THE world’s best golfers will see Royal Lytham and St Annes in a new – even more challenging – light when they assemble for the 2012 Open Championship.
There will be subtle, yet hugely significant changes, to the course since the event was last held there in 2001 and David Duval lifted the famous and much-coveted Claret Jug.
The course has been lengthened some 200 yards, and there are now only two par fives.
The sixth has been changed to a 494-yard par four, while there have been a number of other alterations, and for the first time spectators will get a grandstand view at the back of the first tee, the only opening hole par three on the rota of world majors.
It has clearly been a painstaking process by Royal Lytham, working in conjunction with the Royal and Ancient.
Secretary Graham Cochrane admitted: “These aren’t tweaks – these are quite radical changes.
“It looks very different and since 2001 we have taken trees out and have a lot of sand on the fairways, so they play much more running.
“The whole look of the course is more of an old-fashioned links.”
The process of change in time for the Open began when Lytham contacted architects to give their ideas.
The club consulted on the findings of one preferred architect, before finalising their plans and then put them to the R&A for their input.
The second hole has been lengthened by more than 40 yards, a big increase for a single hole.
There are two new back-tees there and mounding on the left, which forms part of the process of tightening the course: golfers can no longer run the risk of hitting the ball a long way left.
There is more mounding on the left side, separating the third and fourth, while the fifth has also been lengthened by 10 to 15 yards.
Traditionally, the sixth has always been a short par five – it is now going to be a par four, very long at around 494 yards.
If it plays into the prevailing wind, it will be an extremely difficult test, with a bunker for the unwary on the right.
The seventh has a completely different look – the green has been moved 40 yards back and to the left. It boasts a new green, with different contouring. It makes it not just longer – not far off 600 yards – and also a tighter green.
Cochrane said: “We only have two par fives now – the interesting thing is that one of them goes in one direction, and the other comes back in the opposite direction, so the wind is going to affect them both differently.
“If you have one downwind and easy, then the other is going to be in the opposite direction – so you will get one playing very long.”
The 10th tee has been moved back 50 yards, making it, depending on the conditions, possibly the most challenging drive on the course.
The 11th tee has gone back about 60 yards – spectators are now promised a spectacular view of the course.
The bunkering there has been changed, bringing the sand-traps towards the tee.
There had been a huge, rather artificial-looking mound, which has gone and been replaced by two more naturally contoured bunkers.
The 13th has been lengthened slightly – there is a new bunker on the left on the 14th and a couple down the 18th, one of the most famous finishing holes in the world game.
The aspect of the first hole will be entirely different, a copse of trees having gone completely since the last Open, and it means there will be a stand there in 2012.
It was after playing the first hole in 2001 that Ian Woosnam discovered to his dismay that he had 15 clubs in his bag and received a two-shot penalty.
The Welshman eventually finished third, only three shots behind Duval.
Explaining the reasoning behind the course alterations, Cochrane said: “To make it a firmer, running links course, we have lengthened and tightened.
“Those players who are old enough to remember it – or not so old that they forget everything – will find it very different when they get here.”
As ever, the weather will be an over-riding factor at Lytham, particularly if the wind does its worst. Cochrane said: “Conditions can change during the course of the day – the tide turns and the wind changes.”
The Royal Lytham secretary, who retires on the Sunday night of the Open, says the event assumes massive importance, not just for the club, but for South Fylde in general.
“It is extremely important for the area for Blackpool and Fylde because it brings a huge amount of tourism and an enormous amount of world publicity.
“Lytham St Annes is known throughout the world because of the Open.
“If it never had an Open, how many people in Australia, for instance, would have ever heard of it?
“Obviously, it is important for the club because it enables us to run (Royal Lytham) as a very high-quality course and keep the golf club up to date with all the changes, so we are able to challenge the world’s best golfers.
“It enables us to attract the right green staff, who want to be involved in a course that stages an Open Championship.
“It means that members who are keen on golf and keen on watching can play on a course that the world’s top golfers use – we attract a lot of visitors who want to play the course.”
It will be Cochrane’s first – and last – Open as a secretary, but he has had a lifelong association with the club – and that will continue.
Cochrane, a retired solicitor who will hand over to Charles Grimley in July, said: “I have been a member here since I was 15.
“I went to Lawrence House School – I started there when I was five, so I have been looking at the place since 1953.
“I live just across the road, and I have had a very close relationship with the club for a very long time.
“I will still see a lot of the clubhouse and course – Eddie Birchenough (head professional) is obligingly retiring at the same time, so we will continue to play golf at 10 o’clock on a Saturday as we have done for the last 26 years.”