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Playing Links Golf…


Fac ut gaudeam
Supporting Member
Sep 1, 2004
A few comments have been made before and after this year’s Open. Comments about Kenny Perry, about hitting long irons off the tee, about the wind have all been debated. This post is mainly about Links golf with some references to the aforementioned.

A lot of guys have never experienced links golf at close quarters. So I thought I would try and give you all some of my perspectives.

Firstly I have to say I play a lot of my golf on a links course, one not that different to Birkdale. Wind, hard and fast conditions, horrible bunkers and strategy are all major factors. One day I can play on a becalmed course with firm greens and the next it can be in high wind and driving rain. You just accept what is thrown at you on any particular day and see it the same.

However I also want to say that I grew up learning and playing the game on a short parkland course. I enjoy playing Parkland courses, hitting irons off lush lies, throwing it straight at the flag etc. So I am not here to preach that links golf is the only pure form of the game.

According to Wikipedia “A links golf course, sometimes referred to as a seaside links, is the oldest style of golf course, first developed in Scotland. The word comes from the Scots language and refers to an area of coastal sand dunes, and sometimes to open parkland.

The challenges of links golf fall into two categories. Firstly the nature of the courses themselves, which tend to be characterised by uneven fairways, thick rough and small deep bunkers known as "pot bunkers". Secondly, due to their coastal location many links courses are frequently windy. This affects the style of play required, favouring players who are able to play low accurate shots. As many links courses consist literally of an "outward" nine in one direction along the coast, and an "inward" nine which returns in the opposite direction, players often have to cope with opposite wind patterns in each half of their round.

Many links – though not all – are located in coastal areas, on sandy soil, often amid dunes, with few water hazards and few if any trees. This reflects both the nature of the scenery where the sport happened to originate, and the fact that only limited resources were available to golf course architects at the time, and any earth moving had to be done by hand, so it was kept to a minimum.

Links golf is where the game began almost 150 years ago. Players had to hit off cart ruts, animal scrapings, hoof marks and out of unraked bunkers (spectators used to stand in the bunkers to get a better view of proceedings!!!). They played in wind and rain over rough terrain without complaint. Obviously the game has developed over the last 100 years. We now have manicured courses, where greens are evenly mown every day. We bitch and moan about not having a perfect lie in a bunker, or about pitch marks on the greens or unfilled divots.

Links courses can be variable to say the least. On a calm day with the fairways hard and fast, one can walk off with a great score and say the course was “easy”. One tends to get away with the odd errant drive, patchy rough can lead to a certain element of luck when it comes to lies. A hard bounce can mean the difference between a shot from the middle of the fairway or one buried in a bunker. I watched Ben Curtis play a shot last week. When he hit it he was obviously unhappy with it. One lucky bounce later he was walking off with an eagle 2!

On a manicured course such as Torrey Pines where the fairways are exactly 20 yards wide, where the various cuts of rough are an exact height, and the greens all run at the same speed, it could be argued that good shots get rewarded and bad shots get punished. I would say this is not always the case playing links.

Some players don’t have the skill or desire to learn the techniques required to play seaside golf and so avoid playing links. Their attitude is “Feck the wind, the rain, the cold, those tight lies, those unfair bounces, those horrible bunkers”. And that’s OK with me. But others, the greats like Hogan, Nicklaus, Watson and Woods, the not so greats like Rocco Mediate and Ben Curtis etc. came over to UK and realised that they needed to adapt their game to learn how to play on links.

Quoting Woods, “I had never played golf that tested every facet of your game like that. But the thing was I loved it, even though it was beating me up. It is a challenge - and that’s what we live for. It’s the nuances I love most. There are always a lot of options round the greens. That’s why I play golf, for the creativity. You learn new things every round”.

My main point is that the objectives and rules of this game are the same no matter what terrain and conditions it is played on. It’s just how it is played is a bit different. I know guys who play links golf fantastically well, but they struggle on a parkland course. Equally I know guys who are top class players on a lush parkland course but can’t deal with the wind and tight lies that a links course throw at them.

I am forever amazed at those professionals who can adapt their game to the conditions required. Reading about Tiger learning to hit the Stinger, about Ben Curtis hitting his Texas Wedge, watching Norman hit a 5 iron 120 yards into the wind. It’s great to watch those shots. Because that was what was required of the shot at the time. Those guys figured out how to play the optimum shot. Similarly they worked out how to hit a chip out of greenside rough at the US Open or how to play the contours on Augusta’s greens.

And as for the scores at Birkdale. +3 being the winning margin by 4 shots. So what? The field all played the same course, a course that they all said was very fair. OK, the conditions were extreme, but I got as much, if not more out of watching playing trying to execute shots than I did watching guys shoot a 64.

