What Is A Links Golf Course: Everything You Need To Know

Welcome, golf enthusiasts! In this article, we're going to explore the fascinating world of links golf courses.

From their origins in Scotland to their unique design features and challenges, we'll cover everything you need to know about these coastal gems.

By the time you finish reading, you'll be well-versed in the world of links golf and ready to tackle these captivating courses with confidence.

So, grab your clubs and let's dive into this captivating journey together!

Natural Elements and Landscape

Let's begin by exploring the unique natural elements and landscape that set links golf courses apart from other types of courses.

We'll discuss the coastal sand dunes and sandy soil, rolling terrain and undulating fairways, the influence of the sea and wind on play, and the native grasses and vegetation that make these courses not only visually stunning but also challenging to play.

By understanding these elements, you'll gain a deeper appreciation for links golf and be better prepared to conquer the challenges it presents.

Coastal sand dunes and sandy soil

Links golf courses are typically situated along coastal areas, featuring sand dunes and sandy soil.

This setting provides a firm and fast playing surface, where the ball often rolls further than on other types of courses.

The sandy soil drains quickly, allowing the courses to remain playable even after heavy rain.

However, the sand dunes can also create blind spots, requiring golfers to rely on their course management skills and local knowledge to navigate these tricky situations.

Rolling terrain and undulating fairways

The rolling terrain and undulating fairways found on links courses present unique challenges for golfers.

Uneven lies are common, demanding creativity and adaptability with each shot.

These natural contours are a defining characteristic of links courses, requiring golfers to think strategically about their shots and the path they want the ball to take.

Mastering the art of playing on rolling terrain will not only improve your links golf game but also translate to better play on other types of courses.

Influence of the sea and wind on play

One of the most significant factors influencing play on a links course is the sea and the ever-changing wind.

These elements can dramatically affect the difficulty of a hole, turning a seemingly simple shot into a daunting challenge.

The wind can alter the trajectory and distance of your shots, making club selection and shot execution crucial.

Learning to read the wind and adjust your play accordingly is an essential skill for conquering links courses.

Native grasses and vegetation

Links courses typically feature native grasses and vegetation, which not only contribute to their natural beauty but also create unique challenges.

Tall fescue, marram grass, and gorse bushes often line the fairways and surround the greens, penalizing wayward shots with difficult lies and potential lost balls.

Managing your shots to avoid these obstacles is key to scoring well on a links course.

Furthermore, these native plants also serve an essential ecological role, providing habitats for local wildlife and contributing to the sustainability of the courses.

Course Design and Architecture

Now that we've explored the natural elements of links courses, let's delve into the unique course design and architecture that make these courses both challenging and engaging.

We'll discuss bunkering and strategic placement, double greens and shared fairways, blind shots and unpredictable bounces, as well as the minimalist approach to design.

By understanding these design aspects, you'll gain a deeper appreciation for the ingenuity behind links courses and learn how to navigate their distinct challenges more effectively.

Bunkering and strategic placement

Bunkering is a critical aspect of links course design, with bunkers strategically placed to test a golfer's skill and decision-making.

Pot bunkers, small but deep sand traps, are common on links courses and can be particularly difficult to escape.

Knowing the location of these hazards and selecting the right club to avoid or recover from them is essential for success on links courses.

Studying the course layout before your round can provide valuable insights into how to approach each hole strategically.

Double greens and shared fairways

Some links courses feature double greens and shared fairways, which can add an extra layer of strategy to your game.

Double greens are large putting surfaces shared by two holes, often separated by a subtle ridge or undulation.

Shared fairways, on the other hand, involve multiple holes utilizing the same fairway.

These design elements require golfers to be mindful of other players and adjust their strategy depending on pin positions and the position of fellow golfers on the course.

Blind shots and unpredictable bounces

Links courses often incorporate blind shots and unpredictable bounces into their design, making course knowledge and intuition vital.

Blind shots, where the golfer cannot see the target or landing area, force players to trust their swing and distance control.

Unpredictable bounces are a result of the firm, uneven terrain, making it crucial to plan for various potential outcomes when hitting your shots.

