The Walker Cup comes to the Royal Lytham and St. Annes Golf Club
PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 September 2015
Royal Lytham and St Annes has staged every major golf tournament except one. That’s about to change, writes Julian Wilde
The Royal Lytham and St. Annes Golf Club is a place of history. Eleven Open Championships, two Ryder Cups, four Women’s Opens, the Curtis Cup, the British Senior and the Amateur Championship have all been contested here. But one prize has eluded Lancashire’s famous links course – the Walker Cup.
That is about to be put right. The 45th Walker Cup, which pitches the best amateurs from Great Britain and Ireland against their counterparts from across the Atlantic, takes place on the course on the weekend of September 12 and 13.
Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington and, more recently, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy are just some of those who played in the Walker Cup before reaching the top of the professional game. ‘It’s basically the Ryder Cup for amateurs,’ says Dr Steven Reid, deputy chairman of the Championship Committee. ‘The players you see here are likely to be the Ryder Cup competitors of the future.’
But while the Ryder Cup is all about razzmatazz and partisan crowds, its amateur equivalent is a rather more thoughtful affair appealing to men and women who play week in, week out on their local courses. ‘It doesn’t attract the whoopers and the hollerers,’ said Dr Reid. ‘But it’s still a very exciting tournament.’
It’s also a hard-fought competition, but for spectators it’s more relaxed than its professional equivalent. Crowds in excess of 7,000 are expected each day and they will be able to walk the course, following the matches rather than being corralled around one hole. The BBC will provide coverage but there will be no giant screens, grandstands or scoreboards.
‘It’s also a good boost for the local economy and it helps to promote the area to a wider, international audience,’ added Dr Reid. Club Secretary Charles Grimley said they were making it a social event with sightseeing trips out to the BBC at Salford and Hoghton Tower near Preston. ‘We’ve even got the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band booked to play during the tournament.’
Home supporters will be hoping that the band won’t be required to play the Star-Spangled Banner at the end of hostilities, but history is against the GB&I side. In the Walker Cup, America rules. In the past ten years the USA has won four of the five biennial matches and lead 35-8 since the competition began in 1922, including victories at two other courses in the County Palatine, Royal Liverpool and Royal Birkdale.
Royal Lytham captain Dr Roger Bury feels the Walker Cup’s arrival is a recognition of the support for the amateur game provided by the club for decades.
‘We are proud to organise the Lytham Trophy here each May,’ he said. ‘It’s recognised as one of the leading competitions for amateur golfers. Many of the best play over four rounds and, this year in particular, the Lytham Trophy provided an opportunity for aspiring Walker Cup players to catch the eye. We do all this with the outstanding hard work and support of our own members as scorers and recorders and now we are honoured to be hosting the Walker Cup for the first time.’
A total of 26 foursomes or singles matches will be played over the two days, with the ten singles matches on Sunday afternoon likely to decide the outcome.
Home captain, Welshman Nigel Edwards, said: ‘To win back the trophy on a Lancashire course for the first time would be very special and the sandy links terrain may help our boys.’
Prospects are difficult to assess, as most of the young USA golfers play on the American college circuit and rarely in Europe. Irishman Paul Dunne and Englishman Ashley Chesters, who distinguished themselves in this summer’s Open championship at St Andrews, will lead the home charge. The initial 20-man squad includes local players Paul Howard, of Southport and Ainsdale, and Adam Chapman, from Windermere.
Charles Grimley, said: ‘We are aiming to give our customary warm Lancashire welcome to the teams, to the officials from the Royal and Ancient golf club in St Andrews who are the organisers and, not least, to the spectators. It will be an historic weekend and naturally I am hoping it will be crowned with our home team lifting the biggest trophy, in every sense, in amateur golf.’