Royal Birkdale: An Insider Speaks

The big tournaments come thick and fast throughout the summer months on the European Tour, with three of the newly formed Rolex Series events leading up to the biggest of them all, being held at Royal Birkdale. 

With the world's best descending on Lancashire dreaming of raising aloft the most presitigious trophy in the game, debate and discussion about the golf course is always prevalent - who will it suit, how dependant is it on the weather making it tough, how deep will the rough be? Ahead of the Championship, TaylorMade caught up with one member of the sales team, Matthew Cox, who is a member at Royal Birkdale and a scratch golfer, to get some insight on what he's seen at the course ahead of the pre-tournament closure.

"To this day, it's the loudest roar I've ever heard at a golf tournament" - Matthew Cox, on Justin Rose's 72nd hole pitch in 1998.

Matthew has been a member of Royal Birkdale for a number of years and is an accomplished golfer, playing off an impressive scratch handicap. "In competition, off the backs, 67 is the lowest I've shot. One of those dream days where everything works out for you, but it wasn't under the pressure of trying to win a major, that's for sure!" The first question therefore naturally revolved around the scoreable areas of the golf course, in which rounds like a 67 can be built. "15 & 17 are the only two par-5's on the course, so it's pretty crucial to make a score there. It's particularly imperative because the 12th, the most iconic hole on the course, can be a nightmare. It's only around 180yds but it's got trouble everywhere and when the wind blows I've seen every number imaginable. If a player makes 4 pars on that hole, he'll be ahead of the field, I'm sure of that."

The small, but mighty 12th hole.
The perilous bunkers awaiting an errant tee shot.

Aside from the 12th, the age old story of the first tee shot being the toughest rings true as well. "It's a brute. It's very tight, the prevailing wind comes off the left hand side blowing towards the right - with nerves jangling early on and the set-up of the hole, par really is a good starting score. It sounds cliche, but it's true. The opening holes are generally thought of as being the most difficult on the rota, so it's easy to get off sluggishly. Making pars early and staying patient is key."

With that, conversation turns to the changes made to the course and how it might suit the TaylorMade staff players, 6 of whom are currently inside the world top 15. "Actually very few changes have been made as the major rework was done after 1998. The 17th green has been reworked somewhat to soften the contours, and there have been some intermediate tees added for when the wind becomes a big factor like it was in 2008. We have also removed some gorse in certain areas to improve sightlines, but it’s mostly the same test as 2008 - so it's possible that those who played it back then may have some advantage, but it's been nine years." 

The imposing tee shot at the key 17th hole.
A narrow approach awaits.

Given that the winning score in 2008 was +3, clearly nobody is thinking that remaining the same means that the course will get taken apart by the world's best. Given the set-up, Matthew is clear on which TaylorMade staff players he thinks stand the best chance. "It's set up for Justin, and not just because of the past. The course demands patience and precision, as well as exceptional ball striking. He's definitely one to watch." Patience and precision also lends itself to Matthew's favourite player: "Sergio could do it. How great would it be if he could grab a second one in the same year? The way he hits his driver and his irons... I'd love to see it."

Can the reigning Masters champ make it 2 from 3?

A final word on what that winning score might be? "This is a great talking point with the members at the moment. Some of them think we may well see the first ever 62 in a major because the rough isn’t too severe at the moment. Personally I don’t see that because Birkdale normally always has a tough day or two, where par is an amazing score. If the weather is fair I think if anyone gets to double figures under they will have a great chance."