Our series of behind-the-scenes profiles from Royal Liverpool continue with the club’s head professional, John Heggarty.
What John Heggarty has not seen at Royal Liverpool Golf Club over the past three decades was not worth seeing.
Heggarty has been the club’s head professional for 32 years, since 1982, and he has one of the longest-standing club pro tenures in the UK.
Heggarty’s recollections from the last Open at Royal Liverpool, in 2006, remain vivid.
“There were varying emotions in the build-up to the 2006 Open,” starts Heggarty, who played on tour himself in his early 20s, before being appointed at Royal Liverpool.
“When the club was asked to host the event for the first time since 1967, as a club you wonder if you can cope with holding the Open.
First of all you think of all the reasons why the Open was not held here for so long, but then you take a step back and remember that fundamentally we have one of the best golf courses in the world, which is key, and the infrastructure surrounding the event is fantastic now.
“2006 was one of the hottest summers on record – temperatures of 118 degrees were recorded in the maintenance compound.
Ultimately, we saw the number one player on the world [Tiger Woods] win the Open at Royal Liverpool with record crowds, beautiful weather and it all went off smoothly, so in the end we felt that we must have done something right at the club.
To be quite honest it was just a wonderful experience to be involved.”
It obvious that the course will play very differently in 2014 than it did in 2006, not so much because of course set-up, but more because the Wirral is not experiencing a drought this year, as it did eight years ago.
“So far this week it has been interesting to see that the wind keeps changing direction,” adds Heggarty.
“The wind is not going to be very strong on any day this week – that is pretty much guaranteed. I think the most it is forecast to get up to is around 10-11 miles per hour, which is just a ‘half-club’ wind, or a club at most.
“If the wind direction keeps changing that will present come challenges though.
“The golf course is set-up very fairly and that is definitely the feedback we are getting from the players, and the greens are still receiving well-struck irons, although they are firming up. For golfers who are playing well, there is a score to be made out there.”
The general public at the Open this week cannot gain access to Heggarty’s pro shop as the whole clubhouse is restricted to golfers, caddies, club members and officials, and while the shop remains busy selling an array of Royal Liverpool-crested items, the priority for Heggarty is not to cash-in this week, but to ensure visitors return to the club in the long term.
“The first priority for us all at Royal Liverpool Golf Club is to host the Open as well as we can, and to welcome all these visitors and the players to the club,” he says.
“We have to make sure we put our best foot forward. If we can do that, then our visitor traffic for the long term will take care of itself. The course also needs to be seen in a good light on television, which is clearly the case so far.”
Robin Barwick travelled to the Open Championship courtesy of Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes-Benz is global sponsor of the Masters, patron of the Open Championship and official car of the PGA Championship