I can't wait to go back to Royal Lytham & St. Annes for this year's British Open because it's where, in 1996, I won my first and only (at least so far) major championship. But I'd still be excited even if I hadn't won there. I really love the golf course and the history that's associated with it. I also feel comfortable in the surroundings there, which puts me in a good state of mind for playing golf.
One of the unique things about Royal Lytham is its location. The course is hidden away next to a railroad line that runs through the middle of a residential area several blocks from the seashore. As you're driving into town after exiting M-55, you pass the Blackpool amusement park, a kind of local Disneyland, and wind your way through St. Annes on streets lined with redbrick row houses, many with little ridges of beach sand blown up against their front doors. Then you turn a corner, and all of a sudden there you are.
Royal Lytham is also unique in terms of its architectural style. Since it doesn't border the sea, the course doesn't qualify as a classic links, and you wouldn't categorize it as a parkland track of the type we have in the United States. Unlike the Old Course at St. Andrews, which was designed primarily by Mother Nature, Royal Lytham was basically man-made. Back in 1893, the club's first pro, George Lowe, and a crew of about a half-dozen workers built sand hills and hollows on open land that was once barren and tabletop flat. (H. S. Colt, Herbert Fowler and others would tinker with the layout in years to come.) They also planted some 8,000 poplars, many of which are still standing. As a result, Royal Lytham is a hybrid that poses the challenges of both links and parkland courses. You've got fast, bumpy fairways; flat greens and perched greens; sloped dunes and grass mounds; gorse and trees. And as at every British Open venue, you've usually got plenty of wind.
The first American to win at Royal Lytham was the great Bobby Jones, who captured his first British Open here in 1926 at the age of twenty-four. Oddly enough, I'm only the second American to win one of the nine Open championships that have been held at Royal Lytham. Bobby Locke of South Africa won the title in 1952, followed by Peter Thomson of Australia in 1958, Bob Charles of New Zealand in 1963, Tony Jacklin of England in 1969, Gary Player of South Africa in 1974 and Seve Ballesteros of Spain in 1979 and 1988.
I can't fully explain why Americans seem to have such a tough time at Royal Lytham, but it may have something to do with the hybrid features of the layout, which seem to reward finesse more than power. The course is a par seventy-one that measures just 6,892 yards from the tips. You don't have to be long to score well. But you do have to be accurate, and you have to be able to keep your ball in play by hitting long irons off the tee on several holes.
The front nine is generally regarded as easier than the back because the prevailing wind is behind you on most of the holes, and you've got one par five that's easily reachable and another that's potentially reachable. Most holes on the back side play upwind or into a crosswind. It's not unusual for players to turn in four or five under and still wind up over par on the day. The real teeth of the course are the last five holes. All are par fours, two measure more than 460 yards long, and all are well fortified with bunkers.