Developing a feel for these quirks will help you better anticipate and manage the challenges of links golf.

The minimalist approach in design

Many links courses embrace a minimalist approach to design, utilizing the natural landscape to dictate the flow and challenges of the course.

Rather than heavily shaping the land, course architects work with the existing terrain, resulting in holes that blend seamlessly with their surroundings.

This design philosophy not only contributes to the beauty and authenticity of links courses but also demands creativity and adaptability from golfers as they navigate the unique challenges of each hole.

The Challenges of Playing on a Links Course

As we venture deeper into the world of links golf, it's crucial to understand the challenges that come with playing on these unique courses.

In this section, we'll discuss the importance of adapting to changing weather conditions, honing your ground game and course management, mastering unique shots and club selection, and developing mental toughness and patience.

By addressing these challenges head-on, you'll be well-prepared to tackle any links course with skill and confidence.

Adapting to changing weather conditions

Weather conditions on links courses can change rapidly, adding an extra layer of complexity to your round.

Sudden gusts of wind, rain, and temperature fluctuations can dramatically impact your shots and strategy.

To succeed in these conditions, you must be prepared to adapt your play, whether it's altering your swing, changing your grip, or switching clubs.

Make sure to bring appropriate clothing to keep you comfortable and focused, and don't be afraid to take a moment to assess the conditions before each shot.

Importance of ground game and course management

On links courses, the ground game and course management play a significant role in determining your success.

With firm, fast surfaces and uneven terrain, it's important to plan your shots so they utilize the contours of the course to your advantage.

This may involve playing bump-and-run shots, utilizing the slopes around the greens, or even intentionally playing away from the flag to set up an easier approach.

Developing a strong ground game and strategic mindset will help you navigate links courses more effectively.

Unique shots and club selection

Links courses often require golfers to execute shots they might not typically encounter on other types of courses.

This may include low, penetrating shots to combat the wind or high, soft shots to hold the firm greens. Having a diverse range of shots in your arsenal is crucial for succeeding on links courses.

Additionally, selecting the right club for each situation is vital, as the wind and terrain can significantly impact the distance and trajectory of your shots.

Practice various shots and experiment with different clubs to expand your skillset for links golf.

Mental toughness and patience

Lastly, mental toughness and patience are essential for navigating the challenges of links courses.

With unpredictable conditions and quirky design elements, it's important to maintain a positive attitude and stay focused on the task at hand.

Embrace the challenge, learn from each shot, and remain patient, even when things don't go as planned.

Developing a strong mental game will not only benefit you on links courses but also translate to improved performance on all types of courses.

Famous Links Golf Courses

In this section, we'll explore some of the most famous and revered links golf courses in the world, each boasting its own unique history, design, and challenges.

We'll take a closer look at The Old Course at St. Andrews, Royal Dornoch Golf Club, Muirfield, Ballybunion Golf Club, and the links-style Pebble Beach Golf Links.

These iconic courses represent the epitome of links golf and offer unforgettable experiences for those fortunate enough to play them.

The Old Course at St. Andrews

The Old Course at St. Andrews, located in Fife, Scotland, is often considered the “Home of Golf.”

Dating back to the early 15th century, this historic course is one of the oldest in the world and has hosted numerous prestigious events, including The Open Championship.

The Old Course is renowned for its double greens, shared fairways, and notorious “Hell Bunker” on the 14th hole.

Playing this iconic course is a bucket-list item for many golfers, as it offers a unique blend of history, tradition, and challenging links golf.

Royal Dornoch Golf Club

Situated in the Scottish Highlands, Royal Dornoch Golf Club is known for its breathtaking scenery and exceptional golf.

The Championship Course, designed by the legendary Old Tom Morris, features a classic links layout with undulating fairways, strategically placed bunkers, and fast, sloping greens.

Royal Dornoch is often ranked among the world's top golf courses, and its remote location only adds to its allure, offering a serene and unspoiled setting for golfers seeking a truly exceptional links experience.


Located in East Lothian, Scotland, Muirfield is home to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, the world's oldest recorded golf club.

Established in 1744, the club moved to its current location in 1891, and the course has since hosted numerous major championships, including The Open Championship.

