Royal Birkdale Golf Club
Designers: George Lowe, Fred Hawtree
As the crow flies, the Royal members of The Open rota near Southport – Lytham and Birkdale – are just 8 miles apart, yet the brand of golf offered by the two is vastly different. Where navigating around Royal Lytham’s 200 bunkers is often a losing battle of contrition, its neighbor to the south is a far more enjoyable affair.
After being granted a new 99-year lease on their land by the Southport Corporation in 1931, Royal Birkdale commissioned architect Fred Hawtree for a complete overhaul of the club’s original links. Although the site features a brilliant collection of rolling dunes, Hawtree elected to route the holes in the natural valleys between the hills rather than playing up and over them. The result is a course that’s almost devoid of blind shots, with everything laid out in front of the golfer from tee to green. In addition, the fairways at Royal Birkdale are mostly flat, unlike the rumpled lanes generally found on links courses. This greatly reduces the number of unpredictable bounces into awaiting pot bunkers, to the delight of the fairness craving tour pro.
The most common compliment of Royal Birkdale is that it is a collection of 18 solid holes without a weak one in the bunch. This begins at the cracking opener and concludes at the formidable 18th, where Jack Nicklaus famously conceded a slippery 2-foot putt to Tony Jacklin, ending the 1969 Ryder Cup in a first-ever tie. In between, holes like the par-3 12th and par-5 17th captivate our attention and provide their fair share of drama. Just ask Padraig Harrington, whose eagle on the penultimate hole in 2008 catapulted him to a second straight Open title.
While the golf at Royal Birkdale deserves a larger share of the spotlight, what many will remember most is its unmistakable clubhouse, the arrival of which was something of an accident. The original clubhouse had to be torn down after “someone blundered” and built it on neighboring property. The error proved to be a fortunate one, as it later gave rise to the Art Deco icon that is known the world over. We suggest allowing plenty of time after the round to take in the patio overlooking the 18th green.
Of the English courses on The Open rota, Royal Birkdale is said to be a favorite among the competing professionals. When the Claret Jug returns in 2017 – and with the winds off the Irish Sea willing – the course will provide a firm test to determine which golfer will join Palmer, Miller, and Watson as winners here. And yet despite the challenge that it presents to the world’s best, Birkdale still remains a delight to play for the average traveling golfer. The rarest and most enjoyable of combinations.
Major Basil Haversham, OBE