Monday, July 16, 2012

The Open @ Royal Lytham & St. Annes

British Open courses have never been pretty, at least in the eyes of Americans watching on television. U.S. viewers are spoiled by the green, manicured fairways of Augusta National and the like, as environmentally troublesome as such courses can be.
Links courses, by contrast, tilt toward the brown and yellow hues of the spectrum. Royal Lytham & St. Annes, the site of this week's British Open, doesn't even have the ocean as a backdrop. It lies a mile inland, separated from the Irish Sea, if not from the wind.
Thanks to record rainfall this spring and summer, however, Royal Lytham is lush, but not in a good way as far as players are concerned. Its rough, usually wispy this time of year, is bursting with heather, bramble and high, tussocky fescues. Tiger Woods has called it "almost unplayable." "I've never seen rough this high or thick or dense," he said. You could lose a child in the thicker patches.
I spotted crews Sunday frantically pulling up handful after handful of the thickest stuff near the greens. Without such thinning, balls bounding barely over a green might never be found less than 30 feet from a hole, or if found rendered unplayable, forcing a drop and a penalty stroke.
Even under normal circumstances, Lytham is one of the toughest and tightest British Open courses. Tournaments here are basically chess matches between the players and the bunkers—206 of them, deep and steep-faced and cleverly scattered in all of the places balls most like to roll. Despite the rains, the sand-based fairways have not slowed down much at all.