Hoylake Hero

 ‘Hoylake Hero’ by Alistair Noakes.

2019 is the 150th anniversary of the founding of one of the most important golf clubs in England. Royal Liverpool at Hoylake has always been a favourite of FineGolf’s being not only regarded as one of the finest golfing challenges but possessing an attractive attitude among its members that, rather like, for example, Rye, mirrors the ethos and values of FineGolf.

To personalise is not to belittle but rather enhance the family nature of the Club. Members of the Williams family have been at the heart of the club for decades and Peter’s son Tudor (with whom the Smiths shared a Prep School and holiday ski slopes) has the honour of being appointed Captain in this special year. In addition, his mother Annie is welcomed as our guest to hear her son’s address at the British Golf Collectors Society dinner the evening before the hickory match, the first golfing event within the 150th celebrations in mid-May.

The rich history of this Club is well worth studying if one wants to appreciate the traditions of the game. Guy Farrar, the Johns, Behrend and Graham and Joe Pennington have all written brilliant histories of the Club encompassing all of the many personalities that have a strong Hoylake connection. These include the world’s most famous amateur Bobby Jones, Tiger Woods, who won here with his long irons, Harold Hilton and Jack Graham, while everyone is agreed that the true favourite son of Hoylake is the modest John Ball, the first amateur to win the Open Championship and a record eight times holder of the Amateur Championship.

Johnny Ball, as Alistair Noakes likes to call him in his new paperback book “Hoylake Hero”, epitomises the spirit of Royal Liverpool, always having strived to be the very best, while how that is achieved from humble beginnings and strong Scottish ties gives the Club a connection to the people of golf, perhaps more than at any other comparable English club.

Alistair’s book follows Ball’s life from being the son of the owner of the Royal Hotel that served as the Club’s clubhouse for its first twenty-six years, through his life as a tenant farmer, using a narrative with dialogue to engage and entertain. He explains how the Morris family, Young Tom (Johnny’s early hero), Old Tom (his stalwart supporter) and cousin Jack, the pro at Hoylake (Johnny’s spiritual mentor), all had a profound influence on Johnny and Hoylake.

Ball’s golfing life spanned exactly the period of the first accelerated expansion of golf from the 1870s up to the start of the First World War. Though we are all more aware of the second expansion that Arnold Palmer kick-started in the 1960s, which television took to the viewing masses, Alistair captures through the structure of Johnny’s life the essence of all the primary players and golf courses that brought about the golf diaspora breaking-out from Scotland.

The social mix between wealthy Liverpool merchants and the local fishermen was exemplified through the love and almost worship of Johnny by his home town of Hoylake and across the nation.

To learn about the man who to this day remains Britain’s greatest ever amateur golfer and who never wanted the praise that was lavished upon him is well worth the reading.

Hoylake Hero” by Alistair Noakes. £10.99 from www.alistairnoakes.bigcartel.com

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