A special venue for The 146th Open
The Open is returning to Royal Birkdale, one of the world’s most renowned links courses, for the tenth time in its history.
The Birkdale Hills offer majestic panoramic views of the Lancashire coastline out to the choppy waters of the Irish Sea. It was in 1897 that the original Club members moved here after eight years of playing in their original nine-hole course at Shaw Hills in Southport.
The course is located on the 4000-year-old Sefton dune system, home to sand lizards, natterjack toads and skylarks. While the natural landscape provides a stunning playground for golf, the course has been refined by man many times over the years. Today, Royal Birkdale is one of the finest Championship challenges of its time.
The process got underway in 1935 when Fredrick G Hawtree and JH Taylor, the five-time Open Champion, redesigned the layout. At the same time a new clubhouse was built, reminiscent of a ship sailing among the dunes. The iconic art deco building features in many famous photos depicting the golfing greats who have walked down the 18th fairway en route to glory.
The club had to wait until 1954 to stage its first Open Championship, but after a second in 1961, further alterations had to be made by Frederick W Hawtree, son of Frederick G, to accommodate the huge crowds that had followed Arnold Palmer to victory. The changes included a new par-3 at the 12th hole, replacing the old short 17th, which is regarded as a highlight of the par 70 course.
More changes were made ahead of The Open in 2008. It was to be the ninth time Royal Birkdale had staged the event and Martin Hawtree became the third generation of his family to work on the links ahead of the championship.
The mammoth task included altering 16 of the 18 holes, with only the 12th and another short hole, the 7th, remaining unchanged. Six new tees added 155 yards to the course, making it, still modest by today’s standard, 7173 yards overall. Most of the changes were designed to make the players think about every shot. Bunkers were moved, redesigned, 20 new ones were added with 14 removed. New undulations were added to the surrounds of several greens, while the 17th green was moved back and completely overhauled.
Tough but fair, and in challenging weather conditions on the Saturday, the field of The 137th Open struggled to post any outstanding scores in 2008. Padraig Harrington, defending his 2007 Open title, eventually lifted the Claret Jug for a second time with a 3-over (283) for the Championship.
When 2016 Champion Golfer of the Year Henrik Stenson arrives at Royal Birkdale in July, the course, for the most, will remain unchanged from 2008. By Sunday evening the Swede will hope to be the main focus when those images, brought to life by the striking white clubhouse, surface around the world proclaiming the winner.