Designed by Old Tom Morris and later updated by Harry Colt, Muirfield is known for its unique layout, featuring two concentric loops of nine holes, which ensures that the wind direction changes on nearly every hole.

This challenging and strategic design has made Muirfield a favorite among golfers and a must-play for fans of links golf.

Ballybunion Golf Club

Situated along the southwest coast of Ireland, Ballybunion Golf Club is renowned for its dramatic seaside cliffs, towering sand dunes, and stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean.

The Old Course, which dates back to 1893, is considered one of the finest links courses in the world, featuring a mix of narrow fairways, punishing rough, and devilishly placed bunkers.

Golfers who brave the challenges of Ballybunion are rewarded with an unforgettable golf experience amidst some of the most spectacular scenery in the sport.

Pebble Beach Golf Links (links-style)

While not a true links course, Pebble Beach Golf Links in California offers a links-style experience with its coastal setting and windswept layout.

Designed by Jack Neville and Douglas Grant in 1919, this iconic course boasts stunning views of the Pacific Ocean, dramatic cliffs, and a challenging layout that has hosted numerous major championships, including the U.S. Open.

With its picturesque setting and links-inspired design, Pebble Beach offers golfers a taste of links golf on the shores of the United States.

Links Golf Courses vs. Parkland Courses

In this section, we'll delve into the key differences between links golf courses and parkland courses, shedding light on the distinct characteristics and challenges each type presents.

We'll compare landscapes and terrain, contrast playing styles and strategies, and explore the evolution of golf course design.

By understanding these distinctions, you'll gain a deeper appreciation for the diverse world of golf and be better equipped to adapt your game to various course styles.

Comparing landscapes and terrain

Links courses, as we've discussed, are traditionally situated along coastal areas and are characterized by sand dunes, sandy soil, and native grasses.

They often have a raw, natural feel, with undulating fairways and exposed, windswept terrain.

Conversely, parkland courses are typically found inland and feature lush, tree-lined fairways, well-manicured greens, and softer, more receptive playing surfaces.

Parkland courses tend to have a more controlled, manicured appearance, often incorporating water hazards and carefully sculpted bunkers.

Contrasting playing styles and strategies

The distinct landscapes and terrain of links and parkland courses often require different playing styles and strategies.

On links courses, golfers must contend with firm, fast surfaces, strong winds, and uneven lies, placing a premium on ground play, shot-making creativity, and course management.

Links golf often rewards a lower, more penetrating ball flight and the ability to use the contours of the course to your advantage.

On the other hand, parkland courses generally call for a more aerial approach, with softer greens allowing for higher shots that hold their landing spots.

Golfers playing parkland courses typically rely on more lofted clubs for approach shots and may encounter less wind than on links courses.

While course management is still essential, the emphasis shifts towards precision and accurate shot-making, as parkland courses often demand well-placed shots to navigate tree-lined fairways and strategically placed hazards.

The evolution of golf course design

The design of golf courses has evolved significantly over time, with both links and parkland courses playing a role in shaping the sport.

Links courses, with their origins in Scotland, represent the earliest form of golf course design, emphasizing the minimalist approach and working with the natural landscape.

As golf spread to other parts of the world, particularly the United States, course architects began to experiment with different styles and designs, giving rise to the parkland course concept.

Parkland courses offered a contrast to the rugged, natural feel of links courses, showcasing the designer's ability to shape and control the land.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in minimalist, links-inspired design, with many new courses incorporating elements of both links and parkland styles.

This fusion of design philosophies has led to the creation of a wide variety of golf courses that offer unique and diverse challenges, ensuring that golfers of all abilities and preferences can find a course that suits their tastes.

Tips for Playing Links Golf Courses

Now that we've explored the unique challenges and characteristics of links golf courses, it's time to share some tips for tackling these iconic layouts.

In this section, we'll discuss adjusting your swing and stance, making smart club selections and shot-making decisions, embracing the elements and unpredictable nature of links golf, and the importance of having a knowledgeable caddie by your side.

With these tips in mind, you'll be better prepared to face the challenges of links courses and truly enjoy the experience.

