present the players with fresh challenges on an exceptional course.
Read our full guide to the Hoylake layout here below, with help from Royal Liverpool's head professional of over 40 years, John Heggarty.
“Just under 460 yards long, clearly the fact that it is the opening tee shot in The Open Championship presents its own challenges. In 2014 a lot of the players took an iron from the tee short of the left-hand bunker. It’s a very long narrow green, so it is quite a challenge to find the right location on the green and it falls off on both sides. You could argue that the further you are down the fairway from the tee, the easier that second shot becomes, but if you go over to the right-hand side like a lot of holes at Hoylake, you’re coming across a bunker onto a green where stopping the ball on firm surfaces becomes a challenge. Strategic positioning from the tee, as is so often the case at Hoylake, will make the hole a lot harder, or a lot easier. You can be on the fairway but still be faced with a difficult shot.” John Heggarty, Head Pro at Hoylake
'Stand' is the traditional 18th hole for members, and has been the backdrop for many iconic moments in past Opens prior to the Championship routing change in 2006, including the triumphs of Roberto De Vicenzo, Peter Thomson and the great Bobby Jones. In 2023, like in 2006 and 2014, 'Stand' will play as the 2nd hole for The Open, and it is no easy feat, particularly into the possible easterly wind of the summer months, with a tight drive on a hole measuring nearly 460 yards. Like the 1st hole, the bunkers are well placed at the driving area, so players will likely lay back short of these traps from the tee leaving a medium-to-long approach to a well guarded green. Front pins on this hole may well be tough to access, with three bunkers protecting the narrow entrance, so players will likely favour the back portion of the green on most days, regardless of the pin.
“In previous Opens, players didn’t try and take on the corner from the tee, laying back and giving themselves a better angle to the green. The challenge with taking the driver is not so much clearing the out of bounds, because they all have the length to do that. It’s stopping the ball in the fairway before it goes into the semi rough. We don’t have the rough there very long, but the moment you go into that rough, controlling your second shot becomes a challenge. And if the pin is on the left-hand side of the green, and you’re on the left-hand side of the fairway, you just can’t play at the pin.” John Heggarty, head pro at Hoylake
“The 4th is the shortest par-4 on the course, and there was talk about people having a go at that green, but if you are coming in from the right-hand side you're coming over bunkers while the green falls away, so stopping the ball on the green, no matter who you are, is a big challenge. I think most people will lay up short and to the left, and that just leaves a wedge into the green. If you miss right you’re going to struggle to hold the green, even if you’re just 60 yards away from the flag.” John Heggarty, Head pro at Hoylake
“A lot will depend where the pin is, whether or not people will go at it. If the pin is on the top tier, the top plateau, then that becomes quite a difficult pin placement. If it’s on the front part of the green, there is quite a lot of opportunity for the ball to move in off the right-hand side, and I do think that will be an opportunity for birdie.” John Heggarty, Head pro at Hoylake
After a relatively calm three-hole stretch, the 7th at Hoylake reminds players how tough the course can be. An intimidating tee shot offers up significant challenges regardless of wind. Into a strong wind, the hole becomes brutally long, with a 250-yard drive required to even reach the fairway, whereas if the wind switches to an easterly and conditions are firm, carrying the ball onto the fairway and then stopping it short of the nasty bunkers on both sides of the driving area will be tricky. Gorse awaits very loose shots to the left and right from the tee. If the fairway is found, the approach is a bit more straightforward, with lots of room to the right to work a ball towards the surface, although shots taking on the left-hand side of the green risk bringing two gaping bunkers into play. The surface itself is at the same height as most of the surrounding area, however it moves a lot and reading it correctly is not easy. Par on this hole will undoubtedly gain on the field come July.