Some will say they get no enjoyment watching players shoot high numbers and still win. That there is no fun in shooting an even par round. I’ll bet if you ask the players they will tell you they get as much of a kick shooting a 70 round a windswept links as they do shooting a 64 round a target golf course.

Anyway here are a few differences I see between links and parkland golf. Please feel free to add, debate etc.


Typically the link’s bunkers are deep, steep-sided ‘pot’ bunkers - accept your punishment, get a sand wedge and get out. The lesson is brief, but simple: stay out of the sand!

Short Game

The ground-hugging short game that is so different to the high-trajectory backspin shots played around the greens of ordinary courses. The chip-and-run shot is the staple shot in the short game on a links course: The 7 iron, the 5 iron or the old ‘Texas wedge’ – the putter – to run the ball up to the flag. Putting from 50 yards off the green is not unusual! These days most players are so dependent on the sand wedge.

You need a good imagination to visualize how the ball will behave on the contours; to see the shot and work out what line will get the ball closest to the hole. The best players can see angles that no-one else can.


Even the best players suffer when the wind blows and links courses change from mild-mannered companions into snarling psychopaths.

When Tiger Woods first played Carnoustie as an amateur in 1995, he was so naive playing in the wind. He would hit the ball high in the air. He didn’t have the skills to play that kind of course. Woods remembers that trip to the Scottish Open too: vividly!

"On the first day I hit 6 iron to the par-3 16th and the next day it was 3 wood," Tiger would later recall. "On the 17th, I hit 4 iron, 4 iron, then driver, driver. I didn’t know what was happening!

The Punch Shot

When Tiger first started playing links golf he didn’t have the ‘punch shot’ to play underneath the wind. The punch shot is crucial. It’s a softer shot. What you’re trying to do is hit the ball without spin. If you hit it hard into the wind, the spin on the ball will just make it climb upwards into the wind. If you’ve got 170 yards into the wind and normally you’d take a 5 or 6-iron, you’ll hit a 3 or 4-iron. You grip down the club and move the ball two or three inches back in your stance. Then you put 60 per cent of your weight on your left foot. It’s not like a normal shot where you want to shift your weight across. You want to maintain 60 per cent of your weight on the left foot throughout the swing. The swing itself is a three-quarter swing. You want to firm-up the left-hand grip and you want to hold the club face so it’s almost open. It’s very easy with a shortened swing to pull the club face through, so this makes sure the club face remains square at impact.


The other secrets to links golf are not quite as straightforward. Even on a beautiful, calm day when the seaside courses are at their most benign they can’t be played in the same way as a typical parkland course, particularly around the greens.

The shot-makers will shine through on a links course. It’s not like some of these parkland courses where the guy who smashes the ball 320 yards wins. There is a lot of strategy. You have to account for how the ball is going to behave when it hits the ground. Links golf courses are hard and fast. The ground is so hard it’s difficult to hit a shot 175 yards and stop it dead. If you try to do that on most links courses the ball will bounce and run for another 20 yards. But usually there’s a route to get to the green along the ground. So you have plan where to put the ball off the tee and learn to use the contours of the ground and run the ball up to the green

The key thing when the wind blows is having the right mentality to do well. You have to know that, if four or five-under-par is normally a really good round, that two-over-par might be a great score on that day. Experience is something you can’t buy. Some of the older players will always do better, because they are more patient. They understand that on a certain day on a certain hole a bogie can be the equivalent of a par.

Sometimes you can only be hitting a 3-iron 130 yards the wind is so strong. Even downwind you have to use your strategy. You have to realise if there is a bunker 280 yards from the tee, a shot that might normally need driver can be as little as a five-iron, because the ball might run for 100 yards after it lands. And in cross winds you have to be able to control the ball. So if the wind is right-to-left you have to be able to hit a ‘cut shot’ so the ball holds against the wind. You don’t want to be leaving the ball at the mercy of the wind because you have absolutely no control of what will happen to it.

When Tiger played Lytham and St. Annes he knew nothing about the course, but after two practice holes he had something figured out. Putting the ball in the fairway bunkers, nearly perfect rings with vertical walls made of bricks of sod, meant bogey or worse. The choice, he realized, was to play iron off the tee short of them or driver over them. But his driver, on the parched fairways, was going 350 yards or longer. "How can you control a drive that goes 375 yards?" he asked. He knew the answer. On rock-hard fairways, you can't.

But links golf has always been about iron play -- and wind. By Tiger's count, he missed only three iron shots all week. O.K., the wind was very meager, not a totally thorough test. Still, in an era when the long iron is practically dead, Woods showed his long-iron play is alive and well. He controlled his distances by controlling the trajectory. The excellence of his strikes was announced by the clouds of dirt and grass kicked up by his clubhead. There was debate about the players playing long irons off the tee, only to leave 220 yard 2nd shots. I think that was in an attempt to play short of bunkers.

