ROYAL BIRKDALE - 19 POINTS
Royal Birkdale is pretty much as close as you can get to a 'classic' links golf experience. The holes wind their way through magnificent dunes, the greens are approachable but if you miss them you are likely to be in a spot of nasty trouble and there are no real tricks - everything is laid out perfectly in front of you.
First things first, do make sure you get time for a coffee in the iconic clubhouse before you start your round. The views from it are really fantastic and it's great looking over the 18th through the huge windows knowing you will be walking up there in just a few hours time.
One of the great things about Birkdale is that many of the tees are slightly elevated - unusually for a links course - so you can see the holes laid out in front of you, flanked by the dunes with a real sense of definition. I'm not a fan of blind tee shots, too many horrific memories from the Braids in Edinburgh as I learnt the game, the fact that they don't feature here only makes it the more enjoyable.
The fairways are really flat - they don't have the quirks of St George's for sure - and it is unlikely you would leave a round here complaining about the course being unfair. If anything you could criticise it for being a little too straightforward as a result but that would be nit picking somewhat. We played off the yellow tees, a very accessible 6,400 yards. I particularly liked the range of the par 3s, between 140 and 180 yards with the premium on accuracy.
If walkthroughs of holes before your round are your thing then the website has some great flyovers and descriptions to whet your appetite - http://www.royalbirkdale.com/course.
So all in all I think Royal Birkdale is right up with the very best courses in the world for sure and would thoroughly recommend it as a glorious centrepiece for any golf trip. There's a nice youtube video here from Golf Monthly to give you a taster -
BOOKING THE COURSE
Birkdale is an expensive tee-time. The cheapest times are available at £145 for an offseason weekday game booked online, rising to £235 at the weekends if you book on the phone. Availability is limited - open to visitors on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday from 10am to 12 midday and from 1.40 pm onwards. On Tuesdays open from 2.10 pm onwards and from 11.10am to midday on Friday and there are some weekend tee times dotted around online. Make sure you book online to get the discount here - http://members.royalbirkdale.com/visitorbooking/. It looks like weekend availability is pretty limited on the site so do call up if you can't see what you are after there and try and negotiate on the phone to get the online rate!.
Birkdale is just 40 minutes north of Liverpool so that may well be a good place to base yourself if you are playing Royal Liverpool or any other courses that far south. There are great courses around Southport though and I have heard it is a nice enough place to base yourself so I will be doing that at some stage and reporting back!
As detailed on the Royal Liverpool page there is a trip which takes in Royal Liverpool, Birkdale and Lytham to be done but you don't have to spread yourself over that distance if you would rather less travelling. Next to Birkdale is Hillside - a course said to have the best back 9 in the UK (well, someone said it once and it's all I ever hear about it!) - which would make a great addition. Other courses nearby are West Lancs and Southport & Ainsdale (host to the Ryder Cup in 1933 and 1937) as well as the highly regarded Formby. All in all, a fertile area for a great golf trip!
Royal Birkdale Golf Club
+44 (0) 1704 552020