Liverpool in particular has much to celebrate with its recent honour of becoming European Capital of Culture for 2008, and the return of the Open to Royal Liverpool in 2006 after a 40-year absence. So we took the opportunity to check out what all the fuss was about.

Stepping from the fine old clubhouse onto the course at Royal Liverpool your first impressions are of total flatness. But this belies the rigorous examination ahead – one that starts on the dogleg par-4 1st, a slicer’s nightmare with OB tight right all the way to the green. You won?t have to spend too long around the first tee, watching people drive off before someone carves it out of bounds.

The course then winds its way through some very different holes, with the blind tee-shot on the 6th requiring blind faith in the marker post too, before arriving on the 9th tee for a testing four hole stretch along the Dee estuary. With the wind off the coast, the 9th’s narrow fairway feels like an illusive strip, and the further right you go, the tougher the approach to an almost hidden green.

Everything works against you on the blind 10th hole – shape, prevailing wind and lie of the land – thanks very much. If you find the fairway you?ve done a good job and have every chance of a good score. The 11th is an awesome par-3 of 193 yards off the backs, totally exposed to the elements. Take plenty of club as anything short will find the hole’s only bunker.

Unlike a classic out-in links, every hole from 14 to 18 runs in an opposite direction to the previous one, preventing your swing settling into either downwind or into-the-wind mode. Downwind, the par-5 14th and 16th will help your score more than the tough par-4 15th and 17th. The 18th fairway seems to have more sand than grass in a narrow hitting zone, and the green is set up for a shortish attack.

Further up the coast, the excellent links at Southport and Ainsdale (S & A) is beautifully presented, while West Lancs has a more rugged feel, with harder fairways and greens, and tighter lies.

S & A’s challenging par-3 1st is only protected by nine bunkers. The stretch from the 5th to the 7th consists of a clever, narrow par-4 enticing you down the left when the pin is on the right; then a short blind par-4 that you need to play a few times to be certain of the line; and finally a beast of a par-4 off the yellows, requiring precision and a long blind approach even off a good drive.

West Lancs has a similar run from the 7th to 9th where line off the tee is the key. You can be aggressive downwind off the 7th tee, but if you hook it when you’ve set up for a fade you?ll need to rummage around the depths of your bag for a reload.

After the demanding par-3 12th you walk up to a spectacular vista from the elevated 13th tee. The fairway is wide but the small raised green is a small green especially if you?re attacking it from a long way back. The blind 14th is the hardest hole on the course, and the distant church spire seems a good line provided a gentle fade doesn’t become a savage cut. But you must hit a long ball on this line to get a good view of the tree-enclosed green, as the hole doglegs sharply off to the right.

Where to stay

The Royal Clifton

Tel: 01704 533771
AA 3-star hotel with Victorian facade on Southport promenade. Good central golfing base for the area. Tailored golf packages available. Double/twin rooms from £110 per night b&b; single from £83 per night b&b.

Where to play

Royal Liverpool

Tel: 0151 632 3101/3102
Green Fees: £100 wd, £130 we inc. lunch. Subject to availability.

Southport and Ainsdale

Tel: 01704 578000
Green Fees: £60 for 18, £75 for 36 wd; £75 a round we

West Lancashire

Tel: 0151 924 1076
Green Fees: £60 for 18, £75 for 36 wd; £80 a round we