0 Craig Gilholm’s Open skills and opinions

Untitled1IT took 39 years for the R&A, in its finite wisdom, to return the Open Championship to Royal Liverpool following Argentine Roberto de Vicenzo's emotional victory in 1967.

This time around, however, the wait has been considerably shorter. When golf's oldest and most prestigious event makes its 12th visit to Hoylake this July, a mere eight summers will have passed since Tiger Woods claimed his third, and still his most recent, Claret Jug.

No surprise there. Through a combination of the stunning performance produced by the game's best player and a dry, fast-running course, that 2006 championship has already achieved something akin to iconic status.

Blessed with almost perfect meteorological conditions leading up to the event, it represented links golf in its most interesting, stimulating and strategic glory.

It remains a little early to tell, of course, but only exceptional weather between now and the third week in July will produce a similar scenario this time around.

Which is not to say that some things won't be the same almost four months from now. For one thing, Woods, statistically and at least for the moment, remains golf's highest-ranked practitioner.

And for another, the man who oversees the historic links on the north west corner of the Wirral peninsula, head greenkeeper (or "links manager" in official parlance) Craig Gilholm, is still in charge.

The 41-year-old Scot, who hails from the village of Aberlady in East Lothian, has held his current post since June 2005, when he moved south from last year's Open venue, Muirfield, where he was second-in-command on the greens staff.

"Hoylake is not quite the same as Muirfield and it was a big step for me to move down here," says Gilholm, who plays to a six handicap. "The Open was only 13 months away, but I never panicked.

I saw it as a huge opportunity. And I've learned so much in my time here. I was at Muirfield just long enough. In this job it is dangerous to stay too long in the one place. You can get set in your ways and stop improving.

"So I wasn't worried in the build-up to our last Open. Because it had been so long since 1967, there was really no precedent for how the course should be presented.

So I had a free hand in that respect. In 2005, I decided not to water the course and see how far I could push the greens. It was a bit of a gamble in retrospect, but I couldn't see the club sacking me that quickly!"

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