“That championship tee is scary. It's over 250 yards just to get it on the fairway. The green has been changed since 2014, and there is more subtle movement than there was on the old green. If you’re down the left-hand side (of the fairway) and the pin is on the left you’re coming in over two bunkers. There’s quite a lot of room to the right side of that green, which leaves a pretty straightforward chip, but the tee shot is a real challenge, you’re really going to have to have your A game to find the fairway. It’s a real challenge and one to be taken very seriously.” John Heggarty, Head pro at Hoylake
On the 8th at Hoylake, players will need to hit over out of bounds, which although not really in play for the world's best offers issues in terms of visibility and picking the right line. The question then becomes how aggressive players want to be, with bunkers guarding the right side of the fairway and gorse creeping in on the left hand side. The further down players go, the tighter the fairway becomes, creating a greater risk of finding the gorse. A good play is to hit level or just before the bunkering to the right of the fairway, leaving a medium-to-short approach and giving a great birdie chance. However if players get too cute to a right pin, a tiny run-off area and two front bunkers await to gobble up golf balls and potentially turn a birdie into a bogey. Caution should therefore be exercised in tricky conditions, particularly when missing the fairway from the tee.
A fun par-3 as players reach the end of the front nine. The prevailing wind on 'Dowie' is usually right to left and slightly down, which presents problems. At 200 yards with a long green that runs diagonally from left to right at an angle, holding the ball up against the wind and landing it short is somewhat of a challenge. If the ground is firm, players will need to land the ball considerably short of the green to attack any sort of front pins, with two front bunkers making the entrance narrow. Run-off areas back left and a bunker to the left also can cause issues with back pin locations, particularly as the green sits at a slight left to right angle from the tee. The green also has a large amount of movement and holing short putts for birdie, or more likely par, will be difficult.
Traditionally a par-5 at Hoylake and at The Open, the 10th will play as a par-4 in 2023, and suddenly becomes one of the most difficult holes on the course as players begin their back nine. The drive is fairly innocuous, however placement in the wrong position can leave difficult lies for the second shot, which will probably be with a mid-to-long iron at best. A large mound in the middle of the fairway can also obstruct views to the green, which is slightly raised to the fairway. The green has a very steep run-off area to the left, and an even deeper bunker to the right, with the approach now more mentally trying with the hole playing as a par-4. Taking four at 'Far' will always be a good score, particularly under Open Championship conditions in 2023.
“The 10th is going to be a par-4 and I think that's a great decision. There are mounds that cross the middle of the fairway at 350 yards, approximately. So players will have to lay back from that. It’s quite an undulating fairway, so you can get a few downhill, sidehill, uphill lies, which again is going to be a challenge to these players. And the second shot obviously has the great big bunker on the front right-hand corner of the green where any ball landing short will fall into that or fall all the way down a slope leaving a tricky chip. I think it will be a tough hole. Before (the change) you went on the tee and you can relax, thinking about a birdie, but now it's one of the toughest par-4s on the course. You’re going to have to take that hole very seriously.” John Heggarty, Head pro at Hoylake
Although not the start of the back nine, the 11th marks the point where the player heads for home, as the 10th green and 11th tee mark the far point of the course from the clubhouse. The 11th runs back parallel to the 10th hole, and offers a beautiful view from the tee of the ocean to the left. The tee shot itself plays up to the top of a hill, and players will hope to get over that brow if conditions are favourable, leaving them with a short approach to a green that sits just below them. The approach is fairly narrow and tight, so the shorter the club in the players' hands the better. Depending on pin placement, players can be aggressive in trying to make a birdie, but trouble awaits on both sides, with bunkers flanking the entrance to the green and difficult and steep swales to the left making for a tough up and down.
The 12th continues round to the left, running along the shoreline, doglegging that way with the fairway cambering slightly left to right. Three bunkers lie in wait to the right-hand side for aggressive tee shots that are leaked out that way. Depending on the wind, longer hitters could be able to take the bunkers out of play with a right to left shape up the hole, but a sea of rough all down the left-hand side makes that option risky. Once the fairway is found, a tough approach can also await depending on the pin. The green is raised significantly from the fairway, and is very long in length. Pins at the front are very accessible where the green is at its widest, but the further back the flag, the tougher the shot, as a huge run-off area to the left creeps in to the back of the green which can become quite tight, with misses to the right and long also leaving very difficult up and downs.
