Spectator guide: The secrets to getting the best out of BirkdaleJuly 19, 2017
Heading to the Open? Well, our reporter in the field has examined the best ways to watch the Open at Birkdale this week...
The Open Championship can be a scary and confusing place for spectators.
It is easy to get lost, there are queues for everything and it’s difficult to know how to get the most out of the experience.
To assist, we sent our roving reporter, James Broadhurst, out on to the fairways to speak to fans and pinpoint the best options for watching the action at Royal Birkdale.
Here’s what he discovered…
After the tiring experience of walking Troon’s lengthy layout at last year’s Open, Birkdale’s relatively compact network of holes has been a welcome relief.
Within five minutes of leaving the Spectator’s Village you can see action on half-a-dozen holes.
And those of us who like to explore every nook and cranny of an Open track can still get a good sweat on without the day feeling like a back-breaking route march.
With the exception of the 5th, 6th, 16th and 17th holes, the rest are all clustered together in the middle of the course.
Hearing the conversations of player and caddy, seeing a pro’s routine before he bombs it a mile and covering every blade of grass on a world-class course are the obvious attractions to walking at an Open Championship.
Margaret and Steve Shepherd, of Heswall, were walking the course when I caught up with them on the 11th hole, which has colossal dunes surrounding the green in a semi-circle; perfect for spectators wanting a bird’s eye view of the players without battling for a seat in a grandstand.
Margaret, 68, said: “We are golfers so we are used to walking around rather than sitting. It’s more social. You can talk to people. You can also see more of the action walking around.”
But apart from the 11th, what other holes are worth clocking up steps on the pedometer?
Mike Fairclough, 61, of Crosby, a marshal at this year’s Open, recommends the 6th tee box as a great vantage point for those willing to walk the distance to get there.
He added: “You can see players driving from the tee and also putting on the 5th green.”
And if you’re really clever, like spectator Bob Thom, of Banchory, Scotland, you’ll come equipped with a shooting stick – a walking stick that also doubles up as a seat.
The device will probably gather dust in most garages when the Open finishes but it’s clever way of allowing fans to kick up their feet while on the go.
Bob’s particular stick actually doubled as an umbrella, much to my envy as the rain lashed it down on Wednesday afternoon.
Bob, 65, who is a big fan of Paul Lawrie, a former assistant pro at his home club in Banchory, said: “If Paul Lawrie is playing then I will always follow him all the way round. If not, I like to find a decent spot and watch a few of the better players go through.”
Dunes, dunes and more dunes
Birkdale is home to a colossal dune system and that’s music to the ears of spectators.
Find a large dune, plonk yourself down and wait for the players to come to you.
You will find several good vantage points on nearly every hole at Birkdale.
The 9th hole, which is close to the Spectator’s Village, has the double benefit of a grandstand and a whopping great big dune right next to the green.
It proved to be a popular spot on practice days as you can also see down the 10th and 1st fairways.
For a quieter spot, it may be worth instead going slightly further away to the 7th hole, a challenging par 3 surrounded by bunkers.
Head for the mini grandstand or, as most seem to prefer, park yourself on the dune running right the way along the left-hand side of the green.
The attraction of the grandstand option is obvious. They provide uninterrupted views across a green and the chance to see lots of different stars without having to move an inch.
If you are in need of a rest, not as sprightly as you used to be, or, like me, are just plain lazy then heading to one of the many grandstands is the best way to watch the action up close and in relative comfort.
The 18th is the headline act with its arena-like atmosphere. Get here early on Sunday and set up camp to enjoy it at its best.
The par-14th is another great option. Close to the Village and with a view of the tee box as well as the green, expect this to be busy on peak days.
And, as mentioned above, the 9th grandstand has the added bonus of views to the 10th and 1st holes.
Carl Williams, 54, of Manchester, is a big fan of ringside seats. “I like going to a grandstand, especially on a practice day when it’s not as busy,” he said. “You can see the green and that’s where the magic happens.”
Is it my round?
Who needs to walk round in the rain and wind when you could be sipping on a cold beverage while watching the action on a giant TV screen?
I found American Garry Jackson, of Denver, kicking up his feet on a bean bag in front of the big-screen TV.
The 74-year-old said: “It’s good to get an overall view of the course. I will walk the whole course in a day but it’s nice to find out what’s happening elsewhere.”
And when you aren’t kicking up your feet, there are food stalls, bars, shops, kid’s play areas, virtual golf and crazy golf to enjoy in the spectator hub.
If the predicted rain hits during the weekend, you can shelter in the Village pondering why you just didn’t just stay at home and watch it all from the comfort of your lounge.
But after a couple of beers, you probably won’t care a jot.