Royal Lytham & St Annes

1886, 1897
George Lowe, Harry Colt, Charles Alison, Ken Cotton, Mackenzie/Ebert
Historic, well-bunkered, Open Championship links with famously difficult and fair finish.
Just south of Blackpool. Postcode FY8 3LQ
Charles Grimley
01253 724206
Eddie Birchenough
Green Keeper
Paul Smith
Access Policy:
Visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
No dogs
Open Meetings:
Lytham Trophy - April
Fees in 1960s
Fees today


Why is it that each time I visit Royal Lytham and St Annes it captures my affections anew?

Surely it is not the splendour of the links. It is hemmed in by housing, with no sea visible at all and some of the sandhills being created artificially, not that the fact is obvious but they are less dramatic than many other links courses with many of the fairways lacking that quirky movement that is often a natural element of a fine course.

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The par three 9th hole

Perhaps the answer to the question lies in its story and the attitude that the locals have required in order to establish an Open championship club over the years against the odds.

I would like to think that their early secretary, Pym Williamson and their hall porter for the first 50 years, Pattirson, set a scene based on the notion of a family club. Its focus has been on giving visitors a warm welcome while showing the innovation and high standards to provide the public with outstanding Open championships over the years, including a roll call of winners that testifies to the difficulty and fairness of this course.

Lytham has hosted The Open ten times in the last sixty years though it is eleven years since their last in 2001. What a winner list it is; Bobby Jones (the USA Amateur player)1926, Bobby Locke (South African) 1952, Peter Thomson (Australian) 1958, Bob Charles (who even called his New Zealand farm Lytham) 1963, Tony Jacklin (English) 1969, Gary Player (South African) 1974, Seve Ballesteros (Spanish) 1979 & 1988, Tom Lehman (USA) 1996 and David Duval (USA) in 2001.

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The back to front 10th green

There have been fewer rounds here under 65 than at any other Open course and it required the gentle Tom Lehman to shoot a 64 before any American professional won here.

The Club started in 1886, originally played over part of the ground on which St Annes Old Links is based, between St Annes and Blackpool. The Club moved course in 1897 to avoid the threat of a housing development, to the present site between St Annes and Lytham.

Lytham town’s history goes back a millennium, while St Annes only became a town from 1875, and it is said residents received credit from Lytham shopkeepers but not from

St Annes, though Bernard Darwin also commented that both towns might be considered more ‘genteel’ than Blackpool!

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The Clubhouse with Dormy behind

The Club has recently obtained a freehold on its land but in the early days the local squire, John Talbot Clifton MP, was in charge and helped by developing a clubhouse opened in 1898 by the Marquis of Lorne (No. 2 in the Scottish Campbell clan hierarchy and I hasten to add my own Scottish ancestry is of the Macphersons). The building has become over the years an iconic emblem, overlooking the eighteenth green.

It was built by the same architect who designed Hoylake’s clubhouse, with their reception rooms on the building’s first floor, similar to the outstanding clubhouse at Formby Golf Club, the third most prestigious club in the North West of England.

All three clubs have abundant photos of all their captains on display and though the Lytham ones are not wearing their red coats, many are sporting impressive, characterful moustaches!

The right-hand side of the clubhouse has been changed many times and the latest layout is an attempt to provide some symmetry though there are those who mourn the doing away of the former veranda.

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The silver shrimp cigar lighter

The attractive Dormy house between the clubhouse and pro’s shop has given the Club an excellent facility for visiting teams, not least the Oxford & Cambridge Golfing Society, whose silver shrimp cigar-lighter box now rests in the clubhouse. Who knows, perhaps the trophy even influenced the Club in choosing the shrimp as its logo?

Before moving on to discuss the course, I must mention the Lytham Yacht Club as it epitomises the characters and fun of this great club. The aforementioned John Clifton, who moved in high Victorian circles, is said to have wanted to gain favour with Lilly Langtry (the Prince of Wales’ own courtesan, no less!) heard she had been most impressed when invited to Cowes. Whether Clifton’s creation of Lytham Yacht Club, which incidentally continues as a gentleman’s club on the town’s seafront to this day, still with absolutely no association with sailing what so ever, helped the local squire’s cause, it is not known!

