Sunday, July 30, 2006

Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes

Bandon Dunes 6th hole

Bandon Dunes (ranked #74 in the world) and Pacific Dunes (ranked #19 in the world), located in southern Oregon, five hours from Portland, represent the best that golf has to offer. The golf resort, developed by entrepreneur Mike Keiser, was done with a philosophy that I find refreshing in this age of rampant commercialism.

The Bandon Dunes Resort (as the entire complex encompassing Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes and Bandon Trails is known) was developed under the philosophy "Golf as it was meant to be". The courses are walking only and were developed in the traditional style you find in the British Isles. Links golf, no cement, no formalities and an abundance of caddies. In this regard (the overall philosophy), Bandon Dunes is superior to Whistling Straits, which was built with the intention of hosting large crowds and major championships. And also to Sand Hills, which may be the best course in the United States, but is a private club. Bandon Dunes is closest to golf's founding philosophy - it is open to the public and was designed to put great golf above all else. Keiser also went with (at the time), relatively unknown architects - the Scotsman David McLay Kidd for Bandon Dunes and Tom Doak for Pacific Dunes, which turned out to be a brilliant move. Rather than imposing pre-conceived notions on this special stretch of sand dunes, each developed the courses in a minimalist philosophy and achieved great results.

I recently saw Mike Keiser interviewed on The Golf Channel and they asked him what he was most proud of. His answer was that the courses were packed in the winter, often times while raining, and that group after group continued to tee off. It is a testament to how good it is. You have to like his philosophy. Playing at the resort reminds me of playing in Scotland, Ireland and England. His vision is that the Bandon Dunes Resort becomes a great venue for amateur golf. He was at Bandon Dunes for the playing of the 2006 Curtis Cup. His vision is that the courses would host U.S.G.A. amateur, not professional, events. His basic feeling was that he runs the resort to at least break even, not to gouge golfers. I personally find this philosophy a breath of fresh air in a golf world increasingly obsessed with housing developments and courses built to host major championships such as Trump National and Liberty National, with off-the-wall initiation fees.

The Bandon Dunes Resort allegedly has the largest caddy program in the United States. I don't know if this is true; it probably is. This is just one more reason to like the place, keeping this sadly increasingly lost profession alive.

I also recently completed reading the book The Making of Bandon Dunes by Steve Goodwin. The title of the book refers to the entire resort and not just the Bandon Dunes course. I highly recommend the book, which is partly a biography of Mike Keiser, the founder of the resort. His philosophy is just so good and his iconoclastic style so unique that the more I learn about him the more I really like him. A couple of quotes from the book, this one from Keiser regarding why most new courses aren't as good as those he had built here: "Most golfers are average golfers, but the new courses are being designed for pros, or for the 1 percent of the golfing population that can hit a drive three hundred yards. For the rest of us, these courses are just too hard. There's nothing fun about being asked hole after hole to do things that you can't do." From the author - "...he had perfectly expressed the feeling that he had about what a round of golf ought to be, the feeling of expectation and adventure. They'd captured the flow and rhythm of the game, presenting a sequence of surprising holes, stirring holes, each one different from its predecessors but all of them forming a single, harmonious whole."

This captures the essence of the Bandon Dunes resort. It's a subtle thing, but it's really important. The philosophy and approach taken here form the best golfing complex in the world. I nominate Keiser to be the next president of the U.S.G.A. his approach is so good. The game needs a little less commercial emphasis and a little more of the approach Keiser advocates.

One of the inevitable consequences of playing the world's best courses is the debates about which courses you like better, particularly those located next to each other. Do you prefer Shinnecock or The National Golf Links? Wentworth of Sunningdale? Well, in my case, I liked Bandon Dunes more than I liked Pacific Dunes. I thought Bandon had better vistas, great golf holes and an imaginative routing. Pacific Dunes is a world class golf course, but I think their relative ranking should be closer. I would personally put Bandon Dunes much higher in the world rankings and Pacific Dunes slightly lower down from its current ranking. My personal preference is also to go to the Bandon Dunes resort ahead of Pebble Beach. Pebble is either a six-hour round or a four-hour round with a marshall at every hole pushing you along. It has lost what Bandon now has, the true spirit of golf.

