ROYAL LYTHAM ST ANNES - 17 POINTS
I'm very lucky in that I have played all but one of the current Open rota. And one of them has to be my least favourite. Step forward Royal Lytham. Don't get me wrong, of course there is a lot to warrant a trip - it has great memories (it was Seve's playground in 1979 and 1988) and the course was fantastically presented but it just didn't give me nearly as much pleasure as a Birkdale, a St George's, a Turnberry or a St Andrews.
Now partly this is because it is a tough test, too tough for most amateur golfers I suspect. We played it one a rather overcast and wet June's day which probably didn't help but it really did feel like a bit of a slog. Carnoustie feels like a slog too and is probably my second least favourite Open course yet you can appreciate there why some think it is a great, something I felt hard pushed to do at Lytham.
Without turning this into too much of a moan about all the reasons why not to like Lytham (!) I would add two more. The rough was incredibly penal. The only place I have seen worse was Muirfield on one occasion in the middle of a tremendously wet summer when they hadn't been able to cut it - there was no such reason at Lytham. The other issue is just the sheer volume of bunkers on the course. There are over 200 of them and they seem to be everywhere, I have never played a course with as much excessive bunkering.
I can't even tell you that it doesn't matter as you will forget all of this and just enjoy the views. There aren't really any worth talking about and no other Open course is so close to so many houses.
Having said all of that...........of course you should consider playing it if you get the chance. You will understand what it is to play on a golf course set up as one of the toughest tests out there and next time the Open is on you can take some pleasure in understanding suffering. They say you need to make your score on the front nine and without a doubt the closing 6 holes - all par 4s are brutes. If you can score around here then you know your game is in great shape. If you are a 14 handicapper with a habit of duck hooking under pressure, you may want to think again!
BOOKING THE COURSE
The course is more accommodating than many of the Open courses in that there is some flexibility on times and often pretty good availability. Monday and Thursday are the main days for visitors play but they will try to get you in the afternoon on other days if it fits your schedule better. As you would expect, green fees are pretty steep. In the summer you would play £220 a round at the weekend, going all the way down to £122 for a weekday in the depths of winter.
They've got a pretty cool little booking procedure on the site where you can see all availability which is very helpful - http://www.brsgolf.com/royallytham/visitor_home.php. However, if you can't see the slot you are looking for then it's well worth giving them a call as you may well get lucky with another time.
We stayed in Blackpool, only 7 miles from Lytham, and I would encourage anyone who has never been to think about staying there for a night or two. Blackpool was one of the UK's leading holiday resorts back in the middle of last century and if you have never been to a UK holiday resort then add it to your itinerary. There are guest houses galore, the drink is cheap and nightlife options wide. You may not want to stay there for too long before heading on but it served us well!
This isn't an area which I know that well for golf but south in Southport there are a great array of courses. There is a catch in that it is a bit of a drive around to get there but within an hour you can be at Hillside, and then just south of there there you'll find Southport & Ainsdale and the highly rated Formby. There's definitely a trip in there one day but if you are in this neck of the woods do try and play Royal Birkdale - it is enjoyable in ways that Lytham can never be! From there you are within an hour of Wallasey and Royal Liverpool.