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.
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.
Played 36 holes in mid October on a warm but extremely windy day. The staff was very friendly and welcoming. It is clearly a great and extremely challenging golf course, with a lot of history. It feels great walking it and thinking about the greats which have played and won there, despite the fact that the course is optically less beautiful than some of the other open courses with no views to the sea and relatively little ondulations. The only negative thing was that they spiked and sanded the greens and had not cut them for a few days, so they were very slow and bumpy. I know this has to be done sometimes, but a warning ahead or a reduction in Greenfees (no bargain at £140 for one round £195 for 36) would have been justified considering that fast and hard greens are a big part of the golfing experience in links golf.
I have played a few Open Rota courses, on a quest to play them all. Lytham is a great course, in fantastic condition, with a very welcoming clubhouse.
The course itself is a demanding challenge, testing every part of your game. I found the front 9 to be visually very interesting (albeit not as visually stunning as other links courses). I thought the 10th hole to be a great challenge, thread the needle & you are left with a flick, or layup & have anything up to 4 iron in.
However, I found the stretch 15 thru 17 very similar, demanding, 400yd plus Par 4's. but they seem very flat & a little dull.
The 18th is a great finishing hole, a strong par 4, demanding a good drive & solid 2nd shot into an undulating green, which is overlooked by the members sitting in the warm, welcoming bar.
Overall, I enjoyed the experience, it's not my favourite links course or even open rota course, but its worth the trip to challenge your game.
Surprised by four ball ratings on this site for Royal Lytham & St Annes. It is a fantastic golf course, which holds its own with any course on the rota. Okay it does not have the views that others have, but focus on the test of golf and it is superb. I write this as a member of another Open rota course.
Id be interested to know what other courses he rates at 4 ball!
Played it a couple of years ago now i have to say i had a really good time there the clubhouse as has been said in previous reviews had plenty of interesting things to see , the staff were very friendly and welcoming . The course did not disappoint had a decent round in challenging conditions on the whole a really good experience would definitely return if get the chance.
Played Lytham twice in the past month, in June with friends and during the Open with 25 customers hosting a 4 rounds Tournament which started here. Course was in the same condition, firm and very fast with greens rolling really fast and true. But the best thing to point here is that in both rounds I have exactly the opposite wind so the course played totally different from one day to another.
Having used the same set of tees both times, it is great to find the contrast on the clubs hit in some holes: 2nd (drive-wedge vs drive-5 iron), 5th (6 vs 9 iron), 6th (drive-7 vs drive hybrid), 8th (3 wood-56° vs drive-6 iron and could not get home), 9th (PW vs 6 iron), 10th (hybrid-9 iron vs drove the green!) and 18th (drive-PW vs drove the green again with ball rolling at least 70yds). It may happen in those courses where wind is a factor, but here I really felt it.
And in both rounds managed to score well but different: In June I ended with a couple of bogeys into the tough wind while last week a disgusting double on 17th avoided me getting a really good score in a round where I almost holed every putt I hit in the back 9 apart from missing a 2-footer for eagle on 10.
It is a course where 200+ bunkers will make you think every single shot, the sloped fairways and uneven bounces will make you select cleverly the tee shot you want to hit to avoid them. And sometime you think you have chosen correctly and you didn't.
Lytham it is said to be the least favourite of the current Open Rota but I feel this is totally unfair as you are comparing it towards 9 other Major Venues, there will be always a better or stronger course among them, but this doesn't say it is a bad or weak course.
And here you have some great golf holes where 8 and 17 (my nightmare) are the best and most challenging ones on the course.
Is it a must play? Of course. And if you don't want to drive just stay at the Dormie Houses. Lunch is usually included with your green fee, take advantage of a very charming place to have a meal either pre or post round.
And finally: do not expect nice views, dramatic carries or big dunes, just notice you are about to play a very challenging course.
I've played Lytham twice and on both occasions there have been 2 things that made a big impression on me. The first was the condition of the golf course, of all the top links courses i've played, Lytham seems to be the best kept with perfectly manicured bunkers and incredibly neat transitions from fairway, to semi, to full rough. The other thing is the warmth felt from within the club. All the staff seem to be incredibly friendly, something you wouldn't say of all courses on the open rota and the members are much the same. I got chatting to a member on the putting green for a while and we ended up exchanging phone numbers with an eye to playing the course again next time i was in the area. A very pleasant exchange and something i've never had at any course, let alone a course of this stature.
And now to the course itself. While it isn't as breathtaking as some other courses in the country with a lack of natural beauty, it is a real strategic test of golf with a great variety of holes. There are some really interesting short par 4's which require precision much more than length plus a number of great par 5's for the people who love the driver.
I honestly think whatever type of golfer you are, there are holes here that you'll really enjoy. Yes, it isn't as outstanding as others but a real charm emanates from the place that you can't help but pick up on.
