Instead of strumming a guitar rather ineffectively and failing lamentably to sing in tune, I wish I had spent my teenage years developing a draw and working on my bunker play. Although perhaps harsh to describe those years as wasted, it is not altogether unreasonable to blame the Beatles for the fact that it’s now looking increasingly unlikely that I will ever win a major. How ironic it is that throughout the so-called ‘Swinging Sixties’ I never swung a golf club. Now that I’m older, have lost my hair and, yes, I’m 64, I remain a huge fan of the Fab Four. In the extremely unlikely event that I’m ever be a contestant on Mastermind, the Beatles would be my specialist subject. Since my general knowledge is a great deal more reliable than my putting, it is not altogether inconceivable that I would win the quiz outright. But, let’s face it, an engraved glass bowl is no substitute for a claret jug or green jacket.
Although they would have made a fab fourball, my thorough research has so far failed to unearth evidence of any of the Beatles ever striking a golf ball in anger. But establishing a legitimate link between them and the game of golf isn’t all that difficult because Liverpool lies right at the heart of some of the greatest golf courses in the country, the pick of which comprise ‘England’s Golf Coast’. It would have fitted my theme far better if they were the Top Ten courses in the area. But there are 11 and, since I’m not a mad misogynist, I daren’t leave out the wonderful loop that is Formby Ladies.
Having nearly hacked off all the females in Formby, I shall now try and avoid upsetting anyone else by implying any ranking or hierarchy and simply list the courses from north to south: Royal Lytham and St Anne’s, Hesketh, Royal Birkdale, Hillside, Southport and Ainsdale, Formby, Formby Ladies, West Lancashire, Wallasey, Royal Liverpool and Caldy.
Even for an exceptional athlete such as I, fitting all 11 (yes, blokes are allowed on Formby Ladies) into a three-day trip was never going to be easy, especially as there was Beatles stuff to see and a trip to the Grand National at Aintree to squeeze in. And so I settled on the two closest to Liverpool, Wallasey and West Lancashire.
Before we go to Wallasey, let me explain that I once devised a revolutionary scoring system believing that, in the absence of any majors, it offered the best alternative route to achieving golfing immortality. The trouble, as I see it, with all the other scoring methods is they place too much emphasis on the number of strokes taken. With the Agran system, attention is paid to other important aspects of the game that have hitherto been largely neglected. In my opinion, therefore, it provides an altogether fairer reflection of the round.
Space constraints preclude my detailing all 637 rules, but the following should give you the flavour. Points are awarded as follows: remembering a pencil, pitch repairer and ball-marker (one point each); getting the tee-peg to fly backwards (one point); refusing to lay up short of a hazard but instead attempting miracle shot (one point); hitting a sprinkler head on the fly (three points).
Points are also deducted: for taking a practice swing (one point per swing); marking the card on the green (two points); marking the card on the next tee when it’s your turn to tee off (two points); making a patronising remark such as “well out” for a thinned bunker shot (two points); mentioning Tiger Woods (one point each time).
One of the great virtues of the system is it takes a considerable length of time to calculate the score at the end of the round, which effectively obliges participants to stay on for a drink or two. And by the time the drinks have been consumed, everyone is past caring who has won. In effect, therefore, highly competitive individuals are put in their place and golf is the only true winner.
Sadly, it didn’t catch on and I consequently never heard anyone utter the words, “Are you playing in the monthly Agran?” Perhaps this failure has deepened my admiration for Dr Stableford and why I was particularly excited at the prospect of teeing it up on the course he played, Wallasey.
Previously a member of Glamorganshire and Royal Porthcawl, Dr Frank Barney Gorton Stableford joined Wallasey after the First World War. You might not unreasonably have assumed that it would take a frustrated rabbit who struggled in bunkers and invariably ran up a couple of eights and the odd nine to dream up a forgiving scoring system but Dr Stableford was a decent single-figure player. Evidently he was a man of considerable compassion.
The story goes that it was on the second tee (as he leant into the teeth of a wicked wind whistling off the Irish Sea and stared through watering eyes at a distant flag flapping 458 yards away) that the good doctor had his eureka moment.
There’s a plaque there now against which I felt I should have laid a wreath on behalf of all grateful hackers. Instead I bowed my head before racking up a gutsy six, which would, of course, have earned a precious point.
Originally designed by Old Tom Morris and opened in 1891, this classic links has been tweaked by such famous names as Hawtree, Hilton, Braid and Steel. The highest dunes and best views are mostly on the outward nine and the fourth tee is blessed with a spectacular panorama over the beach and out to sea. On a clear day, snow-capped Snowdonia provides a stunning backdrop to the 16th green.
