5 Royal Birkdale
Stats: 6,817 yds, par 72, SSS 75
Visitor information: Visitors may play on Monday, Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday morning and Sunday morning
2008 Ranking: 5 (No Move)
Improvements since 2008 Rankings:
Course: Alterations made to the 5th green and surround during winter of 2008/2009 in order to improve drainage and run off
Gallery: Royal Birkdale pictures
Any links that is capable of producing a roll call of Open champions reading Arnold Palmer, Peter Thomson, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson over five consecutive stagings from 1961 to 1983 is doing precisely the job The R&A seeks as it attempts to separate the men from the boys every July.
Royal Birkdale is simply a very, very good golf course that demands controlled shot-making, skill, creativity and resolve from start to finish – especially at the start where any one of the three demanding opening par 4s, which play to three different points of the compass, can prove a more than worthy adversary whether or not there’s any wind to speak of.
The club was formed in 1889, playing first over nine holes at Shaw Hills before moving to an 18-hole course among the impressive dunes of Birkdale Hills in 1897. This layout was later considerably reworked by the duo of Fred Hawtree and JH Taylor, who masterminded a routing weaving its way through the imposing dunes rather than up and over them, laying the foundations for Birkdale’s modern-day reputation for both toughness and inherent fairness.
The iconic white clubhouse arrived in 1935 as part of a grand plan to elevate the club to championship standard. Birkdale’s rise to the upper echelons of world golf was cemented in the mid-20th century when it hosted the Amateur Championship, Curtis Cup, Walker Cup and finally The Open over a seven-year spell from 1948 to 1954, accompanied by the award of Royal status in 1951.
The course is not dramatically beautiful in the Turnberry mould, but rather classically and ruggedly handsome, not least because so many of its holes are self-contained with minimal visual interference from other holes – a lasting legacy of the inspired routing dreamed up by Hawtree and Taylor three-quarters of a century ago.
Quality of test and design: Few consecutive holes play in the same direction creating a fresh challenge at every turn. It would be hard to point to any one hole and honestly label it as weak.
Presentation: The quality of the playing surfaces is everything you would expect, while much work has been done recently to restore the course’s open landscape via the removal of non-native scrub and woodland.
Visual appeal and enjoyment: The dunes that frame and separate the fairways seem to accentuate the visual appeal of many holes, such as the par-3 12th which replaced the old 17th.
Ambience: The famous Art Deco clubhouse characterises the whole Birkdale experience – full of history and tradition, but not afraid to embrace the modern world too.
Panellists’ comments: “A round at Birkdale is very much a case of ‘bring your ‘A’ game”; “You need to play it more than once to know where you just can’t afford to miss”; “The quartet of par 3s is among the finest in England”