Pre Round Thoughts
Having previously played St Annes Old Links a few years ago I knew we were in for a good day heading down here again on a sunny bank holiday weekend. The links course had been previously included in National Club Golfers “Great Britain & Ireland’s Top 100 Links” and Golf World’s “Top 100 Golf Courses in England” and although it’s recently fallen out of the latter, it’s not difficult to understand why the course is so highly rated.
The club faces some stiff competition in the area, with Royal Lytham less than 2 miles down the coast, but the course more than holds its own with no greater testament than the club becoming the first to host final qualifying for The Open Championship and Women’s British Open in the same year (2018).
With many top amateurs and professional heading to the links this summer to try and qualify for one of the opens, the club are keen to make a lasting impression. They’re investing a hefty sum into the clubhouse which was completely covered in scaffolding when we arrived. It’s not ideal, but you can appreciate the reasons for doing it and the place will much better in the future for it.
We did still make it in the clubhouse for a bite to eat before we headed out on the course. The food was great and it was just a shame that you had scaffolding blocking the views alongside the noise from the roof works – but again it’s only a temporary measure. We did spend the whole of breakfast discussing how nice it would be to have a management team at our club that would invest in the facilities to the level St Annes clearly are.
After heading into the pro shop to settle up we did a bit of putting and chipping practice before hitting a few balls in the nets near to the first tee. There is a range here, but it’s beside the 4th green (quite far away) so if you’re wanting to get some proper practice in before you tee off it’s worth getting here that extra bit early.
On to the golf course itself, you’re eased into the round here with a couple of straight forward “as you see them” par 4’s to start. You’re even spoilt with The Big One (roller coaster) and Blackpool Tower in the distance as the backdrop to the first.
You then hit the third which is a delightful little par 3 hitting to the far top corner of the course. The hole is surrounded by gorse and bunkers with a small McKensie green making par a good score.
With the warm up over, it’sstraight into the stroke index 1, par 4 fourth hole. At 442 yards from the white tees, it’s a fairly long par 4, but with the prevailing wind I’d say it plays closer to 480. Out of bounds runs all down the right hand side form the tee and a there are a couple of pot bunkers in the fairway to catch you out too, it’s easy to drum up a big number on this hole.
If you make it unscaved through the 4th, you’re rewarded with a couple of back to back par 5’s. The 5th continues where the 4th left off, playing into the prevailing wind with out of bounds a little narrower hugging the right hand side semi rough. The 6th is more scorable playing slightly shorter at 531 yards with the wind behind. The trick (much like the whole course) is to avoid the fairway bunkers. They play more like water hazards as most of the time you’re only going to be able to advance the ball 30 yards or so.
After the par 5’s the 7th is another long par 4. Similar to the 4th, albeit slightly longer at 447 yards, you’ll need two good shots to get it up on the green into the wind. The green is a little more guarded with gorse on the left hand side so short is definitely the miss if you feel you’d be forcing a longer club to the reach the green.
The 8th is then a straightforward short par 4 and a much needed breather before heading to the 9th which is probably one of the best par 3’s in the country. With the clubhouse in the background, the hole not only looks spectacular it also plays tough. You could probably hit anything between wedge and 2 iron depending on the hole location and the wind. Hitting form a raised tee the green is guarded by large rough covered sand dunes on either side. Despite being above the green you won’t be able to see most of it (or the bunkers that surround it) and will probably only have sight of the top of the pin which only adds to the charm. When you walk down you’ll hopefully find your ball waiting for you on the huge green, if not you’ve probably got a tough up and down form the thick rough or one of the pot bunkers.
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As you move onto the back nine, a quick glance at the card and you’ll see the par 4 10th and 11th playing just 320 yards and 348 yards. They are two of the most scorable holes on the course, but much like most of the short holes at St Annes Old Links, they have strategically placed bunkers and well guarded greens that make you think. Play them well and you’ll be rewarded. If you’re not quite on your game though, they’ll find you out.
Another fairly long par 4 into wind awaits at the 12th after which you’re onto another great looking par 3, the 13th. It’s fairly long at 200 yards but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to be accurate. The strong two-tiered McKenzie green has a slope of over 3 foot from back to front so not only do you need to be on the right line from the tee, you also need to leave yourself on the right tier to have any chance with the putt.
The 14th is another short par 4 that requires a bit of thinking. There’s a total of 8 bunkers before you even reach the green here and like most of the fairway bunkers on the course you’ll most probably be playing out sideways or backwards if you find yourself in one.
The 15th is the last of the par 4’s at St Annes, and similar length the 14th but back into the wind it plays a little longer. There are as many bunkers on this hole too albeit most of them protect the green so aren’t as destructive for the scorecard, but still ones to avoid.
You then move onto the 16th where the course really comes into its own. To be honest, the previous 15 holes mean nothing. With the par 3 stroke index 18 followed by back to back par 5’s to finish you can steal a match play win from the arms of defeat or you can tear up an inevitable winners speech.
The 16th has to be the hardest stroke index 18 I’ve played. Another beauty of a par 3 (there’s a theme here) the hole plays 171 yards into the prevailing wind to a postage stamp style green. Again you could probably hit any club in the bag to this hole depending on how strong it’s blowing. However that’s not the only difficulty, the green is laid like an upturned saucer your tee shot needs to be controlled to avoid it running off the green into one of the seven bunkers that guard it. Take your par and run.
The 17th is then the start of the homeward stretch. The hole reaches a dizzying 622 yards from the blue tees but a more reachable 550 yards from the whites. Again as long as you avoid the bunkers from the tee and short of the green it should be a simple three shot par 5 with bigger hitters being able to reach in two. There’s also the small matter of the railway which runs down the whole right hand side – all of it out of bounds.
The final hole is a stunning par 5. Like the 17th, bigger hitters can get on here in two, you just need to avoid either of the bunkers that gobble up anything a little wayward around 265 – 289 yards. From there the approach shot is blind to the green over a small dune 100 yards short of the green. If you’re playing this as a three shotter you need to decide whether you want to layup over the dune and risk running into one fo 7 bunkers or layup short of the dune and face another blind third shot into the green. It’s an excellent finishing hole that really gets you thinking.
Post Round Thoughts
On the whole this place is awesome. The course itself is their biggest asset. It’s a true links test, tough but fair, scorable but troublesome and generally beautiful to look at however the golf is going. The course was fully booked, but we didn’t have to wait on a single shot – nor did the group behind us. I’d also imagine if we came back here, it would be a completely different test if the wind is blowing stronger or in another direction.
Looking back the par 3’s really stick in my mind. All of them have their own unique points and just look awesome. The 9th takes it for me though. The finish also makes for an exciting climax to any game whether you’re on a good or bad score. We were playing doubles match play and not a single one of the last three holes was halved which is what the makes it so special.
The club generally has a nice atmosphere about it. We got a very warm welcome from the pro and members in the bar. The clubhouse has traditional charm but not outdated. Perhaps without the reputation that Royal Lytham St Annes has, you come here with a little less expectations and the club surpasses them all.
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