With superb dunes and favorable fairways, Royal Birkdale is a fast-running but fair host for this year’s Open Championship
© Courtesy of Oakland Hills PROShop: The Faldo File
| Credit: © Courtesy of Oakland Hills

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.

Nick Faldo’s witty insights about golf and candid assessments of fellow Tour professionals can be heard on the following scheduled telecasts:

July 3–6, AT&T National, Congressional (Golf Channel, CBS)

July 31–August 3, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational,

Firestone (Golf Channel, CBS)

August 9–10, PGA Championship, Oakland Hills (CBS)

August 21–24, Barclays Classic, Ridgewood (Golf Channel, CBS)

September 4–5, BMW Championship, Bellerive (Golf Channel)

Six key thoughts for mastering a gusty British links

Weigh the wind First off, even when the wind is light on British links courses, you may well need to club up or down. Sea air is humid, which is easy to forget because it doesn’t make you feel muggy and uncomfortable. And remember, this is true sea level. Because of the altitude—the lack of it, actually—a 20 mph wind in Scotland has more effect than a 20 mph wind where I live in Florida, a hundred feet or so above sea level.

Befriend the breeze In general, the mistake most players make is to treat upwind shots like punishments and downwind shots like free rides. You have to think of it another way: You’re always using the wind. When it’s blowing hard in your face, take two or three extra clubs and thank the wind for guiding your ball down onto the green. If it’s blowing aggressively left to right, hit a ball left and let the wind bring it back toward the flag.

Assess the trajectory You should be thinking about trajectory as much as or more than you’re thinking about yardages. If you spent a whole round deciding how high to hit your shots before you select the club, you really might be on to something. Remember, you can hit different clubs the same height by choking down a little, moving the ball back in your stance or softening your arms. Experiment in fractions at first, not by making major adjustments.

On the tee, hit the three Into the wind you may need everything you’ve got, but when playing downwind don’t assume that the driver will give you the distance you normally generate plus bonus yardage—the wind can actually knock a drive down before it reaches its natural crest, cutting off carry. The three-wood produces more underspin and sends the ball higher. Your ball will keep its spin and stay up high, where the wind can extend its flight and push it down the fairway. Again, the wind is your ally.

Upwind, try soft arms One great tip for playing into heavy wind is to soften your arms. Feel yourself bending your left arm on the way back and your right arm on the way through. It’s something you have to experiment with, feeling very soft arms and a supersmooth swing action. The ball comes out like a plane taking off, and against the wind it will look like it’s in slow motion. In fact, it is holding its trajectory until it falls straight down.

Downwind, stay aggressive On downwind approach shots, don’t just lift the ball up in the sky and let it float forward. You’re better off playing these shots aggressively rather than passively. Hit a lower, driving type of shot and let it bounce short and run up. If you’ve nipped it properly, the ball will bite on the second hop and settle nicely.

The curriculum at the Faldo Golf Institutes is built around fundamentals. Each site offers schools, private lessons and club-fitting sessions.

Marriott’s Grande Vista; Orlando, Florida

Marriott’s Shadow Ridge; Palm Desert, California

Seaview Marriott Resort & Spa; Galloway, New Jersey

Marco Island Marriott Resort; Marco Island, Florida

Brocket Hall Golf Club; Hertfordshire, England

For the U.S. institutes, call 888-463-2536 or visit gofaldo.com. For Brocket Hall, call 011-44/1707-368-786 or visit brocket-hall.co.uk.

If officials set up the course the way they should for the PGA Championship, good scores will be well south of par

With the Masters as difficult as it was and with the stern conditions at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, the PGA of America has a chance to put on the only U.S. major of the year that features low scoring and guys having a good go at it. The South Course at Oakland Hills Country Club can be a long, tough slog if officials want to set it up that way, but I think they should aim for eight to twelve under par and put an emphasis on shotmaking tee to green.

The way to do that is to mow the fairways tight and let them dry out, and then find those places where the ball hops one pace into the rough after four bounces on the fairway and mow those spots as fairway as well. Don’t make us watch players hit a 120-yard wedge out of the rough followed by a 100-yard wedge onto the green. At the end of a long summer, I don’t think the fans really want to sit through that. I’d always rather see a player in light rough chancing a flier or controlling his flier shot and getting a well-deserved reward for it.

