If you’re new to the wonderful world of golf, you may have heard the term “links golf course” thrown around on the green a time or two.
What is a links golf course, exactly? It’s where the open, natural landscape meets the lush, manicured fairways and the unpredictable coastal weather adds an extra layer of challenge and excitement to every swing.
Whether a seasoned pro or a beginner, playing on a links course is an experience that often lands on every golfer's bucket list — and we’re going to explain why.
We’ll share all you need to know about links golf courses, including their history, characteristics, gameplay, maintenance and a few famous examples.
What is a Links Golf Course? The Definition of a Links Course
A links course is a type of golf course typically found in coastal areas and characterized by natural terrain that has been shaped by wind, rain and the sea.
The term "links" (from the Scottish word hlinc, which means "rising ground" or "ridge") refers to the landform on which many links courses are built. They’re usually built on sandy soil that drains well, with few trees and natural hazards such as dunes, tall grasses and pot bunkers.
Since the first links course was established in the 15th century, links courses have become an integral part of the game, and many of the world's most famous and challenging courses are links courses.
A Quick History of Links Golf Courses
Links golf courses can be traced back to Scotland, where the game of golf was played on natural courses along the coast. Situated on common land deemed unsuitable for farming or other development, these courses were created by nature and required golfers to adapt their game to the natural terrain and obstacles.
Links golf courses have also played a significant role in the history of professional golf. The Open Championship, the oldest of the four major championships in professional golf, has been held almost exclusively on links courses since its inception.
The first Open Championship was played in 1860 at Prestwick Golf Club — one of the first formal links courses. Since then, the tournament has been held at many of the world's most famous (and most challenging) links courses, including St. Andrews, Muirfield and Royal Birkdale.
Characteristics of a Links Style Golf Course
Links golf courses are defined by their unique natural features; most notably their seaside location. These locations offer impeccable views of the ocean, rolling sand dunes and tall grasses.
The lack of trees and artificial obstacles means that the wind plays a significant role in gameplay, requiring golfers to adjust their shots based on the direction and speed of the wind.
Another defining characteristic of links courses is their rugged terrain, which is typically uneven and unpredictable. Bumps, slopes and hollows can make it difficult to predict the direction and speed of the ball, and pot bunkers and tall grasses can create additional hazards for golfers to navigate.
Because of their inherent challenges and unpredictable conditions, golfers consider links courses to be the ultimate test of skill and strategy. The unique features of these courses require golfers to adapt their game and develop new strategies to succeed.
Maintenance on a Links Golf Course
Links golf courses are unique in many ways, including their maintenance requirements. Here are some of the ways in which links golf course maintenance differs from other types of courses:
Minimal irrigation: Links courses are typically built on sandy soil that drains well, meaning that they require minimal irrigation. The natural irrigation helps to create fast fairways and firm, putting surfaces.
Natural hazards: Links courses are designed to incorporate natural hazards, such as bunkers and dunes. Maintaining these hazards requires a delicate balance between preserving their natural beauty and ensuring that they do not interfere with play. Maintaining natural hazards is often done by hand, which requires skilled labor.
Naturalization efforts: Links courses are often located in ecologically sensitive areas, such as coastal dunes. As such, there is a growing trend towards naturalization efforts that preserve and enhance the natural landscape. These efforts can include planting native vegetation, removing invasive species and preserving habitats for wildlife.
How to Play Links Golf
Playing links golf requires a different approach than playing on other types of courses. You have to be prepared to adapt to the terrain and its elements, such as wind and weather conditions.
To succeed on a links course, you need to focus on accuracy, distance control and shot shaping, rather than simply relying on brute force.
Here are some tips and strategies to help you play your best game on a links golf course:
Use the bump-and-run technique: Links courses typically have firm, fast fairways that make it difficult to hold the ball on the green with a high shot. The bump-and-run technique involves using a low trajectory shot with a lot of spin to get the ball to land on the front of the green and roll towards the pin. This technique requires good timing and accuracy, but it can be very effective on links courses.
Pay attention to the wind: The wind is a significant factor on links courses and can greatly affect the trajectory and distance of your shots. Before swinging, take note of the wind direction and speed, and adjust your shot accordingly. Hit into the wind and allow the wind to carry the ball, when the wind is behind you.
Practice your putting: Links courses typically have large, undulating greens that can be challenging to read and putt. To improve your putting on a links course, practice reading the slopes and speed of the greens. Take note of the contours and how they will affect the direction and speed of your ball.
Get creative: Links courses often require creative shot-making to navigate the natural hazards and terrain. Don't be afraid to experiment with different shots and techniques to get around the course. Sometimes the unconventional shot is the best option.
Famous Links Style Golf Courses
Links golf courses have been an important part of the game for hundreds of years and have produced some of the greatest moments in golf history. Their historical significance and the unique challenges and breathtaking views they offer make these some of the most highly regarded and iconic courses in the world.
Here are just a few of the most famous links style golf courses that every golf enthusiast should know about — and even consider visiting at least once in their lifetime.
