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.
Royal Lytham & St Annes may not have the beautiful ocean setting of some Open venues, but it makes up for that with top quality holes. A very interesting course that needs your attention at every turn. There are a lot of tight tee shots on the front 9 with bunkers littering the fairways. It's worth playing strategically, rather than ripping driver everywhere as the bunker's are among the deepest I've every come across. The 2nd 9 opens up somewhat and you can let loose on a few more holes. However, careful approaches are needed as there are many run offs around the greens and some tricky bunkers waiting for any mistakes. The course was very scoreable if you hit it straight, and have a bit of luck. I can see it being a beast if the wind got up and the course was playing hard and fast. Overall, I thought it was a great mix of holes with some great short holes around the turn. A true test that will ask you to play all the shots in your locker and more.
I played Royal Lytham & St Annes several years ago. When I return to the area, I will update my review to see if my two criticisms of the course have been addressed.
After playing Royal Lytham & St. Annes, I summed up the course as follows:
- Much more difficult than it appears due to the many bunkers and out-of-bounds on holes two, three, eight, ten and twelve. The club website lists 174 bunkers. I challenge anyone to play a round there and not be in at least five bunkers (my personal record is being in 24 bunkers the first time I played Oakmont which at the time had nearly 200 bunkers, down from its peak of nearly 300 bunkers).
- It is a relatively ugly golf course with the housing, railroad line and somewhat cramped land at the turn. The bushes and trees seem to be disfigured here as if someone put something evil in the ground. For me, I find Carnoustie the least attractive and this course ties Royal Liverpool. The course is completely surrounded by suburbia. However, it forces one to focus on the course rather than be distracted by natural beauty. Thankfully, the walk up eighteen if fabulous due to the clubhouse and Dormie house.
- Needs better contours near some of the greens.
- The bunkering is fantastic and makes the course. Many of the bunkers are hidden. The bunkering is very punitive and requires decision-making to avoid them. The slopes near many of the greens will take a ball into a bunker.
- There are grassy hollows and dells on many holes.
- I favored the holes with the elevated greens due to the variety they provided.
- Oddly enough, I did not mind starting on a par 3 even if the hole is not special.
- The key is to drive the ball well.
- It is one of the hardest courses I have ever played despite relatively wide fairways on many holes.
- The back nine routing moves around more than the front nine which has a loop on holes 4-6 whereas the back nine changes directions from holes 12-18.
- The most interesting land is near the corner where there are some hills and dunes but overall it is basically a flat course
- The best holes are the finish from 15-18 with 7-9 also strong holes.
- Seven is an excellent par 5.
- Eighteen needs at least five more bunkers (just kidding).
- Much like Royal Troon, the eighteenth finishes very close to the clubhouse so one hopes they play the hole without having a disaster to avoid having people watching in the clubhouse, although they would likely sympathize with one’s plight.
- After the changes made preceding the 2012 Open, this is a course that is at its full potential, unless the club wants to start buying nearby housing or relocate the wonderful clubhouse. Not many other courses can say that.
Bernard Darwin once wrote of Royal Lytham & St Annes, “It has beautiful turf, but not much else of beauty. It is a beast, but a just beast.”
No one really knows why the course begins with a par 3 although speculation is because the first hole once had a small pond to its right or it may be they wanted to keep the hill for the second hole rather than the first.
To add to some of my comments regarding specific holes, the first hole requires a long tee shot to carry over many bunkers fronting the green. For me it is the least interesting hole on the course and I am happy to have it out of the way.
The long second and third holes require one to be bold. On the par 4 second hole you want to favor the right side of the fairway after the hill as the left side can lead to a blind shot due to the higher mounds. If you go in the cross bunkers placed on the hill off the tee it is likely a dropped shot. There is another set of cross bunkers about 310 yards from the back tee are an issue for longer players. The green only has a slight slope at the front.
On the par 4 third hole you want to be as far left as you can although the left side has three bunkers. There is a difficult bunker on the back left of the green. The green is slightly elevated with a fall-off at the back. The grass is very tall on both two and three on the right side near the bushes and trees on both holes.
I like the sharp dogleg left par 4 fourth hole where one should be on the right side of the fairway for a better view of the green. I felt the green was too flat.
The par 3 fifth hole has some of the steeper contouring near the green making balls fall into bunkers.
