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Golf News: - Posted 22nd April 1998

Changes to Royal Birkdale make it a tougher test for the Open

Southport, Merseyside  - Course changes at Royal Birkdale will add at least one shot to each round of this year's Open Championship the Royal and Ancient are predicting.

Since the Open was last played over the Merseyside course in 1991, won by Ian Baker-Finch, all the greens have been rebuilt and new tees have been constructed on the seventh and 17th holes. According to Hugh Campbell, chairman of the Championship Committee it should mean the course will play a stroke a round more difficult. At just over 7,000 yards par 70, it is a substantial test.

The seventh is 20 yards longer and a new tee has been set in the sand dunes adjacent to the third tee some 50 yards to the left of the old one. The green is saucer-shaped and closely protected with pot bunkers. It is the shortest of four par 3s on the course.

The 17th tee has been moved 50 yards from where it was and has considerably tightened up the drive.  The bunkers guarding the green have also been adjusted making the entrance to this par 5 green much narrower.

To improve the putting surfaces a major rebuilding programme has been undertaken on the greens. For several years it has

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Royal Birkdale's 18th hole and clubhouse

been appreciated that some kind of problem existed under the greens. Following the Open in 1991 the Club considered it was necessary to embark on a programme of radical reforms to maintain and extend its position as one of the leading venues for major golf championships.

Between 1992 and 1994 all the greens were rebuilt by lifting the turf, replacing the 'problem layer' about two to six inches below the surface and replacing existing turf. The opportunity was also taken to re-design some of the greens to plans of Martin Hawtree, one of Britain's leading golf course architects.

Michael Bonallack, Secretary of the Royal and Ancient said " The greens are going to putt considerably harder than in '91. They are beautifully contoured and pretty quick. I think the changes will add at least one shot, if not two, to the course."

Elsewhere on the course some 20 acres of silver poplar, locally known as Lancashire weed, has been removed. If left the whole sand dune area would have been covered with unwanted growth. Their removal was carried out with full approval of English Nature and the Sefton Life Project and will slowly revert Royal Birkdale to its true links character. The removal of the Lancashire weed will also assist spectator movement during the Open Championship.

More details about the course and information about the Open Championship can be viewed on  the Royal Birkdale web site