The short list of 9 golf courses currently deemed good enough to host The British Open is a who's who of Britain's golf royalty, with 5 located in Scotland and 4 in England. They are the very best examples of classic, British links golf - the original brand of the game that by its very nature is confined to the flat and treeless, windblown coastlines of the British Isles.
These are not artificially manufactured layouts, carved from the soil by man and machine, but the creation of Mother Nature, working with the elements over centuries. Yes, there has been assistance from the designers who, taking full advantage of the naturally rugged terrain of sand dunes, undulations and hollows, decide which path the routing should take and where fairways and greens should be placed. True links courses are not man made, but a gift from The Almighty, occurring only where he has chosen to give us this landscape from which links courses can be formed.
It is rare, if ever, to find an isolated links course, sitting alone. Links courses occur in clusters, sharing a common coastline and wherever you find one good links course, the chances are there will be more good links layouts close by. Nowhere is this little piece of golf wisdom more in evidence than along a brief, but links-rich, stretch of England's northwest coastline.
Starting from just west of the city of Liverpool and the Royal Liverpool Golf Club, this piece of God-given linksland extends in a northerly direction to the seaside resort of Blackpool and fabled, Royal Lytham & St.Annes Golf Club. Along the 40-mile length of coast, you will find more than a dozen of Britain's very best links, including three of the four English courses on the current British Open rotation -- Royal Liverpool, Royal Birkdale and Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Nowhere else do three of golf's finest sit so closely together.
Royal Liverpool was the selected venue for The Open in 2006, Royal Birkdale hosts in 2008 and it was announced only last week that Royal Lytham & St. Annes will have the honor in 2012. This will be Royal Lytham's 11th Open since first being called upon in 1926, when the great Bobby Jones took the first of his three Open titles.
At first glance, Royal Lytham may appear to be an unlikely candidate to be sitting among the prestigious listing of Open venues. But looks can be deceiving and never more so than along this Lancashire coastline.
Surrounded by redbrick suburban sprawl with a railway track on one side and the Irish Sea more than a mile away, Royal Lytham is certainly no beauty contest winner and you may have doubts you have found the right place, but don't judge the book by the cover. This is a pure links and one of the finest in the entire British Isles, where it is ranked # 10, ahead of Ireland's Ballybunion, England's Wentworth, Scotland's Royal Dornoch and even further ahead of such legendary names as Royal Troon, Portmarnock and Lahinch. If your looking for even more references, consider the fact that on two occasions- 1961 and 1977 - Royal Lytham also hosted the Ryder Cup.
From Bobby Jones' first Open victory here in 1926, it took a full 70 years for the second American to win an Open title over these testing holes, when Tom Lehman broke the jinx in 1996. Five years on, David Duval became only the third American to find victory in the 10 Opens Lytham has hosted, joining Bob Charles, Bobby Locke, Peter Thomson, Tony Jacklin, Gary Player and Seve Ballesteros - the select few who have mastered this monster for Open glory.
Royal Lytham's defense arsenal is impressive and for the less experienced links golfer, downright frightening. The course's distance from the sea does nothing to lessen the effects of a merciless wind, which is as cantankerous as can be found on any links layout. For any who may be fearful of deep ominous British bunkers, your fears are well founded here as you will be navigating through a minefield of an astounding 196 of them, each placed with a cunning determination to destroy every scorecard -- Lytham simply demands accuracy and strategy from start to finish.
The greens are maintained immaculately, with a tendency to be slick, pushing the ball toward the ever-present, pot bunkers that surround them. This is a course that presents an ever-changing variety of difficulties and challenges, delighting in relentlessly testing every aspect of your game. It will poke and probe until a weakness is found, then exploit it to the fullest. This is serious golf for serious golfers, with never even a hint of an apology for the severity of the challenges.
Any dreams of achieving par demands nothing less than excellence on the front nine, bounded the full length by a railway track. Though considered somewhat more forgiving than the back nine, these words are used relatively -- Lytham gives nothing away!
The opener is a 206-yard, par 3, the first of three short holes. With out of bounds running down the right hand side and a green jealously protected by a battalion of seven hungry bunkers, it's a fitting though unusual introduction to a great links.
Royal Lytham's true fame is discovered on the back nine, with the wicked 14th, one of the toughest on the course. The 15th shows even less friendliness, demanding a troublesome drive to an angled fairway. The short par-4 16th offers a brief though welcome break, but beware, this is only a prelude to the closing holes, each possessing a frightening determination to crush even the most accomplished player.
By the time you reach the impressive Victorian clubhouse, weary and battle-worn, you will have developed a newfound respect for this ugly duckling of a links as so many have before. Whatever may be lacking in good looks is more than made up for in character, history and a challenge that takes second place to no other course in the Kingdom.
For suggestions on how to include Royal Lytham & St. Annes and other British Open venues on your trip, or to experience the 2008 British Open personally, Click here.
© 2007 David Brice / Golf International Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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