Royal Birkdale G.C. - Feature Review
You have a certain expectation of Royal Birkdale, you are aware of the history of the place, the famous shots that have been played down the years so whatever happens when you play you feel a connection with the history of the course. It has an ambiance that few others can match and as result your day on the links is already set to be a good one...
The Clubhouse maybe one of the most famous in the world with its fantastic Art Deco design with trademark white walls and angular features. The welcome is warm, with the proshop set into the clubhouse and access to the facilities of the clubhouse open to visiting players.
Although you cannot see the sea from the course, you are left in little doubt that this is classic links land with large dunes protruding from the sandy soil and that sense of a course fitting into the land unlike that of a manicured, modern design.
As you would expect from an Open venue the set of four par 3’s are fantastic, all with an equal measure of character and danger. The 4th and 7th are both played from a raised tee allowing you to gain a great view of the greens and the multiple deep and dangerous sand traps that await any wayward shot. The 7th in particular is noteworthy for its unusual bunkering with the short left bunker featuring a small island of turf in the middle.
The Par 3’s on the back nine are where Royal Birkdale comes into its own. The 12th may be one of the very best par 3’s in the world. It is not overly long at 190 yards from the back tee, but is beautifully framed by three large sand dunes, one to the rear and two either side of the green. Bunkers short left and right add to the balance of the hole. Hit the green and you may make birdie, miss it and any number from a 3-10 is on the cards.
The final par 3 is the 14th which is long at over 200yrds, but has a large green which slopes from back to front. As ever it is protected by deep greenside bunkers that must be avoided at all cost.
One of the best and most challenging Par 4’s is the 1st. Made famous as officially the hardest opening hole in Open Championship golf, it offers a stern test to the start of a round. A large sand dune on the left forces you towards the out of bounds which runs the length of the hole down the right hand side.
The 8th and 9th are also notable for their difficulty with demanding tee shots and a severe false front to the 9th green that is a real challenge. Possibly the most difficult par 4 comes at the 13th which is a long dog leg right in which deep fairway bunkers protect the right hand side of the hole and a ditch runs down the left. A good tee shot sets up a long iron or fairway wood to a green set in large sand dunes.
Despite a set of difficult par 4’s Royal Birkdale does offer some birdie opportunities notably on the 5th, 10th , 11th and 16th all of which are fairly short and can be reached with a drive and a wedge.
Although the Open is played as a par 70 with only two par 5’s the members and visitors play it as a par 72 with a more generous four par 5’s. The first of which comes at the 6th. If you can miss the massive fairway bunker on the right hand side there is a good chance of par or birdie. The green is tricky and raised, nestling in a large sand dune.
As you come to the end of your round you face three par 5’s in last 4 holes. It could be a welcome relief for the scorecard, but equally it could turn into a long final and brutal skirmish with the course. The first of these is the long 15th. A reasonably easy drive then leads a very difficult layup. The fairway ahead is peppered by bunkers and bushes on the right side. The layup is probably the most difficult part of the hole. Get the layup correct and birdie chance presents itself.
You arrive at the 17th with famous shots and memories in your mind. In recent times Harrington’s spectacular drawn three wood to set up an Open winning eagle resonates in your mind. The drive is attractive with a draw required between two huge sand dunes. Avoid these and you have either a simple layup or you can try and follow in Harrington’s footsteps and have a go at the green. The green is framed by large dunes and is incredibly tricky with several different levels set into a long and thin green. Walking off having only had two putts feels like a victory.
You stand on the 18th with a fantastic view of the hole before you. You tee off from high on a sand dune and the hole then sweeps round to the right to finish right in front of the club house. The 18th may be the best birdie opportunity on the course. The Par 5 is not long at 500yrds and can be reached in two with a good drive avoiding bunkers on the right. The green is large and inviting and as you hole out on the last memories flood back of that famous wedge holed by a young Justin Rose at the 1998 Open.
You can’t really have a bad time playing Royal Birkdale. The course delights, surprises and challenges on every shot. Arrival at each tee sets up another adventure and tussle with the course. The club itself is modern and a thriving members club with a welcoming feel and first class club house facilities’.
For obvious reasons it is not cheap, but if you ever get a chance to play, you will not be disappointed. What other sport can you play on the same turf as some of your heroes and relive and replicate shots hit by some of the greats? You can try Rose’s pitch or Padraig’s 3 wood on the 17th, maybe have a go from the plaque on the 16th marking Arnold Palmer’s 6 iron from thick, wet rough that saw him to victory in 1961. Whatever you do and however you play you are sure to have a fantastic day out!
Golfshake rating 9/10
Golfshake’s Owen Davies recently competed in the Birkdale Goblet, an elite level amateur event. Read how he got on- here
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