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1.5 miles S of Southport
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The Birkdale (as Royal Birkdale Golf Club was originally called) was a nine-hole golf course located at Shaw Hills and it opened for play in October 1889. In 1894, the committee decided to extend the course to 18 holes and move it to its current home at Birkdale Hills. Designed by George Lowe, the course was ready in 1897. In the 1930s, the course was remodelled and upgraded to championship standard by F.G. Hawtree and J.H. Taylor.
In his book, Golf Between Two Wars, Bernard Darwin writes: “J.H. Taylor was the architect and he has unquestionably made of Birkdale a ‘big’ course on which it is good fun to see the big men stretch themselves… no bad player is going to win over Birkdale, and yet it is no slogger’s paradise, for in the English Championship the final was fought between Arnold Bentley and W Sutton, who are neither of them particularly long drivers.”
The club was simply known as Birkdale until 1951 when King George VI bestowed the royal charter on the club. Royal Birkdale Golf Club has hosted all the important events—the Ryder Cup, Walker Cup, Curtis Cup, Ladies British Open Championship. The British Open Championship has been hosted at Birkdale no fewer than nine times (most recently in 2008).
It truly is a famous links and widely recognised for its fairness. If you hit the fairways, rarely will the ball be thrown off course. The fairways are laid out in the flat-bottomed valleys between the towering dunes. These dunes, in turn, provide superb viewing platforms for spectators. Invariably in immaculate condition, Royal Birkdale is a very tough cookie to master. The greens were re-built prior to the 1998 Open and despite their youth, are extremely difficult to read.
Birkdale has a superfluity of great golf holes. F.W. Hawtree created a new 12th hole in the 1960s, this 183-yard par three is a wonderful one-shotter and as natural as you can get. From a raised tee, the ball must carry across a hollow, whilst avoiding four deep pot bunkers before coming to rest on a narrow, raised green that is nestled at the feet of tussocky sand dunes. The par five 15th is Birkdale’s longest hole and one of the most heavily bunkered on the course; knock it straight down the middle off the tee and then using a long iron or a fairway wood, avoid the bunkers spread-eagled across the fairway; chip it on and, bingo, an easy five! The monstrous 18th has seen drama over the years, a heavily bunkered par four measuring 476 yards. Only our best two shots in the bag will see us putting for a birdie.
Royal Birkdale can be a torrid experience when the wind is up, with white horses kicking and rearing their heads in the Irish Sea, crashing like kamikazes onto the beach. In these conditions, many of the carries from tees to fairways into the prevailing wind can be too much for the average golfer. But whatever the weather, Royal Birkdale is a provocative place to play golf.
Did you know that Royal Birkdale is the favourite English course on the British Open rota according to the results of a 2006 Top 100 poll whereby we asked: "Four Royal English courses are currently British Open venues. If you've played them all, which do you think is best?" 42.9% voted for Birkdale with St George’s coming 2nd with 28.6%. In 3rd place was Lytham & St Annes with 19% but Liverpool could only manage 9.5% of the vote.
After playing Royal Birkdale I summed up the course by saying, “some holes are too easy from the forward tees which reduce the difficulty and any possible strategy of the hole, but it is a brute from the championship tees.” Perhaps that is why professionals playing here refer to it as the “fairest” golf course they play since their tee shots from the back tees likely still go farther than mine from the member’s tees.
As someone who has a bias towards links courses, I consider it to be the second-best course in England behind Royal St George’s. But I certainly understand those who would place some of the fabulous courses surrounding London ahead of it. It very much depends on what one wants from an experience on the golf course. Certainly, the great courses around London offer many wonderful holes and sited greens due to the terrifically undulating and hilly terrain. Royal Birkdale is essentially a flat course nestled between sand dunes that serve as corridors to the lines of play.
I played it too long ago to give it a current hole-by-hole review, but the memory of the course lingers. I plan on making a trip back to the area at which point I will do a more thorough overview of each hole. I did a write-up of each hole when I played it, but it is likely out-of-date and I would want to have a more recent look at the green surfaces. I assume some changes have been made to the green surfaces, which I thought to be the only real weakness to the course. The green surrounds are very good. Obviously, the course has been lengthened and changed since my visit since that seems to happen to nearly every course that hosts an Open, even if the essence of the course remains.
