LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — Welcome to the sandbox.
The British Open begins today at Royal Lytham and St. Annes Golf Club, the place with the railroad tracks running down one side, the rows and rows of sturdy, two-story Victorian brick houses with the black tile roofs and the red chimneys and the course that has enough sand to make the Sahara jealous.
There are 185 bunkers around the place, 19 of them on the 17th hole, a 467-yard dogleg-left par- four where you can hit your second shot with either a five-iron or a shovel.
Nick Faldo, who is one of the favorites to win the 125th British Open Championship, said that with the railroad tracks and the row houses, it's not your normal links-style British Open layout.
"It's like playing in a little city, isn't it?" Faldo said.
Well, sort of. The experience of playing Royal Lytham is fairly unique. It's the only major championship site to open with a par three, the only one with three par-three holes on the front nine, the only one with six consecutive par-four holes coming in and the only one where no American professional has won.
Bobby Jones won here in 1926, but he was an amateur.
True to Lytham's quirky nature, the way Jones did it was sort of unusual. Al Watrous and Jones were even on the last day when they reached the 17th tee.
Watrous reached the green in two, but Jones hit his drive into some sandy waste, about 175 yards from the green, which he couldn't see.
Jones hit a mashie, which would be a five-iron, and stopped the ball inside that of a shaken Watrous, who is supposed to have remarked: "There goes a hundred thousand bucks."
Watrous wound up three-putting the 17th, found a bunker--what else?--on the 18th and lost to Jones by two shots.
Gary Player said he has stood many times in wonder on the spot where Jones hit his famous shot.
"I couldn't put it on the green from there unless it was teed up," Player said. "That was a miracle."
Actually, Jones was lucky to get on the course. Between rounds that last day (they played 36 holes), he returned to the house where he was staying for lunch and left his players' badge.
Jones was stopped at the gate to the course and the guard wouldn't let him in. The resourceful Jones bought a general admission ticket and went on to victory.
A portrait of Jones and that famous mashie are on display in the two-story, twin-spired clubhouse, steps from the 18th green.
The clubhouse has come into play before, notably in the last round of the 1974 BritishOpen.
Player had a six-shot lead with two holes to play and bogeyed the 17th. Then his second shot at No. 18 bounced over the green and the ball rolled up against the clubhouse wall.
With club members with drinks in their hands leaning out the window above Player to watch, he putted left-handed onto the green and wound up with a two-putt bogey. He still won by four shots over Peter Oosterhuis.
This will be Player's seventh Open at Lytham, which he calls a "very, very different place."
There is a women's entrance to the clubhouse . . . in the back, of course.
There is the length of railroad track that signals danger as it lies there next to six fairways. The only thing between the tracks and out of bounds is a thin line of sycamores and Scottish pine.
There also is the history of the place. This is what Player remembers, his name included among the victorious, along with Jones, Bobby Locke, Peter Thomson, Bob Charles, Tony Jacklin and Ballesteros.
Local knowledge is vital here, Player said.
"The first-time player is going to be very, very surprised," he said. "He won't know what hit him."
Player remembered being paired with Hale Irwin at Royal Lytham in 1974, which was Irwin's first British Open.
"He said, 'Gee, whiz, this is like playing on the moon,' " Player said.
Par for the moon this week is 71.
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British Open at a Glance
Site: Lytham St. Annes, England.
Dates: Today through Sunday.
Course: Royal Lytham and St. Annes (6,892 yards, par 71).
Purse: $2.17 million.
Winner's Share: $310,000.
Television: ESPN (today, Friday, 6-11 a.m.) and ABC (Saturday, 7-11 a.m.; Sunday, 6:30-10:30 a.m.).
Players to watch: John Daly is the defending champion, having won at St. Andrews for his second major title, but he hasn't won since. Top contenders are Masters champion Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie, Greg Norman, Ernie Els, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, Robert Allenby, Fred Couples, Nick Price, Corey Pavin, Phil Mickelson and Steve Elkington.