Royal Birkdale is a name most golfers would be familiar with. ¬†It‚??s on The Open roster (held a casual 9 of ‚??em) and held The Ryder Cup on two occasions. ¬†Not to mention The Walker Cup, The Curtis Cup and Women‚??s British Opens. ¬†In terms of pedigree Birkdale (ROYAL Birkdale, pardon me) is right up there. ¬†And so it was really a great privilege to be paying a visit, on our second day in England. ¬†Our first taste of the links fruit of Lancashire. ¬†Mmmmmmmmmmmm.
A fine gentleman by the name of Andrew Maxwell was our host. ¬†Andy / Max belongs to The Hittites, a society made up of upstanding humans drawn from the Lancashire clubs (spiritual home: Royal Liverpool). ¬†They play matches against other societies like The Pirates (Muirfield) and The Grizzlys (Bridge Pa!), and generally keep the game‚??s great traditions alive. ¬†One of their number ‚?? Charles Donald ‚?? brokered our games at Birkdale, Formby, Royal Liverpool and Wallasey (despite having never met us). ¬†More on Charlie later. ¬†
Max and his pal Jonathan / JD (the pair have been friends since primary school) met us in the clubhouse for a quick club sandwich before play. ¬†It was a right cold afternoon, the wind biting through our pullovers on the dash to shelter. ¬†Which we found in the form of a lovely big art deco clubhouse, one of the more striking structures we‚??ve seen on our travels. ¬†Very distinctive.
The introduction to perhaps England‚??s most revered links wasn‚??t a gentle one. ¬†450 yards straight into the teeth of that bitter wind. ¬†Faldo apparently reckons it‚??s one of the best opening holes in the world, because you ideally should draw your tee shot and fade your approach. ¬†(That assumes that your ‚??approach‚?Ě is your second shot.... - but he‚??s onto something). ¬†
One of the features of the course became apparent straight away: hardly ever do you see another hole from the one you‚??re currently playing. ¬†Some people place great emphasis on this as being indicative of a great golf course. ¬†I myself don‚??t see it as being so important ‚?? but in many cases, as at Birkdale, it makes for a lovely surprise each time you stand on the tee and process what‚??s unfolding in front of you. ¬†You also feel like you‚??re the only ones playing the course.
By the 5th tee I remember Andy pointing out the Artisans‚?? clubhouse, a wee white structure nestled behind a hedge. ¬†This was the first example I‚??d seen first hand of one of the game‚??s fine traditions. ¬†A bunch of artisans ‚?? be they electricians, plumbers, or whatever ‚?? get to play the course and hang out in their wee clubhouse on the condition that each year they give a certain amount of their time to the upkeep of the place. ¬†I forget how many hours it was, but it sounded like a fair deal to me. ¬†Bet there‚??s some good craic in that wee lounge from time to time...
Another thing that struck me about the course was how much ‚?? in parts ‚?? it reminded me of Paraparam‚?? back home. ¬†The dunes were of a similar stature; the odd pine tree lurked, although not really anywhere that should create peril; and the simplicity of some of the holes was endearing. ¬†Like the 5th. ¬†No fairway bunkers until you approach the green; just a semi-blind tee shot to a left elbow fairway. ¬†
As we marched up the fairways Andy and JD would have the occasional summit meeting to discuss matters of the club. ¬†JD (though he wouldn‚??t tell you, Andy had to draw it out of him) chairs The Championship Committee, a post he holds until the next Open (2014). ¬†The pair are obviously well involved in what is, if we‚??re being honest, one of the world‚??s great clubs. ¬†And yet you couldn‚??t find two more unassuming chaps, who seemed just pleased to be sharing their muse with us. ¬†
Our four paused for quiet reflection after 9. ¬†And for a cup of Joe to warm up the pipes. ¬†Then the golf course, for mine anyway, got even better. ¬†Each hole made you think. ¬†Y‚??er man Hawtree apparently came in before the last Open was held here, and did a bit of bunkering work. ¬†Having not seen the course prior to his changes, it‚??s hard to evaluate whether the lad has his head screwed on. ¬†Nevertheless Andy and JD were able to enlighten us on a few of the alterations, and they all seemed quite sensible to me (perhaps with the exception of the eccentric 17th green). ¬†Certainly the tee shots were as demanding as you might expect for an Open track ‚?? and we didn‚??t even play it off the backs!
I thought 12 and 13 were two of the better holes on the course: 12 being a short par 3 reminiscent of its counterpart at Muirfield, 13 being a long-ish par 4 to a magnificent green complex that I couldn‚??t help but photograph. ¬†Check ‚??em.
As with many courses steeped in history, we found a plaque to photograph. ¬†We like plaques. ¬†This one commemorated Arnie‚??s win here in 1961, which of course was around the time when y‚??er man started to put The Open back on the map with his charisma and determination to win over here. ¬†I couldn‚??t help but reflect on what a shame it was that we didn‚??t catch him at Bay Hill back in June. ¬†The 16th itself, where the plaque lies, is a gorgeous wee short par 4 in itself. ¬†And in broken sunshine the green complex looked quite magnificent.
From the 18th you could see glimpses of Hillside next door ‚?? apparently another very good club which unfortunately we don‚??t have the time to play. ¬†Tales of its back nine are legion. ¬†Anyway we had something of a treat ahead of us yet, in the form of that famous par 5 that Justin Rose pitched in on in 1998 when O‚??Meara won. ¬†A good 3 shotter into the wind. ¬†
Andy introduced us to his lovely wife inside, who was attending the ladies medal presentation. ¬†We got out of the girls‚?? way and were shown around the clubhouse, every wall of which is covered in fascinating memorabilia. ¬†There are photos of past champions, letters of gratitude from distinguished visitors, paintings of the course and all sorts of other interesting Stuff. ¬†You could tell Andy was (quite rightly) proud to be a part of the club that is Royal Birkdale GC. ¬†If he‚??ll forgive me for saying, he was like a primary school kid showing a new friend around his bedroom, and all the toys in his toy chest. ¬†A delightful way to follow up our first experience of Lancashire links.
Post farewells it was off down the road to Southport, to stay with our man Charlie. ¬†He and Vera had just got back from the south of France, where they holiday every year in an old cottage they‚??ve bought and done up. ¬†Must be tough coming back to Lancashire after a bit of late summer French sun (and the rest). ¬†Charlie (again, like JD) is a modest man ‚?? being a Scot it somewhat goes with the territory ‚?? who played hockey for Great Britain at the ‚??68 Olympics in Mexico City. ¬†First Olympian we‚??ve stayed with I reckon. ¬†Over the next couple of days we would have one of the most memorable episodes of homely hospitality of the year. ¬†Great company. ¬†Vera baked us several cakes (Charlie was left instructions to make sure we had a piece to go with our cup of tea when we got back from golf...), and conjured a lovely meal or two as well. ¬†We pondered the more significant questions in life with Charlie (and Vera too), and talked a lot of tripe to boot. ¬†The sort of people you could spend days on end with and never get sick of. ¬†Given they‚??re off to Nu Zillin for a month in February ‚?? to play a few golf matches across the country ‚?? we also sang for our supper by acting as NZ consultants, giving instructions on where to stay, play, eat, etc etc. ¬†Tourism NZ should have us on the payroll!
JP ¬† ¬† ¬†
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