Royal Birkdale, host of nine British Opens and its sixth Women’s British Open this week, might have the most compelling finishing stretch in links golf. The par-72 track goes out in 35 but comes back in in 37 with par-5s on Nos. 15, 17 and 18 to close, setting up for some potentially major theatrics on Sunday. When the Women’s British was last hosted here in 2010, Yani Tseng approached the 14th hole with only a one-shot lead over Katherine Kirk, but both reeled off five straight pars for a one-shot win for Tseng. Based on past Opens at Royal Birkdale, including Jeong Jang’s 16-under total in 2005 (3rd lowest ever in a Women’s British), it’s a safe bet fans will see a birdie barrage on these final five holes coming in. Here’s a breakdown of each hole at Royal Birkdale Golf Club, one of the most iconic venues in links golf.
1 – So much for slowly easing players into the golf course with this 430-yard behemoth of a par-4 that played the second most difficult hole on the course five years prior (4.41). The slight dogleg left forces a brutal opening drive in which players absolutely can’t miss right and a miss left will surely find the pot bunker or mound with mangy rough behind it. A shot in the fairway will leave a long to mid iron into front-to-back sloping green with bunkers in front. Players will be happy to take a par and get a move on here.
2 – This hole concludes a brutal opening two-hole stretch. Get through here at even par, and you’ve gained almost a shot on the field. This right-to-left dogleg ranked as the third most difficult hole on the course in 2010 and almost always plays directly into the wind. A large mound down the left rough will have players trying to keep this drive down the right side, setting up a second shot into a heavily bunkered front.
3 – An angular green here requires tee shots to come in from the left-hand side for their best shot at holding, but two penalizing pot bunkers line the left side of the fairway in which a downhill slope feeds.
4 – Four bunkers protect the longest par-3 on the course. The green opens up in the back, though, and the bunkers only protect the front, so better to be long here than short when coming in with a long to mid iron.
5 – The easiest par-4 on the golf course in 2010, this short par-4 will require players to hit a hybrid or iron off the tee, leaving them with a wedge in their hands to a green surrounded on all sides by seven bunkers. The only water in play on the course is to the right on this hole and won’t be in play unless big hitters try to challenge the dogleg right with driver off the tee.
6 – The second easiest par-5 on the course is a dog-leg right to a large elevated green protected by three bunkers to collect off line, run up shots. The drive is the tricky part here, though, with a big cross bunker jutting out into the landing area, creating a narrow landing area for players who want to challenge it. This hole surrender the second most birdies on the course in 2010 and is the player’s best chance of getting one back on the front nine.
7 – There’s not an ideal place to miss it here with seven bunkers canvassing the edge of this green. The particularly penalizing miss is left where a green that looks like an eye leaves players with tricky lies. But with only a short iron in hand – 8 iron to pitching wedge for most players – this hole yielded 57 birdies in 2010 (2nd most of any non par-5).
8 – This is a challenging tee shot with three bunkers collecting drives on the right and a difficult pot bunker doing the same on the left hand side. A drive down the left hand side sets up a mid iron into a green protected in the front by a trio of bunkers on the right and a deep pot bunker front left.
9 – This uphill blind tee shot is one of only two drives on the course not protected by a single bunker but is a challenging finishing hole to the outward nine (4th most difficult in 2010). The difficulty lies in the approach to an elevated green. Short shots get swallowed up my two deep bunkers in front and there’s heavily roughed mounds just over the back.
10 – Strategically placed bunkers line the sharpest dogleg on the course. The hole isn’t that long (360 yards) and a tee shot that finds the fairway will only leave players with a wedge or short iron to a green only protected by one tiny bunker. But the drive is narrow and players can be tempted to bite off more than they can chew here.
11 – Four pot bunkers dot the fairway like mines waiting to blow up a player’s round. The hole is the second shortest par-4 on the course and players will have a wedge in their hands with a good tee shot to a green with a large sand hill behind the green.
12 – This hole may only be 149 yards, but it played nearly a quarter stroke over par in 2010 (3.22). A bean-shaped green is protected by deep pot bunkers front left and right and large mounds around the greens on all sides. Hit the green with a mid to short iron or players will have a tricky up and down.
13 – To get to the birdie holes to finish, players’ rounds must survive this beast of a par-4, which played to a 4.42 scoring average in 2010 – the most difficult on the course relative to par. A large cross bunker will eat up many players tee shots on this hole, and four other bunkers surround the landing area, creating an extremely narrow tee shot. Large sand hills edge the green and three pot bunkers to the left and right of the green will swallow run-up shots that go just a bit awry. Someone will make a big number here.
14 – This is where the easiest stretch on the course begins – a five-hole stretch where players can pile on birdies before the clubhouse and potentially make a leaderboard charge come Sunday. This is the least penal par-3 on the course, a 163-yard downhill shot to a large green. Players can’t miss short in either direction, though, or the ball trickles down into two devilish greenside pot bunkers protecting front right and left, but players should have a short to mid iron in hand depending on the wind.
15 – The toughest of the par-5s, 15 bunkers line this hole to make it more of a challenge than its 499 yards would suggest. Players who lay up will be tested by three small pot bunkers jutting out in the middle of the fairway right at a full-wedge’s length from the green, creating the conundrum of lay up to a half shot or test those bunkers with a second shot. Not a single eagle was recorded here in 2010.
16 – At 358 yards, this hole was the second easiest par-4 on the course in 2010. Two fairway bunkers line the right side of the dogleg right, but players will aggressively test the right side to set up a short iron or wedge approach.
17 – The longest par-5 on the course was one of only three holes to play under par in 2010, setting up the opening act of a potentially dramatic birdie-birdie finish. A massive dune protects the right and left side, forcing a right-to-left drive through the narrow chute to keep it left of the fairway pot bunkers down the right side for longer hitters. Two devilish bunkers will gobble up run-up second shots, and a cross bunker sits just in player’s wheelhouse for a third (between 90-100 yards out). This hole has its challenges but a birdie can be had and six eagles were recorded here in 2010.
18 – This is where stories are made and champions embed themselves into British Open lore. The 475-yard par-5 18th played almost a half stroke under par in 2010 (4.53) and surrendered 24 eagles, setting up the potential for fireworks on Sunday. Bunkers protect the front of this green on both sides but longer players should be able to hit long irons into this green. Barring a runaway champion, it’s hard to imagine the winner not needing at least a birdie here on Sunday.
Topics: Ricoh Women's British Open