Royal Birkdale’s Fearsome Five

1 of 6 Getty Images, Bob Martin/SI (Alliss)
Royal Birkdale's Fearsome Five Like Augusta, Birkdale's fireworks come after the turn. So we went and asked Alliss — BBC analyst and noted architect Peter Alliss, that is — for a guided tour of the five back-nine holes that will give players a royal headache Royal Birkdale is like a stern parent — tough, fair, and liable to swat you on the backside. Birkdale's most dramatic, and most dangerous, holes are on the inward nine. While players in the 137th British Open may lament some big numbers, they likely won't be complaining about an unfair layout. "Birkdale is a fair course," says respected architect Peter Alliss, who has co-designed some 75 courses, including the Belfry. "The fairways are relatively flat, so you don't get a straight drive that catches the side of a hump and bounds away into bunkers or rough. Stances are fairly flat, and there are only a few blind shots from the tee to the green." The 77-year-old BBC icon competed as an Open contestant and Ryder Cup player at Birkdale, where he also made his broadcast debut in 1961. And now, the esteemed Mr. Alliss breaks down Birkdale's five most fearsome back-nine holes.
2 of 6 Getty Images
HOLE 12 Par 3 184 yards Alliss Analysis: "This is a relatively new hole, built in the past 25 years. It was a long, narrow green with banking on either side, and you could play a relatively poor shot and end up by the hole. You can still do that, but the hole has developed nicely. With a crosswind or wind against, this is a formidable test, with bunkers on either side of the green. With a 2- or 3-iron, it can be a monster. Hitting a straight shot is everything. It's very good being fancy and listening to commentators talk about leaving it short of the hole and all that, but just hit the green, two-putt, and move on — with a small prayer."
3 of 6 Eric Hepworth
HOLE 15 Par 5 544 yards Alliss Analysis: "It's a very good driving hole. You've got 15 bunkers, with several of them up the left-hand side — they come out into the fairway staggered up that side. If you find a bunker off the tee and the wind is in your face, you will struggle to get on the green in three. This is a really good, solid par 5 when the wind is a bit against you. You're delighted to get a par. And if you get in any one of those bunkers within 100 yards of the green, you'll struggle to get out and up onto the green. Just find the fairway. Don't try to be clever. Don't try to be a professor. Just get the bloody thing on the fairway!"
4 of 6 Eric Hepworth
HOLE 16 Par 4 439 yards Alliss Analysis: "They've lengthened this over the years. It's not a blind tee shot, but it is a slight dogleg left-to-right. On the right-hand side you've got mounds and this creeping sort of rough that's peculiar to this part of the world. It's where Arnold Palmer hit his fabled shot when he won the Championship [in 1961]. He was on the bank on the right-hand side. Most people, including his caddie Tip Anderson, said, 'Well, just knock it out, hit a wedge up and try and get a pitch and a putt for par.' He took a 6-iron and smashed it up onto the green to 12 feet!"
5 of 6 Alex Telfer
HOLE 17 Par 5 572 yards Alliss Analysis: "They pushed the [two-tiered] green back 30 paces, which has gotten mixed reports. I didn't think it was such a bad hole before. A good driving hole, with a big mound on the right and a huge sandhill on the left. It's a difficult driving hole, again, depending on the wind. You've got to shape it a little left-to-right if you're running it between the sandhills, and then you've got this long, narrow shot left. The hole also sits above an underground waterway that zigzags across that part of the countryside. Because water runs under the fairway, it's always lush there, and there's not going to be a lot of run once you get halfway down the fairway."
6 of 6 Visions in Golf
HOLE 18 Par 4 473 yards Alliss Analysis: "A good finishing hole, with three bunkers that protect the green. One shot I remember: When Peter Thomson won his second Open there, in 1965, the ground was hard. For his second shot, he used a 2- or 3-iron and pitched it to 20 yards short of the green. It came straight between the bunkers into the middle of the green, where he two putted and won. A good driving hole, it calls for a slight [left-to-right] angled drive. You've got the bunkers 'round the front-left of the green and on the right-hand side. You can picture young Seve Ballesteros chipping though the bunkers in 1976, and Justin Rose holing out from 80 or 90 yards as an 18-year-old amateur [in 1998]. And the extraordinary art-nouveau clubhouse at the back? It's a sublime arena for the final hole, which has had so much Open and Ryder Cup drama over the years."