The British Open will be played at Royal Lytham & St. Annes this week, for the tenth time. Set on the west coast of England in the city of Blackpool, the course is a blend of seaside and urban settings. The ocean is only a half mile away, so it will not be seen from the site, but winds off the Irish Sea still affect play. The course is surrounded by domestic housing and is bordered on its south side by a British Railway line.
Royal Lytham & St. Annes has left behind some of the most finishes in Open history. Bobby Jones’s flawless shot from a fairway bunker on 17 in 1926 put his ball on the green inside Al Watrous’s approach. Watrous went from thinking he had Jones beaten to three-putting and handing Jones the title. A plaque now marks the spot of Jones’s shot.
In 1963, Jack Nicklaus was on the 17th tee, two fours away from winning the championship. Two fives instead let Bob Charles and Phil Rogers slip into a playoff, which Charles won the next day. He was the first left-handed player ever to win a major title.
Seve Ballesteros won in 1979 when he hit his drive on 16 into a temporary parking lot, but got a drop, hit onto the green and made a birdie. That saved his round in which gave him a three-stroke victory over Ben Crenshaw.
The two nines are as different as two nines can be. Unlike at Olympic last month, players will be make birdies by the fistful on the front nine. They will, however, spend the next nine holes giving them all back. The course closes with six par 4s, all of them tight and most of them long. On the 15th, the hardest hole on the course, the field averaged almost a half stroke over par in 2001, and in 1974, over a full stroke over par.
The first hole is a long par 3 which will be remembered as the hole on which Ian Woosnam, only a few shots off the lead in the closing round, discovered a 15th club in his bag. The two-stroke penalty ruined his chances of winning before he had holed his first putt.
The tee of the eighth hole, pictured below, is the highest point on the course. The imposing cross-bunkers are about 40 yards from a green that is difficult see from the landing area in the fairway. Trees currently along the right side of the fairway now hide the evidence of the railway shown in the older picture below, detracting from the former charm of the hole.
Eighth hole, Royal Lytham & St. Annes
For more, see this hole-by-hole course description.
Royal Lytham & St. Annes is known for its pot bunkers (204 in total) that surround greens and landing sites in the fairway. For example, the green on the little ninth hole, 164 yards long, is surrounded by nine of them. It is because of all these bunkers that the greens are relatively free of contour. The control of roll through the fairway to avoid those bunkers makes or breaks a score.
Like Olympic last month, this is a short course for a major championship. It will play at 7,110 yards. It is likely that a driver will not be needed at any time. The strategy that Tiger Woods used at Royal Liverpool in 2006, when he used a 2-iron off the tee almost exclusively, might be followed by more than a few contestants.
Who will win? I’m going to pick a golfer who can play a controlled game and keep his head on straight when things go sour, as they will for everybody — Zach Johnson.*
The U.S. Open is the toughest championship, but this one I think you could say is the world championship of golf. I love the ground game British courses force you to play, I love the international flavor of this tournament, I love how to win you have to keep figuring out how to get the ball in the hole. The U. S. Open is a steak dinner. The British Open is a rich chocolate dessert.
*This review was written and this pick was made before Johnson won the John Deere Classic.