Links Golf

What is a True Links Course?
  “There are any number of definitions as to what constitutes a true links golf course but most people are agreed that the true links course has to be created somewhere close to the sea. The British Golf Museum in St Andrews defines it as “a stretch of land near the coast… characterized by undulating terrain, often associated with dunes, infertile sandy soil and indigenous grasses as marram, sea lyme, and the fescues and bents which when properly managed produce the fine textured tight turf for which links are famed.”

Steve Isaac, R&A.

In his comprehensive book, “Journey through the Links” author David Worley said, “to say that links land is simply the link between arable land and the sea ignores what is really a very complex ecosystem. After the last Ice Age sands were blown in from the beaches and together with small particles of shell this led to the formation of shells. Free draining and with little in the way of nutrients this led to a very special variety of flora. Marram grass and native fescues grew and helped preserve the dunes from wind erosion”.

The sandy soil and springy turf was really unsuitable for any kind of farming with the exception of grazing livestock – it was however, for the game of golf which was becoming popular. In fact many of the locations where links courses located needed little or no work to turn the land into a golf course. The courses merely followed the existing contours of the land, while animal burrows worked well as bunkers!

The earliest links were completely natural, no fertilizers, no watering systems – just cut the grass and let the weather do the rest. In its truest form the fairway grasses often die away in the summer months – particularly in a dry summer – but they are hardy species that come back quickly once the rain returns.

The Joy of Links Golf

Links golf is unique. When you think that there are over 30,000 golf courses worldwide it is remarkable to think how few true links courses there amongst these. For many years the perceived wisdom has been that the number of links courses is less than 200, although a recent book makes the case for a total of 246!

Whichever is correct it is a tiny fraction of the golfing universe. And yet links courses are at the heart of the game, with one of the majors, The Open, almost always played on a links.

A recent trend has been to see the creation of ‘links-like’ or ‘links style’ courses around the world. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery but these are not true links and never can be. The great links course almost all date back to the earliest days of golf. They are part of the history and golfers the world over recognize this. They will travel the world to face the unique challenges posed by the ‘links’ and wind and rain are both seen as part of the true experience.

Links golf brings with it a special series of challenges. Unlike the heavily watered parkland courses with their receptive greens the true links course will probably feature hard undulating fairways and firm greens which have most certainly not been designed to receive shots hit directly to the green. And then there is the wind – never mind the rain.

Tom Watson, who really was not a great links fan to begin with certainly became a convert. It was not until 1979 the he had his links epiphany… it was in The Open at Royal Lytham… in the first round the 7th a par 5 of 549 yards, playing into the wind required a driver, 3-wood and 5 iron to reach the green. The next day it was downwind. He reached it with driver and 9 iron for a birdie. “That was the moment I fell in love with the links. I told myself. Enjoy it. Solve the puzzle.” He was hooked!

He went on to say “and I have had fun ever since, calculating the wind, allowing for the firm terrain, trusting your judgment and feel – that’s the joy of playing a links”.

In their book “True Links”, golf writers Malcolm Campbell and George Peper described the allure of links golf very well. “To walk beside the sea with a brisk breeze on your cheek and firm sandy turf beneath your feet is to experience golf as it was hundreds of years ago but arguably as it should be today – a simple beguiling game in need of no embellishment”.

Factor in the elements, the undulating nature of the terrain, the good and the bad bounces, the sound of the seabirds, and the wonderful vistas that change from hole to hole, and the charm and attraction of links golf begins to make sense.

It is a challenge but a mental one as much as anything. Henry Longhurst, one of the great golf writers once said, “On every shot whether a drive or a short pitch you must step back and say, ‘what exactly is it I want to do here’. The player needs not just physical talent but above all imagination”.

Irelands three times major champion Padraig Harrington when first playing the relatively new links of Doonbeg in West Clare remarked how it took him back to his childhood playing 10 different shots to a green all very different but all equally legitimate in producing the right result - getting the ball close to the hole.
Links golf – the complete golfing test of skill and character!