Royal Birkdale

The Birkdale was a nine-hole golf course located at Shaw Hills and opened for play in October 1889. A meeting of four members held at 17 Sweeting Road, Liverpool, on 11 September 1894, resulted in one of the most significant entries in the original Minute Book. “Three o’clock at the Estate Office was fixed for going over the new links on Monday September 17.” Designed by George Lowe, a new 18 hole layout was ready in 1897.

One of the most striking features of Birkdale today is the magnificent white-stone art-deco clubhouse with it’s sweeping bay windows overlooking the 18th green. Like many clubs that date from the late Victorian era however, Birkdale’s original clubhouse looked very different. The original was built in 1897 but had to be demolished in 1903. “Someone had blundered”, the building being beyond the boundary of the land leased by the Club! A new clubhouse was opened in 1904, on a sandhill overlooking the then 18th, now 4th. This remained in service until 1930’s, by which time the course was undergoing a major transformation under the direction of F.G. Hawtree and J.H. Taylor, and as such the clubhouse was now up for consideration and falling under totally new, and radical architectural influences.

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 course was awarded the Open Championship for the first time in 1954, the youngest of the English contingent, but has wasted no time making up for lost ground having gone onto host no fewer ten nine times, most recently in 2017 when Jordan Spieth completed the third leg of his quest for a grand-slam.

Birkdale was also the scene of one of the closest Ryder Cup in history in 1969, with 17 of the 32 matches being decided on the final hole. With the match tied, focus was on the last pairing. Jack Nicklaus stunned the world of golf by conceding a tricky three-footer to Tony Jacklin. It resulted in the first tie in Ryder Cup history and the act is known simply as “The Concession” and is widely considered golf’s greatest single sporting gesture. Jack famously pointed out that Jacklin was the nations golfing superstar, “I didn’t think he was going to miss, but I was going to give him the chance of doing so”


Founded 1894
Yardage Championship tees 7156 yds
Par 70
World Ranking 34th
Handicap Restrictions handicap certificate required

Royal Birkdale

The Course itself

Royal Birkdale is the favourite English course on the Open rotation according to the results of a 2006 poll which asked: “Four Royal English courses are currently Open venues. If you’ve played them all, which do you think is best?” 43% voted for Birkdale (Royal St George’s came second, and Lytham third).

Royal Birkdale is truly a famous links and widely recognised for its fairness. 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. 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. ”

The fairways are laid out in the flat-bottomed valleys between the towering dunes. These dunes, in turn, provide drama and especially if the wind is blowing as golfers can be deceived into a misread playing from sheltered positions only to watch a ball sailing out into the yonder beginning to dance to a different instruction as it catches a blast. 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.

You don’t get a chance to ease yourself in at Royal Birkdale as the double dogleg first has the reputation of being one of the toughest on the Open rotation. The next two holes are comparatively straightforward par fours. The fifth with a hard dog-leg right and an approach into a back to front heavily tilted and bunkered green set into the dunes is only setting you up for the highlight of the outward nine, the treacherous sixth, one of the top-10 hardest holes in the Open Championship portfolio

Strangely enough, other than the blind drive on the ninth, the dunes rarely come into play as the fairways are interspersed between them, 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.

Onto the back nine and the tee shot on the tenth requires a draw 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 the most photographed hole on the course. It’s an absolute delight, with a raised quarter moon shaped green protected by four bunkers and tucked into the dunes.

No account of Royal Birkdale today however can be considered complete without the storied thirteenth and the travails of Jordan Spieth who in 2017 gave an exemplary demonstration of how a knowledge of the rule book is every bit as important.

Locked in a duel with Matt Kuchar, Spieth carved his tee shot high into a dune. It looked decisive. Perilously climbing all over the steep face under risk of broken ankle Spieth went in search of the errant shot assisted by an army of spectators. He looked destined to be losing shots plural, perhaps two maybe three. After what seemed like an eternity (about 15 mins) he duly declared an unplayable lie and elected to take a line of sight ruling that saw him playing his third from the suburbs of Liverpool! Remarkably he was able to limit the damage to just a single shot and then came home with a flurry of birdies to lift the claret jug

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!

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 Harrington’s decisive eagle in 2008.

The monstrous 18th has seen drama over the years, a heavily bunkered par four measuring 476 yards. When asked what he regarded as the best shot he ever played in an Open Championship, five-time winner Tom Watson nominated his second at his 72nd hole of the 1983 event at Royal Birkdale. With absolutely no margin for error, Tom had to hit a flush 2-iron to secure his only win on English soil. He duly obliged. It was here too that a young Justin Rose played a memorable pitch as an amateur, and where a stroke of genius from a young Seve Ballesteros who chipped between two bunkers from the left side of the green first served notice that they were destined for greatness

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. If there’s a better view from the lounge in any clubhouse in the land, then we’re struggling to think of it? The green lies virtually within touching distance of the bay windows



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