Time and again I hear of North American courses described as “Links style” golf courses. I have to tell you, being born and raised in England, I’ve yet to see a true links course on the North American Continent. Now that’s not to say they don’t exist. I’m sure there are many located in the northern coastal areas of the U.S.A. From my own experience of the so-called Links-style golf courses in America, especially those in the southern regions, the term is used to describe an essentially flat, boring and featureless layout. Ok, I can hear you all screaming: "What about Bandon Dunes? Ok, I'll give you that one, but I have to tell you, it’s true. Let me explain:
The links golf course was first developed in Scotland back in the 15th century – that’s the 1400s, folks – and is the oldest style of golf course. Links is a Scottish Gaelic word that refers to an area of coastal sand dunes or even open parkland.
Many true links courses – though not all – are indeed located in coastal areas, on sandy soil, often amid dunes, with few water hazards and few if any trees. None of them are flat, none are featureless, and none of them are boring. In fact, the opposite is true. The very nature of the topography of a true links course is reflected both in the nature of the scenery where the sport began, and the limited resources that were available to the golf course architects of the day. Little or no earth moving was done, because what was done was done by hand. Most of the earth moving was reserved for digging bunkers, and dig them they did, with seemingly wild abandon. The old links were placed on wild and windswept sections of moorland, be it in Scotland, England or Ireland, and they made the best use of the ALWAYS undulating terrain, the heavy drafts of heather, gorse and wild grass. If you’ve ever watched the British Open, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
I think a far better term to describe the American links-style course would be “Parkland.” Many of them have been placed on an available tract of virtually flat land. The machines were brought in and the landscape changed to give it a little character. The grass on these courses, especially the rough, is rarely indigenous to the land in question. Most of them are treeless, and that’s often the case with the true links course, but most of those have vast, rolling dunes with tops and valleys as far apart as 50 or even 75 feet – the natural valleys between them are the fairways, narrow, twisting and undulating – the dunes themselves covered in knee-high grass, gorse and heather.
And all of the above merely reflect my own personal opinions, based on my years of experience visiting links courses in Scotland and England, and literally hundreds of “links-style” courses in the United States. If you have comments, please feel free to share them.