The Hacker: Royal Birkdale's dunes are ideal vantage point for not-so-mobile
Sunday 04 May 2008
If you have never been to The Open, there is no better course at which to make your debut than this year's venue of Royal Birkdale, which stages the greatest of all championships from 17 to 20 July.
There's not a course on The Open rota that you wouldn't gasp at in wonderment, but what distinguishes Birkdale asa site for sore eyes is that it isso naturally accommodatingto the spectators.
For self-conscious hackers who feel that they have no business being so close to the game's elite, it is the perfect place to experience being an essential part of golf's vast congregation.
At 7,173 yards it is by no means the longest course to stage The Open, but the way it threads its path through the switchbacking lines of dunes makes it a fascinating test.
Unlike most links, which proceed in an orderly fashion out and back, Birkdale's holes dart to and fro, so that on almost every hole the wind attacks you from a different angle.
This frequent change of direction creates an endless supply of elevated vantage points along the sandy hillocks, and when I was there last weekI found no end of spots I would love to watch the action from.
I must confess that seeking viewing platforms was not my main aim; I was looking for my ball. But as I clambered over the sandy slopes on what was, more often than not, a forlorn search, I found myself pausing to view the fairways and greens.
If you don't want to go clambering they will be providing 18,000 grandstand seats around the course, but there's plenty of room for the other 32,000 who areexpected to attend on eachof the four days.
I was at Birkdale for the media day staged by the Royal & Ancient to explain what they've done with the course since The Open was last held there 10 years ago. They let us play, too; hence my familiarity with the dunes. More than the usual amount of tinkering has occurred. Twenty new bunkers have been added, and 14 removed, while 27 have been redesigned.
Seven fairways have been nudged this way or that – the ninth fairway has been moved 25 yards to the left – and many greens and their surrounds have been recontoured.
There's a completely new green at the 17th with a wicked slope that could well cause problems in the right conditions, so it could be a good place to station yourself.
The R&A have kindly assisted nature by putting in extra spectator mounding here, as they have in several other places around the course. Birkdale is in the middle of the North-west's coast of golf, which has a genuine claim to be the finest, most concentrated stretch of championship golf in the world. The area is home to 20 of the most naturally beautiful courses in Britain, and within 40 miles there are three regular Open venues: Royal Liverpool, Royal Lytham & St Annes and Royal Birkdale.
All they ask is that you don't take your mobile phone on to the course. Last year someone tried to hide one in a sandwich and got thrown out.
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