Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Mersey Paradise: Why this is 'The People's Open'

By Chris Murphy, CNN
updated 10:52 AM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
The British Open at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake in north west England is no ordinary golf event... The British Open at Royal Liverpool in Hoylake in north west England is no ordinary golf event...
British Open - Liverpool puts on a show
British Open - Liverpool puts on a show
British Open - Liverpool puts on a show
British Open - Liverpool puts on a show
British Open - Liverpool puts on a show
British Open - Liverpool puts on a show
British Open - Liverpool puts on a show
British Open - Liverpool puts on a show
British Open - Liverpool puts on a show
British Open - Liverpool puts on a show
British Open - Liverpool puts on a show
British Open - Liverpool puts on a show
British Open - Liverpool puts on a show
British Open - Liverpool puts on a show
British Open - Liverpool puts on a show
British Open - Liverpool puts on a show
  • The last time The Open Championship came to Hoylake it was dubbed 'The People's Open"
  • A relaxed vibe at the course differentiates it from other venues
  • Open organizers the R&A estimate attendances for 2014 will reach 200,000

Follow us at @WorldSportCNN and like us on Facebook

(CNN) -- Few places on earth do pride better than Merseyside; pride in the region, pride in its people, and pride in its sport.

So when The British Open comes to town it feels like everyone is here to celebrate.

After record crowds made the pilgrimage to this corner of the Wirral Peninsula in 2006 to watch Hoylake's first major for 39 years, it was stamped as "The People's Open."

It's a tag that has stuck.

"You don't want to be lofty here because people will knock you off your perch," Royal Liverpool's 2006 captain Andy Cross told CNN of Merseyside.

"You must be who you are and not try to be someone else.

"If there is one thing we want the people who visit us to take away with them it is that they felt they were welcome."

Liverpool's most famous exports The Beatles once sang "money can't buy me love" and that certainly isn't an issue at Hoylake -- there's plenty going round for free.

Some golf courses can feel stuffy to the point of asphyxiation, but not this one.

Not only are spectators pitching up in droves, their enthusiasm is off the charts. Exchanges between marshals and spectators have the jovial air of two mates chatting down the pub.

True Tiger Woods complained about fans' use of mobile phones during his first round, but perhaps that could be attributed to thousands of people's enthusiasm to see the man who took the title eight years ago.

Even the stony-faced Royal Navy marshals tracking various groups round the course can manage a smile in between admonishing the odd spectator for trying to grab a snap of a star on their phone.

Such is the passion for sport in this region that 5,000 hardy souls turned up four days out from the start of The Open, just to watch a clutch of players practice.

Bumper galleries

When the Wirral welcomed back golf's oldest major championship for the first time since 1967 eight years ago, 230,000 attended across the four days -- an English record.

Just 142,036 were present at Muirfield in Scotland last year, an undoubtedly beautiful golf course but one that elicits a different pitch to Hoylake.

A golfing history of Royal Liverpool
McIlroy targets Open improvement
Will Donald Trump's Turnberry be a success?

Ahead of the Royal and Ancient's September vote on whether to admit female members for the first time, Muirfield is one of only three clubs on The Open rotation to remain male only.

That heralded a wave of negative press this time last year. Hoylake, however, isn't having to withstand anything like that.

You only need look at 2014's patrons to notice the difference.

Walking around the links you are just as likely to encounter the red of Liverpool or the blue of Everton -- the city's two English Premier League soccer teams -- as heavily branded golfing apparel.

At 22 this is Mark Budd's third Open championship but his first visit to Hoylake.

"It's such a friendly and welcoming atmosphere here, people can't do enough for you," he said. "Some places can be a bit snooty but there's none of that here."

Pete Squires is one of those locals helping to make visitors feel welcome. "It's important for us not to just give a good account golf wise, but also as a region," the 45-year-old said.

"There an immense sense of pride at having The Open here and that's reflected in the attitude. No one here acts better than anyone else and that's exactly the way it should be."

Home favorite

Merseyside loves nothing better than one of its own, especially someone with a story to tell like John Singleton.

The resin factory worker thought his pro career had vanished due to injury but after giving it another crack he qualified for The Open at a course just a stone's throw from his home.

During his first round he often diverted towards the gallery to high five one of a small army of friends and family who have come to support him at his first major tournament.

Even the 30-year-old's fiancée Lucy Johnson walked all 18 holes with him despite being eight months pregnant.

"I can't tell you how much I've felt at home already," Singleton told CNN before teeing off Thursday.

"It's so close to home. I've got so many friends and family here, you walk on the tee and everyone is cheering. I've been having a good laugh with people and that takes all the nerves away.

"They are so happy I'm here playing it just takes the pressure off you. It's a great feeling to have."

Tough times

Perhaps there is an extra helping of pride because the past has seen bouts of severe hardship.

A toxic social and economic climate in the early 1980s saw pitched battles between the public and police.

When Tiger Woods met President Obama ...
Tiger Woods returns to competitive golf
Wie: U.S. Open trophy 'very snuggable'

The riots prompted a leading minister in the ruling Conservative government of the time to suggest that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher abandon Liverpool to a destiny of "managed decline."

