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1½ miles S of Southport
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Championships hosted: Boys Amateur, Brabazon Trophy, British Masters, British PGA Matchplay, Curtis Cup, English Men's Amateur, English Women's Amateur, Men's Home Internationals, Ryder Cup, Senior Open, The Amateur, The Open, The Womens Amateur, Walker Cup, Women's Home Internationals, Women's Open
Ten-time Open Championship venue, Royal Birkdale was the last English course to be added to the Open rotation. Turnberry is the most junior Open Championship venue.
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 Open Championship has been hosted at Birkdale no fewer than ten times (most recently in 2017).
Royal Birkdale Golf Club played host to the 1965 and 1969 Ryder Cup matches between the USA and Great Britain. Team Captains in 1965 were Byron Nelson (US) and Harry Weetman (GB). Despite injury problems the Americans outplayed the British at their own links game, using low punch shots into the ever-present wind. The face of the Ryder Cup changed forever after Birkdale member Brian Park donated £11,000 for the erection of a tented village, a trade exhibition and the carrying of the now all-familiar banners showing individual match scores. USA 19 ½ - GB 12 ½. The Ryder Cup was played at East Lake in 1963 and at Champions in 1967.
Team Captains in 1969 were Sam Snead (US) and Eric Brown (GB). This was the closest contest in Ryder Cup history with 17 of the 32 matches being decided on the last hole. With the 18th Ryder Cup tied, focus was on the last match as Jack Nicklaus stunned the world of golf by conceding a tricky two-footer to Tony Jacklin. It resulted in the first tie in Ryder Cup history and the act is known simply as “The Concession” and is widely considered golf’s greatest single sporting gesture. USA 16 - GB 16. The Ryder Cup was played at Old Warson in 1971.
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.
After the 1991 Open, Martin Hawtree rebuilt all the greens, re-contouring and fashioning swales around the edges of many of the putting surfaces. Prior to the 2008 edition of the tournament, Hawtree remodelled the par five 17th, using the back half of the old green as the front half a new one, surrounded by new dunes. For the 2017 Open, the architect added new tees, tightened entrances to nine greens and added fairway bunkers on ten holes.
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.
Golf does not get better than this! Everything is perfect - from the course, practice facilities, clubhouse, professional shop, halfway hut (best sausage roll in the world!), great staff and an extremely friendly atmosphere.
Of course its a bucket list course and so the butterflies were definitely around on the first tee. As soon as you glimpse the iconic club house turning off the main road it brings a smile to your face. We were met at the door by Ian who was rapidly enthusiasic to show us round and talk through some of the previous Open final round moments, it really built the excitement ahead of going out trying to do the course justice. Certainly for me Birkdale showed me its teeth and risk reward holes took their toll as I was drawn in. It is a fantastic design and weather was a huge factor making relatively easy holes punishing in place. Despite not posting a decent score I thoroughly enjoyed the round and left wanting to come back to test my skills once more, surely the sign of a great course. Condition as expected was very high, the greens were lightning quick and required a great touch around the greens if chipping in. Seldom will you see a club house so full of silverware and you could spend hours just walking through reading about all the collected memorabilia, a real treat.
I had the pleasure of playing Royal Birkdale last week accompanied by a member and former Greens Chairman. As my 2nd experience at RB, having the member alongside added much colour to the round, not just in our choice of language I hasten to add, but the stories he could tell as we played each hole. Some of the tales were from various Open events, in particular the 2008 and 2017 Opens but also about some of the changes and some the members would like to do, but are prevented from given the site is in a SSI area.
On a sunny and breezy day, the course was even more enchanting than the 1st time I played. At this time of year the rough and dunes take on a more silvery look which frame the green carpeted fairways and green complexes beautifully.
You get treated on hole 2 to the fantastic green complexes which are then throughout the round. The design of the greens, the run off areas, the bunkering is truly world class. All the green complexes are magnificent, my stand out was 11th with its hogs back on the green and run off area to the right hand side, the length of the green.
The member pointed out that the pines alongside the 6th tee, whilst planted to provide seclusion from the walkers on the other side, have now grown so tall they don't serve their purpose and he would have removed. This was knocked back by the environmentalists on basis that visiting Ospreys may use one of the trees. His view was that could find another tree no problem!
And that is one of the beauties of RB - you are playing in what is effectively a nature reserve. The expansive of the site really strikes home with the landscape and sand dunes teeming with wildlife.
Returning to the course itself, the fairways were like carpets, the greens ran true and moderately quick - key was that you could trust them. The bunkers sand was my only criticism, varying in depth, so not consistent throughout. I only visited 2 bunkers, whilst one of my playing partners effectively had a 'day on the beach'! What was noticeable was that the golf ball tended to come to rest either close to the face leaving some very difficult escapes to be made. The member felt that the ground had become too compacted and the bunkers needed turning over so the ball did not run through them as much.
The 15th is such a wonderful hole. As you walk along it, there is plenty of room to avoid the numerous bunkers, but you marvel at the strategic placement of them and the contours on the fairways that feed your ball into them.
