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An Emmy Award-winning journalist, Jim Huber will serve as reporter/essayist for TNT's coverage of the 135th Open Championship from Royal Liverpool. (Photo: PGA.com)
An Emmy Award-winning journalist, Jim Huber will serve as reporter/essayist for TNT's coverage of the 135th Open Championship from Royal Liverpool. (Photo: PGA.com)

TNT's Huber: Hoylake should well be worth the wait

It's been 39 years since the Open Championship was contested at Royal Liverpool Golf Club. And TNT's Emmy Award-winning journalist Jim Huber hopes it won't be that long before it returns to the largest venue on the short Open rotation.

By Jim Huber, Special to PGA.com

"When are you headed to the Open?"

"Wednesday."

"Make sure you look up Sir Reginald and Lady Douglas. And there's a great little pub just around the corner from Hoylake I want you to try. And?"

A thousand such conversations take place in the weeks leading up to every Open Championship, it seems. The royal names of both the people and the pubs change with the venue but the feel we have for that land remains as heartfelt.

It is the site of our pilgrimage, where we go to worship the game we love so dearly.

It's not only rare but nigh impossible that eight or ten of us can collect our clubs and travel to, say, Winged Foot or Baltusrol or Medinah. We would, in most cases, be met at the front gate and disdainfully directed elsewhere.

But at the great golf courses of the British Isles, almost all of them private, from the northernmost regions of Scotland to the very tiptoe of England, from Shannon to Dublin and Belfast, our presence (and of course our money) is magnificently welcome.

We go, then, pay our pounds, endure the wind and the sideways rain and return home to tell great tales of our heroism. There are few golfers who don't have a story about Ballybunion in a blizzard or Carnoustie in a hailstorm. They are our stripes, earned with an enormous smile and a glad heart.

And so when the Open Championship moves finally back to a place like Hoylake, after all these years, we rejoice in the memories it evokes. Why, we haven't recommended Dunladdie's Pub to anyone for years, have we?

It has been, in fact, 39 years since the Open Championship last settled into these historic gates just down Birkenhead Road from Liverpool. And that it has been that long nags at our insides because there is a sad irony to this story.

As the river of history nips at its banks, one wonders what and who will be caught eventually in the flood.

For if Liverpool, the largest venue on the short Open Championship rotation, has trouble now handling this enormous event, what will happen to the others?

Royal Liverpool -- or Hoylake, as its been known since Bobby Jones made it the second leg of his Grand Slam in 1930 -- has had to fidget and fuss and finagle to make this work. It has borrowed land from a neighboring club for parking and practice ranges. It has rerouted several holes to make it more of a challenge to today's crowd. It will, most likely, come under more scrutiny during Championship week than any site in recent memory.

As that happens, and as the Open grows in such runaway fashion, will the quaintness and humble grandeur be lost forever no matter where it goes? This is a small island, remember, with fairly strict boundaries.

Those with long memories will understand the seeming silliness of such a problem. It wasn't that long ago that the Open Championship was falling off the face of the golf map. Its purses were too small to make the expense of the journey worthwhile. Young professionals, having only heard stories and seen photographs, took great umbrage at having to travel that far to endure the erratic layouts. Imagine the reluctance in Jones' era. The very idea of playing the Open in those days was a monumental task of expense and planning, involving weeks' worth of ocean crossing and rail travel.

But Arnold Palmer, to his great credit, gathered some compatriots in the early sixties and decided to rescue the old Open. If it was good enough for Bobby Jones, damn sure be good enough for you and me. It helped that Palmer was the first major golfer to pilot his own plane and thus became a sort of flying pied piper.

And in the years since, the Open's glow has not only returned but the brilliance has become blinding at times. It is an enormous business today, surrounded by merchandise and hospitality tents for as far as the eye can see. Another reason why the smaller venues have tremendous problems hosting such an event.

We shall see what transpires in the weeks and months ahead.

The Open Championship returns to Carnoustie, hard on the railroad tracks north to Scotland, next summer. There is one large hotel, built only a few years ago to allow the Open to return.

Oh, and a pub called the Stag's Head Inn where they have the best street brawls every Friday night.

You see?

Jim Huber will serve as reporter/essayist for TNT's coverage of the 135th Open Championship from Hoylake, England July 20-23, 2006. An Emmy Award-winning journalist, Huber is also the author of two books, The Babes of Winter and A Thousand Goodbyes.

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