When you start out playing any sport as a child you imagine one day playing on the great stages in world class arenas; Wembley for football, Wimbledon for tennis, Twickenham for rugby. Picture yourself scoring the winning goal in the Cup final, turning away from the goal with knees sliding towards the corner flag on the pristine Wembley turf. In reality though we do not make it as an elite sportsperson so the chances of playing at Wembley becomes a guaranteed nailed on impossibility.
Golf is unique, in that you can play at iconic world venues irrespective of your level. Anyone can decide to play at many of the greatest golf courses in the world. You simply pay your green fee and experience the thrill of walking in the footsteps of the greatest players the game has ever produced. Major Championship venues allow the amateur golfer to play the shots to the holes that sometimes just days or weeks earlier held a thrilling tournament.
We had the chance to play Royal Birkdale just a few weeks before the 2017 Open Championship was due to be held in Southport. The course was pristine, the stands were all in place, the huge yellow Open scoreboards towered above the 18th grandstands and everything was in place ready for the event. What an experience!
Royal Birkdale is known as one of the fairest but toughest on the Open rota. It rewards good shots if you hit them and the defences of the course are there to see. The countless well positioned bunkers await the errant shot either from tee or approach; they are true hazards too, not only there for show. High lips on cavernous fairway bunkers mean a shot is gone if your tee shot is off line, so strategy and precision is the key to scoring well here. The fairway widths are generous but the positioning of the bunkers mean club selection is vital, you simply can’t blast your way round with the driver because if you do, the magnetic forces of these traps will ruin your card. Birkdale makes you to think about every tee shot. The greens are all surrounded with hazards to catch all but the cleanest of hits. Remember to factor in the the wind direction or the course can have it’s revenge on any golfer.
What a challenge. Starting with one of the hardest opening holes on any course, the par 4 1st asks you to hit two great shots to make the green in regulation. A long tee shot over the pot bunker at the dogleg allows a clear sight of the green. If you bail out to the right then you are playing blind over the dunes. Four here is a great opening, run to the 2nd tee if you do.
Hole after hole gives you variety and something else to think about. Raised tees downwind make what seem like long holes play easier but on the ones coming back they are brutal. The par 4 5th offers a birdie chance if you can hit a short iron into the raised sloping green. The 2nd of the par 3’s hole 7 is played from a raised tee to an almost island green. With sand everywhere and a cross wind off the coast, club choice vital. There are no easy holes just tremendous ones asking you all kinds of questions.
After a relax, a drink and a count up at the halfway house, the par 4 10th is a beauty. Left to right dogleg with five bunkers to avoid off the tee the 2nd shot is played uphill, generally into the wind, to a back to front sloping green. A classic links hole. The back nine continue in the same vein as the front; quality holes that demand your best stuff! Par the 5’s on the way in and you will make a score. if you don’t, then it can seem like a long walk. The dunes on the links frame each hole making them play in isolation, so it is no wonder that the attendances at The Open here are high, as the land makes for natural amphitheatres which allow spectacular spectator viewpoints.
As befitting such a course, the art deco Clubhouse is stunning, the Pro shop is modern, welcoming and very well stocked. You will do well to to leave without a bag full of goodies!
Royal Birkdale GC: World-class
Ratings: Course 5, Staff 5, Facilities 5
Price: From £235