Widely overused for marketing purposes while hardly ever corresponding to the type of course it really is, the words links golf and links course needs a definition.
This type of land was indeed formed during the Ice Age and was the actual link between the high sea and the topsoil. The subsoil is sandy and draining and the exposure to the wind is extreme. Not conducive to agriculture, very few trees are neither present on site.
The natural movements result from the weather, the tides but also the animals who lived there and consequently shaped the land over time. Peculiarities are to be found such as pot bunkers (tiny and deep bunkers modeled by sheep who were looking for a shelter), ditches and burns, railroad ties (that consolidated the bunkers) and very often blind shots.
At that time, architectural principles were not yet established so the number of holes of a course could vary. The Old Course of St Andrews in Scotland, for instance, had 22 holes and the 9th hole did not come back to the clubhouse.
Strategy on a links course is one of a kind
As for the strategy to use on a links course, it is one of a kind. The lie is hardly ever good, the wind is usually gutsy and the irregularities of the terrain all contribute to a science far from being perfect, ultimately revealing its inherent beauty.
The natural mounds wonderfully animate the terrain with bounces that are extremely firm and fast. A bump and run shot is always the best solution to popping the ball in the air and risking the wind to blow it away. This type of play enables all golfers to enjoy the course since rolling the ball onto the green is somehow easier than having to carry it big distances in order to avoid obstacles.
By the same token, the putter can be used all over the course in order to better control one’s trajectory. The golfer has to truly use his creativity and imagine how the ball will end up with the undulated terrain.
Try not to fight them, try to understand them
Possibilities are infinite so the golfer is forced to trust his feeling at some point; nothing is mathematics, everything is to be sensed. With five victories at The Open, Tom Watson probably best describes the links: «One should not try to fight them but rather try to understand them fully to grab their subtleties.»
Today’s renewed interest worldwide for this type of courses corresponds to a desire to better manage resources and to respect the environment on a larger scale. The 2006 British Open at Hoylake in England when Tiger Woods won, led to a rising awareness of the public; people understood that a rolling ball can be more fun not only to play but also to watch and all of a sudden yellow became the new green!
Today out of the 34,000 courses on the planet, less than 1 per cent of them are true links. The Old Course at St Andrews or Royal Country Down in Northern Ireland are indeed true links but Pebble Beach in California cannot be called a links. No wonder why the discovery of this promise land remains forever the dream of a lifetime for all architects.
See more: The 246 True Links Courses of The World