LYHTAM-St. ANNES, ENGLAND - What do you do when you want to challenge the world's best golfers?
If you're the R&A, the organization that runs the British Open, you take Royal Lytham & St. Annes -- the quirky, ugly duckling of the Open "rota" -- and set the strategic conventional wisdom for playing this inland links on its ear. You turn a par 5 into a par 4 -- but don't shorten it - and thus reduce par for 18 holes to 70 from 71. You add bunkers to pinch landing areas off the tee.
And you pray for rain.
This 126-year-old golf club occupies the middle of a working class neighborhood in this seaside resort town, hemmed in on one side by railroad tracks and on the other three by carefully tended brick homes. The links was designed by George Lowe, Royal Lytham's first professional, but owes its nuance to a 1919 revision by legendary course architect Harry S. Colt. You can't see the Irish Sea from the course, but its presence is always felt thanks to a prevailing northwest wind.
Royal Lytham begins with a par 3 -- the first of three on the outward nine - and features only two par 5s. Players must contend with 206 bunkers for the 141st British Open.
When he won the British Open in 2006, Tiger Woods surgically dismantled Royal Liverpool, also on England's west coast, by hitting 2-irons off the tee rather than drivers. That won't be his strategy this year.
"This is different," Woods explained during his July 17 pre-tournament session with the media. "The bunkers are staggered differently here. There are some forced carries where you have to (fly the bunkers) and then stop it, or try and skirt past them. You can't just either lay up or bomb over the top. There has to be some (left or right) shape to shots."
Woods also noted that the bunkers at Royal Lytham aren't camouflaged like they are at many links courses, meaning players can better visualize what they need to do in order to avoid the clusters of hazards. "They're starting points," he said. "You can actually see where they begin and end."
When David Duval won the British Open held at Royal Lytham in 2001, the links measured 6,905 yards. This week measures 7,086 yards, the product of an equation that significantly lengthened five holes and shortened two.
The aforementioned conventional wisdom for past British Opens at Royal Lytham said birdies were to be made over the first nine holes, which included back-to-back, short par 5s, both among seven outward holes that usually play downwind. Then it was survival of the fittest over the inward nine, where headwinds typically challenge golfers on six holes -- including the lone par 5 coming home - and tricky crosswinds bedevil them on two others.
This year, the opening nine figures to be less of a pushover. The par 4 second and third holes, and the par 5 seventh have been lengthened by 43, 20 and 35 yards, respectively. The green at No. 7 was relocated, as well. The sixth hole, at 492 yards, has been reduced from par 5 to par 4.
Moreover, the already daunting homeward nine has been toughened with the addition of 52 yards to the 10th hole (making it 387) and 56 yards to the 11th, making the par 5 even more brutish at 598 yards.
"If you can't get there in two, there's not really any point in hitting driver," Lee Westwood, a favorite to win here, said of the 10th. "You might as well take the bunkers completely out of play, because you know it's going to be a three-shot hole anyway."
By the same token, Westwood said, there are opportunities for precision players to use a driver at holes like Nos. 3 and 10, "where people might think that's a 3-wood, (but) if you can thread a driver up there, that will give you an advantage, going in with a shorter club to a small green… So it's quite a good golf course for strategy."
For the sake of balance, the 16th and 17th holes (both par 4s) were shortened by 23 and 14 yards, respectively. No. 16, which Seve Ballesteros made famous by scoring birdie from a temporary parking lot en route to his British Open victory in 1979, now measures 336 yards. The 17th, where a plaque commemorating Bobby Jones' miracle shot that secured his Open victory in 1926 can be found, is 453.
And if that weren't enough, the prayers of those who wanted "Open weather" this week appear to have been answered. The rough at Royal Lytham is high and lush, owing to one of the rainiest summers on record in the UK.
"We're making ball marks; that's something we don't normally make (on links courses)," said Woods, who reckoned the green speeds at 10 on the Stimpmeter, slow by major championship standards.
Although the greens will be softer and more receptive, and the fairways won't be firm enough to direct marginally errant shots into the rough (the norm at links courses), those who do hit shots into the hay may be hard-pressed to find their ball, let alone successfully hack it back into the fairway.
"There might be times when it might be better to take your punishment and take a drop," said Westwood.
Shots from greenside bunkers will be affected by the sogginess as well, since it's difficult to spin the ball from compacted sand.
The weather forecast -- for what it's worth - calls for heavy downpours overnight Tuesday and Wednesday, with wind gusts up to 30 mph. The outlook for the tournament days is brighter, with "sunny spells and a low chance of showers" until Sunday afternoon.
If the weather is nasty, at least one player won't be grumpy about it. After finally learning to control the spin on his low "ground shots," Phil Mickelson was co-runner-up last year at Royal St. George's.
"What was so fun for me last year was that I was able to make a move in horrible weather," said Mickelson. "That's one of the things that has excited me, because historically I've not played well in bad weather. Now I look at it a little bit differently. I almost welcome it, in a sense."
Dave Seanor is an award-winning sports writer who has covered golf for more than 20 years. He's attending his 13th British Open this year.
- Sports & Recreation
- Royal Lytham
- the British Open
- Tiger Woods