1. St. Andrews Links, Scotland
Often considered the birthplace of golf, St. Andrews Links in Scotland is home to the oldest golf course in the world. The links are made up of seven golf courses, including the world-famous Old Course, which has been played on since the 15th century. As a many-time host for the Open Championship, it is known as one of the most challenging courses in the world.
With its sprawling fairways, deep bunkers and unforgiving rough, a round at St. Andrews can be an intimidating (but rewarding) undertaking. The Old Course features a number of unique and challenging features, including the Road Hole — a 495-yard par-4 that requires golfers to drive over a stone wall.
2. Royal County Down Golf Club, Northern Ireland
Located in Newcastle, Northern Ireland, Royal County Down Golf Club is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful golf courses in the world, with its incredible views of the Irish Sea and the Mountains of Mourne.
However, don't let its beauty fool you. The course is also one of the most challenging in the world, with narrow fairways, deep bunkers and unpredictable winds.
3. Royal Birkdale Golf Club, England
Royal Birkdale Golf Club, located in Southport, England, is one of the most iconic and challenging links courses in the United Kingdom. It has hosted The Open Championship 10 times — most recently in 2017 when Jordan Spieth won his third major.
The course features deep bunkers, tall grasses, narrow fairways and towering sand dunes that make it a true test of any golfer's skills. One of the most challenging holes on the course is the par-3 12th hole, which requires a precise shot over a large dune to reach the green.
4. Pebble Beach Golf Links, California
Pebble Beach Golf Links, located on the Monterey Peninsula in California, is one of the most famous and picturesque golf courses in the world. The course is set on the rugged coast of the Pacific Ocean and has hosted many prestigious events, including the U.S. Open and the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.
With its iconic scenery and world-class golfing experience, Pebble Beach is an increasingly popular choice as a Millennial and Gen Z golf destination.
5. Royal Portrush Golf Club, Northern Ireland
Located in Portrush, Northern Ireland, Royal Portrush Golf Club is the only course outside of Scotland and England to have hosted The Open Championship. The course features unbeatable views of the Atlantic Ocean and is known for its challenging terrain and unique features, including a par-3 hole that requires golfers to hit over a chasm.
Royal Portrush Golf Club is home to two links courses: the Dunluce Links and the Valley Links. The Dunluce Links is widely regarded as one of the most challenging courses in the world, with its narrow fairways, deep bunkers and unpredictable winds. The course was the host of the 2019 Open Championship, won by Shane Lowry.
How To Plan a Trip to a Links Golf Course
If you're a golf enthusiast looking for a unique and unforgettable vacation experience, why not plan a trip to a links golf course?
Here are a few tips to help you get started:
Choose your destination: The first step is to choose your destination. Consider factors such as the location of the course, the quality of the course and the overall experience available in the area.
Book your accommodation: Once you've chosen your destination, it's time to book your accommodation. Many links courses offer on-site accommodation, which can provide a convenient and immersive golfing experience. Links Golf Club members enjoy partner discounts on golf vacation packages, equipment and more — more on that below!
Plan your itinerary: While playing on a links golf course may be the focus of your vacation, consider visiting local attractions, sampling the regional cuisine and exploring the natural beauty of the area. Many golf vacation packages also include transportation, sightseeing tours and other activities to help you make the most of your time.
Book your tee times: Once you've chosen your destination, accommodation and itinerary, it's time to book your tee times. Links courses can be popular and busy, so be sure to book your tee times well in advance to get the times and dates you want.
Pack accordingly: Playing on a links course means you'll be dealing with unpredictable weather conditions, so it's important to pack the right gear to stay comfortable and dry. Be sure to bring a waterproof jacket and pants, a windproof sweater or vest, and a hat to protect your head and face from the sun and wind. You may also want to bring a pair of waterproof golf shoes to help you maintain traction on wet, sandy terrain.
Study the course: Before you play on a links course, take some time to study the course layout and any course-specific rules or hazards. Links courses are often designed to follow the natural contours of the landscape, which can make it difficult to see hazards and other obstacles from the tee box. Be sure to take note of any hidden bunkers, blind shots or other challenges that may be unique to the course.
Stay mentally sharp: Playing on a links course can be mentally taxing, as you'll need to constantly adjust your game to account for the changing weather and terrain conditions. Stay mentally sharp by staying hydrated and taking breaks as needed to rest and refocus. Remember to take in the natural beauty of the landscape and enjoy the unique experience of playing on a links golf course.
What is a Links Golf Course? Your Next Travel Destination With Links Golf Club
Whether you're a seasoned golfer or a beginner, experiencing links golf for yourself can be a truly unforgettable experience. So, what are you waiting for?
Grab your clubs and head out to one of the many iconic, awe-inspiring links style golf courses the world has to offer — with the golf membership benefits we offer as a Links Golf Club member.
Joining Links Golf Club gives you access to the best experiences in the game — top courses, discounts on gear and vacation packages, and exclusive social events where you can network with like-minded golfers.
Links golf courses are a unique and challenging part of the game of golf. With their natural terrain, seaside locations, and unpredictable weather conditions, links golf courses require a different approach and strategy compared to other types of courses.
Join a community of modern golf enthusiasts and book your next travel destination to a links golf course, enjoying exclusive perks and benefits as a Links Golf Club member.
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