Situated in the North West coast of England, Royal Birkdale is one of the world’s most magnificent links. Fairways weave through the imposing sand dunes that tower over the course, providing wonderful vantage points for spectators at The Open. One of the most demanding opening holes of any of The Open’s host venues sets the stage for a true test of links golf, made more challenging when the unrelenting wind blows from the Irish sea.
Tight fairways require accurate ball-striking, with few consecutive holes playing in the same direction. The finishing hole plays toward Royal Birkdale’s distinctive white Art Deco clubhouse, overlooking the 18th green where the 2017 Champion Golfer of the Year will be crowned.
The first at Royal Birkdale is one of The Open’s most demanding opening holes and has been the second hardest hole on the course in each of its last two Championships in 1998 and 2008.
The fairway sweeps left past a bunker cut into the left-hand side of the landing area and then slightly right to a green partially hidden by a mound to the right and protected by bunkers on both sides. There is out-of-bounds down the right-hand side of the hole.
Birkdale’s second hole is played straight into the prevailing wind and requires an accurate tee shot between two bunkers on the right and a mounded area on the left.
The green is also protected by sand at the front and slopes slightly from back to front which means that any approach struck past the hole will leave a deceptively fast putt back down the hill.
The mounding to the left of the landing area and the two bunkers on the right were added ahead of the 2008 Championship.
One of Royal Birkdale’s key assets is the variety of directions in which its holes play and that is something that becomes clear as early as the third which plays back in the opposite direction to the previous hole.
A new tee set into dunes added over 40 yards to the hole ahead of the 2008 Championship while a new bunker was also put it to protect the right side of the green.
A tee shot down the left leaves the most straightforward shot into the green.
The fourth is the first of four fine short holes found at Royal Birkdale and plays from an elevated tee down some 30-feet to a green which falls away on both sides and is protected by a ring of bunkers eating into the front, left and right of the putting surface.
Made more difficult because it is often played in a left-to-right wind.
This is a classic risk and reward hole featuring a marked dog-leg to the right.
Aggressive players will attempt to cut the corner but that brings deep rough and a small pond down the right into play.
The safer tactic is to hit an iron to the corner of the dog-leg and then a wedge or short iron into a narrow green that slopes markedly from back to front and is protected by no less than seven bunkers.
This left-to-right dog-leg has been the hardest hole on the golf course in each of the last two Open Championships played at Royal Birkdale.
Competitors who can bisect the bunkers set into both sides of the landing will be left with a shot of around 200-220 yards into a green which sits above the fairway and angles slightly from left to right.
Three bunkers guard the approach to the putting surface.
The seventh is not long by modern standards but requires an accurate tee shot from an elevated tee to a small green which is shaped like an up-turned saucer and is protected by sand on all sides.
The Championship tee was built in time for the 1998 Open and sits on top of a dune to the left of the sixth green and about 50 yards from the traditional members’ tee.
Sand is also the main threat on the eighth which features four bunkers built into the landing area and a further three up at the green.
Two new fairway bunkers were installed for the 2008 Championship at 270-yard out on the left of the fairway and at 307-yards on the right.
The putting surface itself measures 40-yards in length and slopes from back to front so club selection is vital.
The closing hole of the front nine requires a blind tee shot to a narrow fairway which was moved to the left ahead of the 2008 Championship in order to create a slight left-to-right dog-leg.
There are no fairway bunkers but two deep traps guard the front left and right of a green.
New mounding to the right of the landing area deters the bigger hitters from trying to cut the corner off the tee.
The tenth is by no means a long par-4 but was ranked as the fourth toughest hole during The Open in 2008.
The ideal tee shot will travel around 260-270 yards which is enough to carry three bunkers on the left and right of the right of the landing area but not enough to reach two more built into the corner of the dog-leg.
From there the hole turns sharply left a green set snugly into the side of a dune.
The eleventh hole plays back into the prevailing wind and requires an accurate tee shot to avoid an assortment of bunkers placed on both sides of the fairway at 278, 309, 321, and 340 yards out from the tee.
There is also another bunker set into the front left of a green angled slightly to the right of the fairway.
A ditch sits in wait for players who hit right off the tee.
A new intermediate tee has been added for use if there is a change in wind direction.
The short twelfth was introduced in time for the 1965 Championship and is arguably the most memorable hole on the course.
Deep bunkers and banks of rough grass guard the left and right of a green built into a sand dune.
The putting surface itself is 32-yard long but very narrow and can present an elusive target in the prevailing right-to-left cross wind.
The thirteenth was once played as a par-5 but is now a long par-4 featuring eight fairway bunkers and three more left and right of a large green situated on the side of a sand hill.
Even down the prevailing westerly wind it is a demanding hole made more difficult by a band of deep rough to the rear of the green.
Competitors must have their wits about them on the last of Royal Birkdale’s short holes because the tee is protected by a sand hill making it difficult to gauge the strength of the prevailing right-to-left wind.
Five greenside bunkers mean accuracy is paramount and the challenge is compounded by a series of grassy swales which protect the left, right and rear of the putting surface.
Thirteen bunkers line the fairway on the first of Birkdale’s two par-5s and there are two more up at the green to catch any approach hit slightly left or right.
It yielded 92 birdies and one eagle in 2008 but was also the scene of 85 bogeys, 20 double bogeys and three dreaded “others” which just goes to show it is no pushover particularly when played into a strong prevailing westerly wind.
A new back tee was installed in time for the 2008 Championship and since then an intermediate tee has also been added to protect the playing characteristics of the hole should the wind direction change.
It requires a long carry over rough terrain to a narrow fairway protected by two bunkers on the right and then an accurate second shot into an elevated green surrounded by five deep bunkers.
A plaque sits on the right-hand side of the fairway to commemorate the famous shot the late Arnold Palmer hit out of a bush on his way to securing his first Open title in 1961.
The tee shot needs to carry two large sand dunes situated to the left and right of the fairway and avoid two bunkers hidden down the right-hand side of the fairway 312 and 323 yards from the tee.
Three bunkers protect a long, narrow and heavily contoured green.
The bunker to the mid-right of the green complex has been moved slightly since the 2008 Championship and swales reintroduced to the rear.
The green itself has also been altered to soften some of its more acute slopes.
It was at this hole that Padraig Harrington hit his famous five-wood to three-feet behind the flag stick on his way to claiming a four-shot victory over Ian Poulter in The Open in 2008.
Royal Birkdale starts with a challenging hole and it finishes in the same manner with a long par-4 protected by a fairway bunker and out-of-bounds down the right and a newer fairway bunker at 304-yards down the left.
There is also an additional fairway bunker to catch the biggest hitters at 349-yards out plus three more around a green nestling in the shadow of the club’s famous Art-Deco-style clubhouse.
It’s a hole Olympic champion Justin Rose will recall with affection having holed out from well short of the green for a three on his way to finishing tied-fourth as an amateur in 1998.
- Courtesy of www.theopen.com