Royal Lytham & St Annes a real softie
Open championship course not playing anywhere near how everybody wants
Published on Friday, Jul. 20, 2012 11:36AM EDT
Royal Lytham and St. Annes isn’t playing anywhere near how everybody wants it for the Open Championship. It’s too soft because of all the rain the course has received this summer. It’s unfortunate that the ground is so receptive, which means the golfers can play fly it and stick it golf. So it goes. Meanwhile, the rough is thick and gooey, so at least there’s that. The player who does miss a shot into the rough might find he has an unplayable lie. Luke Donald had one during the two-under par 68 he shot during his second round.
Meanwhile, course architects Martin Ebert and Tom Mackenzie, know there’s not much they can do about the way Lytham has been playing. They’re not actually Lytham’s architects, of course, but the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews called upon them to prepare the course for the Open. They started their work at the end of October 2008. Their firm acts as consultants to the R&A. They have also worked on Royal St. George’s, Royal Troon, and Royal Liverpool, each of which is an Open venue.
Ebert and Mackenzie are shrewd fellows. They learned their craft while working with Donald Steel. Steel, who lives in Chichester, England, has played the game at a high level, been one of its top writers—he wrote The Open, Golf’s Oldest Major, the R&A’s official history of the championship, and it’s beautifully written and designed. Steel designed Redtail Golf Course near St. Thomas, Ontario, the terrific course that demands precise golf because of its narrow fairways and small greens. Mackenzie worked very closely with Steel on Redtail, which has long been one of my favourite courses in Canada. It’s one of those places that you feel excited about playing as soon as you know you’re headed there.
Steel also designed the Goodwood Golf Club in Uxbridge, Ont., which plays like an English heathland course. The late Gordon Stollery owned the course—one of his daughters, along with Nigel Hollidge, have been running it since his sudden death last December—and it too is something to behold. I remember walking the raw property with Steel a few years ago. He came up with a brilliant course routing. Steel eventually retired—more or less—and Ebert has been overseeing Goodwood since. The course, like Redtail, is private and quite a retreat.
But back to Lytham and the Open. I asked Ebert his views of the course. He sent this response by e-mail after the opening round.
“First of all I have to say that I think that the greenstaff and everyone helping them have done an amazing job in the most difficult of circumstances. It is hard to believe the amount of rainfall, which the UK and Lytham has suffered this summer. Eight inches since the start of June, I understand. The water table is so high and has been continually topped up with each rainfall. Hence the bunkers lying damp and, in the case of 10 or 12 of them, lying with some casual water in their bases.
“This is an affliction suffered by Lytham in the winter but normally not beyond that season. However, as far as the fairways are concerned, you would not know it had rained. They have the wonderful mix of grasses with fescue predominating, which gives that mat of resilient turf. So different to see the best golfers clip a ball off this sward compared with a creeping bent surface. Given some better weather over the next three days (although the rain may make an unhelpful return [during the second round] and a strengthening wind on Sunday and perhaps the turf will take on that firm and fast running links character although the majority of the fairways are not dead by any means.
The greens are putting well but too receptive to be ideal of course. The rough is fearsome but the fairways a sensible width so there can be no complaints there.
I was refereeing [during the first round] in the Richard Finch, Brendan Grace and Mark Wilson match. This provided a fascinating comparison between the precision and high ball flight of Mark and the penetrating power of Brendan. They both played tremendously well, as did Richard Finch, but did not score as well as they should. However, on the 7th with a slight helping wind Brendan was able to reach the green with an iron whereas Mark opted to play the hole as a three- shotter. On the 16th, Mark and Richard laid up whereas Brendan drove it 300 yards into the front right greenside bunker. That variation of strategy is something we value.”
A links is meant to demand strategy on each and every shot from tee to green. Lytham, because of its 206 bunkers, is doing that, but just not as much as it could if the links was dry and fast. Here’s hoping things change for the weekend, at least a little. Please, please.
RELATED LINK: More blogs from Lorne Rubenstein
Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and, most recently, he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including The Natural Golf Swing, with George Knudson (1988); Links: An Insider’s Tour Through the World of Golf (1990); The Swing, with Nick Price (1997); The Fundamentals of Hogan, with David Leadbetter (2000); A Season in Dornoch: Golf and Life in the Scottish Highlands (2001); Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame.
Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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