Royal Birkdale relocated from a nine-hole course at Shaw Hills, before moving to Birkdale Hills in 1897 with a course designed by George Lowe. In 1922, a seven-year plan was put in place to create a championship course. F. W. Hawtree and J.H. Taylor laid out the holes in the valleys between the dunes. As I played the course I glanced several times at areas where I thought it would have been interesting to bring some of the dunes more into play, even if it meant creating a blind shot such as at Rye Old or Prestwick. I saw more interesting sites for a few greens and its surrounds. I questioned why the designers did not put a green on a hill behind the location of a current green, which would have created a dramatic false front or worrisome bounces down the side of a green. Or why didn’t the architects route the fairways closer to some of the higher hills. Why didn’t they place a fairway that would incorporate some of the higher ground, thereby creating a split/tilted fairway in height. The ground is so good that it would have offered some interesting holes over or across the sand dunes, even if it would have meant moving a bit of earth.
Instead, Mr. Hawtree and Mr. Taylor routed the course through the dunes which increased the definition of the holes. Tom Doak wrote that “...it’s closer in keeping with the American concept of target golf, with well-defined fairways and greens in the valleys between impressive dunes….there isn’t a great variety of holes because the dunes are consistently attacked in the same way, and you don’t have to deal with odd stances.” Mr. Doak and his colleagues did not give Royal Birkdale a high rating, averaging a 7, and placed Royal Liverpool slightly higher. I very much disagree with their conclusion.
While I can agree that the fairways here do not often lead to uneven stances, I have found the same at other courses such as Muirfield, Silloth-on-Solway, and particularly the newer public courses such as Castle Stuart and Kingsbarns. I think having an even lie is a minor criticism. Even at Royal St. George’s or Trump Turnberry I did not find stances that were over-the-top. However, uneven terrain can result in a good shot being penalized with an unfair kick/bounce. Whether that results in a better links course is debatable. As for target golf, it is true that many greens are easily visible here. Many of the tees, particularly the championship tees, are elevated to provide an even better view of the hole. There is not much mystery at Royal Birkdale which is somewhat surprising for a superb links course. At Lahinch Old, Ballybunion Old and several others, there is more uncertainty with the tee shot. With uncertainty comes the need for strategy as well as precision. Yet the counter-argument to a feeling of reduced strategy due to the defined playing corridors at Royal Birkdale is that many of its holes are doglegs which require a preferred side or the avoidance of somewhat hidden bunkers. For longer hitters, there is often more risk-reward in their tee shot in terms of trying to cut a corner rather than simply hit a drive as far as they can.
After playing the course, I had three “criticisms: combined with relatively simpler putting surfaces, one’s putting usually occurs in a “shelter” of sorts due to the surrounding sand dunes. Even if the wind is up, when putting you are likely to be able to take a comfortable stance and rarely have to consider the effect of the wind as much as one would have to on other more exposed links courses. The greens are generally easy to read. Second, there is a lack of variety in the holes by not routing any of them atop or incorporating more of the dunes. Third, there are no “charming/subtle” holes here: what you see is what you get. So, to a degree I agree with Mr. Doak as well as the comments from other reviewers. Given the design of the course, without a major change to the routing which is unlikely, I would only want to see the putting surfaces have more inner contours to create more movement.
Another criticism I have that is unrelated to the golf course is that several of the member tees are too far forward and provide too much of an advantage/break versus the championship tees. This occurs at three, ten, eleven, thirteen and sixteen, although thirteen remains difficult.
There is no question playing at the bottom of the dunes creates both a great place for fans to watch tournaments as well as feeling a sense of peace and solitude. One feels very connected to the land and the game of golf on this course as you walk between those high dunes. I loved the feeling of walking between the dunes at Royal Birkdale and seeing the holes reveal themselves on some of the doglegs.
Even with the above criticisms, there is a beauty to Royal Birkdale which lies in its simplicity. There are two simple challenges that Royal Birkdale has which are to hit the ball straight and to find the green. After all, those are the two fundamentals to achieving a good score. The bunkering is superb, with several holes such as fifteen having the bunkers placed seemingly haphazardly near or even in the fairway. Due to the doglegs it is imperative one finds the fairway. There are many doglegs on the course which does add to its strategy as finding the wrong side of the fairway can find one with a blocked view of the green due to a high sand dune. Perhaps only Royal Liverpool seems to have as many doglegs. The green surrounds are very good with lots of humps and bumps as well as the close proximity of the greenside bunkers. Near many of the greens are tall grasses and bushes. On most holes you cannot miss the green by much or it is a certain dropped shot or more.
