Played by NCG: Royal Lytham & St Annes
Reason for a Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club review
I once interviewed Peter Alliss and asked him at which Open course he would like to be a member? It was Royal Lytham for the simple reason that it was there, he always thought, that the members were most likely to break out into a food fight. He thought it unstuffy, good fun while the course spoke for itself.
That has always stuck with me, I had only played it once before and so arranged another visit with the very nice kicker of staying in the brilliant Dormy House.
Where is Royal Lytham?
Royal Lytham & St Annes is south of Blackpool and across the estuary from Southport. Driving from Manchester you will be there in around an hour.
What to expect
There is little sense, driving in amongst all the housing, that you are just about to turn into an Open Championship venue.
Sir Michael Bonallack describes it well on the club website: “The first time you arrive at the entrance the somewhat foreboding exterior of the clubhouse gives a totally false impression of the wonderful experience that is awaiting you.”
If you are lucky enough to visit, arrive early enough to afford yourself a history lesson courtesy of some magnificent portraits in the Victorian clubhouse – halfway up the stairs sits a magnificent portrait of Seve, winner of two Opens here, while in the dining room there is an immense portrait of Bobby Jones who won the first of three Championships at Lytham in 1926.
And leave yourself at least a good hour for lunch which will likely be spent pondering that first tee shot and precise approach to the last.
On the course you’ll find the only par 3 opening hole on the rota, the most northerly of the Open layouts in England and a links course that isn’t beside the sea, rather one that has a rather daunting railway line that can be found on six of the front nine.
And bunkers, lots and lots of bunkers. Of all the Open venues this has the most, probably by some distance.
I’ve considered this at great length and have flitted between at least a dozen holes. If I could actually play the 1st properly that would also be a contender.
As much as I enjoy the 2nd I love the 3rd a bit more, to trust yourself and find the fairway on either with the railway sitting just to your right, is a rare treat. Before not quite having the skill set to find the putting surface.
Course reviews often trot out ‘there isn’t a weak hole’ and, as you go through the course in your head, it hits home even more quite how brilliant is.
If I had to be pressed it would probably be the 15th (I now feel bad for leaving out 13 and 17) which requires a drive to be threaded between the bunkers and long enough to afford yourself a shot at the green which sweeps down to the putting surface.
The last six holes are all par 4s with this hole probably the toughest of the bunch and, at 460-odd yards, it is impossible to fluke a four.
No, of course I didn’t.
My best (and worst) bits
Hitting a drive 356 yards at the 3rd sounds impressive (and I’m only mentioning it to show off) but we were playing in a 40mph wind so it wasn’t.
Ripping a driver and 6-iron to the 334-yard 10th was far more satisfying, topped off by rolling in a 25-footer for birdie. There can be few things in life more enjoyable than knocking in a putt from distance on a pure links green.
Less good was spending the best part of the early afternoon in a bunker at the 1st hole, the precursor to a bunker lesson the following week, and then double-hitting a chipper from just beside the 17th green. Being mentally resolute I did though manage to rescue a bogey with a 20-foot putt and finished on a high with a par courtesy of two putts (and no chipper) from 40 yards for 31 points.
What to look out for
Bobby Jones’ plaque at the 17th would be a good start. Tied with Al Watrous with two to play, the amateur hit a wayward drive left before a remarkable 175-yard recovery from the sand dunes to the green. The plaque is just beside a fairway bunker.
Jones played the last five holes in 4-3-4-4-4 and won by two.
The mashie-iron he used that day now hangs below his painting in the clubhouse.
Otherwise watch a brilliant YouTube video of Seve Ballesteros, Nick Price and Nick Faldo slugging it out on the final day to appreciate some of the magic on show that day in 1988.
And for all the talk of Seve being the “car park champion” in 1979 his drive at the 16th wasn’t that wide, it’s just that the cars were parked too close to the fairway.
It’s also worth a watch of how Tony Jacklin closed out his Open win in 1969 and quite how nerveless his final drive was.
When I go back
I’d do it all again if allowed. Like Alliss suggests you won’t feel uncomfortable and on your best behaviour at any point on your visit, whether it is in the clubhouse, Dormy House or course.
A big part of that is the staff who are tremendous and particularly keen to make your visit a memorable one, the food is excellent and the view from the Dormy House genuinely out of this world.
And I’d have a couple of bunker lessons before doing it all.
For more information, visit the Royal Lytham & St Annes website.