Bandon Dunes

David McLay Kidd is on record as saying he never put anything down on paper while building Bandon Dunes. He just built it. The man is a clear genius being able to do this.

I liked the 14th hole, a 359 yard par four, an inland hole that has a true feel of links golf. The green is set amongst large gorse bushes. You really have the feel when you walk up to the green that you are at place like Cruden Bay or Royal Dornoch.

The 16th is my favorite hole on the course and is pictured below. It is a 363 yard par four with multiple risk/reward options. It plays right along the Pacific Ocean.

The 17th hole has one of the best views in golf from the tee box. The view of of large dunes below you with the massive gorse bushes set between the Pacific Ocean and course. The hole plays away from the ocean, but also has very good risk/reward options and plays to an elevated green.

The finishing hole at Bandon is a weak par five, but otherwise the course is brilliant.

Pacific Dunes

Designed by the now famous architect Tom Doak, Pacific Dunes is a worthy companion to Bandon Dunes. One of the signatures of Pacific Dunes are the rippling fairways, which Doak says are the original contours of the land. A strong decision on his part to leave them the way they are. Another features of Pacific Dunes is that a lot of the approach shots in play to elevated greens.

The par four 4th hole is a spectacular hole that plays along the Pacific Ocean. If you find yourself at Pacific Dunes with a high slice, you will lose your ball, probably more than once since the Ocean hugs the hole the entire way to the green.

Pacific Dunes 5th hole

The par three 17th hole is a heroic hole. It is a 208 yard hole, and when I played the course the wind was blowing from left to right. I don't know if this can be characterized as a Redan Hole, but if it is, it is the most difficult rendition of this style hole I have ever played. The tee shot is quite intimidating with massive bunkers catching any shot that is short left and a big sloping green. A very difficult hole.

As links courses do, one of the things that makes the overall resort so interesting is the varying wind conditions. The courses play substantially different depending upon how the wind is blowing. The prevailing wind in the summer is different that the prevailing wind in the winter. If you've never been on a golf trip to Bandon Dunes, you should go as soon as you can. The overall resort is world class - the cabins and lodges are very nice with a fireplace in each one, the food is very good (I recommend Grandma's meatloaf) and the bar area with pool tables, etc. in the clubhouse makes for one of the best trips you could have.

I look forward to going back at some point in the future to also play Bandon Trails.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Sand Hills Golf Club

A brief apology up front for a longer than normal writeup. I never know when inspiration will hit and it hit in force at Sand Hills. If you want to get right to the golf course, scroll down. Otherwise, indulge me for a brief history and geography lesson to help put Sand Hills in perspective.

My view of the United States is more or less consistent with the famous The New Yorker cartoon. The United States consists of New York, some other east coast cities, New Jersey and California. Nebraska is part of the vast midwest that pretty much doesn't exist. It is a place you fly over. Why in the world would anyone want to go there? The closest that most people I know have ever been to Nebraska is to read Warren Buffet's annual letter to shareholders.

Well, I have to tell you, this view of Nebraska has been shattered for me. The Sand Hills region of Nebraska is out of this world. It is not row after row of corn fields and flat lands. Quite to the contrary, it is one of the natural wonders of this great country.

My trip to The Sand Hills Golf Club (ranked #11 in the world) began with a flight into Denver. Denver is actually the closest large city to Mullen, Nebraska where the golf course is located. It is a five and a half hour drive northeast of Denver. The overall journey to Sand Hills actually took me longer than any of my many trips to play in Britain and Ireland. You can also get to Sand Hills by taking a commuter flight from either Denver or Chicago into North Platte, Nebraska which is about an hour away, but with afternoon thunderstorms common in this part of the country, I'd rather drive. For the investment bankers, hedge fund managers and private equity followers of my blog the good news is you will be able to land your private jets in North Platte.

