By ALISTAIR TAIT
Royal Lytham & St. Annes professional Eddie Birchenough calls the Lancashire coastline the English Riviera. Birchenough will tell you the region, especially the Lytham area, has its own mini-climate. He maintains that Mother Nature imbues this coastline with clement weather, whereas you would naturally add the “in” prefix to that adjective in nearby areas.
But the weather was decidedly inclement when John Weaver brought his 20-year-old son, Drew, to Royal Lytham for a practice round prior to last year’s British Amateur Championship.
“When we got here I wondered if we had done the right thing, because the wind was howling at 40 mph,” John Weaver said. “He shot 80 and played well. We just thought, ‘What are we in for?’ ”
Drew Weaver got over his initial doubts about links golf to become the first American in 28 years to win British golf’s most elite amateur event.
So accept the fact that you’ll get wind on this coastline. You’ll get rain, too. You might even find yourself wearing four layers in June or July. It pays to pack for all conditions when you travel to the British Isles, despite what Birchenough says.
What you’ll also get – from the town of Lytham St. Annes all the way to the southern outskirts of Liverpool – is arguably the best stretch of links land in the British Isles. Royal Lytham, Royal Birkdale and Royal Liverpool are the marquee names in this all-star cast. However, the supporting actors are not to be sniffed at.
Fairhaven: Unique in British golf because it has a par of 74. This James Braid design is good enough to have staged Open qualifying in the past when the Open was held at Royal Lytham.
Formby: Coastal erosion wiped out the old eighth, ninth and 10th holes. As a result, the club had to build three new holes through a forest of pine trees. The mixture of links and parkland doesn’t detract, though, as the 2004 Curtis Cup teams found out.
Hillside: Lying in the shadow of Royal Birkdale, this course has been called a better track than its illustrious neighbor. It isn’t, but it’s close.
Royal Birkdale: Despite the huge, majestic dunes, awkward lies are rare on the Birkdale fairways. Birkdale features the best dunes land on this coastline, and the holes run through little sheltered valleys.
Royal Liverpool: What looks like a flat and featureless piece of land turns out to be one of the most intricate and challenging links on the Open Championship rota. Don’t be deceived: There is much hidden beauty on this layout.
Royal Lytham: Might be the least aesthetic of all the Open courses, but also one of the most challenging. It measures only 6,905 yards, but the bunkers more than compensate for lack of length.
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St. Annes Old Links: Like Lytham, this course is not pleasing to the eye. Just the opposite. However, it has many redeeming strategic features.
Southport & Ainsdale: Probably the weakest of all the links layouts on this coastline, despite James Braid’s hand in the design. It’s still a good introduction to links golf. Many small pot bunkers provide its main defense.
Wallasey: A mixture of flattish holes, which are slightly disappointing, and exceedingly strong holes that wind through marvelous dunes land.
West Lancashire: Likely the most underrated of all courses on this coastline, with perhaps the best collection of par 3s in England.
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Alistair Tait is a Golfweek senior writer. To reach him e-mail [email protected]