But whenever the British Open comes around this time of year, I'm reminded about my experiences with links golf. Before I ever set foot on a links course, I assumed that I'd love it. As a California-bred golfer who is used to courses defended by trees, I welcomed the idea of a barren track. I thought, "Without trees in my way, I could just bomb away and hit from wherever it landed. How hard could that be?"
My first true experience playing links golf was a week-long golf trip to Bandon Dunes, widely regarded as the best links courses in North America. I quickly learned that a links course is not just a course that I'm used to playing without the trees. The fairways are hard, rarely level and gives new meaning to the term "tight lies". The greens are large and so similar to the fairway that they are sometimes barely indistinguishable from each other. The rough is spotty and ranges from raw barren dirt to knee high fescue grass often within inches apart. The weather can change on a dime from pleasantly sunny and calm to miserably cold and blustery with pouring rain. But the most dramatic feature of links courses are the sand bunkers. They are constructed with lips so diabolically deep and steep that they resemble sections of the Great Wall of China. If your ball lands too close to the lip it is all but impossible to advance it towards the hole. It is paramount to avoid these contraptions from hell but it is a tremendous challenge as they dot the course like craters pockmark a lunar landscape.
Needless to say, my first experience with links golf was quite the culture shock. While I enjoyed my experience, it is certainly not something that I favor over the non-links variety. Call me a non-purist, but I'll take lush fairways, level lies, manageable sand bunkers, welcoming greens and calm and dry weather over links golf any day. After all, isn't golf hard enough?
While links golf is not my cup of tea, I do appreciate it. If variety is the spice of life, then links golf is like cayenne pepper for me. I can consume it once in a while to keep things interesting since it requires a different skill-set than I'm accustomed. If you're playing links golf for the first time, be sure to practice these areas:
- Ball-striking on tight lies. As with lingerie models, thin is always better than fat!
- Hitting low-trajectory shots. Hitting directly into the teeth of a gale force wind is not uncommon on a links course. The lower you keep the ball, the more you minimize the wind's impact.
- Lag putting from long distance. The greens are large and undulating. Getting the ball close enough to 2-putt is critical to scoring.