Wirral set for a big summer with the Open Championship at The Royal Liverpool Golf Club
PUBLISHED: 00:00 20 May 2014
There's so much more to this land of Open glory than the golf, as Martin Pilkington reports
Back in the swing
The Royal Liverpool Golf Club at Hoylake was a regular Open Championship course from 1897 until 1967, after which there was a 39-year wait for the next. Such was its success, however, that eight years on the Wirral course is again hosting the great tournament.
‘The return of the Open Championship so soon to Hoylake proves how successful 2006 was,’ says club secretary David Cromie. ‘The ease of setting up the venue, spectator access and the support given to the R&A by both Wirral Borough Council and Royal Liverpool Golf Club make Hoylake a favoured venue for the Championship.’
It’s not just sports fans who welcome the rapid return, Wirral Council Leader Phil Davies said: ‘In 2006, 230,000 spectators enjoyed The Open with us at Hoylake and made it a tremendous success for Wirral. Our tourism industry gained a massive boost.’
In hard cash that may mean £30 million extra spent in the area between practice starting on July 13th and the claret jug being presented on the 20th. Brewers can celebrate the estimated 400,000 pints of beer included in that; farmers, fishermen and fryers the expected 98,000 portions of fish and chips.
Almost every hotel in the Wirral is fully booked for the tournament’s duration. TV coverage equates to £45 million worth of marketing, a boon to the tourism industry which already contributes £310 million a year to Wirral’s economy.
Getting ready for the tournament takes enormous effort and David Cromie added: ‘The club have been preparing from 2008. New and relocated bunkers, new tees increasing the course length, turf pathways to replace gravel paths, new irrigation system to help manage the condition of the links, roadways...’ Inevitably there’s disruption for the members, but the fact 150 will act as volunteers for the event demonstrates their commitment.
David can’t name the winner, but has clear views on what could decide the outcome. ‘The short holes at Hoylake will play a major part as each points in a different direction on the compass. The wind will be the great test for players.’
Keeping Wirral’s past alive...
When the Open first came to Hoylake in 1897 Edge’s butcher’s shop in New Ferry was 53 years old. Callum Edge and his wife Debbie now run the business, one of the few left in Britain with its own slaughterhouse. It’s both rooted and contemporary. ‘We source animals within a 25 mile radius of the shop, and only from those farming extensively,’ says Debbie. ‘Twenty years ago we could’ve gone cheap-and-cheerful, but we stuck out for quality.’
Additional outlets in Delamere and Thurstaston show that policy works – so too their place as finalists in 2014’s Radio 4 Food Programme awards.
Thurstaston Heath has its link to meat production, too. ‘This is the sort of environment created when man first started to clear trees for agriculture,’ explains Chris Widger, the National Trust’s Cheshire Countryside Manager.
And National Trust ranger Jon Twigg adds: ‘Grazing animals play a major role in maintaining the habitat. They control seedling trees, and keep it ‘natural’ – we can try to replicate what cattle do, but can never match the random way they range.’
The heath is a fine resource for the Wirral, 70 hectares of space to walk, bilberry and enjoy endless views, but maintaining view and habitat means fighting nature says Jon. ‘We have to protect the heather and this rare habitat, and that means chopping the trees that would colonise it otherwise.’
Willaston is fighting for its past too, Joan Butcher and colleagues in the village’s festival society were recently granted £9800 of Heritage Lottery Fund for their project ‘Lest We Forget – Willaston Remembers Its First World War Fallen.’
Schools, the youth group, seniors’ club and other volunteers are researching the lives of the 34 soldiers commemorated on Willaston’s war memorial. ‘We are determined to use the grant to ensure that those recorded are not just names but are remembered as villagers who left behind families and ways of life very different to our own,’ says Joan.
...and building its future
The view from Shore Cottage Studio on Thurstaston Beach is magnificent, as fans of George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces know. The new minimalist annex to the 19th century cottage – once it housed customs officers riding the sands seeking smugglers – is itself a beautiful and simple addition to the landscape. Here Kris and Laura Heath, and Laura’s mother Sue Barnes, offer courses in photography, laser cutting, textiles and fused glass.
The interior is contrastingly homely and Kris says: ‘We used benches from old school labs so people wouldn’t worry about marking them and the floor – from an old church – will look better as it ages.’ TV exposure has brought bookings, and the sea chipped in this winter with plentiful materials transformed into art by students and tutors. The whole place lifts the spirits.
Two festivals on the Wirral aim to replicate that on a grander scale. The Festival of Firsts from July 5th to 13th in Hoylake, New Brighton and West Kirby, boasts star names like Harry Hill and Willy Russell, but as festival manager Judy Ugonna explains, it’s bigger than that. ‘This is about community arts, and is a way to showcase local talents as well as put on events where people can see better- known artists.’
On May 25th and 26th Claremont Farm outside Bebington hosts Farm Feast, successor to the old Wirral Food Festival. ‘We’re keeping the food and drink and farming theme and adding the music part,’ says organiser Andrew Pimbley.
‘There’ll be a lot more interactive stuff for kids, too, storytelling, bushcraft and cooking a rabbit on the campfire.’ Parents may be equally attracted by star-name chef demonstrations, and the opportunities to make cheese and sausages. The music – Livestock! – will be on two stages, accommodating big names and local bands alike.
Andrew has another contribution to the new Wirral: a huge farm shop opening at the end of April which he hopes will be a culinary and tourist destination. In a year’s time a fascinating innovation is planned. ‘We’ll have a drive-thru where you can order online then half-an-hour later arrive and we’ll put your veg box and so on in the boot,’ he adds. ‘It’ll give people less of an excuse not to support local producers!’ n