You leave Denver on Interstate 76 and travel into Nebraska. This part of Northern Colorado is kind of bland and non-descript. It is a high plain with a lot of scrub and frankly not a lot of beauty. Once you cross into Nebraska, it is more or less more of the same until about three hours into the trip you find yourself on state highway NE-61. The contrast to the area you have just traveled through is stark. NE-61 is one of the hidden gem, sleeper roads of this country. For beauty, NE-61 rivals driving between San Francisco and Los Angeles on US-1 or Route 112 in New Hampshire during September. It's that beautiful, although it is a stark and subtle beauty that reveals itself slowly. It is one of the most scenic roads in the country. Have I lost my mind? No, not at all. I had no idea what the Sand Hills region even was prior to this trip. I assumed there was a small area of dunes where they built a good golf course. This assumption has about the same validity as assuming that Donald Trump is modest. The reality is that the Sand Hills region of Nebraska is 19,300 square miles and takes up about 25% of the entire land mass of the state. This is larger than the states of Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware and Rhode Island, combined! A geological anomoly, the Sand Hills region was formed at the end of the last ice age when sand was wind blown into large dunes during a severe drought. It must have been one hell of a drought indeed.

It has the biggest, most impressive sand dunes I have seen anywhere in the world. NE-61 is a two lane road that winds through the Sand Hills region. You round bend after bend and your mind plays tricks on you. You will look away and look back and think once you get over the crest of the next hill you will see the Atlantic Ocean or the Irish Sea. It is bucolic, peaceful and dramatic. You drive along rolling hills punctuated by ranches. To call the area sparsely populated is an understatement. The county seat in Arthur we drove through had a post office, bank, county courthouse, a fairground and not much else. The total population of the county Sand Hills is located in is 793. I have more people than that on just one subway train on the way to work. The beauty of the region is unexpected. You know the Monterey penninsula is going to be beautiful and the Grand Canyon. Likewise, the Pacific Northwest has a reputation for beauty as do the Rocky Mountains. This just takes you totally by surprise. Living in a metropolitan area I never really appreciated how beautiful this region of the country is.

I felt at times that I was in a time warp. The picture above is of one of the 'towns' you pass through on the way to Sand Hills. In many of these places it could be 1930. You drive on NE-61 thankfully for a full hour and then you turn right onto NE-2 to make the final approach into Mullen. NE-2 parallels a Burlington Northern rail line, which has long freight trains made up entirely of coal cars transporting coal out of Wyoming. The rail line is set at the base of the Sand Hills, and here I go again, but it is a beautiful sight. A rail line, beautiful? Certainly, my mind is gone now. But, those of you that have driven it, tell me if I'm wrong.

Once you get into Mullen (population 554 and yes those are bullet holes in the sign), you turn right onto NE-97 south. In shades of Muirfield, you have to know where you are going. The club has told you to look for mile marker 55 on the left side of the road and the Sand Hills Golf Club is your next right. Once you turn off the road, it is 2.5 miles to the clubhouse. The clubhouse is a decidedly understated affair as are the cabins that guests stay in. The cabins sleep two people and are setup on the top of a hill overlooking the Dismal River. You are never given a key since the cabins are on the honor system and are unlocked. The booklet left in each room for guests warns you not to be alarmed if you hear strange sounds in the night. Deer often bed down under the cabins and wild turkeys are known to roost on the porch railings.

The Golf Course

How is it that a golf course built in 1995 and located in the middle of Nebraska is ranked #11 in the world? Well, it deserves to be ranked this high, it is that good. The land is perfectly suited for golf. Architects Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw have done a masterful job designing the course. In 1993, they actually visited the site and 'discovered' over 130 golf holes and then proceeded to narrow it down to 18, which is the golf course the world is lucky to have today. Although the area is windy, there is no prevailing wind, so the course is routed to be playable in any wind condition. I'm not sure how you design a course as good as Coore and Crenshaw did, but they pulled it off.