George Lowe, an assistant pro at Hoylake, came over and laid out the new Lytham course which from the beginning enjoyed wonderful fine turf of fescues and browntop bents. With the fashion move to ‘target-golf’ with over-watering and high input of in-organic fertilisers and pesticides in the 1980/90s, creating soft scalped greens, Lytham like so many others succumbed and though their greens may look immaculate, unfortunately they are now predominantly annual meadow weed grass (Poa annua).

Initially designed for the gutta percha ball, by 1919 it needed extending. The leading golf architect of the day, Harry Colt (who had already created or remodelled the likes of Sunningdale, Pine Valley, Royal Portrush, County Sligo and Muirfield), with his partner Charles Alison, was invited to assist and made substantial changes over the next few years up to the awarding of The Open in 1926.

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The plateau 8th green

Of particular aspect to note was their putting the third green back some sixty yards, among the left-hand sandhills, the raising of the par three 5th green from a hollow, with now the flag being perched on a narrow, guarded and defiant plateau, as Darwin said “waiting to be won”. The eighth green was moved on to the challenging site atop the dune and they created the now widely admired short ninth.

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The drive bunkers on the 18th

The seventeenth green was moved eighty yards further on and to the left, thus creating the emphatic dogleg we see today and, following Bobby Jones winning the 1926 Open on that hole, it became world-famous. The eighteenth was given a cunning pattern of diagonal cross-bunkering that makes it one of the great finishing holes.

It is said that the outward half is where one’s score must be built, especially if the prevailing wind is blowing down the course, and the longer inward is where one’s score must be defended.

With the rules of golf continuing to be not changed to reduce the prodigious length the balls can be hit by professionals these days, golf courses are having to be extended to defend themselves.

Lytham is a good example of a course that, looking at it as positively as one can, has become a good foursomes course, as stretching its length is limited by its confines, and means there are long walks back to tees at the sixth, eighth, thirteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth holes.

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The par three 12th

There are also now, along with the 206 bunkers, two par fives in opposite directions that have a length of around 600 yards from The Open tees. When downwind even these holes will be par fours for the long hitters.

There are not many who relish a 205-yard shot to a well defended par three as their first stroke in a round and there are not many birdies on this first green, particularly if the pin is tucked away.

The second will be forever remembered as the hole where Welshman Ian Woosnam discovered his caddy had brought 15 clubs in his bag, thus scuppering the very real opportunity he had of winning the 2001 Open.

As with so many early courses the nearby railway, before the advent of motor cars, helped its development and the single-track line from Preston to Blackpool provides a dangerous right-hand boundary to the second, third and particularly the eighth hole.

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From behind the new 7th green

In 2009, Mackenzie & Ebert moved the seventh green thirty-five yards back and straighter to the fairway than the previous punchbowl green tucked into the right-hand dune. It will be interesting to see, though it is argued that the shape of this new green is similar to the thirteenth, sixteenth and eighteenth greens, whether there is a call for amendment to a more flattish Lowe/Colt green, after The Open, as there was after 2006 with some of the changed Donald Steel Hoylake greens.

There is a lot going on across this young green and it is a ‘choppy sea’ in comparison to the ‘big swales’ of the older greens. In time perhaps with top-dressing it will calm down.

The new approach fairway grasses on the seventh were not up to the standard elsewhere on the course when I played in April but, as I noticed this area was roped-off, the course manager hopefully has this in hand.

The original eleventh hole was a straight 600 yards to a green near the present twelfth green. When found to be rather boring, it was subsequently altered to a dogleg left and the new, tightly-bunkered, short twelfth created.

Recently the championship eleventh tee has been placed on the high dune, at the back of which is a new, horribly deep, bunker to be avoided at all costs when taking on the blind drive to the left of the tenth hole.

