Royal Birkdale, which in July hosts the Open Championship for the ninth time (and, incidentally, is where I won my first seventy-two-hole event, the 1978 British PGA Championship), is a good-looking links that’s also a great test. As you watch the Open, you’ll notice Birkdale’s hospitable fairway contours. The land has a lovely roll but no odd knobs or awkward bumps, and that gives the course a fairness Tour pros appreciate: If you drive one down the middle, you’ll get a playable fairway lie. Your ball won’t go caroming off into the rough 30 percent of the time, which is what can happen at Royal Troon or Royal St. Georges.
Because of the land’s contours, the course should come across beautifully on TV. It’s got lots of natural amphitheaters and good character throughout. The last time I was there was for a corporate outing: I was to make some opening remarks and play six holes. But when we came off the sixth green, I asked if I could stick around. I ended up playing the whole eighteen.
I failed to contend in the two most recent Opens at Birkdale: in 1991, when I was defending champion, and in 1998. I got off to a poor start in 1991—that Open, for me, was really more like something to survive. A week prior my wife and I had received a death threat to our daughter that the police took very seriously. It was unsettling, to say the least, to see the special police forces and their German shepherds standing guard in front of our house each morning. We had a long-trusted nanny at the time, and she took the children off to her hometown, where no one would know their whereabouts. Not a pleasant week, looking back on it.
Outside of Royal Birkdale itself, there’s a fine golf vacation to be had in Southport (see tlgolf.com for an itinerary). It’s an interesting town to visit—it’s not like you’re in the quiet of Carnoustie. Fly into Manchester or Liverpool and then make your way to the coast.