That’s not to take it away from long straight drivers like Norman, who showed us all how to take the course on.

So to conclude. I love golf. I love links golf. It took me many years to learn how to play it (in fact I am still learning shots). I get a kick out of thinking a shot through and executing it as I did in my mind’s eye.

Everyone should get the opportunity to play a few rounds of links golf in their life. Watching it on TV and actually experiencing it are two different things.


No more triple bogies!!
Oct 31, 2005
Absolutely brilliant write-up, IG. Pretty much sums up everything about the game of golf as you guys play it over there. I've had the opportunity to experience it, and you're right - it can be a game of survival. But it is also a thinking man's game, and thus appeals to the competitor in me. In most of the matches I play here I'm playing against an opponent. In links golf you are often playing against two opponents - a person and Mother Nature. She is capricious, and sometimes deals hands unfairly. That's life, and links golf.

Some of the players at this year's Open got bad breaks from weather that changed quite a bit during a round. Again, that's the nature of links golf, and one of the things that makes it so exciting as a spectator sport. Players must survive bad luck, and take advantage of good luck. We seldom have this kind of variability in the States. It happens - just not every day.

They say every true golfer should make it a mission to play St. Andrews, and there is merit to that. I say every true golfer should travel to the UK and play links golf, regardless of where it is. A week of true links rounds will be an experience no golfer can forget.


Fac ut gaudeam
Supporting Member
Sep 1, 2004
  • Thread Starter
  • Thread starter
  • #3
Cheers E, I'm glad you like it.

I'm reading a great book right now. If you liked the Greatest Game Ever Player and you like links golf then read "Tommy's Honor: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf's Founding Father and Son" by Kevin Cook. I'm hooked on it right now.

The 18th green at St. Andrews used to be a graveyard!!! Hundreds of bodies were burried there after a cholera epidemic in the late 1700s!! The ground staff refused to carry on the work once bones were discovered. Tom Morris told them they wouldn't get paid unless they did. So they did. Superb stuff!!

Amazon.com: Tommy's Honor: The Story of Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, Golf's Founding Father and Son: Kevin Cook: Books


DB Member Extraordinaire
Supporting Member
Dec 24, 2007
South Central Wisconsin
United States United States
Fantastic, i have never had the oppurtunity to play a links course...yet.

I am however playing a "links" style course tomorrow. My g/f's little brother gets a free round with an adult from some thing he won so he asked me if i wanted to go. We will see how this goes.


Trinket King
Aug 13, 2006
Superb write up IG, perfectly captures the spirit of links golf and really well written. Enjoyed reading it immensely.

It would be a shame for any golfer not to experience a links course at least once, it's a great learning curve and tremendous fun as well. It has an almost mystical quality playing an old links, you can almost smell the hickory.


Gimme some roombas!
Aug 13, 2006
What a wonderful write-up, IG. Your passion for links really makes me want to get over and play all the more!


Well-Known Member
Jun 13, 2007
playing chamber's bay on friday. love the links, wish there were more to choose from up here in the northwest.

David Hillman

Well-Known Member
Apr 15, 2008
Outstanding post. It got me thinking, and I realized that I've played more "links like" golf than I thought. Now, I only this month played a real(-ish) links course for the first time, so how can that be?

At least two, and maybe four, of the rural courses I grew up playing on were so poorly-maintained and designed that they required a lot of the same shots, and even more of the attitude described in the first post. Neither the tees or fairways were watered, despite typically sitting on a hillside, which led to extremely rough, hard conditions in the summer. Taking a divot was not something I considered doing for the first several years, because you'd break your arms if you tried. Most of the greens were dome-shaped, and ridiculously hard to hold with anything, required a ton of patience. With the hillside locations, wind was always a factor, as well ( combined with trees, for added fun ). And altitude changes, as well; I distinctly remember one 180y par 4 that played up a fairway that doubled as a ski-run in the opposite direction during the winter.

Despite the very different geography, the approach was similar. You kept the ball low, and used the ground as an ally. You took what the course gave, good and bad.

Adam Pettman

Well-Known Member
Nov 3, 2005
I'm playing up in Troon on friday on a course very close to where the senior open was played hopefully. Should be challenging.


I've got the pants that'll make you dance!
Supporting Member
Jun 11, 2007
Portland, VIC, Australia
Australia Australia
Excellently put IG. My experience has been very similar to yours, growing up playing a "longish" 6600 yard parkland course to moving onto links about 2 years ago. To say that they are two extremely different styles of play would be the understatement of the year.

I used to be happy with my moderately high ball flight and then to move to hitting 80 yard 6 irons full tilt was devastating. Links golf tests every piece of skill, patience and manhood that you have.

But I love it more than parkland golf these days, and want to play links for the rest of my life.

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