As part of Royal Birkdale’s defense, the rough seems to be closer to the edge of the fairway here than at other link’s courses. However, the fairways are generally wide with a few exceptions.
I do like how the course moves in all directions. It is rare that two consecutive holes go in the same directions. I also like the out-and-back routings of both nines. I think people under-appreciate the variety of the holes as there are many short and long par 4’s, and the doglegs create different angles.
The start of the round is superb with three longish par 4’s going in opposite directions. The fourth is a longer par 4 with a nice elevated tee to a green set well below. Six is perhaps the best hole on the front nine, both long and offering some strategy, yet the short par 4 fifth hole is the most fun due to the greenside bunkering. My favorite hole on the front nine is the eighth which is beautiful designed, located, and defended. On the back nine, the thirteenth and fifteenth are my favorite holes. My favorite par 3 is the twelfth. Just as the start is very good, the final three holes are also of high quality, although for the sixteenth that is from the championship tee. There are no “weak” or forgettable holes at Royal Birkdale as even the shorter holes have a well-defended green.
We played tees set at about 6300 yards when we played it.
Royal Birkdale is certainly one of the finest golf courses in the world and in my opinion, the fourth best course for the Open championship behind Muirfield, Royal Portrush, and Royal St. George’s. It is a course one could play over and over and never tire of it. Everyone should try to play it. One will be rewarded with an excellent routing and well-defended golf course in a serene setting between the dunes.
I guess I'd put Royal Birkdale in the 'fair links' bracket. The main feature of this course is the big dunes with flat fairways sat at the bottom of them. Personally I prefer fairways that use the land, like Royal St Georges. This is my main criticism of Birkdale.
Whilst there are a few average holes, pretty much all of the moles are very good. This consistency is what puts Birkdale above a lot of other courses in the country. However, I do think it lacks great holes. I'd say 10, 12, 13, 16 and 17 are great holes, which just isn't enough in my books for a course ranked 40th in the world.
The condition is always great, and the clubhouse is an experience in itself. On top of that, the location is perfect for a week of golf, which should also include its neighbours Hillside and Southport & Ainsdale.
Birkdale is a must play, but for me, should be ranked around 60-70th, instead of 40th.
There is not a lot more to add than other people have said about this course, it is simply fantastic. In March 2020 when we played this, Wallasey and Royal Liverpool both of those we had to play off mats and had either temp greens or tees, none of this at Birkdale.
We were lucky that the sun shone but it was windy. Royal Birkdale has great routing, the course flows really well. I really enjoyed 6 (although if you have a Garmin S3 be warned it says it is a par 4 when it is a 5 for us mortals and therefore having tried to hit the ball as hard as possible with a driver and it all going wrong I regretted not noting the scorecard saying it was a 5 as I would have played it differently). 9 is a lovely hole, blind tee shot and nice approach.
There really is too many holes to talk about but it has to go on anyone’s hit list and the debate over this and Royal St George’s will go on and on. I can’t decide between the two but to summarise I think Birkdale has the stronger routing and RSG has some more stand out holes. Just my opinion though.
A true championship links, I was desperate to play Royal Birkdale for a long time after attending the 2017 Open. The fairways and greens are massively framed by the dunes, and there is plenty of risk/reward on option from most tee shots. Some of my favourite holes include the 4th, with the Artisans clubhouse next to it, and the short dog leg right par 4 5th that follows. On the back, there is a great dog leg right par 4 to start proceedings off (10th), and it’s interesting to see just where Spieth hit that wayward drive on the par 5 13th. The par 5 17th has a great green setting right in the dunes. This is followed by the par 4/5 finisher, which ends up in front of the iconic white clubhouse. There are no sea views at this links, and a criticism could be that the routing continually runs through the dunes the same way, meaning there aren’t many uneven stances, but never the less it is an awesome setting to test yourself at an Open rota course.
A great course and definitely worthy of the plaudits it gets, a must for a golfing enthusiast and I cant really add anything that hasn't already been said. Oh apart from we had a beat the pro on the 14th with Tom Watson !!
I didn't want to be the new Stuart Cink so I let him win that one!
All the open courses are brilliant and I honestly think your favourite is the one you play best at or more important, .....when you get the best weather ! When you compare the best of the rest , ie Ganton ,Royal Porthcawl , Royal St Davids, Saunton Sands, Burnham and Berrow, you realise the open courses have something extra that is hard to explain but is definitely justified in making them the top of the pecking order and you must put this on your bucket list.
