St Annes on Sea,
- +44 (0) 1253 724206
1 mile SE of St Annes town centre
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Royal Lytham & St Annes is the most northerly of the English championship links courses, situated only 10 miles, as the seagull flies, from its illustrious neighbour, Royal Birkdale. This monster links opened for play in 1886, fashioned by George Lowe, the club’s first professional. In the early part of the 20th century, three great architects joined forces to remodel the course—Harry Colt, Herbert Fowler and Tom Simpson. C.K. Cotton and Frank Pennink later modified the layout.
This is definitely a links course, but it is no longer beside the sea. It now lies half a mile inland, but with Blackpool tower looming in the distance you know the sea isn't far away. Rather unusually, the links is surrounded by red brick houses and (less unusually) flanked on the west by the railway line. The guardian Victorian clubhouse always watches sternly over the links. Conditioning is often exceptional and not as rough and ready around the edges as many of its contemporaries. The ground is relatively even, except perhaps on a couple of holes, where the going is slightly undulating.
The course itself is extremely tough, only Carnoustie (on the British Open circuit) is thought to be tougher. Bernard Darwin describes Lytham’s challenges in his book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles:
The greens are firm, fast and true, or as Darwin once said when he was playing a match at St Annes against an opponent who was a very good putter. “The truly-struck putt comes on and on over that wonderfully smooth turf and flops into the hole with a sickening little thud, and there we are left gasping and robbed of our prey.”
The 1st is unique because this is the only par three starting hole on the Open Championship circuit and it’s a long one, measuring 206 yards from the back tees. Ian Woosnam hit a fine tee shot here in the 2001 Open and then sank the putt thinking he’d made a birdie two. Unfortunately Woosnam was carrying 15 clubs in his bag. This cost the Welshman £225,000 and possibly the Open Championship title—it also cost his caddy around £20,000 and his job.
The 17th hole, a 467-yard par four, belongs to the esteemed Bobby Jones. As an amateur, he won the 1926 Open Championship, beating Al Watrous by two shots. A plaque (located close to the spot from which he nailed his second shot onto the green from a rough, sandy lie during the final round) commemorates Jones’s triumph and the mashie that he used for this remarkable shot is displayed in the clubhouse. The final hole is a relatively ordinary 414-yard par four and it’s a simple case of straight hitting to avoid the 15 bunkers that are trying hard to swallow the ball. The resurgence of British golf occurred here in 1969, when Tony Jacklin’s final drive avoided all the bunkers and he putted out to win the Open in a sea of emotion.
Royal Lytham and St Annes could never be described as a “classical” links course. It doesn’t have any giant shaggy dunes, nor does it have undulating roller-coaster fairways or pretty sea views. But it does have honesty and character by the bucket and spade load, and bags and bags of history.
Lytham is fantastic and well deserved of its ranking in the world.
Before you tee off, enjoy the clubhouse and the history, and treat yourself to something in the pro shop, as it has one of the best logos in the UK.
It's worth saying that you won't break your handicap. It is the hardest of all the Open venues, no matter what tee you play off. The 200+ bunkers are everywhere and are the biggest defence of the course. But if you go out and just enjoy the course, and don't care what you shoot, you will have a blast. When I played it I actually began wanting to hit it in bunkers, just for the fun of the carnage that was waiting for me.
I love how it starts with a par 3. It's different, not easy, but quirky, and a nice start before you get beaten up on holes 2 and 3. My favourite holes are 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 17 and 18. The worst hole on the course is still a 7/10, which is a huge compliment to the consistently high quality of holes. The railway runs parallel to holes 2, 3 and 8, and does come into play.
Hole 9 sums Lytham up. You're surrounded by buildings, and can't see the sea. It's only 150 yards, but the green is small. If you hit a good shot, you will be rewarded with a birdie look. However, if your shot is just slightly off, you will be in a bunker at least 5 foot deep. At a guess there are 8 of these bunkers around this green.
A real must play if in the area, but as I said, don't expect to shoot your handicap. Don't moan if your ball runs into a bunker. Just enjoy it.
There are several reasons for you to consider RLSA and why it holds its own even among other Open venues. Let me point out a few:
RLSA is a real golf club, but it allows guests most days of the week and my experience is that it is easier to get on than for example nearby Birkdale.
The ability to stay at the on-site Dormy gives you access to great tee-off times normally reserved for RLSA members. We almost had the course to ourselves late on a Friday afternoon and an early Saturday morning in May(!). Good luck getting anywhere close to that (without knowing members) at any other Open venue!
Whereas other venues have more history, iconic holes or more picturesque views, I believe RLSA presents a very diverse test of golf. We played it both from the green and the red tees and were not beaten up as others had led us to believe we would. Instead, I can still remember many of the tee shots and approach shots clearly almost a year later, which is (almost) always a good indication of interesting architecture.
4. Value for money
Sounds crazy when discussing Open venues, but taken in a relative context, a combined dormy + week-end green fee package probably gives you more quality golf experience per pound spent than most other Open venues.