I like the sixth hole that doglegs off to the left and consider it to be a very good par 4 for the Open due to the excellent placement of bunkers throughout the hole, particularly the cross bunkers short of the green as well as the ones surrounding the green. The green is narrow at the front. For me it plays as a par 5.
The seventh is a very good par 5 due to the green embedded into the high sand dunes. 40 yards short of the green are more cross bunkers built into a rise. The green slopes to the front left towards a deep bunker. Prior to the 2012 Open, the green was moved about 40 yards farther back while re-creating the previous green complex.
The par 4 eighth has a marvelous plateau green as well as a tighter driving line due to the out-of-bounds on the right. There are cross bunkers again short of the green that if you get close will lead to a blind approach shot. The left front bunker is very deep and must be avoided. I like this hole a lot.
One of my favorite par 3’s in Open golf is the short ninth, surrounded by nine bunkers to a slightly raised green sloped back to front. The house behind the green is attractive enough that it does not take away from the marvelous hole but the other housing is unsightly. Trees and gorse await if one slices their tee shot but really should be out of play (it wasn’t for one of my playing partners).
The tenth hole is the most attractive hole on the course, a longer par 4 that is tree-lined on the right side and well bunkered in front of the green. The tee shot must thread the mounds which I think are the tallest on the course. There is a deep bunker on the left side of the fairway. There is also a steep fall-off behind the green which is one of the most undulating on the course. I like this hole.
Eleven is my second least favorite hole on the course as a long par 5 but with huge bunkers scattered everywhere. The rough is high, there is a grouping of trees, and a narrow fairway for the second shot. Others likely favor this hole, but I find it to be overly punitive all the way to the undulating green. Prior to the 2012 Open, this hole was substantially lengthened with a tall hill added to create a dramatic tee shot.
At this point the dunes essentially disappear for the remainder of the course.
Twelve is another terrific par 3 to a raised green again surrounded by bunkers. The green is angled left to right and large with a false front. It is debatable which par 3 is better – nine or twelve. For me, it is the ninth.
Thirteen, a short par 4, is lined with bunkers nearly all the way into half of the green. This is the most fun hole on the golf course. The green is one of the better contoured greens on the course.
Fourteen is a challenging par 4 as one makes sure they avoid the bunkers on the left with their second shot. The green ends right at the road, much like the twelfth. For me it is the second most difficult hole on the course given the rough, mounds on the right, and cross bunkers further up the fairway.
Fifteen is a beast of a hole, a long par 4 with the fairway rising slightly and falling a bit to the right. Smaller dunes are on either side of the hole along with another set of cross bunkers. I think this is the most difficult hole on the golf course despite a flat green, others would say the seventeenth. Jack Nicklaus, in the 1974 Open said, “God, it is a hard hole.”
Sixteen offers a blind drive with a marker for a guide on the hill. There is another raised green on this short par 4. Much like the thirteenth, the hole has bunkers lining the fairway into the large green.
Seventeen is the famous hole where Bobby Jones, after his ball found a sandy waste area on the left, still managed to get to the green in two shots from what looked like a certain pitch out. His mashie, which is inside the clubhouse, had to be hit with perfection to carry rough, bunkers, and scrub land to the green where his ball ended inside that of Al Watrous, who was shaken enough to three putt. For longer hitters, the tee shot needs to find a narrow landing area given all of the bunkers on both sides of the fairway which is a dogleg left. There is another set of cross bunkers but likely not in play for most players.
The par 4 eighteenth has bunkers everywhere on the fairway with bushes on the right and tall grass on the left. The green is equally well defended, if perhaps disappointedly too flat. The view of the clubhouse and Dormie house is one of the best in championship golf, equal to Muirfield or Trump Turnberry.
As I said earlier, I think Royal Lytham & St Annes has gotten the most from its land as any course on the Open rota. There are not many easy holes here, although some of the greens lack the inner contours of other championship links courses. One should not three putt very often and if close to the hole, they have an excellent chance of holing a putt within fifteen feet. I also found some of the movement near the greens to be lacking. But on other holes there are possibly too many slopes near the greens pushing one’s ball into a greenside bunker. It is a bit repetitive. But the course is expertly defended for its length. It is a course that requires both excellent ball striking and decision-making in order to make par. I prefer this course above a few others on the Open rota, but even if near the bottom of the Open courses, it is a very good golf course that will demand nearly everything from your game with the possible exception of the putter once on the green surfaces.
I do have it at the lower end of my top 100 in the world because it combines challenge and strategy very well.
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