IT’S all change at Royal Lytham and St Annes over the next 12 months.
Secretary Graham Cochrane is standing down at the end of the 2012 Open Championship, and he will be replaced by Charles Grimley, who was formerly a golf development manager with the englandsgolfcoast organisation.
And by the end of 2012, professional Eddie Birchenough will be retiring from Royal Lytham after joining the club in 1987.
Birchenough came north to Lytham from The Gog Magog club in Cambridgeshire.
As well as undertaking the day-to-day duties expected of such a prestigious club, Birchenough acted as coach and adviser to a succession of European Tour players, among them Paul Eales, Russell Claydon. Jamie Spence, Rob Lee and Tony Charnley, together with Scottish lady golfer Gillian Stewart.
Reflecting on his tenure at the Links Gate pro-shop, he said: “It is a beautiful place to play golf, a wonderful place to work, great people to work with.”
The 2012 Championship will be the fourth Open since Birchenough became professional at Royal Lytham, though he doesn’t expect to see a lot of the action, as he will be far too busy.
He said: “Our memories of the Open are not what you may think because we are working all the time!
“Sometimes the memory is managing to get your lunch before four o’clock!
“But I am just proud to be a part of this place – the challenge that the golf course presents, excites the best players in the world and that is the pinnacle of the game.
“I have had great times on the range just teaching people to understand the game a bit better and being around golf and with golfers, and at an iconic location.
“It is hard to pick out a highlight – if I select one, then it could start me picking out 300, without knowing which was most important.”
Looking ahead to the 2012 battle for the Claret Jug, Birchenough has firm opinions about the likely winner – and it could be close to home.
The last Englishman to win at Lytham was Tony Jacklin in 1969, and Birchenough thinks that run could come to an end.
He said: “The course has been lengthened and tightened – it’s been done to give the R&A flexibility, so that if the weather changes they can present a fair test all the time.
“It’s all about presenting the course in a way that it doesn’t make it too unfair or difficult.
“The last two Opens have been won with 11 and 12 under par, which is great for the public to come and watch, but it is not such a walkover that everybody is 11 or 12 under par.
“That is the kind of level we are trying to pitch the course at.”
Birchenough is looking forward like everyone else to a terrific Open Championship in 2012.
“Obviously, I would love an Englishman to win it -– Luke Donald and Lee Westwood should be right there.
“Westwood hits the ball so straight and that is advantage on a tight course, and this course will be tight.
“Donald has such a good short game and that appears to be the key to the winner.
“Seve Ballesteros hit it all over the place, but still won (in 1979) and got up and down enough times, so did Tony Jacklin (1969). The short game will be really important and there is no one better than Donald at that.”
Despite the busy schedule, Birchenough, 67, is looking forward to the biggest occasion in global golf.
He said: “The Open will be exciting, rewarding and it will be memorable.”
As to his own future after retirement, Birchenough said: “Let’s just get to the Open – that is the elephant in the room at the moment.
“We have to get through that, and it’s no good thinking yet about I am going to do in the future, holidays or whatever – the only focus is the Open.
“The club becomes the focus of world golf for a week and if we do our job right – and touch wood we have always done it right in the past three Championships – we will come out of it with the same sort of credit.”
Birchenough beat off 150 applicants to land the Royal Lytham post – by contrast, the appointment of his successor looks likely to be ‘in house’.