I have never met Dick Youngscap, the man behind Sand Hills, but the man is an obvious genius. No one has had greater vision in sponsoring and developing a golf course since Charles Blair Macdonald when he built The National Golf Links in 1910. The entire Sand Hills Golf Club is on 8,000 acres of land. By way of comparison the East Course at Merion was built on only 120 acres. The place has sand dunes of epic proportions. Some of the dunes are over 400 feet tall. What you see at Bandon or Pacific Dunes, Ballybunion, Sandwich, Cruden Bay and Dornoch are hardly even comparable to what you will see here.

The course is located one mile from the clubhouse over sand dunes. You drive out from the clubhouse in a golf cart, across a private ranch and then arrive at the small starters cabin and outdoor grill room - nicknamed Ben's porch.

14th Green
The 14th green at Sand Hills

The course itself has NO weak holes. The seventh and eighth holes are short par fours and have fantastic risk/reward characteristics. The seventh hole, 285 yards, proves that holes like the short eighth at Cruden Bay are not out of date. The eighth in particular has a sort of bowl shaped green that if you land on the correct spot on the green the ball trickles down to a pin set right behind a bunker. The fourteenth hole also stands out as another super risk/reward hole. It is a 475 par five that most players can reach in two, particularly if the wind is at your back. It is nice as a mortal golfer to have a shot at an eagle every now and then. If you miss your shot, however, you're dead. There are severe bunkers in the back and front and the green slopes sharply from back to front. One of the best holes in the world, in my view. The seventeenth (pictured below), their signature hole, is a short par three and has a postage stamp green.

17th Hole
The 17th green at Sand Hills

Part of what makes the course shine is that every green (except 17) is accessible from the front, encouraging bump and run or pitch shots. The fairway blends into the green in a spectacular fashion. Many play up hill so you can frequently misjudge and under-club in which case you are going to be hitting the same shot again with the ball rolling back to your feet. In shades of Pinehurst #2, the fourth hole at Sand Hills has a dramatic falloff from the elevated green on the right side. Although the holes on the course are not handicap rated, this is probably the #1 handicap hole for most people. It is like Pinehurst #2 on steroids. The eighteenth hole is a long, uphill par four that played into the wind on the two days I played the course and is a worthy finishing hole given the heroic scale of Sand Hills.

At times when playing Sand Hills it feels like you are playing at Royal St. George's or North Berwick or Shinnecock, but also many of the holes have the feel of desert golf with wide fairways and 'target' tee shots. Miss your tee shot, though, and you will be chipping out of the fescue. Consistent with Coore-Crenshaw's design philosophy it is the shots into the green that you have to play well at Sand Hills

Note to golf course architects: Study the approaches and greens at Sand Hills. You don't need to put greenside bunkers everywhere to create a great course. You can walk the course, but this is the one place I recommend taking a cart - for the simple reason that you don't want to tire yourself out for playing again in the afternoon. Believe me, you will want to play at least 36 holes a day.

I had a very peaceful experience at Sand Hills and enjoyed the quiet beauty of the place. You can have coffee delivered to your cabin in the early morning. Each cabin has a wooden deck on the back with wooden rocking chairs. I stayed in cabin #14 which sits up on a bluff over the Dismal River. As the sun was coming up I enjoyed a fresh cup of coffee and a Havana Bolivar #2 while listening to the sounds of the water running below. It was a total state of serenity. At Sand Hills you will see no planes flying overhead. There is no background din of a distant highway. If you stop talking and just listen you will hear total silence punctuated only by the occasional bird chirping or wind blowing.

The entire time at Sand Hills, you are in-communicado. There is basically no cell phone service, blackberries do not work, there is no wireless internet connection, no internet service at all, no Wall Street Journal or USA Today. Cell phones are not allowed. The phones in your room will only let you make collect calls. You are thankfully out of it. Let's hope they always keep it that way. Although being a type 'A' personality I will let you in on a little secret of mine: cell phones do work in the bathroom of the halfway house near the first tee. It created some interesting moments during my trip when my playing partners thought I had a weak bladder, continually spending a lot of time in the bathroom, when in fact I was on the phone.

