There are some 3,000 golf courses in the British Isles, the geographic term that encompasses England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Fully two thirds of these courses are located in England, including 49 of the top ranked 100. Yet for reasons unknown, English golf remains virtually ignored by the vast majority of American golfers who cross the Atlantic each year to experience the game in its homeland.
Whether this is due to a lack of promotion (the English have never been very good at blowing their own trumpet) or because the country is filled with so many other attractions, that golf is simply overshadowed, I will leave for others to argue. The fact remains that despite the absence of visiting American players, English golf remains among the best in the world.
This low golf profile may be in for a makeover during the next few years, thanks to The British Open and the English golf clubs that will be hosting golf's event of the year. Royal Liverpool took the honors in 2006, Royal Birkdale will host in 2008 and most likely, 10 time Open host, Royal Lytham & St. Annes, will get its turn shortly after. With the golf spotlight focused on these three neighboring courses, all located within an hour's drive of each other, there's a promotional boost coming, likely to change any lack of recognition very quickly.
This trio of "Royals" occupies one of the most precious pieces of golf real estate on the planet, a short 40-mile stretch of dune filled coastline, battered for centuries by the winds and waves of the Irish Sea. The result is a showcase of Mother Nature's very best golf handiwork and a succession of more than a dozen magnificent links layouts rivaling any in the British Isles.
In any Royal Family, there can only be one King and in northwest England's Royal Family of links courses, Royal Birkdale wears the crown, ranked as England's top course and number 4 in the British Isles (immediately following St. Andrews Old Course). Even a quick glance at this century old layout's impressive credentials, explains why.
Royal Birkdale has hosted two Ryder Cups, The Walker and Curtis Cups, the Women's British Open and when it hosts the British Open again in 2008, it will mark the ninth occasion it has been so honored. How this distinguished course, ranked among the top ten in the world, can be a stranger to any visiting golfer is one of golf's unfathomable questions. The honor of being selected to host practically every top tournament in existence and on multiple occasions, only goes to a superlative course and that is precisely what Royal Birkdale is.
Above all, this is a fair layout, lacking in the trickiness common to many links courses. What you see is what you get and providing you stick to the fairways and avoid the treacherous rough, the possibility of the accomplished player ending with a presentable score, remains a possibility -- but it's only a possibility. Don't misinterpret fairness for simplicity, this is a layout that demands and tests to the extreme, it just has no need to resort to trickery.
The fairways run along the flat-bottomed valleys that wind their way around the towering dunes, rather than over them. These dunes, the most spectacular to be found on any British course, provide an individual form and definition to every hole, each with its own character and personality. The end result is a wonderfully varied succession of tests with not a poor hole among them.
Play Royal Birkdale on one of the rare days when the wind isn't blowing and it will push the best to perform as never before. Find this beauty on a more typical day when the wind is gusting and the whitecaps on the Irish Sea are defiantly rearing their heads and the demands on the average golfer will reach levels never experienced before. If golf is a game where we must consistently test ourselves, Royal Birkdale may be the ultimate examination.
Play this King of links courses just once and you will have golf memories to last a lifetime -- it's quite simply an unforgettable experience no serious golfer should miss. For details on an excellent opportunity to witness the world's best take on the challenge at the final two rounds of Royal Birkdale's 2008 Open Championship, Golf International has the perfect tour, which includes golf on 4 other Open venues. Play is included on neighboring Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham & St. Annes, together with a stopover in St. Andrews and guaranteed golf on St. Andrews' fabled Old Course and this year's Open venue, Carnoustie. It's a champions tour par excellence -- for details, click here.
© 2007 David Brice / Golf International Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Golf International -- Providers of quality golf travel arrangements since 1988.