Adjusting your swing and stance

Playing links courses often requires some adjustments to your swing and stance to account for the firm turf, uneven lies, and windy conditions.

To maintain control and keep the ball low, consider gripping down on the club, standing closer to the ball, and shortening your backswing.

These adjustments can help promote a more penetrating ball flight that is less affected by the wind.

Additionally, be prepared to alter your stance as needed to accommodate for uneven lies in the fairway or rough, which are common on links courses.

Club selection and shot-making

Club selection and shot-making are crucial components of a successful round on a links course.

Given the wind and firm conditions, you may need to use more lofted clubs for certain shots, while other situations may call for a lower, more penetrating trajectory.

It's essential to have a versatile shot repertoire, including bump-and-run shots, punch shots, and high-lofted shots for holding firm greens.

Practice these shots and experiment with different clubs to find what works best for you in various situations on a links course.

Embracing the elements and unpredictable nature

One of the most important aspects of playing links golf is embracing the elements and accepting the unpredictable nature of the game.

Links courses, with their firm surfaces and windswept conditions, can produce unexpected bounces and challenging lies.

Instead of fighting against these elements, learn to adapt and use them to your advantage.

Remember that everyone on the course is facing the same challenges, so maintaining a positive attitude and focusing on the things you can control will help you stay calm and enjoy the round.

The importance of a good caddie

A knowledgeable caddie can be an invaluable asset when playing links courses, particularly if you are not familiar with the layout or the intricacies of links golf.

A skilled caddie can provide essential insights on club selection, wind direction, and course strategy, helping you navigate the course more effectively.

If you have the opportunity to hire a caddie at a links course, consider doing so to enhance your experience and increase your chances of success.

The Appeal and Future of Links Golf Courses

In this final section, we'll discuss the enduring appeal of links golf courses and explore what the future may hold for this time-honored style of golf.

We'll examine the allure of links golf as a pure form of the game, its role in environmental sustainability and eco-friendly practices, and the expansion and development of new links courses around the world.

By understanding the unique appeal and potential future trends of links golf, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the sport and its continuing evolution.

Links golf as a pure form of the game

One of the primary appeals of links golf is its reputation as a pure form of the game, closely tied to golf's origins and steeped in tradition.

Many golfers are drawn to links courses for their minimalist design, natural landscapes, and the unique challenges they present.

The rugged beauty and simplicity of links courses harken back to the game's roots, offering a more authentic and unspoiled golf experience that resonates with both casual and dedicated golfers alike.

Environmental sustainability and eco-friendly practices

Another important aspect of the appeal of links golf courses is their connection to environmental sustainability and eco-friendly practices.

Due to their location on coastal dunes and sandy soil, links courses often require less water and maintenance than traditional parkland courses.

Additionally, the native grasses and vegetation that thrive on links courses provide valuable habitats for local wildlife and help protect the fragile coastal ecosystems.

As environmental concerns continue to rise in importance, the sustainable nature of links golf courses may become even more appealing to both golfers and course developers.

Expansion and development of new links courses

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in links-style courses, with new layouts being developed in various parts of the world.

Some modern course architects are embracing the minimalist design principles of links golf, often incorporating elements of both links and parkland styles in their creations.

This fusion of design philosophies has led to the development of a new generation of courses that offer unique and diverse challenges, while still paying homage to the classic elements of links golf.

As the popularity of links golf continues to grow, we may see further expansion and development of new courses in a variety of locations.

These new courses will not only provide additional opportunities for golfers to experience the unique challenges of links golf but may also help drive innovation and evolution within the sport as a whole.


In conclusion, links golf courses offer a unique and authentic golfing experience, showcasing the purest form of the game and highlighting the sport's rich history.

As we've explored the various aspects of links courses, from their natural landscapes to the challenges they present, it's clear that these iconic courses hold a special place in the hearts of golfers worldwide.

Embracing eco-friendly practices and inspiring the development of new courses, links golf courses continue to evolve and leave an indelible mark on the sport.

By understanding and appreciating the allure of links golf, golfers can not only improve their skills but also deepen their connection to the game's storied past and exciting future.