In our capacity as the Club’s architectural advisors, we were approached by Royal Liverpool and The R&A to assess a number of proposals for the course overall which included the new par 3, Little Eye, to be played as the 17th in The Open.
The idea to switch the direction of the Club’s 13th hole (Open 15th) (historically called ‘The Rushes’ was not our own proposal but we were asked to comment on the concept and to advise on the detail of the design. Following that, we produced visualisations, the detailed plans and coordinate and controlled the implementation phase.
The concept discussed with the Club and The R&A was to have a horizon line green played from a relatively low tee and to make the hole a short par 3. The Dee Estuary being in be background was regarded as a real plus point to the setting of the hole. The move of this hole from the 15th to the 17th would see it come into play on the penultimate hole of The Open and another major benefit of the scheme was the opportunity it delivered to allow the par 5 Open 18th to be lengthened to make the closing hole even more of a challenge. It has also been possible to lengthen the par 5 15th as well as a result of the change of layout.
With such a short par 3 to design, clearly the brief demanded a hole where significant danger would result if the green is missed. Our advice was to produce a small, narrow green, set at a very slight angle to the line of play. A minor glimpse of the front of the green surface would be all that would be in view from the tee, adding to the uncertainty on such a short hole.
In terms of the landscape between tee and green, and also behind the green, these areas already had great character with natural craters in the carry and a steep fall away to the green’s rear. The photographs of the course when it was first played showed a significantly sandier landscape so the recommendation was to restore this sand character to these areas. That was in line with ecological advice which the Club had received to open up sandy areas throughout the coastal dune ridges and that is what has been carried out since the 17th hole was built. That has ensured that the landscape of the 17th does not appear to be different to the rest of the course.
The sand areas in the carry end up becoming a very deep bunker with a steep revetted face in front of the green: Any shot landing even marginally short of the green surface or even with some spin on the green surface will roll back into this very deep hazard.
An equally challenging bunker lies to the right of the green. This sits well below the level of the green. Initially, this area was going to be maintained as a tightly mown area but the expectation that it would suffer from a lot of divots led to a bunker being preferred.
There is a also a bunker to the left of the green which, if the green is missed, is probably the best place to end up as even the best players will not be confident in ending up on the green from the front and right hand bunkers and going long into the sandy wastes would possibly lead to the worst of all fate! The left hand bunker is far less penal given a good lie.
Of course, landing safely on the small green is everyone’s objective and the surface, although small, does slope towards the player on the tee.
Comparisons will almost certainly be drawn with The Postage Stamp as a result of the hole’s length of 136 yards compared with the 128 yards at Troon and the danger which surrounds that tiny green. However, the nature of Royal Liverpool’s hole is quite different, with the tee well above the green compared with the horizon green leading to its flag being silhouetted against the sky at Hoylake.
There will be numerous 2s recorded on the hole but it is very likely that some far higher scores will also befall some of the Open competitors. The question will be whether a 2 or one of those higher scores at the penultimate hole will play a pivotal part in deciding who will lift the Claret Jug. What is certain is that, unless someone has a huge lead with two holes to go, there will be huge interest in what happens at this new hole on the Open rota.
Other changes carried out in preparation for the 151st Open have been (using Open numbering):-
Short game area redesign.
1st hole - New bunker to the left of the fairway.
4th hole - Green made smaller and raised.
5th hole - New bunker to the right of the fairway.
7th hole - Green moved to the left but retaining the same shapes.
8th hole - Tees reconfigured and cop cleared of trees.
10th hole - No change but hole shortened to a par 4 for The Open.
12th hole - Bunker right of fairway reinstated.
13th hole - Run off areas adjusted left and right of green.
15th hole - New back tee and landing area rebunkered.
16th hole - New bunker to right of fairway and dunes formed behind the green.
17th hole - New hole.
18th hole - New back tee and fairway tightened with cop to the right.