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.
One word to describe the Lytham experience – FANTASTIC! If you visit, do what we did and stay the night before in their 94 year old Dormy house – it is a MUST, and exceptional value for the extra cost where you get dinner and breakfast in the main clubhouse and accommodation in the very comfortable, refurbished Dormy house next door.
Royal Lytham oozes golfing history and the old clubhouse has many fine cabinet displays for you to examine. This place has seen all forms of top flight competition from Curtis and Ryder Cups to Opens and all the major amateur events – and you have the chance to feel part of that when Cathy, the lady who looks after the Dormy house, hands you your passcode to enter the imposing clubhouse where the front door stone step has been worn down by the feet of all the golfing greats in the past.
As to the course, I was taken aback to find three par 3’s on the front nine holes. Trees protect you from the worst of the wind here so make your score at that point in your round – if you must mark a card – as the back nine will be less kind in the scoring stakes (my 19 Stableford points out and 10 points in being a prime example).
The 8th hole was my favourite; played to a raised green at the corner of the course where it gets relatively tight around the turn. Bunkers are deep and plentiful round the whole estate so don’t expect to keep your sand wedge in the bag for the full 18 holes unless you are extraordinarily lucky.
What a thrill to be able to tread the same turf as Seve when he won the Open here twice.