SOUTHPORT, England — Judging by the selfie-takers, plenty of people admire Royal Birkdale’s nautically-inspired clubhouse, dubbed an “ocean liner sailing through a mountainous sea of sand dunes.”
But many of George Tonge’s most clever architectural details are gone, including old ship-like rails that allowed overflow crowds to hang over the edges during Claret Jug ceremonies. These days, the stark-white 1935 George Tonge building looks less like an ocean liner and more like a hospital.
Asked what they make of the clubhouse, most fans immediately say they’ve never been inside. As with so many Open rota clubs, Royal Birkdale makes sure to uphold classic royal snootiness. Few should mind the exclusivity since the club yields in one spectacularly inspirational way.
Royal Birkdale features a club within the club, born out of cultural divides and a love for the game. Between the fourth green and fifth tee sits the home of this other club — the Birkdale Artisans.
Originally Royal Birkdale’s pro shop in 1897, it’s a small and decidedly more-traditional English structure. The club’s first tee and last green once sat there. But the building was abandoned when the Birkdale clubhouse ship sailed to the present location.
That’s when the Artisans stepped in to carve out a niche more clubs should consider.
Under the direction of the course manager, this club within the club is made up of working-class golfers who help maintain the links in return for golf privileges. If only more golf and country clubs across the world included such creative access to a legendary championship course.
To step inside this small, recently refreshed interior is the real privilege this week given the Artisans’ dedication for more than 80 years. Inside, a mix of course beauty shots and historic images surround the upper walls, with traditional club tournament winner lists painted on the sides. Tom Watson, the 1983 Open winner here, signed a photo to the Artisans.
The members park just beyond the fifth tee and enjoy a simple, fully functional bar with temporary carpet put down to protect the ancient floors from the numerous visitors this week. Otherwise, the atmosphere is jovial, welcoming and respectful.
The Artisans on hand said they do not have access to the regular Birkdale clubhouse. Nor do they seem the least bit bothered. After all, they have parking, access to the links and get to be part of presenting an incredibly maintained links that will again crown the Champion Golfer of The Year.
The Artisans clubhouse even offers an eloquent reminder to care for the course no matter what clubhouse you change your shoes in:
“As the earth is not meant to be carried away
The divots you cut in the course of your play,
Should be neatly replaced by your caddie or you,
with their roots to the earth and their blades to the blue.”