The Sand Hills Golf Club is also a maternal type of place where they look after you. The men and women there are like a long lost aunt and uncle and they take good care of you. They prepare you a hearty breakfast to order. A genuine westerner, a leather-faced cowboy in a big hat grills you either a hamburger or hot-dog at lunch at the starters cabin/grill. I was so excited driving into Sand Hills that I hadn't noticed that my car had run out of gas after the 5 1/2 hour drive. When I started it to leave the fuel light came on. The nearest gas station is 15 miles from the golf course. The nice people at Sand Hills put a couple of gallons of gas in the car for me from their own private reserve. It reminded me a lot of how people in Manhattan treat each other hailing cabs in the rain.

Eighth Green - Sand Hills
The 8th green at Sand Hills

There are few places in this world left where you can still find true peace. The Sand Hills region is one of those places. At Sand Hills I experienced a range of emotions oscillating from "Where am I?" to "This is unreal". In a post-September 11th world we need to treasure places like Sand Hills where you can still be completely at peace, can see the stars in the sky at night and disconnect from modern life and enjoy the fresh air and wide open spaces. It is a great contrast to modern life. Peace and quiet are sadly no longer valued in the world today. Sand Hills is the antidote to your asshole neighbor who uses his leaf blower at seven in the morning. It helps to heal your soul from all those times sitting in the airport with CNN blaring in your face. It helps you forget all those blowhards on the train that scream into their cellphone. And it reminds us what life was like before everyone had their iPODs and DVDs set so high that everyone around them can hear. It reminds us that peace and quiet are to be treasured and that modern life is sadly out of balance.

The course itself is rather difficult to get invited to. There are only 150-160 members who are scattered all over the world. The course is only open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Play is limited to 50 rounds a day and an unaccompanied guest can only visit Sand Hills once without the member. If you are ever invited to play, you would be crazy to decline.

The Sand Hills region is starting to be discovered. Jack Nicklaus is building a me too course and resort nearby on NE-97 that will have its own Cessna plane to shuttle passengers in and out. While the region is hardly at risk of being over-run, resorts are starting to spring up for both golfing and for hunting. However, none will ever equal what has been created at the Sand Hills Golf Club. It is one of a kind.

My experience tells me that most avid golfers are not up on famous turn of the century female writers. I'm not normally a Willa Cather type of guy, but I found this quote from her which describes the Sand Hills region: "I wanted to walk straight on through the grass and over the edge of the world, which could not be very far away. The light air about me told me that the world ended here; only the ground, sun, and sky were left. "

The Sand Hills region along NE-61

The Sand Hills Golf Club logo with the ranch-style motif

The Sand Hills Clubhouse

A Sand Hills Cabin

Interested in learning the methods I used to play all these spectacular golf courses around the world? then my  book may be of interest, in details how a mortal golfer may be able to do the same. Click on the image below to view on Amazon:

I hope you will find it enjoyable and entertaining.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Old Course at St. Andrews

R and A Clubhouse

What can we say about the Old Course that hasn't already been said? The Old Course at St. Andrews (ranked #6 in the world) is hallowed ground for golfers. The course can be a little disappointing on first sight. The ground is flat and featureless, the lies are tight and usually not very good. It is not one of the most scenic courses, nor the most difficult. However, there is a reason that three of the greatest golfers of all time, Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods rank it at the top. The Old Course reveals its alleged genius slowly, only after you play it again and again.

The course has many hidden bunkers which you can't see while hitting your shot. The style of play is as different from what you generally get in the United States as I have found. No lush fairways and firing at the pins at the Old Course.  The view of the seventh green below is typical of the Old Course, flat and uninteresting until you hit your shot and find a hidden bunker or your ball hits a hump and bounds 30 yards in the opposite direction than you expected.

7th from tee
View from the 7th tee is typical of The Old Course, it looks like there is no trouble, but beware

I found one of the more difficult aspects of playing the course to be the double greens, which can leave you with some very long putts.

