The most exclusive club at Open host Royal Liverpool? It’s not what you’d expect
HOYLAKE, England — The most exclusive club at the 2023 Open Championship? It’s a group of golfers who exchange their skills for tee times.
And no, we aren’t referring to members of Royal Liverpool Golf Club. We’re talking about the members of Village Play, now the second-oldest Artisans Club in the world.
It’s difficult to get into, but it’s easy to get kicked out — if you don’t follow the rules.
“And if you do offend, you don’t last very long,” said Neil Alveston, the chairman of the Village Play. “We are far stricter than probably the main club would be.”
While it’s not common in the States, there are a handful of Artisans Clubs in England. It’s essentially a group that exchanges its skills — painting, welding, plumbing, etc. — for tee times. They pay a modest fee compared to what regular members have to fork over when joining.
According to the club, a December 1894 storm killed several Hoylake fishermen and caddies. To give back to the town, the club offered local artisans tee times in exchange for work on the course. Village Play became official in September 1895. The club, which celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2020, has had as little as 30 members and as many as 200. It has 58 now.
Alveston said his own entry into the Village Play was unexpected. His neighbor was a member, and one day Alveston told him he’d like to be considered. So he wrote a letter and got the necessary sponsors. Then, he waited. One night he had a knock on his door from a buddy.
“You’re in,” he told him.
“You’re in the Village Play.”
Members of the club complete odd jobs around the course throughout the year, doing things like a thorough replacement of tee and fairway divots every two weeks, helping with random paint jobs or working as ball-spotters during club tournaments.
If you miss a duty you get your playing rights suspended, and if you miss another you get an even longer ban. Miss a third obligation in a two-year span and you are gone.
“We are very strict,” Alveston said. “We realize what we got here — we don’t take it for granted.”
For their services, they get access to the No. 79 course in the world. If open, they can reserve tee times any morning before 7:45 a.m., between 12-4 p.m. during the week and, in the summer, any time after 4 p.m. Alveston lives just a 10-minute walk from the 10th tee. He’ll stroll over at 6 p.m. and might not see anybody else on the course. Sometimes another artisan. Maybe four.
With The Open in town, usually Village Play members would be refilling fairway divots at night or raking bunkers, but there’s extra superintendents in town to help this year, so some are playing the role of tour guide instead.
Village Play members have their own modest clubhouse left of the 18th green (the 2nd hole for The Open), although the R&A took it over to use for scoring. Next week, it will be back to normal.
And since we knew you’d ask: if you want to join, good luck. There’s no longer a handicap restriction, but there is an age limit, and you have to live within five miles of the course.
The waiting list is long. It used to be called “dead-man’s shoes” — meaning, ahem, someone would have to die for a spot to open up.
Like we said, good luck.