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.
I was fortunate enough to play Lytham this week and having played Royal Birkdale the week before, this review becomes almost a comparison. I think firstly I must comment on the clubhouse and the fine history it portrays inside. Compared to Birkdale it's far less modernised yet on walking around the corridors and admiring the portrait of Seve you have an overwhelming sense of 'arriving'.
The course itself, is tougher than Birkdale in my opinion. From a driving point of view it's all about accuracy. Down the front nine with the wind against you it's vital to hit the driver yet with such narrow bunker lined fairways, you would have liked to have pulled out a 1 iron.... I played it from the very back sticks and one feels that you are now often on top of the hole you just played. Compared to Birkdale everything is on top of each other. You have to walk backwards in order to get to the next tee. I often had to wait until the group ahead had teed off before finishing a hole. It is without doubt a fabulous course, but of all the open venues I've been fortunate to play it isn't my favourite. I like each hole to be it's own theatre. Yet this has a feeling of just one big stadium. As you play many holes you see other holes or houses. If I have one bizarre critisim that they should address, it's the huge brightly coloured tee markers. Should this even matter? Absolutely!
I've played Royal Lytham twice now, and whilst it's possible to admire it greatly I don't particularly like it.
The club house is friendly and packed with interesting artefacts, a nice place to spend time.
However, my problems with the course are to do with its location and punitive design.
The ground itself is excellent, undulating links turf with good conditioning and variety in holes, but it is enclosed by buildings of all types and crossed by pathways. There isn't the sense of place that one finds at most Links courses, it feels like a course plonked in the middle of a housing estate.
The other problem is how many penal bunkers there are and how gathering they are. You can hit what looks like a good shot but it gradually gravitates towards a steep faced bunker which costs an average golfer (I am 11 hcp) to lose a shot each time. The course plays long which means that if you want to be on in regulation you need to be hitting driver, and i don't have sufficient control to choose the side of the fairway, I'm just happy to be somewhere on it !
Certainly my least favourite Open venue to date, and for the money i can't really recommend it for the average golfer other than for the experience to inform you next time you watch an Open there.
Agree with Dan. This is comfortably the least memorable course on the Open rota. If the Open was chosen on purely golfing terms (rather than infrastructure, history etc) other courses not on the current rota have a greater offering such as Kingsbarns, Royal Aberdeen, Portmarnock, the European, Rosapenna Sandy Hills, Donegal, Baltray and even Trump International.
For me the irony of this round was that I had always envisioned Royal Lytham as being a very flat and featureless course. At least from tv. I was dead wrong. The dunes landscape over which Royal Lytham is routed is far more rugged and undulating than I had expected. Do I personally think there are too many bunkers and that this is not necessary, yes! However, does it work? Absolutely. Royal Lytham is a great course and a true championship test for strong golfers and pros alike. I do wonder, however, how this would be for the average 20 hcp. I imagine that you are either on your game, in which you can turn in a decent scores or you become a great bunker player. There may be no in-between and it’s very easy to imagine being off and truly spending the entire day moving your way from bunker to bunker to bunker to bunker…..repeat the process.
Personally, I managed to end up in 3 but I did have the benefit of local advice of where to place my shots and for once I managed to listen making the round extremely pleasurable for a first play. Would I return? Absolutely, I loved the course. Would I want to be a member if I was anything but a low single digit hcp’er, that may be a tougher one to answer. In short, yes but I’d want to have another course to build my confidence. For now my favorite beach holidays take place in very warm countries.
We arrived early in the morning although we had an 11.20am tee time, with the will of getting an earlier tee time in order to be able to arrive to Birkdale with enough time to play all 18 ( I finally did and played them on my own, but that is another story). Unfortunately there were no earlier tee times so we had enough time for a nice coffee at the Members Lounge and a walk along every spot of the Club House, which shows memories of Seve and Bobby Jones all over the place: pictures, frames, scorecards, old clubs, trophies and a lot more give the Club House that historic touch than only these types of venues have. All I can say it was unforgettable. After that we were headed to the practice green which we enjoyed for nearly 45 minutes before heading to the first tee. I won’t say nervous, but I reall wanted to hit that 7 iron. There are a lot of memories from that hole: Woosnam’s 15th Club in 1996 while Jack Nicklaus was in contention, Duval’s masterful performance where some of the images I had. And that shot came 15 feet from the cup and nearly made it a birdie. From 2 to 7 my golf was not good, got caught by some cross bunkers, missed some putts and the worst came on 7th where after a 314yds drive and a good hybrid I was not able to get out of the bunker and another bogey for a +4 before starting 8th hole.
The fast fairways became a problem and I had no clue on how to solve it, but from that moment onwards my game arrived and really enjoyed it: 2 putts from “the moon” on 8th for par, a PW towards 3 feet on 9th, a fabulous up and down on 10 from left side and another birdie on 11th put the round in place. That hole 12th is a great par 3 where it is tough to figure out real distance and where the angle to attack the green makes it even tougher. And finally the great six final par 4s, all of them very different from each other but with challenge in every shot you make: without missing a shot I scored four pars and 2 bogeys, it was tough to solve it but in the end 76 shots was good and I was very happy.
When standing on the final tee I still had in mind Adam Scott getting caught by a cross bunker which I flew over with the driver (20yds further tee, downwind and not playing the 72nd hole of the Open Championship!), but my ball stayed in deep rough and only managed to just get to the green before a 2 putt par. The view of the Club House standing on the 18th tee is just fantastic. We finished the round and we didn´t have time to eat something, just a quick visit to the proshop to buy some stuff and rush to Birkdale, as I had to complete the second stage of The 3 Royals Adventure.
It was great to share this round with a friend like Andy, having a lot of time to chat and discuss about golf, The Open, Ernie Els, Scott, Seve and a lot more! Another huge memory that I keep in my golf treasure box and just want to add: if you like the game of golf, Royal Lytham and St Anne’s is a place you need to visit!