11th green
The eleventh green at The Old Course, St. Andrews with its deep bunkers and humps

The seventeenth, the Road Hole, is one of the best in the world without a doubt. It is a classic risk/reward hole on both the first and second shots. Take an aggressive line over the hotel and have it pay off, and you will be rewarded. Mis-hit it and you will pay the penalty sharply. The Valley of Sin on the eighteenth provides a unique challenge, still not equaled on any other course. Pictures tend to flatten out hollows and hills on golf courses; it is more severe in person than it looks in pictures.

Valley of Sin 2
The 'Valley of Sin' in front of the 18th green on The Old Course

The first time I played the Old Course it was on a beautiful day with a dear friend visiting from the Punjab region of India and we didn't quite get why the course is so highly rated. Like many first time visitors it appeared to be flat and not particularly interesting except the finishing holes which are historic and interesting.

At the Old Course,  it is hard not to play the tourist, and take a shot standing on the Swilken Bridge and of the magnificent R & A clubhouse. I don't care who you are, hitting off the first tee on the Old Course is one of the most special and rewarding things a golfer can do in his or her lifetime. It is probably the widest fairway in golf but you are indeed quite nervous hitting that shot.

swliken burn 1
The Swilken Burn guarding the approach shot to the 1st green

The Old Course at St. Andrews is best summed up by that great golf writer Henry Longhurst, who writes: "What is the secret? Partly, I think that before playing any shot you have to stop and say to yourself, not, "what club is it?" but "what is it exactly that I am trying to do?" There are no fairways in the accepted sense of the word; just a narrow strip of golfing ground which you use both on the way out and the way in, together with huge double greens, each with two flags. From the tee you can play almost anywhere, but, if you have not thought it out correctly according to the wind and the position of the flag, you may find yourself teed up in the middle just behind a bunker, and downwind. At this point fools say the course is crazy. Others appreciate that the truth lies nearer home."

I like the comments of golf course architect Desmond Muirhead who disputes the notion that the Old Course simply evolved without man's influence. He writes, "The truth is, the old course has been carefully manipulated with the same sort of refinement you might find in a Japanese garden."

hell bunker 14

The famous "Hell" bunker on the 14th hole at St. Andrews Old 

Despite all the golf history I have read and all the great and learned people who love the course, I still can't warm to it. It still appears mostly flat and uninteresting to me except the last four or five holes. For certain, the course is over-rated as the #6 ranked in the world. It is fine to play once to have the experience but I find on subsequent visits I find the course less interesting. I would rather play nearby Kingsbarns, Crail or Carnoustie if in the area, rather than the Old Course again. The tees are too close to the greens and you have to watch flying golf balls everywhere you turn especially when near the holes around the Eden Estuary (9th-12th) where the holes criss-cross. The rounds at the Old Course are usually very slow as well, given all the play it gets.

Getting on the Old Course

Of all the courses in the top 100, The Old Course is not one of the most difficult to get on since it is essentially a public course, but you have to either spend a lot of money or be persistent. The rules are rather Byzantine and you can find them on St. Andrews Links Trust Web Site. Essentially there are three ways the layperson can get on the course: 

1. Book well in advance and pay one of the tour operators for access. This requires that you stay in the town of St. Andrews for two nights. The effective cost of your round of golf is about $1,800 per person.

2. You can walk up and stand in line early as a single and your chances are probably 80% of getting out. I tried this on one very cold October morning and arrived at 6:00 am. I was the fifteenth person in line and did get to play at around 1:30 pm so I counsel patience. The gentleman who was first in line arrived at 2:30 am and had a sleeping bag. He got off around 10:00 am.

3. You can apply to the daily lottery, where a percentage of tee times is allotted each day to a random drawing. The cost to play the Old Course is about $250. George Peper, in his entertaining book about St. Andrews, estimates the chances of winning the lottery to be about 35% in season and 95% off-season (during the winter basically). My guess is these odds are about right having tried the lottery a couple of times without success in season. Unique among the top 100 in the world, St. Andrews actually posts the tee times and players going out the next day: List of Tomorrow's golfers at the Old Course .