Stories about Ian Poulter and Ernie Els, neither positive, added extra interest to the round and of course looking at where Jordan Spieth hit his drive onto the practice ground. The member pointed out that in his view, whilst the course did not have internal OOB to the practice area, as the rules state that you cannot practice on the course, striking the ball from the practice area in effect meant that Jordan was indeed practicing on the course and that he should have not been allowed to have played the shot that he did. He took it up with the R&A and I understand that wont be allowed to happen next time, should anyone spray it that far right!
Always good to finish the round off the back tees as it offers a different visual and challenge to the yellow tees. Finished the round with same ball I started with so always a bonus, but also shows that the course is fair, whilst the rough is penal your ball can be found unless you're really off line.
A previous reviewer stated that playing RB is an event and it's true. It's an experience greater than just the golf course, but putting that to on side, the golf course is immense, it's fair and rewards good shots, creative links shots that use the contours wisely, but punishes where it should - errant drives and wrong strategy.
Whatever your golfing ability on the day, it's a course and experience that will live long in the memory.
One of the most entertaining, inventive and memorable shots in recent major history and a member writes to the R&A to prevent it happening again. How depressing. I suppose it wouldn't be so fun second time around.
I wonder if the Lytham members wrote to the R&A to stop golfers hitting from the car park after Seve's wonderful escape in '79?
The member was the Greens Chairman at the time after all Tom,, so probably not too surprising! His other anecdotes were top class and ultimately added to the enjoyment of the round. As was the fact he knew every bump and hollow so I piggy backed on him to a 5 and 4 win over our opponents.
In 1954, Peter Thomson’s Open win was assured with a splash-out from a greenside bunker on the 16th at Royal Birkdale.
Thomson admitted that the trap “scared” him but he lofted his shot beautifully, tapped in for a birdie and went on to lift the Claret Jug.
Sixty-seven years later, one of the mighty quartet representing my golf club went one better than the great Australian by holing out from the same bunker for his birdie.
Some might say it was a fluke if he hadn’t done exactly the same on the par-three 14th.
Of course, his photo will not accompany Thomson’s and other champions in the wonderful clubhouse at Birkdale but, as he said in the car park afterwards: “I would have driven all this way for one chip in, never mind two!”
The most obvious but pointless tip to anyone playing Birkdale is to avoid the sand.
The truth is “if you play Birkdale and haven’t gone into a bunker then you have kept your ball in your pocket.”
This was the wisdom the club professional offered to one of our fellow competitors ahead of the the excellent golf day in aid of Debra, which supports individuals and families affected by Epidermolysis Bullosa – a group of genetic skin conditions that cause the skin to blister and tear at the slightest touch.
It goes without saying that I could vouch for the sage because I had been marooned in several bunkers, often after shots which initially held much promise but were mysteriously sucked into the sand.
This is Birkdale’s greatest defence – seemingly benign fairways which filter the ball into trouble. Only the most precise placement can guarantee to keep the ball above ground.
And yet this is a course which can offer rewards. We all came away from our day having achieved unlikely successes although I still feel disappointed to have missed my birdie putts on 14 and, especially, 18.
I had watched the 2017 Open from the course but was stunned at how different the place appeared without stands, turnstiles and the bridge leading from the bus drop-offs.
The practice ground from where Jordan Spieth played his infamous shot was devoid of the television lorries but still had drama when another of our party saw the head of his three-iron fly almost as far as his ball.
By the way, anyone who has played the 13th will wonder just how Spieth could have hit his drive so wide. One of our compadres was disgusted by finding his way into rough with his drive which was nevertheless 100 yards less wild than Jordan’s.
The world’s greatest golfing commentators have dissected the wonderful holes of Birkdale so many times, that my two penn’orth is of no significance.
Suffice to say that I loved every one of them but if I were to pick my favourites they would include the short par-three seventh with its elevated tee-shot down to a green surrounded by pot bunkers. The hole is great fun and the view across the course is stunning.
I was also a fan of the par-five 17th, which requires a drive through dunes on either side of the fairway before a sharp dogleg to the left.
I can also give mid-range handicappers encouragement by saying that I finished with the same ball with which I started and only the most off-beam shots will find the deep rough.
However, I giggle a bit at the starter’s comment that the fairways are flat, aside from the 10th because… they aren’t. There are undulations everywhere but the grass is so tight that great connection is always possible.
Then there are the startling green complexes with borrows which have foxed far better players than us.
But most of all, playing at Royal Birkdale is an event. This is where Jack Nicklaus made ‘the concession’ to Tony Jacklin, where Hale Irwin fluffed with an air shot inches from the target and where Spieth decided to role play as a car park attendant an hour before winning the Open.
This is truly a place of pilgrimage. Any day spent here is one to saviour. Especially, if you can replicate the shots of champions.
Fortunate to play at Birkdale a number of times, the most recent in an inter club match. The course layout is fabulous and condition was again in first class condition. The recent work to remove some non indigenous trees and clear scrub has really made a pleasant difference. Over the last as couple of years the course has a fairer feel despite being tough especially in a moderate breeze.
