The site of the 2012 Open Championship (or British Open for us damn Yankees) is often referred to as "unconventional" and downright "ugly" by many golf traditionalists, but make no mistake about it: Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club is a major-caliber golf course through and through.
Founded in 1886 near Lancashire, England, Royal Lytham has been a hotbed for tournament golf for more than 100 years, hosting tournaments ranging from amateur competitions to major golf championships. According to the golf club's website, Royal Lytham "is one of the premier links courses in the world, host to ten Open Championships, two Ryder Cups and numerous other major tournaments including the Women's and Seniors Open Championships". Many of golf's greatest players have graced the fairways at this prestigious track, including Bobby Jones, who won the Open Championship at St. Annes in 1926.
Despite its grand history, the course itself has routinely been the subject of criticism and ridicule to golf purists from around the globe due to its unique layout and design. Currently interwoven between suburban homes and a railway, Royal Lytham also boasts more than 200 bunkers among high grasses, hill-filled dunes and monstrously-thick heather grass that can quite literally break a golfer's wrist should he choose to play a shot from its grip.
While most Americans will be watching the Open from the comfort of their homes and on television, the competitors and fans at Royal Lytham will be seeing an entirely different perspective of the course. When looking out into the hills and dunes, one will see an unconventional course littered with hidden bunkers and hidden tee-shots which aid into the critique of the course as a whole. Several holes have been lengthened for this year's Open as well, making Royal Lytham that much more challenging and possibly frustrating to the world's top players.
Golfers will be tested immediately in their round as the face the challenging par-3 opening hole, which is slated to play at over 200 yards onto a green surrounded by nine bunkers. The par-4 second hole is no easy task, either, measuring at more than 480 yards and a green that slopes severely away from the player's approach shot.
Competitors will again be tested at the par-3 fifth hole at Royal Lytham, thanks largely to the dome shaped green and traditionally-difficult pin placements throughout the week. However, the opening nine's third par-3 hole - No. 9 - provides an excellent birdie opportunity and is the shortest hole on the course, measuring at around 160 yards to a receptive green.
The back nine at Royal Lytham begins to show the course's teeth, however, as players will be tested up against some of the most difficult and unique holes in all of golf. For example, the par-4 No. 14 begins what is referred to as "Murder Mile", the nickname for the course's closing stretch of difficult holes. Lytham's No. 15 hole is routinely the most difficult on the course, playing around 462 yards and completely saturated with deep rough and odd angles into the putting surface. In 2001, this hole literally won David Duval his first and only major championship.
Finally, Royal Lytham's No. 18 closing hole is nicknamed "The Sea of Sand" thanks to the 17 bunkers that line its layout, including two additional hazards that were added this season.