St Annes Old Links

St Annes Old Links

Such is the wealth of seaside golf available in the north west of England that the likes of St Annes Old Links can easily be overlooked when it comes to compiling lists of the area's top venues. England's Golf Coast, as the region has become known, stretches from Hoylake in the south to Cumbria's Silloth in the north and encompasses the likes of Royals Lytham and Birkdale in between. But there is so much more to the region and those looking for traditional golf of the highest quality at a reasonable price should ensure that their itinerary includes a day here.

They will find a links course that is over a century old and every bit as authentic as its famous neighbour, Lytham.

The original site for the course was lost to a late-Victorian housing development but fortunately the members had the foresight to re-establish themselves here. Originally a nine-holer designed by the club's first professional, George Lowe, it was subsequently extended by Sandy Herd.

That was back in the first decade of the 20th century and very little has changed since - apart from the course's surrounds. More and more houses have appeared and, in much the same way to Royal Lytham, the boundaries on three sides are marked by red-brick buildings.

The far end of the course, which borders an airfield, has a more open feel and the gigantic Big One rollercoaster in nearby Blackpool is frequently in view, as is the town's famous tower.

Only out here can you truly gain an impression of what St Annes Old Links must originally have been like. Flat, open and entirely at the mercy of the elements, it can be a bleak place to play golf when the wind and rain roll in off the Irish Sea that can be heard if not seen at various times.

It is the other side of the same railway line that goes on, a mile further south, to run parallel to the 2nd, 3rd and 8th holes at Lytham. Here it is less of an obvious hazard, though there are moments on the inward nine when it is in play for a shot leaked to the right.

In St Annes Old Links you will find a course that is over a century old and every bit as authentic as its famous neighbour, Lytham.

One consequence of St Annes being designed in two distinct halves is that both start and end in front of the clubhouse. Broadly speaking, when you play away from this tall, prominent building that looks more like a small school or hospital you will be hitting into the prevailing wind.

If it is in your sights, you will most likely have a breeze at your back.

So, had the course been designed as an 18-holer to begin with, it would probably involve a hugely demanding front nine, with the chance to salvage respectability on the way in.

To the modern player at least, more used to layouts that regularly change direction, it is surely preferable to have the harder holes more intermingled with the potential birdie chances. Just like at any true links, the scorecard gives precious little indication of how the holes play.

So while the 1st and 10th, at little over 300 yards apiece may appear to offer relatively gentle beginnings, they can just as often call for two woods to reach the green.

And while the final two holes, both par fives, cumulatively stretch to over 1,000 yards, they may actually represent a fairly generous finish.

Curiously, the other two long holes here also come consecutively. But the 5th and the 6th run in opposite directions so that a six at the former can be as impressive an achievement as a birdie four at the latter.

All in all, from the very back tees that are used when St Annes is an Open Qualifying venue for Lytham the course measures a sturdy 6,800 yards.

St Annes Old Links

Rest assured, there is plenty of hitting to be done. That is quickly obvious because of the opening five holes, three play into the wind and another is an awkward par three played to a green with two tiers.

And while the 2nd should only be a fairway wood and a wedge to the good player, it is complicated by cross-bunkers that make a clear view of the green rare.

The highlight of the front nine is undoubtedly saved until its last hole. On a site that the club's own website describes as "a barren, windswept stretch of Lancashire coast", there suddenly appears a couple of large mounds with a natural hollow in between that makes for a par three of exceptional quality.

It is made particularly difficult by three distinct factors. One is that it is impossible to get a full view of the putting surface from the tee. Another is the presence of several nasty bunkers, one of which it is entirely possible to putt into, and finally there is the sheer depth of the green.

At all but 50 yards from one end to the other, it is all too easy, even after doing the hard work of finding the narrow target, to walk off with a bogey four.

So impressed by this hole was the legendary amateur Bobby Jones when playing here ahead of the 1926 Open at Lytham that he would go on to win, that he reportedly made detailed notes and took down measurements.

Since Jones, with the help of Dr Alister Mackenzie, would go on to create Augusta National, there may even be a corner of one of the world's most famous courses modelled on this entirely natural hole.

The back nine begins with a run of three par fours into the prevailing wind, followed by a long and formidable par three along the northern boundary of the course. Should your card still be respectable when leaving this green, you are well on the way to a good score.

The 14th, while no pushover and complicated by more cross-bunkers that are a feature of several of the downwind holes, is a birdie chance if you can find position off the tee and the next is well under 400 yards.

Then there comes the final par three before the run home begins. The 17th is much the longer of these two closing holes but in some ways is less complicated than the last. At least you can see where you are going, because the final green is on the other side of a hill.

Unless you play well to the left, as many of the locals do, your approach will be played blind towards a marker post that stands behind the green. It is a finishing hole where most scores are possible and it provides a fitting conclusion to a course that is never less than worthy and frequently rather better than that.