A look ahead to the 2017 Open at Royal Birkdale
PUBLISHED: 08:49 10 July 2017 | UPDATED: 15:13 19 July 2017
One of the world’s greatest sporting spectacles returns to Lancashire this month, bringing the best golfers back to Birkdale. Paul Mackenzie reports.
The eyes of the world will be on Birkdale this month as the world’s top golfers come to town. Millions across the world will watch on television and about 200,000 spectators are expected to pass through the gates at the Royal Birkdale club during the Open championship as Henrik Stenson attempts to defends his title.
The historic course last hosted the Championship in 2008, when Padraig Harrington lifted the famous Claret Jug and the 146th Open will be the tenth to be held at Royal Birkdale.
The Royal Birkdale course was first established in 1889 but the current layout, which winds its way through the sand dunes towering over each of the fairways, was created in 1922. It first hosted The Open in 1954 and is now – along with Royal Lytham – the most regular venue for the Championship other than St Andrews.
Royal Birkdale’s Jonathan Seal, the chairman of the championship committee, said: ‘It’s tremendously exciting for us to be hosting the Open and to be welcoming the world’s best golfers and well over 200,000 people. It’s a great privilege for us and about 30 per cent of our members were not members in 2008 so it is particularly exciting for them.
‘We may not have hosted an Open for nine years but we have staged high profile championships regularly, including the Women’s Open, the Senior Open and the Boys’ Championship.
‘There is a huge enthusiasm among the membership and everyone will be involved in some way – we will be providing 1200 marshalls during the week and we will have about 50 people helping on reception in the club house.’
The club expects to see a spike in visitor numbers in the year after the Open Championship and Jonathan added: ‘We look forward to welcoming those people to what we think – although we are a little biased – is the finest golf course in the UK.’
The quality of the course has been steadily improving since the early 1990s but the layout is largely unchanged since Harrington’s winning round in 2008. There has been a slight re-contouring of the 17th green, but few other alterations. So with his inside knowledge, can Jonathan provide a tip for Lancashire Life readers?
‘We have had a relatively cold spring followed by a largely dry period, so the rough is not quite as challenging as in previous years, but a straight hitter who can keep the ball on the fairway will do well. A good short game is an advantage in the major championships, too.
‘It would be lovely to see some local interest do well and Tommy Fleetwood from Southport has been in good form. We have a track record of back-to-back winners so Henrik Stenson would continue that record. From the European Tour, Justin Rose has fond memories of playing at Birkdale and after his win at The Masters Sergio Garcia will be among the favourites. Two of the top players from America at the moment are Jordan Spieth and Ricky Fowler and I think it would be good for golf to see a young character like Ricky Fowler do well.
‘If I had to pick a winner, I think I’d go for Henrik Stenson to keep that record of producing back-to-back winners.’
But whoever finishes on top of the leaderboard, the real winners could well be the businesses in Birkdale and the wider Sefton area. Cllr Ian Maher, Labour Leader at Sefton Council, said: ‘We want to ensure we use The Open to really boost our local economy, grow employment opportunities and ensure our businesses reap the benefits of hosting one of the largest sporting events in the world.
‘We want the world to see we are very much open for business and for everyone to marvel at all our assets and fantastic coastline which forms part of Royal Birkdale’s famous links course.
‘Events like The Open attract enormous volumes of positive profile and we are determined we really tap into this. We want 2017 to leave a golfing legacy with as many people as possible from across Sefton getting involved in this wonderful sporting spectacle.’
And when they’re not keeping up with the action on the course, golf fans will have more than enough to keep them busy in Birkdale and the surrounding area. It is estimated that the event will boost the local economy by up to £30million and much of that will probably be spent in the local cafés, delis and bars and Birkdale’s stylish and charming independent shops are sure to see some brisk trading as well.
‘We have worked incredibly hard in the run up to the championship to showcase the borough to its full potential,’ Cllr Maher added. ‘Residents and businesses have really got into the spirit of the event and we are sure there will be a warm welcome and atmosphere to remember throughout the week.
‘There are a number of events going on in Southport town centre during the championship and shops will be opening late. Our restaurants and bars will be alive and I hope everyone embraces and enjoys the party atmosphere.’
The Championship will take place at Royal Birkdale from July 16-23. Practice days are from July 16-19 with the Championship running from July 20-23. For ticket information go to TheOpen.com/Tickets or call The Open ticket office on 01334 460010.