Just about holds its own against greats

St. Annes Old Links

St. Annes Old Links Golf Club

Date Reviewed
September 11, 2016
Reviewed by Ed Battye
Saint Annes Old Links sits amongst distinguished guests along England's North West coast. It holds its own.

However, this is a different type of course compared to some of the big names in this part of the country. It is flatter and more expansive than its neighbours but is still a true test of your game and must be respected.

My most recent visit of several over the years was in September 2016 and the course was in very good condition. The fairways were tight and the fringes were immaculate. The greens have an envious reputation of being the crème de la crème when it comes to putting surfaces in the UK and beyond. And as usual they ran true, quick and quite rightly deserve the accolades that players from around the world heap on them.

In keeping with the rest of the course the greens are relatively flat with only minor borrows, save the two-tiered 13th and perhaps the taxing 16th. Pace is key when putting here for it is rare that you have to aim more than a few inches outside the hole, even on the longest of putts, but the breaks are there. In a way the greens are a reflection of the entire course which has many subtleties, often missed on a lone visit.

Like all links courses the wind can have a huge impact on the way a course plays. The routing of St. Annes Old Links does consist of 'two loops' of nine, bringing you back to the clubhouse at the halfway stage (more on that later) but many of the holes run in a similar direction, therefore, you are often faced with the same wind direction on a lot of the holes. The course has four par 3's and it is mostly these that run in a different direction to the longer holes.

The course presents itself with a short par four where there is a premium on being on the correct side of the fairway, subject to the wind and hole location, in order to have the best angle of attack into the green. This is a repeat occurrence throughout your round.

The second hole is one of my favourites on the course. It is a longer par four with strategically placed bunkers at several points along the fairway and a well-bunkered green that is located deceptively close to the perimeter of the course and often makes you under-club. Stand at the beginning of the second fairway and look towards the green, it's a beautiful sight and the epitome of the Old Links at St. Annes.

The next three holes work their way around the edge of the course with most of the danger down the right, which is usually where you want your tee-shot to be! More well-placed bunkers on the fourth and fifth again place a premium on driving accuracy. There is more of the same at the long sixth although you are now heading back in the opposite direction.

The seventh is a fabulous golf hole now turning back 180 degrees away from the clubhouse. A bunker on the inside elbow of the ever so slight right-to-left dogleg hole pushes you out to the right making the approach shot longer, unless you risk going close to the trap which is a virtual one stroke penalty should you find it. A tough second shot must be mastered, with an array of cross bunkers, to find the green that sits close to a copse of strangly trees on the left. The eighth once again switches direction, back to the clubhouse this time, and although not a long hole requires a drive down the left to open up the green.

The final hole on the front nine is the signature hole. It's a par 3 played to a very long and narrow green protected by several bunkers and set in a hollow flanked by the highest dunes on the course. The flag is just visible from the tee but only a slither of green can be seen. It's framed perfectly by the impressive clubhouse building that exudes history.

Indeed the clubhouse has a real nostalgic charm to it with historic honours boards and photographs lining the walls and a trophy cabinet that houses much fine silverware. The view from inside takes in virtually the entire course as well as the bright lights of Blackpool in the distance.

As we'll find out the back nine has a strong finish but, in my opinion, a few of the holes on the inward half don't quite match the standard set by those on the front nine. They are still sound holes, and the course is a fine example of true links golf, but for me it just prevents it from being one of the true greats, not that it pretends to be one.

The tenth will temp the bigger hitters into going for the well-bunkered green but should one not make it you would probably be better off with an approach from 100 yards and that is the reason why many choose an iron from this tee and take the bunkers out of the equation.

The 11th and 12th are two of the afore mentioned 'weaker' holes. A lack of much fairway bunkering allows you to open your shoulders at both of these with distance, rather than placement, the order of the day. The green on the 11th should be given respect though as it devilishly feeds off to the right and left at its perimeter for the unsuspecting.

The 13th is an excellent long par three played to a large, split-level green that falls away to all sides from the top tier. Meanwhile, the 14th and 15th are a couple of medium length par fours that are solid enough without over-impressing.

The final three holes are splendid and a fitting finish to a superb course. The 16th is one of the best par 3's I've ever played, downhill to a narrow green that is slightly upturned and guarded well by gathering bunkers which are more than happy to gobble up even a slightly off centre hit. Only the truest of shots will give you the chance of a birdie two here and missing the green will rarely result in par, in fact quite often you can run up a double bogey without much effort at all!

The last two holes run alongside the railway line and are both par fives. Played from the championship tees the 17th measures a mammoth 622 yards and is a real three-shot hole. The best, however, is saved for last - the 18th is a wonderful finishing hole. It plays slightly left-to-right, is sometimes reachable in two and the angle of the green plus the partial visibility (improved recently) make for a thrilling shot. For those laying-up there are several options and no matter where you put yourself it will still leave a tricky third.

I wasn't a huge fan of St. Annes Old Links when I played it for the first time over two decades ago. Over the years I've become more impressed with it after each visit and always look forward to my next round. There are some really well placed bunkers and you need to think your way round the course at times. It offers much to ponder whilst walking between shots. Trains regularly pass down the side of the 17th and 18th at regular intervals whilst a flurry of planes landing and taking off from bordering Blackpool airport can be seen. The backdrop of Blackpool Tower and the Big Dipper are visible on most of the holes too.

The main downside for me (even most of the best courses have one) is that on some of the holes you can be better off wider of the (well placed) fairway bunkers. Miss the hazards and you usually have a shot from the rough or an adjacent fairway. I suspect for national championships, of which the course hosts many, the rough will be more exacting but the fundamental principal remains the same.

The lack of sea views, huge dunes and rolling fairways may not appeal to some, others may not like the openness of looking across several fairways and a few may not appreciate the subtleties of the greens, however, as a test of golf it will examine every sinew of your game. Lovers of true links golf understand St. Annes Old Links.

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