Host venue down the years for the Curtis Cup, Walker Cup, Ryder Cup and the Open, Royal Birkdale stands head and shoulders above just about every other course in the British Isles. You can understand why so many prestigious events have been held here as, in the words of author James W Finegan in his book All Courses Great and Small “the flattish fairways – there is very little undulation – prompt neither freak bounces nor awkward lies... This is a remarkably fair and straightforward test. ”
And there you have it, you can understand why the top professional golfers love the course as it’s more of a manicured links, largely shaped by the hand of man (or three generations of the Hawtree family, to be more precise) instead of a rugged course like some of the supporting cast of links layouts that line the same stretch of coastline. Shots that are properly executed will normally receive an appropriate reward at Birkdale and not unduly suffer a bad bounce off a rippled fairway into a bunker or into the rough.
I played the course last week, almost ten years since I was last here, and was lucky enough to catch it on a sunny day with hardly any wind, which is the sort of weather you dream of when you’re visiting one of the top tracks. After a quick look at the golfing memorabilia in the various display cabinets around the clubhouse, it was time to get my golf shoes on, register with the pro shop then head out onto the first tee where scorecards (and complimentary sandwiches) were dispensed by the starter.
What a start with a double doglegged par four – so much for easing yourself into the round! In fairness, the next two holes are pretty straightforward par fours, followed by the two weakest holes on the card for me, the par three 4th and sharply right doglegged par four 5th. The other short hole on the outward half is wonderful, played downhill to a green surrounded by seven deep bunkers, one of which is doughnut-shaped. And the 9th hole, with a forced carry to a hidden fairway that swings right and up to the green is just a brilliant way to end the front nine.
On the back nine, the only disappointing hole for me was the par three 14th – then again, I suppose any short hole that follows so soon after the fabulous par three 12th will look weak in comparison! Three of the final four holes are rated as par fives from the regular yellow tees but forget about thoughts of finishing with a birdie blitz as this finishing stretch is as tough as old boots, especially with the narrowness of the 17th fairway, all the way from tee to green, including the putting surface. And the kink in the fairway short of the home green is very devious!
Royal Birkdale’s one of only 13 courses awarded a perfect score of 100 out of a possible 100 in The Rolex World’s Top 1000 Golf Courses book and it’s also one of only three courses in the latest Top 100 chart for GB & I to currently score an average 6-ball mark. That tells you how highly regarded it is in the world of golf. Donald Steel once stated: “Birkdale, because of its many virtues, will remain in heavy demand to decide golf’s weightiest issues” and I fully expect that to be the case when the European Tour pitches up here again next year.
Oh, and I don't think there's a better view from the lounge in any clubhouse that I've been in of the 18th green, which lies virtually within touching distance of the bay windows - what a place to view next year's Open Champion hole the winning putt...
Date: May 19, 2016