Instead she dispatched Michael Heseltine northwards, a Tory grandee who would become known as the "Minister of Merseyside", and he helped trigger a wave of regeneration that would help transform the city's landscape.

"The Scousers (as people from Liverpool are known) don't actually look at people's background, they look at what they do, so Heseltine is a hero around here," explained Cross.

"After the 1981 riots, Heseltine brought businessman round in buses to show them what could be done. He set in store all the good things that have happened to Liverpool.

"When he was given the freedom of the city two years ago politicians from all sides were queuing up to pay homage to him and that indicates the public here look at what people do, not necessarily what they say."

Woods' two-shot win in 2006 also resonated deeply on Merseyside.

It was Hoylake's first British Open for 39 years and a lot graft had gone into making this, the second oldest golf course in England, fit to stage it.

A glorious return

While infrastructure and space had always been an issue, heritage wasn't.

Built in 1869, this was the setting for the first ever Amateur Championship in 1885 and the first ever international match -- between England and Scotland -- in 1902.

It hosted one leg of the most feted feat in golf — Bobby Jones' "impregnable quadrilateral" in 1930 when he clinched all four major titles on offer in the same season.

And it was the scene for Roberto Di Vicenzo's only major win in 1967, the first by an Argentinean.

Then came those years in the wilderness.

By the time Woods and his peers rolled up to Liverpool eight years ago the entire city was fit to burst.

Golf's oldest major didn't disappoint, and neither did the weather.

While ticketing, stewarding and layout were planned in meticulous detail the skies above were the one thing the club couldn't control.

It has always been a factor in these parts. The old saying goes 'If you can't see the Welsh coast across the peninsula it's raining. If you can, then it's about to."

But that week the unfamiliar bedfellows "heatwave" and "Liverpool" knitted together divinely.

Ever browner, scorched earth offered such firm terrain that 14-time major champion Woods used his driver just once all week, preferring instead to shape his irons round Hoylake's contours.

As captain that year it was Cross' responsibility to hand the fabled Claret Jug to Tiger, the third he has claimed in an illustrious roll call of victories.

"It was a fairytale Open for us," Cross explained. "A return after 39 years, the event was watched by record crowds under beating sunshine.

"We had the world's greatest golfer at that time -- unarguably -- win the oldest and most revered major championship in golf on our own territory. You can't get more fairytale than that."

"The other wonderful thing I remember about it was the great sense of community spirit. The Open, while it has its global impact and interest, is actually a great community tournament.

"There's about 10,000 people working here this year in one sense or another, many of them volunteers simply doing it for the love not the money."

Read: On Tiger's tale

Read: How Hoylake inspired Green Jacket

Read: Rory McIlroy's new love interest

Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:47 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
If golf has a reputation for being a bit stuffy, then the Bryan brothers and their trick shots are a much-needed blast of fresh air.
updated 8:18 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
Not many people make the leap from teenage market trader to golf pro and fashion entrepreneur, but that's just what Ian Poulter has done.
updated 6:29 AM EST, Wed November 12, 2014
"Sleep, as far as mental and physical recovery goes, has never been more important ..." says sport sleep coach Nick Littlehales.
updated 5:24 AM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Joe Miller is devouring his second steak of the day and the clock has barely nudged 2pm. You need lots of fuel to smash a drive 474 yards.
updated 10:49 AM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
There have been many dark days for Oliver Wilson, but golf's unluckiest loser is finally riding an upward swing of his career roller coaster.
updated 12:48 PM EDT, Tue October 7, 2014
They dress like it's the 1930s and they swing antique equipment that eschews cutting-edge technology -- this is hickory golf.
updated 12:09 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
CNN's Living Golf focuses on women's golf, charting the growth of the sport from royal pastime to multi-million dollar machine.
updated 4:46 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
"I don't know how to paint happy," says golf's poster girl Michelle Wie. "I think it releases a lot of the darker feelings in me."
updated 8:13 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Phil Mickelson of the United States talks during a press conference after the United States were defeated by Europe after the Singles Matches of the 2014 Ryder Cup on the PGA Centenary course at the Gleneagles Hotel on September 28, 2014 in Auchterarder, Scotland.
If you're a U.S. golf fan, or Tom Watson, look away now.
updated 7:18 PM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
A ban on uploading social media pictures from the course at Gleneagles was dropped for the Ryder Cup.
updated 6:52 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
A spot of shopping, the odd spa day and some serious flag waving. Welcome to the life of a Ryder Cup WAG.
updated 9:01 AM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Tom Watson has learned plenty in the 21 years since he was last U.S. Ryder Cup captain, but social media is proving to be problematic.
updated 8:43 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Patriotism will reach fever pitch when the USA and Europe collide in golf's Ryder Cup ... and it looks like Rickie Fowler has let it go to his head.
updated 9:42 AM EDT, Mon September 22, 2014
Pressure is inescapable in the cauldron of Ryder Cup competition -- pressure and ping pong.
updated 7:50 AM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Millions of golf fans were watching on television with great anticipation. All Martin Kaymer could think about was getting his phone out.