A links is the oldest style of golf course, first developed in Scotland. The word "links" comes via the Scots language from the Old English word hlinc: "rising ground, ridge" and refers to an area of coastal sand dunes and sometimes to open parkland. It can be treated as singular even though it has an "s" at the end and occurs in place names that precede the development of golf, for example Lundin Links, Fife. It also retains this more general meaning in standard Scottish English. Links land is typically characterised by dunes, an undulating surface, and a sandy soil unsuitable for arable farming but which readily supports various indigenous browntop bent and red fescue grasses. Together, the soil and grasses result in the firm turf associated with links courses and the 'running' game. The hard surface typical of the links-style course allows balls to "run" out much farther than on softer turf course after a fairway landing. Often players will land the ball well before the green and allow it to run up onto the green rather than landing it on the green in the more targeted-landing style used on softer surfaces.
Geographic location and course management
Links courses tend to be on, or at least very near to, a coast, and the term is typically associated with coastal courses, often amid dunes, with few water hazards and few, if any, trees. This reflects both the nature of the scenery where the sport originated and the limited resources available to golf course architects at that time. Soil movement, for example, had to be done by hand, and thus was kept to a minimum, as was irrigation. Even today, some links courses do not employ a greens staff, use only basic machinery such as hole cutters without boards, resulting in a hole that is cut unevenly, and use grazing animals to keep the grass cropped.
Although the term links is often used loosely to describe any golf course, few golf courses have all of the design elements of true links courses, including being built on linksland. The presence of a seaside location does not guarantee a links golf course. Many famous courses regarded as links do not, as presently constituted, have all of the necessary characteristics (e.g., Pebble Beach Golf Links, Old Head Golf Links at Kinsale, The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island). On the other hand, some courses located hundreds of miles from a seacoast, such as Whistling Straits, near Kohler, Wisconsin on the Great Lakes, can have all of the characteristics of a seaside links except for proximity to saltwater.
Links courses remain most common in Ireland and Great Britain, especially in Scotland. The Open Championship is always played on links courses, and this is one of the main features which differentiates it from the three major championships held in the United States. The first exception to this was the 2004 PGA Championship, which was played on a links-style course, Whistling Straits, located near Sheboygan, Wisconsin. The 2015 U.S. Open was played at Chambers Bay, a British links-style course in University Place, Washington. Royal Adelaide Golf Club is a links course in Adelaide, South Australia and was partly designed by Alister MacKenzie where he stated, "One finds a most delightful combination of sand dunes and fir trees. I have never seen a seaside course possess such magnificent sand craters, as those at Royal Adelaide."
The unique nature of links courses necessitates a distinct style of play. The challenges links traits present fall into two categories: topography, which tends to be characterised by uneven fairways, thick rough, and small, deep "pot bunkers"; and climatic, dominated by windy conditions created by their coastal location and lack of trees, and frequent intermittent rain squalls.
Links topography favors a controlled style of golf, as hazards abound. Low and even bouncing shots allow balls to be skipped onto greens rather than high flights landed with strong backspin. Windy or blustery weather also calls for low accurate shots. Damp conditions demand concentration and caution.
As many traditional links courses consist of an "outward" nine in one direction along the coast, and an opposite "inward" nine returning, players often have to cope with contrasting wind patterns in each half of their round.
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- "The 86th PGA Championship Course". PGA/Turner Sports Interactive. 2004. Retrieved 20 Mar 2015.
- "Royal Adelaide Golf Club". greatgolfaustralia. 2016. Retrieved 28 Mar 2016.
- "What Is Links Golf? - Golf Monthly". Golf Monthly. 2017-10-03. Retrieved 2018-05-20.