Hoylake a perfect host for fantastic Open

Was this the finest Open in living memory? That was the question being whispered in The Wirral yesterday as they tidied away the bunting, mopped up the tears and cleared away the hankies. And even if Hoylake was still not confident enough to answer in the affirmative, two things were plainly unarguable. Tiger Woods is back and the Open Championship will be back.

In fact, the date is already written in indelible ink in the diary, if a few of the more high-profile members of the proud links are to be believed. As adrenalin was mixed with relief into an intoxicating cocktail late on Sunday evening, it all started to come out.

One spoke of a contract with the Royal and Ancient having already been signed for a return in 2016, while another, probably nearer to the boundaries of reality, revealed that "negotiations are already under way".

Peter Dawson, the beaming R&A secretary, would admit neither yesterday morning at his annual inquisition, but was quite prepared to announce that Hoylake would now be a permanent fixture on the Championship rota.

In truth, this was about as daring as declaring that Woods would be back at Carnoustie to defend his title next year.

The certainty was certainly a far cry from the fears that dominated the build-up to an Open that Dawson rightly called yesterday "one of the best ever to be staged". An approximation of the paranoia running through the Hoylake locker rooms may best be provided by the fact that the members were instructed not to saying anything to the press. After a 39-year absence, loose tongues might have cost future Opens, or so the reasoning went.

Although over the top, their censorship was understandable after a couple of digs at their pride and joy.

One American magazine article, for instance, referred to the links club's internal out-of-bounds as "Royal O.B", "a blast from the past" with no right to feature in the present and boldly stated that if the wind did not consent to blow then the modern professional would bring this frail old man to its knees.

Well, what a load of O.B that sounds now. The "relic" was breathless for four days, could not have been more benign, but Woods' winning total of 18-under was not even the record low. Not that the score itself can ever be taken as a true reflection of the quality of a course.

"You can tell how well an Open venue has played by the winner and his nearest rivals," said Dawson and, when a quick scan down the top five informed that it consisted of four of the world's top 10 as well as a perennial major contender, then his point was made emphatically.

And if any doubt does linger, then surely the gripping manner in which Woods won is the clincher.

"The course lent itself to amazing creativity," said the world No 1, whose cautious, iron-off-the-tee gameplan was merely one of many to be employed. "This place is anything but boring."

The same could be said about the Liverpool public, of course, who helped to make this without a doubt the most atmospheric Open. Some 230,000 flocked through the ever-open turnstiles - an R&A tradition they are commendably still desperate to hold on to - to notch up an attendance only bettered by the Millennium Championship at St Andrews six years ago.

The transport arrangements worked like a Ken Livingstone dream, the marshalling was courteous and superbly managed, while the sincere welcome from the down-to-earth members was a refreshing change from the stuffed blazers who make trips to such golfing temples as Muirfield a sickening insight into snobbery.

Naturally, there will always be a negative and Sunday's tense climax was blighted by the repeated sound of mobile phones taking pictures which forced Woods in particular to back off repeatedly. That is a curse set only to grow in a European game that has yet to go down the American route of airport-like security at the gates, and Hoylake 2006 may even do golf a service in this regard, as the R&A will surely now be forced to come up with a policy that pulls down the shutters. "We had it on every hole," said Woods. "I've never seen anything like that before."

But if that is the biggest criticism of last week, then Hoylake was indeed a resounding success. In short, the area is worthy of the £80m legacy that it is estimated the staging of this Championship will bring.

Thomas Bjorn summed it all up the best. "It's the people who have made this week and it felt very much like the People's Open," said the wise Dane.

"The spectators have been magnificent, the course has been magnificent, Tiger was magnificent. It was magnificent for everyone. Especially golf."

Open and shut case: Four more of the best courses to host Britain's flagship tournament

* ST ANDREWS 1873, 1876, 1879, 1882, 1885, 1888, 1891, 1895, 1900, 1905, 1910, 1921, 1927, 1933, 1939, 1946, 1955, 1957, 1960, 1964, 1970, 1978, 1984, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005

The original and still the best. If it was designed now the architect would be laughed out of the clubhouse. So much more than just a golf course.

* TURNBERRY 1977, 1986, 1994

A professional's dream, with superb facilities meaning everything is on site. The venue for the "Duel In the Sun" between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, the Open will make an overdue return in 2009 after 15 years.

* ROYAL TROON 1923, 1950, 1962, 1973, 1982, 1989, 1997, 2004

This is rather like St Andrews in the fact that the town of Troon is energised by golf. A quality links which now, since the Marine Hotel was refurbished, boasts a base camp exclusive enough to house the leading professionals.

* ROYAL BIRKDALE 1954, 1961, 1965, 1971, 1976, 1983, 1991, 1998

With acres of space in and around the sandhills for the hospitality etc, this famously fair lay-out is also a well-deserved fixture on any "top 100 golf courses".

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