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The newly seperated drive bunkers on the 11th

This new eleventh tee re-instates the hole back to around 600 yards and the drive-bunkers have had to be separated to allow a drive to run through for the big-hitters.

The thirteenth is seen as the most birdie-able on the course before one prepares for the famous five hole, all par fours, finish.

The fifteenth is normally considered the most difficult hole and was chosen by Donald Steel as his Daily Telegraph favourite fifteenth. It was here that Jack Nicklaus lost the 1963 Open after hitting an incomparable 2-iron to five yards and then sadly three-putted!

Bruce Critchley nicely sums up the hole:-

“The 15th at Royal Lytham is the arch villain in probably the toughest finish in championship golf. The last five holes are all par fours, into or across the prevailing wind, and on a breezy day one feels somewhat like a yacht struggling to make harbour after a rough passage. Whenever I come to it I am reminded of the caddie who once said of a long par four into the wind: ‘t’ll take three good shots to get up in two today, sir’.

Probably the best way to look at the hole is as a par five. Plot your way carefully, avoid taking six and look on a four as a bonus.”

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The easier approach to the 16th green

Seve Ballesteros, at the age of nineteen, introduced continental European golf to the world when he won The Open at Lytham in 1979 against a strong field. At the sixteenth he put his drive so far right that it carried on to an area of desert where cars were illegally parked near a hospitality complex. The ball was not out of bounds; the cars were. He was allowed a free drop and promptly hit a sand wedge to fifteen feet of the hole and canned it.

Joe Gergen wrote in News-day at the time. “There is no telling how much damage Severiano Ballesteros inflicted on the traditions of the game yesterday. Until he sank his putt on the 18th, golfers had held it as a self-evident trait that it was to their advantage to hit the ball straight.” Thirty-three years later Bubba Watson seems to be taking up Seve’s cause!

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The pristine left-hand drive bunkers on the 17th

The seventeenth tee continues to creep backwards and there is now an ocean of small bunkers on the dogleg replacing the sandy waste from which Bobby Jones won the 1926 Open. So, please keep your drive right as Bobby’s famed winning shot with a mashie-iron that now hangs in the clubhouse, will never be repeated.

When thinking about the eighteenth it is easy to remember Tony Jacklin’s two arrow straight shots to the last hole to win the 1969 Open. Within twelve months, he also won the US Open and thereby finished a long run of American successes and the nation applauded. I wonder what inflation would make his cheque for £4,250 worth today?

It is inevitable to focus on the Open when reviewing Lytham but two Ryder Cups (1961 & 1977) and three Amateurs (1935, 1955 & 1986) and any number of other tournaments, including the first Ladies Amateur and the Curtis Cup, have also been played here. The Lytham Trophy, inaugurated in 1965, is one of the country’s major amateur strokeplay competitions and the Walker Cup is coming in 2015.

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Henry Lord in front of Bobby Jones and the mashie iron

Lytham has an advantage with its local infrastructure of accommodation and convenient road access, combined with the many characters who have made it such an hospitable club. Too many to mention here though I note with personal pleasure one particular person.

He is a fine Lytham golfing friend, who while raising my game recently, because of his own game’s competitive edge, helped me break a remarkable (for me…) 80, played from the 6731 yards, SSS 74 white tees, (and it certainly helped me that the greens cut at 5mm at that time, were running so true if quite slowly!), is about to publish a beautiful book on the 1926 Bobby Jones Open. Henry Lord will be launching Lytham’s club historian Steven Reid’s tome at the 2012 Open.

Finally I must record that Tony Nickson, Club captain in the centenary year, as well as High Sheriff of Lancashire and Deputy Lieutenant of the County in the early 1980s, dedicated much time to writing and gave readers much enjoyment in his book “The Lytham Century and Beyond”.

Reviewed by Lorne Smith in 2012.



Reader Comments

On June 22nd, 2012 jack dezieck said:

I have spent several three day stretches at the Lytham Dormy House over the years when enjoying a golfing holiday in the UK and never does one feel more welcome anywhere than at Royal Lytham

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