British Open Countdown: A Great Golf Trip

Tony, Rick, Hacker (real name), David O., Brendan, David W., Tim, Other Gene, Ray, Hillside Golf Club, England, May, 2010.

My friends and I have taken some terrific golf trips over the past dozen years, including one to Scotland and two to Ireland. Our best trip ever, though, may have been the one we took in the spring of 2010 to the part of England where the Open Championship will be played this week. England’s Lancashire coast—which is also known as the Golf Coast—contains one of the world’s densest concentrations of superb links courses, including three on the Open Rota (Royal Liverpool, Royal Birkdale, and this week’s venue, Royal Lytham & St. Annes.) My friends and I played fourteen rounds on eleven courses in eight days, and over dinner on the final night we went around the table and each named the one course we’d most like to play again. There were nine of us, and we picked eight different courses.

The do-over course I named at dinner on the final night: Southport & Ainsdale, which I hadn’t even expected to like. That’s Birkdale Cemetery in the distance.

One reason the trip worked so well is that we did very little driving. The distance by air between Royal Liverpool (at the southern end) and Royal Lytham (at the northern end) is less than thirty miles, and we rented three three-bedroom apartments in Southport, a resort town roughly halfway between them. The rent worked out to something like $30 per man per day. We had views of the Irish Sea, and we could walk into town.

Extremely light housekeeping: my bedroom in our apartment in Southport. Note the necktie, which was required for dinner in the clubhouse at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

We spent just one night away from our apartments, in nine single rooms in the Dormy House at Royal Lytham. That club offers several package deals, and they’re a bargain. We got two rounds of golf on the championship course, three meals in the clubhouse, and a night in the Dormy House for less than the à-la-carte price of two rounds of golf.

The Dormy House at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

My bedroom window looked out on the practice putting green, the eighteenth green, and the clubhouse (the building on the left).

The view from my room in the Dormy House.

Lytham is the only Open course that begins with a par 3, a 200-plus-yarder with a circular green surrounded by ravenous bunkers. My favorite hole on the course is another par 3, the ninth, which looks like a golf hole in a dream: the green is elevated and undulating, like a graduate-level problem in topology. It’s tucked into the farthest corner of the course, and a cluster of red-brick buildings rises directly behind it, and if you flub your tee shot, an assistant pro told me, you can easily make 10.

Ninth green: don’t be long; don’t be short; don’t go right; don’t go left.

Within the city limits of Southport are three excellent courses—Royal Birkdale, Hillside, and Southport & Ainsdale—and one quite good one: Hesketh, which is the home of the Hitler TreeThe first three are laid out almost continuously along the coast to the south of town; they are so close together that if you miss the driveway for Birkdale, heading south, the handiest place to turn around is the side street that leads to Hillside. And at Hillside it’s entirely possible to hook a ball onto Southport & Ainsdale. I’ll have more to say about all those courses, and the others we played, later this week.

David O., Gene P., Royal Lytham.

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