Northwest England’s Royal Birkdale is the home of the 146th Open Championship, which kicks off this Thursday. It is being hailed as one toughest venues in the entire history of the championship.
The 7,156 yard course has a par of 70 and last hosted the open in 2008. The course record is 65, set by Camilo Villegas in 2008.
At the 137th Open Championship, Padraig Harrington won despite shooting a 3-over 283. Only four players were even in single digits over par – Harrington, Ian Poulter (+7), then 53-year-old Greg Norman (+9), and this year’s defending champion Henrik Stenson (+9).
UK amateur Chris Wood famously tied for fifth.
Here’s a hole by hole guide to the Royal Birkdale.
Hole 1, Par 4, 448 yards – The fairway winds back and forth like a snake, and three massive bunkers guard the front of the green. This has been the second-hardest hole at the last two Opens here (1988 and 2008).
Hole 2, Par 4, 422 yards – You know how sometimes you’ll drift off while using your keyboard and accidentally type the same letter a few extra times? That’s what it looks like with the bunkers on Hole 2 – the closer you get to the green, the more bunkers you see.
Hole 3, Par 4, 451 yards – One of the most straightforward shots on the course will get you from the fairway to the green, but the fairway will allude you if you get a bad kick or hang it too far right. This hole had 42 birdies in 2008.
Hole 4, Par 3, 199 yards – After those first three holes, you might think you’ve stumbled onto an adjoining course when you see the short length and the straight shot to the green. The green’s openness is a lot of players’ downfall, as it’s windy and blow you way off line.
Hole 5, Par 4, 346 yards – It’s feast or famine on No. 5. You can layup before the dogleg or you can air it out and pray you don’t hit the woods or the pond ahead of the green. Seven bunkers surrounding the green aren’t making it much fun either.
Hole 6, Par 4, 499 yards – It’s sort of shaped like a mountain on a topographic map and you’ll feel like you’re climbing one when you take on this hole. It ranked as the hardest on the course in 2008, the average score of 4.675. If you push right of the obvious landing spot, you’ll be a in miserable bunker and lucky to get to the green in four.
Hole 7, Par 3, 177 yards – Another short but deceptive hole, there’s an elevated tee box and a small green surrounded by bunkers, including one shaped like an inner tube. If you don’t know the wind before you fire away, you will very likely regret it.
Hole 8, Par 4, 458 yards – Life’s a beach on No. 8 with four sand bunkers near the landing area and another three up by the green. The green is undulating up and down – if you hit the approach too far, you’re going to be walking for a while.
Hole 9, Par 4, 416 yards – You’ll be shooting the tee shot blind, but the good news is that for once there are no bunkers waiting for you when you land. If you’re short on the approach, you’ll be in deep…sand.
Hole 10, Par 4, 402 yards – The test of patience is on display here as the ideal tee shot would land 260-270 yards away, giving the player a clear line to the green. Unfortunately, tons of golfers don’t have that level of control and will overshoot, leading to shots in the bunkers and the rough. It was the fourth-toughest hole at the 2008 Open.
Hole 11, Par 4, 436 yards – The fourth-toughest hole is immediately followed by the third-toughest hole. The elevated tee box wreaked havoc in 2008 with so much ground to cover before hitting the fairway. There’s just one bunker near the hole, but the green is absolutely enormous.
Hole 12, Par 3, 183 yards – The postcard of the entire course. If you’ve got a ruler, it’s a dead straight shot from tee box to hole. The problem is the massive rough between one and the other and those four bunkers to worry about.
Hole 13, Par 4, 499 yards – From short to long we go, for the hole that has dropped from a par 5 to a par 4 while adding a ton of bunkers for your hair-pulling enjoyment.
Hole 14, Par 3, 200 yards – Five greenside bunkers aren’t doing you any favors, nor are the grassy swales on the green.The tee is protect by a sand hill that can make big shots hard to come by.
Hole 15, Par 5, 542 yards – I’ll be honest, this thing makes me cringe just looking at the overhead map. The first of the course’s two Par 5s it has 13 bunkers and was the site of 85 double bogeys in 2008.
Hole 16, Par 4, 438 yards – If you ever visit, check out the plaque on the right-hand side of the fairway to commemorate the time Arnold Palmer hit out of a bush here on his way to the title in 1961. Noticing a gap “half the size of a football”, Palmer used his wedge and knocked the ball within 18 inches of the cup.
Hole 17, Par 5, 567 yards – Want to know how to play this one? Just ask Padraig Harrington who hits his 5-wood within 3 feet of the hole to cinch the win in 2008.
Hole 18, Par 4, 473 yards – Just as challenging as the first one; there’s an additional fairway bunker for the big hitters sitting at the 349-yard mark.