I visited Birkdale for the 2008 Open, so to play it 13 years later was real bucket list material. I was a little nervous booking and arriving, but the customer service and welcome were friendly and helpful at all times. If you’re a golf nerd it’s not a place you have to walk around on egg shells.
We weren’t blown away by the front 9. Number 1 is as hard an opener as you’ll find, then you play a bit nearer some farmland which makes the ground softer. 7 then plays back to the dunes, then from number 9 business really picks up, with a blind tee shot then approach over a valley with the clubhouse behind. The routing is two loops of nine, which is always nice. Keep an eye out for wildlife too, as we saw a stoat or weasel near the 9th.
The back 9 is as good as anywhere. The dunes, drama and history go up a notch. They must be among the biggest golf course dunes in England, which I think make this the best Open venue for viewing. I haven’t played in Ireland but there is an Irish vibe to the landscape.
Each hole is hit after hit, made even more fun now by it being a Jordan Spieth tour. Make sure you walk behind the 12th, up to the biggest dune to see how far over he was on the practice ground (pictured). It is ridiculous.
The greens are often elevated, but not unfairly so. The same for the bunkers, they ask questions but don’t overwhelm you. If you can control your ball you can score well, but once out of the playing corridors you will spend a lot of time looking for balls in nasty undergrowth.
The long 17th looks awesome from the tee, playing between large dunes. The green though, doesn’t quite fit the rest of the course. It is extremely narrow and long so you can tell it’s the newest on the course. It does hit home just how good approaches like Harrington’s was in ‘08.
Everyone knows about 18, what I will say is that the clubhouse grew on me over time. You can see its clock tower from around the course, and it does have a unique charm to it.
So because the front 9 is in my opinion is very good rather than outstandingly good, I would rate this a bit behind Royal St George’s in the ongoing debate in which is better. I am from Kent though, so take my view with a pinch of sea salt.
We were lucky enough to play Royal Birkdale in almost perfect conditions, dry with only the slightest of breeze. The overall course was in excellent condition with the only downside being that the bunkers were solid and compact which made the already difficult bunkers almost impossible.
Royal Birkdale is a true test of accuracy with slim margins for error on both fairways and greens both of which are usually surrounded by well placed pot bunkers. If you are good enough to find the short stuff you won't be disappointed as the greens and fairways were absolutely immaculate and possibly the best I've played on in England.
The overall experience was nothing shy of superb from signing in to having a pint after the round, all the staff and members we spoke to were unbelievably friendly with a special mention to the starter who was brilliant.
What a great place to play golf. From the moment you arrive at the iconic clubhouse, warm up on the extensive practice facilities, and then step out on to the testing first tee, everything oozes class and style. And then it gets better. The course isn't spectacular, it's just a series of 18 challenging holes that are immaculately conditioned. There's something for everyone here. It's tough, but not brutal (unless you want to play off the Open tees), and there are chances to score. The greens ran so true that you knew if you had the right line you would hole the putt - an absolute joy and I was delighted to roll in some long putts and make 3 birdies.
Only tiny tiny niggle is to play the final hole from the left hand members tees takes away a little of the thrill of playing the 18th at an Open Championship course in the same way as the legends of the game. Would be great if they built a forward tee on the right so us mortals could play the same dogleg.
This is as good as links gets for me.
In my top 3 I have played in the world now, and it might even be the best I’ve played so far, was lucky enough to play off the open tees aswell. Starting off with great hospitality from the staff. First hole is a monster. It would have to be the hardest opening hole on the open rota. Driver is a very risky play. Beyond that some monster 500y par 4s, but also at the end of of the round they give you a few par 5’s so if you survive the first 14 holes, you can make a few birdies coming in! Conditioning is absolutely superb, playing pitches/chipping off the links turf is second to none, and probably only matched by the sandbelt in Australia. There are birdies to be had and holes where you just have to hold on! Some of the views and topography at this place are sensational. You can’t see the sea but some of the natural hillsides and mounds that frame the holes make you see how this is an incredible spectator venue. My whole experience here was an absolute pleasure.
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.
Mark: You stated your top four venues for The Open Championship. How come no love for the Old Course among the top four -- you must see it no higher than 5th.
Given your conclusion -- among your top 25 courses played -- does the Old Course make that grade ? For what it's worth -- I do agree with you regarding your first two choices.
I do not have the Old course in my personal top 25 but it’s close. While I admire the uniqueness of the large double greens, the “loop,” playing over the edge of the hotel, the bunkering, and starting and finishing in the town with hundreds of people often watching behind the fence, it is a course that for me requires an outside agency to make it challenging which is high wind. Typically one can hit the ball down the left side of most of the holes and be safe. As such I think it lacks strategy.
Obviously if you hit a wayward shot you will be penalized but that occurs on most of the best courses.
I do not find many of the green surfaces to be as interesting as other courses although there are a few greens that are superb.
There are several “average/indistinct” holes as well.
While the landscape is flat and dull, the location compensates for it.
I have played it only four times and I admit it that it is one of the hardest courses for me to evaluate. I do separate its history from the course itself.