Open Championship: Royal Lytham, hole-by-hole

The par-4 18th hole, measuring 410 yards, at Royal Lytham and St. Annes Golf Club.

The holes at this year’s Open Championship venue don’t stand out on TV for their unique look or identity. But there’s still a strength and character to Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club that’s worth paying attention to.

Technically, the course is built on sandy linksland, though central England’s west coast along the Irish Sea is a half mile away and out of sight from the layout itself. What best defines Royal Lytham & St. Annes is a profusion of bunkers – 204 in all, scattered along rolling, hummock-laden terrain.

(Check out our story on how the bunker bonanza could challenge the 156-player field at the Open Championship this week.)

Too bad that sustained summer-long rains have slowed the course down and taken some of its kick out. Yet it remains one of those courses that is more impressive on the ground when you’re out there than when viewed during a major championship.

So here’s what to look for hole-by-hole when watching from the couch on this par-70 layout measuring 7,086 yards.

• • •

No. 1, Par 3, 205 yards

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Good luck naming any other major site that opens on a par-3. This modest hole usually plays downwind over the right shoulder thanks to a prevailing westerly wind. It’s the first of three in a row (and six of the opening nine) that play in a straight line along an ESE direction with the wind helping from right to left. If there’s another wind here it’s an unusual one that will throw the players off from their practiced routine. The green here is enveloped by seven “peek-a-boo” bunkers; they seem to pop up out of the green and stare back at you as reminders of their hazardous nature. Too bad they all soon start looking alike.

• • •

No. 2, Par 4, 481 yards

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Tough driving hole, with a railway line tight down the right side. Tee shot has been toughened with a new back tee that brings more into play a nasty bunker group cut into the fairway on the right that now requires a 265-yard carry – easy enough with the prevailing (helping) wind but a factor if there’s any variance. The drive has been further pinched by a new line of dunes to the left, which removes what had been a bail-out area down that side. Even the longest hitters have issues here, thanks to a second set of bunkers on the left side. In links golf, the carries aren’t the only problem; you also have to consider what the ball can roll into on the far side.

• • •

No. 3, Par 4, 478 yards

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Another tough driving hole, thanks to that railway line (again) on the right and the positioning of bunkers near the landing area right and deep on the left. The hole has been narrowed in appearance by a new line of dunes down the left, making this one of the tighter holes on the course.

• • •

No. 4, Par 4, 392 yards

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This hole tacks back to the northwest, into the prevailing wind, and forms a dogleg with a fairway bunkered on both sides to the point where wayward drive are likely to be trapped. Expect a lot of lay-up tee shots here, since position right of center is crucial for access to a green that’s pinched considerably on the left.

• • •

No. 5, Par 3, 219 yards

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Another swing to the routing, this one due eastward, to a platform green steeply bunkered on both sides. The play here is to the front to allow for enough run out to the ball. As with much links golf, what counts is not so much the aerial distance of the shot but the “weight” and trajectory of the ball flight so that it comes to rest where needed.

• • •

No. 6, Par 4, 492 yards

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What used to be a laughably easy par-5 has been toughened considerably, not only become of the nominal change of par but also due to a dogleg left fairway that has been tightened by two new bunker right and regraded, broken ground in the left rough. With a dense panoply of bunkers short, expect golfers to wind up long and then to play back to the putting surface.

• • •

No. 7, Par 5, 592 yards

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Plays predominantly downwind, though to a newly tightened fairway and a green that’s been moved back 32 yards into a natural low framed by dunes. The big decision here will be whether to play a bold second shot or to lay well back. Perhaps the hardest shot in links golf to clip perfectly and stop on command is a short wedge, wind-aided from a tight lie.

• • •

No. 8, Par 4, 416 yards

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An almost certain lay up hole, given the railway and vicious rough ground right and a prevailing wind over the right shoulder to a fairway that empties into three brutal cross bunkers at the 325-yard point. The perched green is separated from the fairway by dead ground and presents a lasting image of the golf course.

• • •

No. 9, Par 3, 165 yards

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This little par-3 on the far eastern edge of the golf course is framed by the iconic Victorian housing that gives Royal Lytham & St. Annes its landlocked character. It’s also a wonderful hole, played across a little draw to a modest green farmed by nine bunkers that hang around it like a pearl necklace.

• • •

No. 10, Par 4, 387 yards

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This little hole snakes through dunes and could prove surprisingly tough, thanks to a new back tee and a blind landing area for the drive into a prevailing headwind that leaves players uncertain – or just trusting their memories.

• • •

No. 11, Par 5, 598 yards

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This lengthened hole runs parallel and directly opposite to par-5 7th, so one of these two will likely be reachable in two and the other not. The tee shot here needs to carry 285 yards (into the prevailing wind) to open up a clear shot into the green; otherwise the tee shot play is wide right, and from there the second shot brings into play bunkers short of the green that have been extended out into the landing area. Like most of Lytham and St. Anne’s fairway bunkers the ones on the eleventh hole allow for escape and advancement, but rarely more than 50-75 yards, so they are punitive indeed.

• • •

No. 12, Par 3, 198 yards

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Elegant, low-lying, and tends to play into an oncoming cross-breeze that brings out-of-bounds into play on the right.

• • •

No. 13, Par 4, 355 yards

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This is a well-defended start in a concluding run of six demanding par-4s with an average of 15 bunkers per hole, each hole seemingly playing into or across the wind, with little straight downwind effect. An iron or fairway-metal off the tee is a safe selection at the 13th, with the main goal on this narrow, dogleg right of a hole to keep the ball in play.

• • •

No. 14, Par 4, 444 yards

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Another tight driving holes given that the fairway necks down in the main landing area and gives way on the windward right side to very demanding bunkering.

• • •

No. 15, Par 4, 462 yards

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Routed west, directly into the prevailing headwind, along a crumpled fairway to a green set at grade that’s more welcoming than most to a run-up approach.

• • •

No. 16, Par 4, 336 yards

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Risk/reward abounds here on a hole that plays with a helping wind over the left shoulder, with a blind drive over dunes to a hole that has seen some additional bunker work done to create more natural-looking, scruffy-edged bunkering. This is the hole where, in the fourth round of the 1979 Open Championship, Seve Ballesteros solidified his reputation for swashbuckling play by driving way right into a car park, demanding (and getting) a drop, then hitting it on the green for a birdie that helped him secure his first major victory.

• • •

No. 17, Par 4, 453 yards

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There’s good reason the landing area on this dogleg-left looks like an ocean of sand; there are 20 bunkers on this famous hole, one of them on the left marked by plaque depicting the spot from which Bobby Jones played a miraculous mashie (5-iron) out of sand from 175 yards out to make par and seal his first Open Championship in 1926. Despite the length and the fact that the tee shot plays into a prevailing headwind, a safe lay-up short right is not a bad play since it keeps the ball in play and affords a better angle, if a longer second shot.

• • •

No. 18, Par 4, 413 yards

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Straightaway, with the club’s classic Victorian clubhouse sitting perpendicular to the line of play directly behind the green. All it takes to get there is a drive that threads across two diagonal arrays of bunkers; and then a second shot, usually into a crosswind from the left, that will be watched by 20,000 spectators in the stands lining the hole. Like the course itself, it might not be the greatest hole, but it’s one of the greatest settings for golf.

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