I say keep the greens moist enough to accept an excellent shot, but make sure the green surrounds stay dry and hard. That way the odd carom comes on a shot that misses the putting surface, not a shot that hits it. Meanwhile, if the run-ups to the greens are dry and hard, we’ll see some shots bounced in—shotmaking that takes a bit of feel.

People ask me what it’s been like AS European captain preparing for the Ryder Cup at Valhalla Golf Club in September. It’s all the things you might expect: enjoyable, fascinating, complicated in some ways, simple in others.

U.S. captain Paul Azinger switched the format so that alternate-shot comes first on Friday and Saturday, with four-ball in the afternoons. That’s where the Ryder Cup gets simple. Zinger made the switch because he thinks the U.S. is better in foursomes than we are. He gets to do that, and I get to say to my guys: “Zinger thinks his side plays foursomes better than you do.” That prospect will pull our players together as a team.

As captain, I’m looking for ways to get our guys past thinking about themselves—their heads will be much clearer. There’s a lot of nervous energy in a Ryder Cup, so you build to that level where it’s still positive. Then you get outside yourself and start playing in honor of something else.

Zinger said I was grinding away at Valhalla—playing the course, taking notes about every shot, getting prepped in my usual, detailed way. Which is true. I think somehow his comment was seen as a knock on me, but I didn’t take it that way.

And as far as detailed preparation goes, sometimes it’s all for naught. One year Colin Montgomerie and I were paired in foursomes and spent two days preparing our strategy. I would hit the tee shot on the first hole, Monty on the second, and so forth, all through eighteen. But that morning on the range, I just didn’t get comfortable with the type of drive I needed to hit on number one. So a few minutes before we went to the tee, I said, “Monty, I don’t feel good about the shot. You hit first here.” He harrumphed all the way to the tee, harrumphed a bit longer, then knocked one out in the fairway. In every Ryder Cup there are going to be some funny things like that, and they’re good icebreakers.

By M. Brandon Wall

Southport, England, is known for its beaches and countryside, shopping and restaurants, but it sits at the heart of what’s considered the country’s “golf coast.” Royal Birkdale (royalbirkdale.com), host of this year’s British Open, from July 17 to 20, is one of three "royal" courses in the vicinity — Royal Lytham & St. Annes (royallytham.org) and Royal Liverpool (royal-liverpool-golf.com) round out the triumvirate — and a total of about twenty courses are within reasonable driving distance.

The seaside town sits in the country’s northwest, in the heart of the twenty-two-mile-long Sefton Coast, the largest stretch of undeveloped duneland in England. Fly into either Liverpool, about a half-hour south, or Manchester, about an hour east. Southport has plenty of excellent lodging options, including the Scarisbrick Hotel (scarisbrickhotel.com) and Prince of Wales (britanniahotels.com), both on Lord Street, the grand boulevard and shopping mecca. Or head to the Macdonald Kilhey Court Hotel (macdonaldhotels.co.uk), in the countryside about a half hour away; for five-star accommodations, stay at the magnificent Chester Grosvenor Hotel & Spa (chestergrosvenor.com) in the ancient Roman city of Chester.

The town also a vibrant nightlife, a new water park for kids, and scores of restaurants, but it’s the golf that’s most intriguing. Along with the royal layouts, there’s Hillside (hillside-golfclub.co.uk), which some say is the best British course never to host the Open; Southport & Ainsdale (sandagolfclub.co.uk), a two-time Ryder Cup host; and Formby Golf Club (formbygolfclub.co.uk), laid over terrain that includes heathland, pineland and linksland. There’s Hesketh (heskethgolfclub.co.uk), one of the oldest links in England, the challenging West Lancashire (westlancashiregolf.co.uk), Old Tom Morris’s design at Wallasey (wallaseygolfclub.com), and plenty of others. The permutations of unforgettable golf trips in Southport are virtually endless.

When you’re not playing golf (or watching it, for those lucky enough to attend the Open this year), visit the town’s famous old iron pier, or Marine Lake, the largest man-made lake in the United Kingdom, or Hesketh Park. Walk down Lord Street or pedestrian-only Chapel Street, another hot spot for shoppers, or take a stroll down the Promenade or along the coast. Southport holds events throughout the year, including a wine festival in July, a flower show in August and an air show in September. And be sure to explore Manchester and Liverpool -- the latter was named the European Capital of Culture by the European Union this year, and the city is commemorating that in various ways (visit liverpool08.com).