LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – The world’s elite will find a much changed Royal Lytham & St. Annes when they pitch up for this year’s Open Championship. This Royal Lytham will have more teeth than the course David Duval tamed back in 2001.
Nearly 200 yards – 181 to be precise – have been added to the Royal Lytham links for this Championship, and players will be expected to play it one shot better than they did 11 years ago. Lytham will measure 7,086 yards to a par of 70 this year compared to the 6,905-yard, par-71 layout Duval conquered to win his only major.
“It’s not revolutionary in length, but it does bring Royal Lytham up to modern standards,” said R&A chief executive Peter Dawson. “Royal Lytham has always been a good challenge but these changes will make it a stiffer test.”
The most significant changes come on Nos. 2, 3, 6, 7, 10 and 11.
The second hole has been lengthened by 43 yards, turning it into a demanding 481-yard, par-4 beast. It requires a carry of 265 yards to carry the first fairway bunker. Not a huge carry by today’s standards, but difficult if it plays into the wind. That was the case in last year’s Lytham Trophy when the tee was moved up, but elite amateurs still found it difficult to make the 220-yard carry.
Twenty yards gave been added to the par-4 3rd hole, taking it to 478 yards. New mounding has been added to the left side and two new bunkers have been constructed on the right, making the tee shot much tighter.
The sixth now plays to 492 yards, the same length as 2001. The big difference this year is that it will play as a par 4 instead of a par 5. That change means Lytham now plays as a par 70.
“That hole was the easiest hole last time, which is why we changed it,” said Jim McArthur, chairman of the R&A’s championship committee.
The seventh has also undergone a major change. Repositioning the green has made it more of a straightaway par 5. Previously the right side of the green was tucked behind a huge sand dune, often leaving a blind second or third shot. The green has been moved left and the hole will play 35 yards longer at 592 yards.
Significant lengthening of the 10th and 11th holes makes the start to the back nine harder. The 10th tee has been pushed back 52 yards to the boundary fence, taking the hole to 387 yards. Meanwhile, 56 yards have been added to the par-5 11th to make it more of three-shot challenge at 598 yards.
A new, higher tee on the 11th hole also gives a better view than in previous years. The left fairway bunkers have been reconfigured too, calling for a carry of 285 yards to reach the fairway beyond.
The changes come as part of a larger plan to upgrade all Open venues since 2002. Similar lengthening will be seen at Muirfield for next year’s Championship. But that should be the end of radical changes to Open venues.
“We don’t envision lengthening Open course in the future,” Dawson said. “That’s not to say we well not make changes, but they will be evolutionary as opposed to revolutionary.”
That’s perhaps just as well. Royal Lytham is one of the more compact Open venues. However, it’s still a big golf course, and will play much bigger this year.
• MOBILE BAN REMOVED: The R&A will allow spectators to take mobile phones onto the golf course this year, after a 5-year ban. The R&A was so concerned about the use of mobile phones during Tiger Woods’ 2006 victory at Royal Liverpool, that it forced spectators to leave their phones at the entry gates for the last five championships. This year spectators will be allowed to bring phones onto the course, but will not be allowed to use them as cameras. They will also be required to go to designated areas to make phone calls.
• ROYAL PORTRUSH STILL UNDER CONSIDERATION: The R&A will watch this year’s Irish Open at Royal Portrush on the European Tour with great interest. Talk about the Open Championship returning to the Northern Ireland for the first time since 1951 has been a strong debating point following the success of Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke. There will be an R&A presence at Portrush this year as a result. “Most of the people on our championship committee will be over there,” Dawson said. “It’s very interesting that the Irish Open is there this year, and we will watch it with interest. However, we are not in a position to announce anything new.”