There was a massive disappointment for local hospitality and businesses as the R&A announced that golf’s oldest major, The Open Championship, will return to Royal Birkdale in 2026. This appears to be a snub for Royal Lytham, which was being heavily tipped to host the 2026 Open.
Indeed, Lytham seemed sure to see the game’s greatest tournament return, as the Club will celebrate the centenary of their first Open in 1926, when Bobby Jones famously won the first of his three Claret Jugs. Consequently, 2026 had been pencilled in as a possible return to Lytham for the game’s oldest major. This was shared by commentators who were of the the opinion that Royal Lytham was on well course for securing the 2026 Open Championship. For example Alistair Tate wrote, ‘Start making plans to attend the 2026 Open Championship at Royal Lytham.’ Additionally, Royal Lytham has the credibility, being part of the fabric of The Open, hosting the Championship 11 times.
Lytham’s history with the Open enjoys some famous moments. Tony Jacklin won in 1969 after an 18-year hiatus for British winners. The 1979 championship saw Seve Ballesteros’s first of three victories, including a return victory in 1988. Seve was hailed the ‘car park champion’ in 1979 after getting relief in a car park near the 16th hole in the final round. Ernie Els last won an Open at Lytham in 2012. That championship attracted 180,000 spectators.
Announcing the return to Royal Birkdale, Martin Slumbers, CEO of the R&A. said, ‘Royal Birkdale is a world-class Championship venue, and its outstanding links will once again provide the world’s best men’s professional golfers with a tough but fair test of their talents and capabilities as they compete for the Claret Jug.’
The earliest likely return for Lytham now might be 2028 or 2029 – in the meantime, Lytham might well see another Senior or Women’s Open before that date. The 2018 Ricoh Women’s Open, which Georgia Hall, won drew 57,000 spectators to Lytham.