And another par three, the ninth, has been christened ‘Bobby Jones’ to commemorate the appearance the great man made back in 1930 when he qualified at Wallasey for The Open at Hoylake. He won The Open by two shots and went on to achieve the ‘Grand Slam’ by taking the amateur and open championships both here and in United States. A handsome oil portrait of Jones by John Berrie, then a Wallasey member, has pride of place in the clubhouse. So delighted was the subject with the picture that he signed it and rumours abound that Augusta National, who have an unsigned copy hanging in their clubhouse, are keen to acquire the original.
On leaving the clubhouse, I was privileged to bump into Neville Thompson. One hundred and one years old, Neville can vividly recall the day he cycled to the course nearly 83 years ago to watch Bobby Jones in action. In the absence of either a major or an eponymous scoring system, meeting a man who watched the greatest amateur golfer who has ever lived is probably as close to glory as I will ever get.
A hard day’s plight on the golf course was followed by a golden slumber in the Hard Day’s Night hotel. A fab four-star establishment, it claims to be the only Beatles-inspired hotel. Right in the heart of Liverpool, it’s the perfect place for Beatle-buffs.
But even Beatles’ music in the restaurant, photos plastered everywhere and a portrait of John, Paul, George and Ringo hanging above my bed wasn’t enough for this sad fan. And so I went the next morning to soak up more nostalgia at the dedicated Beatles Story exhibition.
Situated in the restored and revitalised Albert Dock, it’s part of a hugely impressive effort by Liverpool to smarten up its act and attract more visitors, no fewer than 65% of whom are there because of the Beatles. Doubtless like me, they will have enjoyed the Beatles Story for its imaginative and fascinating account of the band from formation to final split.
Next up was a round at West Lancashire. The oldest club in the county and the ninth in England, it was founded way back in 1873 and can lay claim to an all-star line-up every bit as glittering as the Beatles.
Harold Hilton, a member and the first paid secretary, won The Open twice, the Amateur Championship four times and the US Amateur Championship in 1911.
Of the club’s professionals, Sandy Herd and Arthur Havers won The Open and Tom Ball finished runner-up. Bob Kenyon won the Irish Open twice and Ted Jarman played in the Ryder Cup. On top of that, the great Triumvirate of Vardon, Braid and Taylor played here in 1901.
Between all those heroic deeds and my arrival, half the course was shifted. Previously split by a still active railway line, the front nine was moved onto the seaward side of the tracks and play resumed on the revised course in the summer of 1961 when the putative Beatles were recording, but not releasing, ‘My Bonnie’ and ‘Ain’t She Sweet’. Since the whole of the course is now situated amongst delightful dunes, it must be a lot linksier than it was before.
With a wonderfully natural feel and super views of ships slipping in and out of the Mersey, all it lacked was a new clubhouse, which opened the year after the course was moved. Since then it has hosted all manner of big events including final Open qualifying, the Brabazon and the English Ladies’ Close Amateur Championship. This year it will stage the Carris Trophy. In 2009, the then teenage sensation Matteo Manassero set a new amateur course record of 65 when playing in the Amateur Championship, which he duly won.
Just over 7000 yards from the tips and with two par fives, five par fours and two par threes on each half, the course weaves gently through the dunes. A rare clump of trees behind the 14th green provides welcome shelter from the more or less unceasing breeze. Rumour has it that when research was carried out prior to the sighting of a nearby offshore wind farm, analysis revealed the very windiest spot in the whole area was the first tee.
Rather like West Lancashire, the Cavern Club in Liverpool, where of course the Beatles shot to fame, has moved and for not altogether dissimilar reasons. After closing in 1973, it was filled in when the excellent Merseyrail underground rail was being built. The (new) Cavern Club occupies about half the original site and many of the old bricks were apparently used during its construction. But it’s not the original and so I skipped my planned visit and dined out in one of the many excellent downtown restaurants instead.
Liverpool really comes alive at weekends and, unlike pretty well every other city in the UK, hotels are busier then than they are during the week. So golfers looking to play weekdays can often negotiate a better hotel deal than those taking a weekend break.
This particular Friday night was especially busy because of the Grand National meeting at Aintree. The wobbly combination of alcohol and ridiculously high heels ensured there were more fallers among the fillies celebrating in town that night than there had been in the previous 20 Grand Nationals. None of them, I trust, had to be put down.
Thanks to Merseyrail, it’s only a tenminute ride from the centre of town to the course. Unless you’re lucky enough to secure a seat in the stand, the view isn’t This signed portrait of Bobby Jones hangs in the clubhouse at Wallasey – a painting Augusta National would dearly love to get their hands on; (centre): Aintree for the National - “It’s a win, but it’s not a major!; (right) in his hotel bed, Clive could look up to the Fab Fore! all that great with tens of thousands of excited scousers jumping up and down.
But the atmosphere is electric and although Auroras Encore’s win was about as popular as a shank, the occasion was something special.
With nine of England’s Golf Coast courses left to play, I’d like to Get Back up there and just hope It Won’t Be Long. Goodnight, goodnight.