Not in the iconic class of a Prestwick, TOC or RSG but not very far behind either. Highly recommended to anchor a trip to the region.
I went to watch the open at Royal Lytham when Ernie Els won back in 2012 and was blown away by the look of it way back then. When I finally managed to book a time to play there I was ecstatic but also apprehensive as after reading some other reviews I was unsure whether it was going to live up to the high praise I gave it as a teenager.
Well, My apprehension pretty much went after stepping foot on the property. Getting to go inside the clubhouse is an experience in itself with the vast array of golfing history.
I have never been a huge fan of starting a course with a par 3 but for Lytham, I can make an exception as it's a stunning looking hole to start with. Out of the former and current Open courses, I have played I would certainly rank it as the toughest simply due to the positioning of the bunkers and hugely undulating fairways but coming down the 18th with that superb clubhouse is a memory I will never forget and one that will stay with me for a very long time.
Fantastic links golf experience that I am still struggling to better.
Having read the other reviews I really think they are immensely unfair.
Lytham is probably the quirkiest of the open courses and is somewhat surprising that you dont see the sea and are surrounded by houses, however this gives it its own special something and its an immensely enjoyable course that oozes history. The amount of bunkers is nothing short of a cricket score! and it felt like I visited most of them.
All the open courses are brilliant and I honestly think your favourite is the one you play best at or more important, .....when you get the best weather ! When you compare the best of the rest , ie Ganton ,Royal Porthcawl , Royal St Davids, Saunton Sands, Burnham and Berrow, you realise the open courses have something extra that is hard to explain but is definitely justified in making them the top of the pecking order and you must put this on your bucket list, Lytham especially early or late season when its softer so you dont inevitably keep running into a pesky bunker!
Playing the top 100, Royal Lytham was the only course in England left to play... well that was the cherry on top of a sumptuous cake! Nice to play a course that begins with a gentle par-3. And speaking of the short holes, the 9th was majestic in my view. No hole felt the same. Some obviously tougher than others and the dog legs would fall into that category especially hole 17 which is a brute! But a wonderful experience.
A big shout out for the Dormy House - recently renovated - which proved a great place to lay a weary head.
Some mark Lytham down for its difficulty. And with its 167 or so bunkers, difficulty is definitely in play. But my lament is not with course’s difficulty but rather that the plethora of sand pits makes for minimal strategic choices from the tee. Yes, the dogleg holes (particularly 6, 13, 16 and 17) examine the player’s mental as well as physical skills, but for the most part, Lytham only asks the golfer to drive the ball straight and avoid the bunkers that often line both sides of the fairway. Once on the green, the golfer is too often faced with dull surfaces. Lytham makes for a fine challenge when one of its many championships arrives. But for ordinary golfer enjoyment, it is one of my least favorite Open rota layouts.
Sorry but I just can't see why this figures so highly in so many ranking lists.
A tough course with some long holes and loads of bunkers but it just feels strange for a links course to be hemmed in by houses and a railway line.
Would never turn down a chance to play it but for me it just doesn't have the same magic as most of the other Open venues.
Darius Oliver, as so often is the case, said it best in his review at https://www.planetgolf.com/courses/england/royal-l...
'the overwhelming impression of the modern Lytham is a course which probably exists more successfully now as a championship venue than as an enjoyable members course'
5 balls because it's on the open rota and is indeed a fine championship layout, but simply put, not an enjoyable golfing experience unless you're hitting it dead straight off the tee
I've been traveling to the UK on golf trips for 40 years, and have played virtually all the highly rated courses multiple times, including Lytham. Frankly, hasn't been one of my favorites, but this 2-day visit raised my point of view. It's a place which demands shot accuracy because the bunkers are many and penal. Playing well helped, but the fact that the weather was perfect, the clubhouse charming, the dormy house pleasant, the food and service very good all made our visit a great experience. M
Starting with George Lowe, this work of art has been touched by Colt, Fowler, Simpson and Cotton. Despite the many hands that remodeled the course, the genius is in the routing and placement of bunkers. Colt repositioned a number of greens and tees to give the course its current configuration. At face value, this is not a golf course that will immediately inspire, as it’s essentially flat with the exception of holes 8, 9 and 10. The greens are mostly on the same level as the flat fairways.
The first 3 holes take you away from the house, followed by a short strategic par 4 that turns you around followed by a string of long and short holes that bring you all the way to the end of the property. Holes 10 and 11 bring you back towards the house before holes 12-14 run up and down in parallel, and then holes 15-17 run up and down in parallel facing another direction.
Royal Lytham is a relentless examination of your ability to hit straight shots, and understandably, is seen as one of the most respected and feared venues for the Open Championship.
The routing is fairly compact and not terribly interesting – but the individual design of the holes highlight the importance of ball striking and controlling your ball in the wind. The wind will either help you or hurt you all of the way through each of the nines which is a critical factor as it will determine which nine you’ll struggle the most with. The bunkers are deep and are littered across this gentle topography.