Something i did notice was that the course is quite tightly packed onto the ground it sits on, tees are very close to the previous green and on the 18th you go over the 16th tee box and almost over the 17th green. If tour players lengths keep increasing there isn't much room to move tee boxes further back than they already are so i hope that never interferes with the courses open status as its a real gem and i think everyone has memories of watching the Open being played here at some point.
A great day out and if your looking for value then i highly recommend staying in the Dormy House as they can put together a great package for a surprisingly reasonable price.
Royal Lytham & St. Annes may not have the stand out glamour holes that other Open venues boast or even a view of the sea but a round here will test every facet of your game and the enjoyment is enhanced by the welcome, hospitality and facilities away from the course. My visit entailed a stay in the famous Dormy House which immediately elevates the experience to another level.
In terms of the golf Lytham is famed for its opening par three hole, and in isolation a very fine hole it is with a plethora of bunkers guarding the green, but I never like starting with a one-shotter and even here that was no different. It's my only criticism of the entire course and probably an unfounded one at that because it's simply my own personal pet hate.
There aren't many changes in elevation at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, however, the biggest and most notable one comes at the eighth when you play your approach to a high green. It appears to be a much slender target from the fairway and plays at its best when the hole is located in the back-left portion of the green where going for the flag requires the most pin-point of second shots. Get it wrong and you will find yourself in either a two-metre deep bunker or face a neigh-on impossible chip from over the back of the green.
The bunkering throughout at Lytham is not only numerous (200+) but they are pristinely conditioned. Finding one of the fairway traps almost certainly ends with a dropped shot but playing from some of the greenside hazards is a brilliant feeling, especially when you extract it successfully and then sink the putt!
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Comfortably the least memorable course on the Open rota. If the Open venue was chosen on pure golfing terms (rather than infrastructure, accessibility, history etc) other courses not on the current rota provide a significantly better offering such as Kingsbarns, Royal Aberdeen, Portmarnock, the European, Rosapenna Sandy Hills, Donegal, Louth, Waterville and Trump International. There are some great holes 2, 6, 11 and 17 but not enough. Its lack of real estate makes it fiddly for the pros as the course has to become very tight (they use the word “strategic” to mask “short”) to make up for its relative lack of length. The 18th is a weak closing hole (similar to Troon’s poor 18th). I am sure I will get accused of “not getting Lytham”.
7 of your 10 suggested alternatives aren’t even in Britain
6 out of 9
They're in the British Isles
It may require a very special kind of backstop agreement for the Republic of Ireland to host a first ever Open Championship. I wonder if the R&A are open to such an idea? If so, I’d think Portmarnock might be first on their list
I was fortunate enough to return to Royal Lytham last year on a beautifully warm autumnal day. One thing is for sure, when the rare opportunity of a game here comes my way I always grab it with both hands. Compared to the other open rota courses many would consider Lytham to have the least appealing surroundings, however the urban setting should take nothing away from what is undoubtedly a fine golf course. Some bunkers have been removed in recent years yet there are still around 200 of them lying in wait to make this the most exacting of tests. The railway line plays its part on the early holes, particularly if you are prone to a slice, but the run of holes from the 7th to the 10th occupies much of the best and most interesting terrain. The long 7th was lengthened by 35 yards in 2009, the new green set amongst the dunes is now much more undulating in nature. An accurate approach is necessary to have a realistic chance of a par on the excellent 8th, with two imposing pot bunkers built into a high ridge having to be cleared to reach the exposed plateau green. My favourite par-3 follows at the 9th. Not particularly long, but the well protected green is nestled amongst nine bunkers with the added threat of OB threatening anything hit long. Completing this excellent run of holes is the 10th, old fashioned in many ways, playing partially blind between two mounds to a crumpled fairway, a small tilted green lying in wait. The 17th and 18th offer up a difficult conclusion to the round, avoiding the bunkers from the tee is crucial if you are to achieve a memorable par, par finish and if you have time don't forget to check out the welcoming and historical old clubhouse. Brian W
It surely is a great golf course. I played it in sep 2016 and the weather was great. I wanted to enjoy a pint after the round. So I bought one, but I was not allowed on the terrace. Members area. Had to sit in the visitor lounge without a terrace. So the club is not that welcoming.
I am not a fan of the out and back layout which Lytham is, but I thought the course was good. It actually reminded me more of The Old Course at St. Andrews than any other course. Flat, but with a lot of hidden bunkers, more than 200 to be precise. They are classic turf riveted links style bunkers, small, and mostly round and if you are in them they give you little chance but to hit out sideways or to advance the ball only a slight amount. Although not wowed by the course at first, I can see how the course would grow on you over time.
I did like starting on a par three at Lytham, it is a testing long iron. I also thought the 18th was a good finishing hole with the clubhouse virtually up against the green. We played Lytham with a stiff wind (3+ clubs) so it was a real test of golf. The "signature" hole at Lytham is the 17th, where many championships have been decided. Adam Scott can certainly attest to this having bogeyed the hole in route to his epic loss at the open in 2012. Bobby Jones took the lead on this hole from Al Watrous en route to his championship. I stayed at the Dormie House and would recommend doing so.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs