Ben Hogan’s win at the 1953 Open Championship at Carnoustie gained some deserved respect for the competition in the United States, that had been waning since Bobby Jones won the Claret Jug in 1930. However, it wasn’t until Arnold Palmer’s victory at Royal Birkdale Golf Club in 1961 that the U.S. truly recognized it as the 4th major.
Having lost the 1960 Open at St Andrews by a shot to Kel Nagle, Palmer was determined in 1961, and prevailed in true Open Championship weather. There are only two on-course plaques in England commemorating great shots, one for Bobby Jones’ shot at the 17th at Royal Lytham on way to winning the 1926 Open. The other is at Royal Birkdale’s 16th, for Palmer’s miraculous 2nd shot in terrible weather conditions, on route to his victory.
With gale force winds playing havoc Friday’s round was canceled, but the R&A had already decided the championship would end on Saturday – no matter the circumstances. Palmer played brilliantly and hoisted the Claret Jug Saturday night. The end of the three-day Open happened a few years later in 1965 at Royal Birkdale, with Peter Thomson’s 2nd Open at Birkdale and 5th overall Championship win.
A definite jewel in England golf, Royal Birkdale Golf Club was founded in 1889 and gained royal status relatively late in 1951 by King George VI. It was the last course in England to be added to the Open rota in 1954. While it may have gained notice relatively late, since WWII Royal Birkdale England has held more variety of major championships than any other course in the world. It has played host to Open Championships, two Ryder Cups, The Amateur, Curtis Cup and the Women’s British Open to name just a few.
The Club moved to its current location in 1897 with an 18-hole design by George Lowe, one of the leading designers of the time. In 1935 the firm of Hawtree and JH Taylor made improvements, most notably placing the fairways in between the dunes rather than playing over them. This resulted in a tougher but fairer test of golf. In the 1960s, F.W. Hawtree made his contributions to the Championship links. The third generation of Hawtree golf architects, Martin, rebuilt all the greens before the 1998 Open, and has made several tweaks since then before subsequent Championships.
The 1998 Open was known more for who finished 4th, a young amateur named Justin Rose, than for the eventual winner, Mark O’Meara.
Perhaps the shortest notable shot in golf history happened at Royal Birkdale. “The Concession” was a putt in the 1969 Ryder Cup that occurred when Jack Nicklaus magnanimously “gave” Tony Jacklin his final putt to have the Matches end for the first (and only) time in a tie.
Besides Royal Birkdale, England’s Golf Coast boasts two other Royal clubs that are on the Open rota – Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham & St Annes. All three are “must plays” on any England golf tour. Be sure and spend some time in the iconic art deco, ship-inspired clubhouse built in 1935, and pop into the Royal Birkdale Pro Shop for a treasured souvenir of your round.
During the 2023 Open Championship
Play Royal Birkdale as part of a Premier Golf Open Championship Package.
Witness 3 days (Fri – Sun) at the 151st Open at Royal Liverpool, and play Royal Birkdale GC (Monday), Formby GC (Tuesday), Hillside GC (Wednesday) and Royal Lytham & St Annes GC (Thursday).
Packages start from $7,970 per golfer, double occupancy room