The Open will again be upon us in one week’s time, so I thought it would be timely for a review of Royal Birkdale, host to this year’s Championship.
The Birkdale journey naturally starts at the famous whitewashed clubhouse which may not be as grand and elaborate as some other Open rota venues, but it’s still jam-packed with photos and other memorabilia of past championships to keep you aware of the history that’s been played out on the turf you’re about to set foot upon.
You don’t get a chance to ease yourself in here as the double dogleg first has the reputation of being one of the toughest on the rota. A reputation well deserved from my own experience and will take two well struck shots to find the green. Other than the short par 3 fourth hole that I didn’t find in keeping with the rolling links across rest of the layout, the front nine offers both a quality and varied test as you hit from several raised tees to well-guarded green sites. But it’s the sand dunes that envelope the course that provide Royal Birkdale with its personality. Strangely enough, other than the blind drive on the ninth, the dunes rarely come into play as the fairways are interspersed between them. Whilst it’s true that the fairways offer little in the way of slope, they still provide the crumpled bedsheet appearance that we “links-lovers” crave.
The bunkers are another highlight and seem like they’ve been scattered across the course at random, and whilst none of the bunkers look particularly menacing, mainly compromising of sly pot bunkers (the doughnut shaped trap on the left of the seventh being particularly sneaky), many are obscured from vision. There aren’t quite as many bunkers here as there are at Lytham but a bunkerless round at Royal Birkdale would still be quite some achievement.
Onto the back nine and the tee shot on the tenth is one of my favourites as you’re required to draw your drive between two bunkers that guard either side of the fairway before hitting an iron into a green framed by dunes: another wonderful feature that you observe across numerous holes. The par 3 twelfth is well renowned and you’ll have no doubt seen the photos but I need to comment on it as it’s an absolute delight, the kidney shaped green and vertical faced bunkers that surround it like slip fielders waiting for a mishit shot. I found the back nine to be a slightly tougher examination of your game than the front, and they grow the rough thick here. It makes you realise how much power these top tour-pros can generate when they hit mid irons out of this knee-deep fescue. My only plan was to cross my fingers and hope that a wedge would help my ball find its way back onto the fairway.
As the course comes to an end, the tee shot on the par 5 seventeenth is another highlight as two large dunes flank either side of the fairway before hitting to a narrowing landing area for your second; the recently rebuilt green, again located amongst the dunes being the site of Padraig’s famous eagle in 2008. The final hole, whilst not as well framed as the previous few is played as a par 5 for us mere mortals but that doesn’t make it any less intimidating on a Summer’s day. Members sit out on the patio in front of one of the most iconic clubhouses in golf and politely applaud any approach shots that show any sort of luck or talent. And whilst I mention the eighteenth, who can forget Justin Rose’s pitch or the stroke of genius from a young Seve as he chipped between two bunkers from the left side of the green to announce his arrival into golfing folklore?
To sum up, whilst the course lacks sea views and maybe doesn’t have the full variety of Royal St George’s which is probably why Birkdale doesn’t achieve England’s top spot, it’s still an absolute cracker and justifiably deserves its place in the world’s top 50.
Finally, if you want to enhance your experience, play during the evening time of a cloudless Summer’s day; the third photo shown is taken from the back of the eighteenth during dusk. The shadows cast across the links turf at this time were a wonderful sight to behold.
Date: July 13, 2017