Royal Birkdale stages the 2017 Open Championship and a selection of holes at the Southport links could prove pivotal to the outcome of the third major of the year.
From Arnold Palmer’s victory in 1961 to Ian Baker-Finch’s surprise success in 1991 and Padraig Harrington’s win in 2008 (the most recent of the nine previous Opens staged at Royal Birkdale), some famous moments have unfolded at the esteemed venue.
Whether the sun shines like it did in 1971 and 1991 when Lee Trevino and Baker-Finch emerged victories with scores of -14 and -8 respectively, or the wind and rain will blow like in 2008 when Harrington survived the elements best of all to triumph with a winning score of +3, Birkdale is no easy test for the field.
We take a look at where the 2017 Open Championship could be won or lost with five key holes:
1st Hole (448 yards, par 4)
A good start is essential for any golfer, but this is no easy opener. At 448 yards, it’s a lengthy par-4—although the prevailing wind does help a little. Out of bounds lie right on this dogleg and it is no surprise that it was the second hardest hole the last time the Open visited the Royal Birkdale. Most players will be happy to walk off with a par.
6th Hole (499 yards, par 4)
A 499-yard hole is a par-5, right? Wrong. You will struggle to find a tougher hole than this on the course and it no surprise that it plays more than three-quarters of a shot higher than par on average. If a smidge short of 500 yards is not already daunting enough, it almost always plays into the wind and players face a monster second shot uphill. If that’s not enough, the green is about 40 yards long too—and three-put territory if ever I saw it. Save par here in all four rounds and they’ll be in contention come Sunday.
16th Hole (438 yards, par 4)
Another tester of a par-4 with the 438-yarder played into the wind. A par is no bad result. It was here on this hole in 1961 that Arnold Palmer defied logic and smashed his shot out of the blackberry bushes on the right of the fairway onto the green, when the only option seemed to be the wedge it out. It was a brave decision and the reason he won the title that year. A plaque now marks of the spot at the Royal Birkdale from where that incredible shot was played.
17th Hole (567 yards, par 5)
The penultimate hole is arguably the place where an Open would most likely be won. With wind behind, winning is reachable in two shots—just as Harrington did when opting against a cautious approach in 2008 despite leading at the time. An eagle or birdie here could be the difference between lifting the Claret Jug or watching on in envy.
18th Hole (473 yards, par 4)
There’s no respite to finish at the Royal Birkdale either with another tough par-4 to bring the round to a close. The winner will be crowned here. The hole has played witness to some memorable moments including Seve Ballesteros’ infamous chip between the greenside bunker and Justin Rose’s chip-in to seal the top amateur award.