LYTHAM ST ANNES, England, July 16 (Reuters) - The British Open returns to Royal Lytham & St Annes for an 11th time when the 141st championship begins on Thursday in Lancashire, England.
Lytham, flanked by a railway line and suburban houses, is not considered the most beautiful of the many Open venues, most recently staging the event in 2001 when American David Duval clinched his only major championship.
American amateur Bobby Jones won the first Open to be held at Lytham in 1926 when he became the only champion to have to pay to play.
Jones, who won all four majors in 1930 to complete the ‘Grand Slam’, forgot his competitor’s ticket and was not recognised despite being second in the tournament after three rounds, but calmly paid an entrance fee before claiming the first of his three Opens.
South African Bobby Locke, who fought with his country’s air force during World War Two, ran out the winner in 1952 when the Open returned to Lytham.
Other champions include Australia’s Peter Thomson, who bagged his fourth of five Open titles in 1958, nine-times major winner Gary Player of South Africa in 1974, Seve Ballesteros in 1979 and 1988 and Tom Lehmann in 1996.
As golf courses worldwide undergo more and more development in the modern era, Lytham is a refreshingly undisturbed course with only a few changes since the club was founded in 1886 and the present course constructed in 1897.
Several holes have been lengthened for this year’s Open to provide more of a test, while 206 bunkers dotted in the tight fairways and around the greens will make accurate play key.
Golf writer Bernard Darwin once wrote: “Hit your ball to the right place and the way to the hole is open to you, but hit your ball to the wrong place and every kind of punishment, whether immediate or ultimate, will ensue.”
Here is a brief hole-by-hole look at the 7,086-yard, par-70 course.
No. 1, par three, 205 yards - Check the weather vane on the roof of his shop, head pro Eddie Birchenough urges all golfers before they tee off. The only par-three opening hole on the Open rota, the green is guarded by nine bunkers while the swirling wind often plays havoc with club selection.
Gary Player carded three birdies on this hole in 1974 on his way to victory.
No. 2, par four, 481 yards - A new tee some 43 yards behind the old one used in 2001 will make carrying the menacing bunkers on the right a severe test as a shot of around 265 yards will be required.
The green slopes away from the player and a further three-greenside traps will make this a testing second hole.
No. 3, par four, 478 yards - The third equal most difficult hole in 2001 has been lengthened by about 20 yards and there is trouble off the tee, bunkers left and the out-of-bounds railway line on the right. Avoid back and left of the green says Birchenough.
No. 4, par four, 392 yards - The only par four on the front nine measuring under 400 yards, players are expected to hit irons or hybrids off the tee for accuracy. Another sloping green will test golfers trying to find the pin.
No. 5, par three, 219 yards - “Dead ground” in front of the green makes the hole play longer than it appears while bunkers left and right and a dome shaped green will make finding the putting surface imperative.
No. 6, par four, 492 yards - Played as a par five in 2001 when it was the easiest hole, the sixth is now a testing par four. Fairway bunkers on the right will catch overhit or slightly stray drives. Five traps await misjudged approach shots.
No. 7, par five, 592 yards - Tiger Woods hit driver-nine iron three times out of four in 2001 to reach the green but this time round a new putting surface 35 yards further back and to the left will provide more of a test.
No. 8, par four, 416 yards - The green perched on top of a dune is surrounded by deep bunkers and Birchenough says the left trap is “probably” the deepest on the course so it must be avoided at all costs.
No. 9, par three, 165 yards - Lytham’s shortest hole will not allow players to ease off as nine bunkers guard the sloping green.
No. 10, par four, 387 yards - The inward slog, often into the wind, begins here. 52 yards longer than in 2001, Birchenough admits he is not sure how the world’s best golfers will approach this hole.
No. 11, par five, 598 yards - Another lengthened hole, this time by 56 yards, the par five 11th will see many risk and reward drives from the high dune tee box.
No. 12, par three, 198 yards - One of Jack Nicklaus’s favourite short holes, the threat of out-of-bounds which eats into the right-hand side of the green, the left to right wind and some severe bunkers will make this another testing par three.
No. 13, par four, 355 yards - This heavily-bunkered hole, the first of six par fours to finish, will provide the longest hitters with an opportunity to drive the green.
No. 14, par four, 444 yards - The start of Lytham’s ‘Murder Mile’ closing stretch has a new fairway bunker on the left plus a swale to gobble up weak approach shots. The green slopes away from players so many shots end up through the putting surface.
No. 15, par four, 462 yards - Ranked the most difficult hole in 2001, eventual winner David Duval described his six-iron from deep rough to within 15 feet of the pin as “one of the best shots I’ve ever hit.” A tough drive and a semi-blind second to the well protected green mean shots will be dropped here.
No. 16, par four, 336 yards - Seve Ballesteros hit a nine-iron from a carpark to two feet here in 1979 en route to victory. Lytham’s shortest par four demands concentration throughout with fairway bunkers and greenside traps lurking.
No. 17, par four, 453 yards - Players will be desperate to find the tiny landing area that is surrounded by yet more bunkers and dense scrub. A sharp turn left on the dog-leg provides no let up as the open green is guarded by traps.
No. 18, par four, 413 yards - The view towards the clubhouse was once described as a ‘Sea of Sand’ with 17 bunkers peppering the hole. Two added traps on the right and the proximity of the clubhouse wall to the back of the green threaten wayward shots.