Tuesday, July 31, 2012

MorfitLYTHAM ST. ANNES, England—There are certain courses where you can tell from the parking lot that you’re in for a good time. St. Annes Old Links, which was founded in 1901 and set into a barren, windswept sliver of sand dunes and wild grasses on the Lancashire coast, is exactly such a course. About a mile from Open venue Royal Lytham & St. Annes, it is a must-play if you’re ever in the area.
What says fun more eloquently than a roller-coaster? The beast of a coaster in neighboring Blackpool is your first and most arresting view as you roll into the lot. You can see the amusement park from every hole, as the course features zero trees, and only a few tall bushes. The greens roll so true that Gary Player, who had recently toured the course, was reportedly moved to comment they were among the best he’d seen in England. Bobby Jones is said to have remarked, “It’s difficult to see how you could improve on this.” At the risk of sounding schmaltzy, this is the type of course that in the right conditions can restore your faith in golf.
St. Annes Old is a final qualifying venue for the Open, but it’s just as fun, if not more so, to barely keep score. I teed off after a day of work covering the Open, shortly before 8 p.m. on a Friday, and had the place mostly to myself until running into SI colleagues Michael Bamberger and John Garrity. We were bathed in twilight, as if we were living one of Michael Murphy’s more ethereal chapters. Garrity was moved to take a few pictures [above], and I can honestly say not one of us would have rather been anyplace else. Had Kate Upton materialized from the pages of SI’s Swimsuit Issue we probably wouldn’t have noticed.
St. Annes Old is 6,941 yards and a par 72 from the blue tees, but we played the whites (6,689, 72). I was particularly enthralled with the par 3s.
I knocked it stiff on the par-3 ninth hole, which is framed by the clubhouse and where the green is mostly hidden, tucked amid a series of dead elephants left and right, but you know exactly where to aim anyway. Garrity almost aced the par-3 16th hole, which features an upside-down cereal bowl green, and shares a big teeing ground with the par-3 13th hole, where I would make birdie the next day. The 17th and 18th holes are both par 5s and play along the property's west edge.
St. Annes Old (01253 723 597) costs as little as 45 pounds to play, if you start after noon, but also offers a four-ball special including breakfast for 218 pounds. The course has a limited number of rental clubs, trolleys and caddies. Call early.  
(Photo: John Garrity)

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