Royal Birkdale - Lancashire - England

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.

Date Winner Country
1954 Peter Thomson Australia
1961 Arnold Palmer USA
1965 Peter Thomson Australia
1971 Lee Trevino USA
1976 Johnny Miller USA
1983 Tom Watson USA
1991 Ian Baker-Finch Australia
1998 Mark O'Meara USA
2008 P.Harrington Ireland
2017 Jordan Spieth USA

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.

Spieth "flips switch" to win by three - 2017 Open Championship Royal Birkdale

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Reviews for Royal Birkdale

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Description: Royal Birkdale Golf Club is the favourite English course on the British Open rota according to the results of a Top 100 poll... Rating: 9.5 out of 10 Reviews: 75
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Greg Watson

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.

June 13, 2021
8 / 10
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Phil Ree

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.

May 26, 2021
9 / 10
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Graeme Allanson

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.

April 19, 2021
9 / 10
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tamas

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.

December 01, 2020
10 / 10
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Rob Gibson

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.

November 10, 2020
10 / 10
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Mark White

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.

July 08, 2020
9 / 10
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Peter Handcock

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.

April 28, 2020
9 / 10
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Nicholas Kjelgaard

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.

April 26, 2020
9 / 10
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Josh P

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.

April 09, 2020
8 / 10
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jason

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.

November 16, 2019
9 / 10
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