“The cut area to the left has been expanded. It used to go down into rough, but now that area has been tightly mown, so if you miss left the ball doesn’t finish 10 feet from the edge of the green, it will run all the way down leaving you a 20-yard shot to a green that’s sitting above you. If the pin is on the left-hand side, and you miss it left, it’s a bit of a no-no and you can expect to have a very difficult shot. Then if you get too cute in The Open, anything not getting quite to the apex of that hill will come back to your feet. So if any players do short side themselves, I’m sure they will treat that shot with respect and not turn a potential bogey into a double bogey.” John Heggarty, Head pro at Hoylake
The favourite hole of many members at Royal Liverpool, the par-3 13th is a stunning hole that employs optical illusions to only add to the difficulty. From the tee it appears as if there is no room to the left, with only far-right pins fully visible, and the undulation of mounds 100 yards away blocking the view, leaving the impression that left is a no-go zone. In some ways that is true, with rough hillocks and difficult lies awaiting down that side, but there is considerably more room than first appears. The green runs diagonally from right to left, with a bail-out zone short and right. Anything pin-high right, however, can find significant trouble with a bunker to the right and a gnarly hill, from where an up and down is extremely difficult, that comes into play more than would be expected.
“The vista from that tee is fantastic, again I would imagine there will be a lot of pins that are towards the left-hand back side of the green. Because then you have to come across some mounds to get onto the green. When you’re standing on the tee, it almost looks as if the pin isn’t on the green, because it’s hidden by the mounds, but there’s a lot more green to the left-hand side and the back part of the green than perhaps first appears on the tee. So yes, if you can get a ball moving right to left in the air, landing in the front part of the green, it will feed back round towards the pin if it's at the back. If there’s a front-right pin, anything landing short will be gathered by a front bunker leaving a very tricky bunker shot, where you would do well to finish it 12-15 feet from the flag.” JOHN HEGGARTY, HEAD PRO AT HOYLAKE
The 14th is a brilliant hole and another very difficult par-4, with yet another intimidating Championship tee. The hole appears to be just a slight dogleg, but in fact curves quite significantly from right to left. With the tee elevated from the fairway, bunkers line the right and left of the hole, with the traps on the left signalling the start of the hole turning hard to the left. In the right conditions, the very longest players may be tempted to try and carry the traps to the left, however this brings in significant risk with gorse to the left too, and the bunkers representing a one-and-a-half-shot penalty. A brilliant design again, it is almost necessary for players to be level with the bunkers or just short to see the green and have a reasonable angle to the hole. Like the 13th, the 14th green has a mound short that impairs vision and makes it appear as if there is no room left, when once more there is. From the fairway, right appears the safe miss, however there is a steep run-off area on that side, making a play to the back left of the green the percentage play. The green slopes lightly and again is tricky to read. A superb Championship hole.
The 15th hole, previously the 16th hole in past Opens, has been significantly lengthened since Rory McIlroy's triumph in 2014, which included an iconic eagle on day three. In 2023 the hole will play over 600 yards, and if the wind is into the players' faces, the hole can become quite intimidating in its length, particularly from the tee. With the prevailing wind, however, players can take a significant portion of length away from the hole by attempting to carry over a portion of bunkers to the right. Finding a bunker makes par a tough ask, but hitting the fairway certainly brings birdie into the equation. A lay-up is almost more difficult in some instances than going for the green, with a tight portion of fairway in the ideal wedge spot and a bunker lying in wait to the left. If they can reach, most players will have a go at the green, or play an aggressive lay-up to the right 60 yards short of the green. A number of bunkers line the left of the green and entry from right is the ideal angle, again suiting a player who can shape the ball right to left if having a crack from the fairway. The green is fairly difficult to putt on, with subtle slopes proving difficult at times. Nevertheless, this still provides a good birdie chance, barring a stiff headwind, as the players prepare to play the last three holes.
“It’s over 600 yards now, and that’s a great addition, because it brings the bunkers into play that the pros bombed it over in 2014, and now we’ve got two new bunkers that are in position there on the right-hand side as well. So that’s going to be much more of a real par-5 than perhaps it was in 2014 and 2006. Everybody loves playing downhill from a tee shot and this tee is set back in the dunes, but above the fairway, giving you a very beautiful vista. If we get one of the summer easterly winds, that will be a very long hole.” JOHN HEGGARTY, HEAD PRO AT HOYLAKE
A long hole that can play even longer than its usual yardage, many players will lay back short of fairway bunkers on both sides and leave themselves well over 200 yards into the green. The green suits a running shot and welcomes low ball flights that enter through the mouth of the green, with bunkers left and right. However, a cross bunker 50 yards short can come into play if entering the green from the wrong angle. The surface itself is very big, and requires deft touch to navigate successfully. Into a stiff breeze, this is a very strong par-4 and requires the utmost of respect from the players.