If you can't get on the Old Course, the New Course right next store, designed by Old Tom Morris in 1895 is very good.

The Old Course has one of the largest memberships of any course on the top 100 list. It has 1,800 members. 1,050 are from Britain and Ireland, 275 from the U.S., 110 from the old Commonwealth countries and 50 from countries not included in the above. There are no women members. One of golf's sanctum sanctorum is the Big Room in the R & A clubhouse. Unlike almost every other club in the world where guests are allowed into the clubhouse, unless you are playing with an R & A member, you are not granted admission into the clubhouse. The Big Room is the one that overlooks the first tee with a floor to ceiling set of windows. Mental note to self to get inside the clubhouse one day.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Royal Lytham & St. Annes

The Dormie house in front of the putting green at Royal Lytham & St. Annes

My stay at the Royal Lytham and St. Annes Golf Club (ranked #54 in the world) was my first opportunity to experience one of the unique aspects of playing the world's top 100 golf courses - staying at a Dormy house. Dormy being short for Dormitory. About a dozen courses in the top 100 have Dormy facilities including Royal St. George's, Pine Valley, The National Golf Links of America, Augusta National and Sand Hills.

It was the first time I had slept anywhere with a communial shower since college. Being a Ritz Carlton-Four Seasons type of guy I was a little worried what the accomodations would be like but they turned out to be fine. There aren't many amenities - there is a common TV, common showers, common toilets and no frills, but it really helps you get into the spirit of golf and is a nice shock treatment to start off a golf trip.

My day had begun 24 hours before with an early morning meeting with my boss and a client lunch in New York City, a trip back to the office and a night flight over the Atlantic in coach. Upon landing, we drove directly to the course, had lunch, played and retired to the bar in the Lytham clubhouse for drinks and sandwiches. Thus, we took full advantage of the best aspect of a dormy house, besides the camraidarie; the ability to walk 100 feet from the bar and crash in your bed, which I did.

As I have mentioned repeatedly, I am not a fan of the out and back layout which Lytham is, but I thought the course was good. It actually reminded me more of The Old Course at St. Andrews than any other course. Flat, but with a lot of hidden bunkers, more than 200 to be precise. They are classic turf riveted links style bunkers, small, and mostly round and if you are in them they give you little chance but to hit out sideways or to advance the ball only a slight amount.

I can see how the course would grow on you over time. I did like starting on a par three (pictured below); at Lytham it is a testing long iron. I also thought the 18th was a good finishing hole with the clubhouse virtually up against the green. We played Lytham with a stiff wind (3+ clubs) so it was a real test of golf.

I think Lytham is rated about where it belongs in the middle of the pack. Bobby Jones won the Open Championship at Lytham in 1926. Other winners at Lytham include Tom Lehman, David Duval, Bobby Locke, Gary Player and Seve Ballesteros twice.

Bernard Darwin had this to say about the then named "St. Anne's". "St. Anne's is very smooth and trim, and just a little artificial. If the day is calm and we are hitting fairly straight, the golf seems rather easy than otherwise. If there is a strong wind blowing we shall not even be tempted to think it easy, for there is plenty of rough grass on either side, which seemed so simple, will be a cause of considerable anxiety."

The "signature" hole at Lytham is the 17th, where many championships have been decided. Adam Scott can certainly attest to this having bogeyed the hole in route to his epic loss at the open in 2012. Bobby Jones took the lead on this hole from Al Watrous en route to his championship.

Jones teeing off on the 17th hole at Lytham at the Open Championship in 1926

The hole is featured as one of the top 100 courses in the world in the book published in the book published by Golf Magazine in 2000.

The 17th at Royal Lytham & St. Annes

Like almost all courses in Britain, Royal Lytham is accessable to guests provided you arrange play in advance and follow their rules. Lytham's website.