Founded in 1886, Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club is hosting its eleventh Open Championship this week. In Lancashire, northwest England, on what is known as the country’s “Golf Coast”, the club has seen some smashing victories by legends of golf from Bobby Jones, Bob Charles and Tony Jacklin to Gary Player, Seve Ballesteros, Tom Lehman, and David Duval in 2001.
Not a typical Open Championship venue, this is the only British Open course that begins with a par-3, the only one with three par-3s on the front nine, and the only one with houses on three sides (the homes are mostly screened by dense thickets of trees). A railway line––out of bounds––runs along several holes. You can’t see the ocean, yet stiff sea winds definitely come into play.
A traditional links layout, the course is notorious for knee-high rough, and for 206 fearsome bunkers––seventeen on the 18th hole alone. Many are constructed with high, nearly vertical stacked turf walls that make sand shots nearly impossible for all but the pros. Mere mortals have to hit out the back or side of the bunkers just to survive.
We had the eye-opening experience of watching groundsmen reconstruct some stacked bunkers while we played the track. Uniquely skilled at the job, they nonetheless were tuckered and covered in mud by the time they completed each bunker.
Golfers from around the world make their pilgrimages to the museum-like, impressive brick and half-timbered clubhouse. Upstairs a lifelike portrait of Bobby Jones looms above the famous mashie iron with which he won the 1926 Open. On the final day on the 17th, Jones shanked his drive into sandy scrub, while his opponent, Al Watrous, found the green in two and looked like a sure winner. Jones zoomed out of the rough, landing close to the hole, and won the Open. A plaque next to the bunker on the 17th fairway commemorates the event.
At the 1979 Open, Seve Ballesteros landed in just about every gorse bush and pot bunker on the track. On the 16th, he hit from a parking lot, and with Nicklaus just one shot behind and heading fore a birdie on the 18th, Seve hit a wedge out of the dust to 15 feet and holed the putt as Nicklaus missed his. Ballesteros was back in 1988, with the same clubs and the same clothes. The final round was carried over to Monday after severe flooding, and Seve shot a course record 65 to win, which he claimed was the best round of his life.
If you get the chance to play Royal Lytham, save some time to browse the photos, the showcases of memorabilia and the rooms in the clubhouse, and have lunch in the dining room overlooking the 18th green. And don’t fail to belly up to the bar with some of the members, who are welcoming and full of great stories and jokes. With advance reservations, you can stay at charming Dormy House (beds for up to 16 male guests in single rooms). You’ll find the yardage booklet just so sweet, with color illustration of various hazards and greenery on the course, from gorse (don’t even think of getting out of that––you’ll be torn to shreds), rhododendron bushes, hedges, mounds, hollows and streams.
Nearby are the iconic British Open courses of Royal Birkdale(founded 1889) and Royal Liverpool (founded 1869), and 17 more golf courses on England’s Golf Coast.
Founder/editor of BestGolfResortsofTheWorld.com, Karen Misuraca is a travel and golf writer from the California Wine Country. She blogs golf travel here and writes about culture and eco-travel at DeepCultureTravel.com. Check out Karen's new iPhone app, California Coast North.