Royal Lytham & St. Annes
Designers: George Lowe
The generally accepted definition of a links golf course is one that lies on sandy soil, plays across firm turf, features rugged coastal dunes, and is found near the sea. In the eyes of some critics, Royal Lytham & St. Annes may plays like a links, but its flat and featureless property nearly a mile from the Atlantic nullifies its standing as a true links course. As if this missing label could somehow overshadow one of the historic venues of the game and, with the lone exception of Carnoustie, the sternest test on The Open rota.
In fairness to their position, it’s easy to understand why Royal Lytham may not be everyone’s particular vintage of Bordeaux. After relocating their course in 1898, the club quickly set about establishing itself as a renowned championship venue. That means narrow fairways surrounded by heavy fescue rough, and nearly twice as many bunkers as are found at the Old Course. 204 of them to be precise, and they gather ProVs with alarming efficiency. In addition, Lytham is encased on all sides by red brick homes and a railway line. There are no inspiring views of the sea to help offset the pain of the revetted bunkers, just the occasional sight of the hideous Blackpool Tower to remind us the coast is at least nearby.
What does offset the adversity found at Royal Lytham is the history that pours from its fairways. It begins on the somewhat unconventional par-3 opening hole, where a 15th club in the bag derailed Ian Woosnam’s bid for the Claret Jug. Seve Ballesteros famously made par from the parking lot on the 16th hole, while Gary Player closed his own victory in 1974 by putting left handed against the clubhouse wall. And then there’s the heartbreak of Adam Scott, who also could have putted left handed and held on to his four stroke lead with four to play over Ernie Els, were it not for The Open Championship.
It was Bobby Jones, however, that left the most indelible mark on Royal Lytham. Jones arrived to the 71st hole of the 1926 Open Championship trailing by two strokes, when his drive missed the fairway left. Off a barren and sandy lie, the future winner of the Grand Slam hit what may have been the best shot of his career – a superb mashie that found the center of the green, propelling him to his first Claret Jug. A plaque on the 17th hole commemorates the shot, and the mashie is proudly displayed inside the clubhouse.
The great Bernard Darwin once said of Royal Lytham…
Hit your ball to the right place and the way to the hole is open to you, but hit your ball to the wrong place and every kind of punishment, whether immediate or ultimate, will ensue.
And yet, in contrast are the words of Sir Michael Bollanack, former Secretary of the R&A…
The first time you arrive at the entrance to Royal Lytham & St Annes, the somewhat foreboding exterior of the Clubhouse gives a totally false impression of the wonderful experience that is awaiting you. The minute you enter the front door, a sense of history is all encompassing, but combined with a warmth and friendliness that is a characteristic of the membership of this great Club.
In other words, Royal Lytham & St. Annes will test your patience and fortitude on the course at every turn. But if all else fails, simply enjoy the walk alongside history and then raise a glass to one of the great monuments of golf.
Major Basil Haversham, OBE