Royal Liverpool Golf Course’s hidden wartime legacy: A secret weapon in the Allied victory

Golf at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake – home to The Open Championships taking place this week – was a daily routine of Admiral Sir Max Horton, the man who became arguably the single most influential person in turning the tide of the Battle of the Atlantic.

Before his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of Western Approaches in Liverpool, a secret underground bunker just a few miles from the course, the Battle of the Atlantic during World War II was heading for imminent disaster.

The pressure upon Horton was immense, spending night after night in a secret command centre hidden under the streets of Liverpool, where he’d monitor the progress of hundreds of Allied Convoys which were under constant threat of the formidable teams of U-Boats (known as ‘Wolf Packs’) that were patrolling the cold North Atlantic waters.

Amidst the relentless battle against the U-Boats, Admiral Horton, an ingenious naval commander, sought respite from his nocturnal operations at the prestigious Royal Liverpool Golf Club, which will become home to the world’s greatest golfers this week.

Almost daily, Horton could be found honing his skills on Royal Liverpool’s greens, finding solace and rejuvenation for the challenges ahead.

Admiral Horton at RLGC, Hoylake

New exhibition celebrates Royal Liverpool’s role in Max Horton’s success

To celebrate Royal Liverpool’s role in Horton’s life and in the Battle of the Atlantic, a small but captivating new display is now open to visitors in Admiral Sir Max Horton’s office at the Western Approaches HQ (now a popular museum) exploring this remarkable aspect of his life during World War II.

The exhibition sheds light on Horton’s extraordinary golfing habits on the very same fairways set to be graced by current greats including Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, John Rahm, and Tommy Fleetwood this week, subtly implying the course’s influence on the Allied victory. 

His biographer William Chalmers wrote, “Horton’s passion for golf is reminiscent of Francis Drake and his game of bowls. No threat of enemy or Admiralty could stop him having his daily round at Hoylake [Royal Liverpool]. Golf attracted him because it demanded absolute concentration, compelling him to dismiss from his mind for a few hours the many problems that beset him.”

The exclusive display at Western Approaches features a stunning collection of rare photographs, showcasing Admiral Horton in action on the golf course, as well as the uncanny connection between his golfing routines and his strategic brilliance in combating the U-Boats that threatened the Allied supply lines.

A standout artifact in the exhibit is a ‘Spitfire’ golf ball recently discovered by maintenance staff beneath floorboards near Admiral Horton’s office at Western Approaches. The unique relic, a testament to his golfing escapades amidst the turmoil of war, underscores the intertwined nature of his personal passion and his contributions to the Allied victory.

“This new display highlights the significance of Admiral Sir Max Horton’s golfing habits and their potential role in the triumph of the Allied forces,” says Dean Paton, Director of Western Approaches.

“By exploring this lesser-known aspect of his life, visitors can gain a deeper appreciation for the complexities of wartime leadership and the individual passions that contributed to the overall success.”

“At Royal Liverpool, we’re always excited to learn more about how our heritage connects with the wider social history of Merseyside,” said Erin Shields, Archivist for Royal Liverpool Golf Club.

“During both wars, Royal Liverpool, among many other golf clubs, provided a space to increase morale and improve the mental health of those involved. This exhibition reminds us of how meaningful sports are in our society and sheds a light on how important golf is in many people’s lives.”

Hundreds of visitors from across the world are expected to descend on Merseyside, and for many, Western Approaches is set to feature on their plans to enjoy the cultural and historic assets of the region.

“We’re getting Western Approaches ready to invite golf enthusiasts, history buffs, and curious minds to delve into Admiral Sir Max Horton’s captivating story,” added Dean.

“As part of their visit I hope they take the chance to come and discover how Horton’s dedication to the game of golf mirrored his strategic brilliance, helping them ponder the subtle ways in which his golfing routines may have influenced the outcome of World War II.”

Main image: Admiral Horton at RLGC

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