Always within the Top 3 in the UK and rightly so. If you enjoy links golf you will struggle to play a better course. Birkdale always provides a stern test especially if its windy! I play this course every year and it gets better the more you play it...
Interesting opening to a review on a website that ranks the course no.10 in the UK!
I have a new favourite! Yesterday i played the impressive Hillside, but as i stepped out onto the 1st tee with the starter welcoming us to the course, this was simply different class. Everything about this course, from beginning to your last putt on the 18th oozes class and a course that can rival all the other World Class courses.
The course plays through the huge dunes and apart from the 9th, which is a blind tee shot, the course is generally laid out in front of you.
But before you even get to the 1st tee, there is the magnificent art deco clubhouse which oozes history wherever you look. And you know as you head onto the course you'll be noting where Speith hit his amazing shot or Palmer played out of the gorse. Hopefully you can do the course justice.
All the holes are strong. The 1st, ranked 11th, is probably in reality the hardest but is such a strong starting hole. And then what was for me a really good stretch with 2 pars and then a birdie on the par 3 4th. That will live long in the memory. Not as much as my second shot on the 2nd, which somehow travelled round the right front bunker and missed the one directly behind to finish bang on the centre of the green. And that is the beauty of playing these greens, where your creativity and skills are tested but rewarded if you execute well.
All the par 3s are standouts but for me the 12th is simply sublime. There was quite a bit of water on this part of the course and so a pond had forned in the valley between tee and green which added to the attractive of the hole.
And then you have the closing stretch of 3 par 5s in the last 4 holes. The 15th is 500 yards of bunkerdom and so how satisfying when you thread your shots through them without visiting the sand.
We teed off the championship tee on the 18th which offered a totally different perspective to the winter yellow tees and you are rewarded with a visually wonderful looking hole back to the iconic clubhouse. A par on this hole is a great way to finish what has just been a journey through golfing heaven.
Whilst some courses maybe Premiership but say a mid table team equivalent or scrapping away at the wrong end, this is a top half of the table course.
We fell lucky. We had a wonderful sunny day and the wind was moderate so we could score well and enjoy the odd bit of magic, which this course deserves.
This is the best course i have played in the UK todate.
Afterwards, soup and a sandwich in the clubhouse and last chance to soak up the history, before leaving but vowing to return again. Perfection.
I think I said in a previous review that links courses were not my favourite but I don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote that as this has got to be one of my favourite courses i’ve ever played alongside Portrush and RCD. Immaculate. Pure. Perfect. It truly was a treat to play such a prestigious course and I will savour the experience for a very long time. From hole 1 the course was fantastic and it just kept getting better, after the round we were trying to think of our favourite hole but it was so hard because not one of them was a weak hole, making the selection of our favourite a lot harder! The greens were rolling so well an were very speedy, the rough was awfully thick which is how it should be for a links course and the bunkers were fantastic but incredibly tough!
The first hole is a long par 4 measuring about 420 yards and a brutal opening hole with a very narrow fairway to hit and out of bounds down the right hand side. The 4th hole is a great par 3 playing about 190 yards with many tough bunkers surrounding the green. The 7th hole was a fantastic par 3 with their famous donut bunker at the front of the green. The back nine played much easier than front nine with 3 par 5s in the last 4 holes, however the par 5s still played extremely tough. I will go for any par 5 in 2 if I can however you have to be a mad man to attempt to hit the greens in 2 on the 15th and 17th. They are so narrow and well protected by deep bunkers that you will come away with a better score if you take your medicine and lay up, which makes playing par 5s a lot more interesting and fun. The 18th is probably my favourite hole on the course as you hit into the green in front of the famous clubhouse making it a beautiful approach shot and a lovely end to the round.
All in all, the experience was fantastic and I absolutely adored my time at Birkdale, would absolutely go back to play there again if I ever get the chance!
Have played off every tee box in every condition. Simply incredible.
The Birkdale—along with Sandwich, Turnberry and the Old Course—constitute my pantheon of top Open courses, past or present. Though there are plenty of fairway bunkers, most every tee shot here asks the golfer to decide how much risk can be taken to create a reward opportunity for the next shot. All but one of the par fives provide the same challenge on the second shot. And the running approach is in play on all but the short par three holes.
Another fine feature is the routing. The course meanders through (not over) the dunes in all directions, giving the golfer the chance to experience the oft present wind in a variety of ways.