Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith
EDITOR’S NOTE: Guest Columnist Loran Smith is in England this week and will be corresponding with daily articles for The Herald at the 141st British Open.
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — British golf courses, in many instances, are as old as the United States. Kansas, for example, was admitted as the 34th state the year after Willie Park won the first Open in 1860. Every Open venue has a distinctive look and different feel.
Everybody gets credit for designing most of the old courses, but one look convinces you that these are rare works of art, because they were designed, for the most part, by nature. The burrowing of sheep against the cold led to bunkers, which no golf course architect can duplicate, and earth was moved around by wind and the sea, not bulldozers.
There are some beautiful golf courses in the U.S. You can lead with the Augusta National Golf Club, which was built on the site of a nursery. Pebble Beach and its enchanting layout by the Pacific Ocean was a creation of nature, to which Jack Neville and Douglas Grant did not cause any affront when they designed the course that opened in 1919. The British venues, however, are emotionally overwhelming when you see photographs of the layouts each summer as the championship comes around. Each layout has the look of a masterpiece, the golf course wed to the landscape.
Royal Lytham, where the opening round of the 2012 British Open Championship begins today, was designed by its first professional, George Lowe, with a tweaking by Harry Colt in 1919, when he repositioned greens and tees and added bunkers. There are clusters of housing surrounding Lytham. The first nine holes are flanked by a railroad.
With the winds from the Irish Sea, 206 bunkers, and tight fairways, Lytham requires accuracy.
The esteemed golf writer Bernard Darwin summed up Lytham years ago with this appraisal: “Hit your ball in the right place, and the way to the hole is open to you, but hit your ball to the wrong place and every kind of punishment, whether immediate or ultimate, will ensue.” Weather, of course, is always a factor at Open competition. This area of England’s west coast has a reputation of experiencing “foul weather, then worse weather.”
Lytham is where Bobby Jones claimed one of his Open Championships with a rousing finish on the last three holes to overtake Al Watrus in 1926. South African Bobby Locke was the next winner at Lytham, followed by five-time Open champion Peter Thomson of Australia. Bob Charles of New Zealand won 1958 and Tony Jacklin rekindled the United Kingdom’s hopes for a rebirth on the world’s stage when he finished first at Lytham in 1969. Gary Player was the champion in 1974, and Seve Ballesteros won in 1979 and 1988. Tom Lehman won here in 1996, his only major. The last to win at Lytham (2001) was David Duval, who had so much promise but experienced constant frustration after caressing the claret jug on Sunday after the championship in 2001.
Teeing off with high expectations today are a couple of golfers with Georgia ties, beginning with Masters champion Bubba Watson, whose heroics at Augusta in April when he defeated Louis Oosthuizen on the second playoff hole, has resulted in a number of forces pulling him in every direction. He seemed unsettled at the U.S. Open at Olympic in June. Things seem to be settling in with him lately. The Brits have already gathered in practice rounds to see his awesome power.
There aren’t any tall pines for him to bend a nine iron to a near boomerang pattern like he did in the playoff in April to win the Masters, but there is plenty of opportunity for him to try to power towering drives past the bunkers at Lytham. British fans respect power, but they give the highest marks to those who can play with finesse around the greens. Bubba will need finesse this week if he is to win the Open.
Also in the field this week is Harris English of Thomasville, who just completed his eligibility at Georgia. He is experiencing an unforgettable high on his first time playing in the championship.