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.
Date: July 09, 2020