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1.5 miles S of Southport
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George Low, FW Hawtree and JH Taylor
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 Low, the course was ready in 1897. In the 1930s, the course was remodelled and upgraded to championship standard by FW Hawtree and JH 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. The 12th, a 183-yard par three is a classic hole 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.
Royal Birkdale is a golf course which is incredibly hard not to like but at the same time it’s not an easy one to truly love.
If it were a football team it would probably be the Arsenal side that won multiple trophies under George Graham in the late 80’s and early 90’s when the phrase, “One-nil to the Arsenal” was coined.
That successful team was built on a tight defensive discipline and similarly Birkdale hardly has a chink its golfing armour.
However, I like my golf (and football) a little bit more free-flowing and whilst I’m not quite from the Kevin Keegan school of “however many you score, we’ll score more” I do like to be entertained when I’m on the golf course and whilst Birkdale certainly has its moments (several of them) it’s mostly calculable and lacks a certain flair. Unlike some other top bracket golf courses it hasn’t got a sparkle in its eye.
Not dissimilar to Saunton the fairways are relatively flat and they give mostly predictable bounces, although there are still many subtle creases and natural undulations to be found. The green complexes are all very nice but without any real moments of true magic and the actual greens themselves are good without being exceptional.
The above probably comes across in way that I don’t like Birkdale and that’s wrong because I do and it’s in my personal top 15 in Great Britain. I hold the course in high esteem and really admire it. I have enjoyed every single one of my many rounds here, wandering through the dunes, but I have to admit it doesn’t stir the soul like Royal St. Georges, Dornoch, Turnberry and St. Andrews to name just a few of its peers.
Many commentators say Birkdale is the fairest of them all and as far as Open courses go ‘tis true but this is still high quality links golf we’re talking about and it embodies so many elements that makes golfing by the sea so great. Birkdale isn’t one of my personal favourites but it’s irrefutably one of the best.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
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.
I played my first Open venue in England last week on a beautiful day with barely any wind. This was not like my experiences on the great links of my homeland where you feel in a constant battle with nature and the elements. Where these courses are beasts Birkdale is far more of a beauty seducing you with her curves and charm. My playing partner and I were overwhelmed by the aesthetic appeal of many of the holes here - not something you feel at, say, St Andrews or Carnoustie magnificent as they are in their rugged grandeur. We loved the way so many of the holes wind their way through the dunes to beautiful greens. So many times at Birkdale you stand on an elevated tee and marvel at the hole laid out in front of you. And there are holes here that are hardly links at all - 3,4 and 5 for example Indeed, throughout the round one is struck by the flatness of the fairways.Strangely, the only hole that slightly disappointed was the 18th with its dual fairways and a lack of definition for the second shot. But 17 very good or great holes ain't bad!! I would pick out 3, 6(quite magnificent), 9, 16 and 17 as my stand-outs along with all the par 3s in particular 7 and 12 but such choices are invidious on such a splendid course. Of course it is not cheap - over £200 for a weekday round - but Royal Birkdale on a sunny day is pure golfing paradise.
The rankings are spot on as Birkdale is a touch below RSG, although whether Sunningdale Old is better depends a great deal on your links vs inland preference. A touch below as it has perhaps a couple of "ordinary" holes such as 2 and 5 (maybe). The course opens with a memorable par 4 and 6 and 7 are superb. The "closing" stretch from 12 onwards is spectacular including the 13th which is my favourite. A top golf course and worth the additional green fee when compared to other courses in the region.
A wonderful golf course with a natural routing testing every shot in the bag, from long drives to doglegs of varying length in both directions.
Sadly we caught up with a Corporate day that pushed what would have been a 3.5 hour round at 12 holes to 5 hrs by the 18th. Not the course's fault, but worth checking if you have some flexibility on your dates or times.
Probably the most varied yet flowing Open course that I have played and notably superior to its local (and in my opinion on reflection somewhat over hyped) competition.
Would love to play again.
Magnificent golf course with great bunkering, dunes, greens and overall design. Most holes played in isolation and goes very close to the top of my list. I wouldn’t mind seeing some more outrageous dips and hollows on the greens ala St Andrews Old.
Misses out a bit with not a great deal of natural undulations and it would be best if the club got someone else in the pro shop instead of the bloke who looks like he quickly sucks a lemon before dealing with paying visitors.
I will allow myself a rant here….I did just pay 210 pounds afterall. I go into pro shop and the lemon sucker and a mate are chatting away for a few minutes, ignoring me as I stand 2 metres away. The mate walks away and then the pro goes to a shelf, looks at something, walks back to his desk, gives me a once over, lingering on my 5 year old golf shoes and then types something into his computer. Then he looks at me and asks can I help you. On paper it may not sound too bad but it was ridiculous.
Anyway, after forking out another 5 pounds for a simple trolley (plain rude), getting told that yes there is a range behind the putting green, walking 300 metres to it , then realising it needed a token which he did not mention. Preposterous. Put the starter behind the front facing counter as he was a nice bloke.
This poor start does not detract from the obvious 6 balls this course deserves. I know there are various arguments on this website about whether value for money should be taken into account when ranking. I don’t consider cost or the approach of staff or the way I am playing, I base it on the course itself and Birkdale is top class. The back 9 is not as great and there are 2 average holes on the front 9, the par 3 fourth hole and the 5th but the rest of it is up there. If I could find a member to play it for 30 pounds (I say we start a petition for this fantastic website to include a social page) I would be there every holiday playing it and the equally magnificent Hillside. Warren from Australia.
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...
One other mild criticism I would have on this great course would be the fact that nearly all the fairways seem very flat. This aspect didn’t feel natural to me. It felt more like the bulldozer operator got a little carried away with having things nearly perfectly flat. This is the only real disappointment I had with the course. I just feel if the course had more rugged feeling of the dunes with uneven lies and more undulations the course would be tremendously better to me.
My favorite holes were the par 4 5th with a hard dogleg right and an approach into a back to front heavily tilted and bunkered green set into the dunes and the par 3 12th. Which is a great mid length par 3 with a raised quarter moon shapped green protected by 4 bunkers and tucked into the dunes. I must admit to also enjoying the par 5’s on the day as for the first time in my golfing life I managed to birdie all 4 of the par 5’s on a course.
I realize I’ve been a little critical of what is by most considered the best course in England and a great championship course but I can just imagine it being that much better. Personal preference no doubt and I even managed to play my best round of the year, not to mention birdying all par 5’s (first time ever for me) so have great memories from that respect.