My week of links golf continued this week with a two day trip to Birkdale. The plan was to play on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. I’ve been very lucky to play some of the great links courses in the UK over the last six years (The Old Course, Prestwick, Royal Troon, Turnberry, Saunton, Princes, Royal Porthcawl) but as I drove up the M5/M6/M62/M58 I have to say that my spine was tingling a little bit at the thought of playing one of the true greats.
As you turn off the main road and into the car park the art deco club house right in front of you. Apparently from the course it was designed to look a little like an ocean liner.
The club house was everything you would expect from a club of the history and quality of Royal Birkdale. It’s always a good sign when there is a massive pile of fluffy towels in the locker room.
I met my host, Richard Gardiner of Fathom Consulting and there was plenty of time to sit in front of the big bay window and stare down the 18th fairway whilst having a nice cup of tea.
So, off to the first tee. There was a 3-4 club wind howling over our left shoulder. You just knew that it was going to be a brutal test of golf. So with a quick hello to the starter we were off. A 3 wood, 5 iron, chip & two putts later I’d walked off with my first point of the day.
What a fabulous golf course it is. You can see why the Pros love it so much when it hosts The Open. Yes there are a few blind shots, but compared to some links courses the fairways were pretty flat and your ball was not thrown left or right when you hit them. And therein lies my problem. Hitting the fairways on a course like this is vital. The rough was horrible, if you missed the second cut that was it, your ball was gone. The expression “knowing were to miss” was never more true.
18 holes later we were back in the club house celebrating surviving one of the toughest rounds of golf any of us had ever played. I was quite happy with my 25 points!
That night it was off to stay in Southport itself. A cheap room at the Britannia Prince of Wales hotel (and when I said cheap, I mean cheap) but the nice thing about the Britannia chain is “it does what it says on the tin”. Clean, warm room and a perfectly acceptable breakfast, all for £59. For dinner we went to The Warehouse a restaurant co-owned by Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard. Initially a little quiet when we arrived it liven up a bit. Great food, excellent wine list and good service was all we needed. A nightcap at The Vincent Hotel followed and as soon as we were back at the hotel I was asleep before I’m turned the bedroom light off!
Friday morning dawned and I looked out the window. Unbelieveably the wind had got worse, when we assembled for breakfast there were more than a few giggles in expectation of what lay ahead. I felt that getting anywhere yesterday’s 25pts was going to be a good result.
Down to the club and we changed into “full wets” as it was very, very, grey overhead and a couple of showers blew through before we went out. Then we were off. 3 wood, 4 iron, a 40 yard chip and three putts later and I was off to a “blob” start.
My scorecard is on the right. It’s a bit all over the place as you can see. It was the windiest conditions I’ve EVER played golf in bar none. In fact none of the three of us could remember a time when we had played in windier conditions.
Take the 13th for example. 422 yard par 4. Even with a brilliant punch drive, it only travelled 190 yards. So now you’re faced with a 232 yard second shot, what the hell do you do then? Driver off the deck was never my favourite shot.
On another occasion one of my fellow players hit a full 4 rescue from 140 yards and only just made the front of the green.
When we got into the club house and sat down for lunch I started celebrating my 23 points, it took the money and was close enough to yesterday’s 25 points bearing mind the worsened conditions. We then found out that the Ladies British Open had been suspended due to the high winds. Royal Liverpol (Hoylake) is probably only 20 miles away down the coast as the crow flies so I can completely understand why. We were being buffeted on the tee and the balls were oscillating on the greens.
The photo on the right was taken from the 18th fairway on Friday morning. Look at the sky beyond the club house, that was what it was like all morning.
If you get the chance to play the course, take it. Just pray that you get some decent weather else it’s likely to destroy your golf game if you are not in complete control of your golf ball.