The new hole on the course is one everybody will be talking about come July. At just 140 or so yards, 'Little Eye', Hoylake's newest hole, is a simply stunning creation, with an infinity green on a par-3 that plays directly out towards the ocean and Wales, which is just a few miles away. The green is raised above the player significantly. The sea of bunkers and huge fall-off areas to all sides, including all the way to the green, provide a striking scene and mean it is absolutely essential to hit the green, as any miss will leave a devilishly difficult up and down. Once on the green, the undulations are considerable and making putts is not easy, nor is finding the right location with the tee shot. The views are stunning and the setting is dramatic. The leader of The Open in July will be very happy to walk off the 17th with a three, particularly if the wind is blowing.
“The new par-3, it could play anything. I’ve hit a 5-iron on that hole, I've hit a gap wedge on that hole, it could be anything. It's fair to say that you need to hit the green. If you don’t hit a good shot on that hole onto the green, then you are going struggle to make par. (There's the) big deep bunker on the right-hand side, a sneaky little bunker front left, and of course if you land it on the front of the green with any sort of decent strike, the spin that you’re going to create on that ball will probably bring you back down into the waste area, leaving you a 40-yard bunker shot from the wasteland. You need to have your A game on that tee, whether you’re hitting a gap wedge or you’re hitting an 8-iron. We’d love to see it with a little bit of wind, either into or a crosswind, it doesn’t matter. If there’s no wind, and you have a front pin, it will appear to be a very simple shot and it is a very simple shot for these guys. But sometimes simple shots come back and bite you.” JOHN HEGGARTY, HEAD PRO AT HOYLAKE
After navigating the 17th hole, the leader of The Open come Sunday 23 July will face a long walk toward the 18th tee, pondering the shot coming up the whole time, and it is no easy one. The 18th hole at Royal Liverpool, the members' 16th, has seen two incredible Champions since its introduction as the closing hole in The Open's routing. Tiger Woods claimed an emotional victory on the final green in 2006, while McIlroy secured his first and only Open to date in 2014 to a huge ovation around the surface. With significant changes in 2023, the hole will almost certainly produce even more drama this time round, and the potential Champion will have to produce a nerveless tee shot to help them on the way to victory. A remarkably intimidating opening stroke now awaits, as the Championship tee has been moved back around 50 yards and significantly further right, while the out of bounds down the right-hand side has ominously been moved 20 yards further left. The fairway now appears just a handful of yards wide from the tee, particularly with a necessary carry of 240 yards to reach the fairway and dangerous bunkers down the left. A brave tee shot is required, however, if players have any ambitions of a closing eagle, as with the additional length, the out of bounds is more in play for the second shot too as the hole curves to the right. On the approach, numerous bunkers surround the green, with the three on the left particularly likely to come into play for those bailing out to the left. This is a simply fantastic finishing hole that could produce double bogeys as easily as eagles.
“Eighteen has a brand new tee, we’ve changed the orientation of the out of bounds, so it has come in 20 yards from the right-hand side, which actually sets up better I think from the tee shot, as the tee shot is now parallel to the out of bounds so that gives you a better perspective, but the fact it has come in 20 yards does mean that the fairway’s narrower. Bunkers off the tee are a no-no on the that hole, because you literally just have to get it out and then you’re left with a very long third shot. Players again in previous Opens have been able to hit long irons down there and just chase the ball. If we get fast running fairways they’ll do the same, but the reality is they’ll probably be a little further back than they were in 2014, which then brings more of the out of bounds in for the second shot. So it would favour an aggressive play from the tee, which will again leave just a 4-iron or 5-iron onto the green. But circumstances, an 18th hole, 72nd hole, an aggressive play doesn’t always work hand in glove. So it will be a case of this is what we must do, and perhaps this is what we mustn’t do.” JOHN HEGGARTY, HEAD PRO AT HOYLAKE