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Royal Lytham is sandy, but it's no day at the beach

The British Open venue has 206 bunkers, and they definitely come into play. On some of them, 'you're coming out sideways,' says two-time champion Padraig Harrington.

July 18, 2012|By Jeff Shain
  • Pablo Larrazabal plays a bunker shot on the third hole during a practice round at Royal Lytham & St. Annes golf club on Wednesday.
Pablo Larrazabal plays a bunker shot on the third hole during a practice… (Peter Morrison / Associated…)

LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England — They don't come with any whimsical names like those found at other British Open venues: the Coffin Bunker, the Spectacles, the Principal's Nose or simply Hell.

Taken as a collection, though, the bunkers at Royal Lytham & St. Annes might take the trophy for mass intimidation. Many are deep. The sand is heavy. And there are 206 of them scattered about the property.

"You do feel a little bit claustrophobic on a lot of the holes," said Luke Donald, No.1 in the world rankings. "They're everywhere."

Do the math, and it comes to 11.4 bunkers a hole. And that, of course, is merely an average. Golfers will encounter 37 on just the final two holes — 20 at the 17th, then 17 more on the home hole.

"They should have just thrown one more on 18," Masters champion Bubba Watson quipped, "and made it 18 on 18."

Hey, don't give them any ideas.

These bunkers aren't mere nuisances, even for the skill level of today's top pros. Sand is generally less fluffy on these shores, and all the rain dumped on the Lancashire countryside this week has made it even heavier. And clumpy.

"If you miss it slightly and go into one of those bunkers," said two-time Open champion Padraig Harrington, "they might as well have red stakes around the bunker, because you're coming out sideways."

Defending champion Darren Clarke went even further, suggesting some players might even find themselves choosing to take a penalty drop inside the bunker — "because they won't be able to move their ball anywhere."

"It's just a nightmare," the Northern Ireland pro said.

But there's a reason why Royal Lytham owns the most certified line of champions among any in the Open rotation. All nine — Bobby Jones to Gary Player to Seve Ballesteros to David Duval — are either in the World Golf Hall of Fame or were ranked No.1 in the world at some point.

"The list of champions here have all been just wonderful ball-strikers," said Tiger Woods, now stuck on 14 major titles for more than four years. "You have to be able to shape [shots] both ways here. You can't just hit it one way."

Or one distance. Strategy this week doesn't necessarily mean blasting a drive over Bunker X or laying up short of Bunker Z. On some holes, it might require both.

"There's another [bunker] 20 yards further; there's another one 20 yards past that," Donald said. "There's not too many holes where if you can carry it a certain distance, you can get past them. They seem to be continually going along the holes."

On those holes, Phil Mickelson said, competitors must decide "which line you want to take — which bunkers you want to try to bring into play or take out of play."

Sharp-eyed fans, Harrington said, might notice plenty of threesomes on Thursday and Friday in which each participant hits a different club off the tee — one a driver, one a three-wood and one a long iron.

It won't necessarily make a whole lot of difference. The old mantra is especially true at Royal Lytham: Your chances are far improved if you keep it in the fairway.

"If you're confident off the tee," Harrington said, "I think you're going to have a lot easier week."

jshain@orlandosentintel.com

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