So, what is links golf? Well might you wonder.
In the world of golf, 'links' means different things to different people and what precisely constitutes 'true links golf' or, in our part of Scotland, ‘Highland links golf’, is not easy to define or agree upon.
In the USA, where there are very few ‘true links’ courses, the word 'links' is taken to be synonymous with 'golf' and may be used to market clubs with typical parkland courses.
In the UK the definition of links golf is, according to the British Golf Museum: “a golf links is a stretch of land near the coast characterised by undulating terrain, often associated with dunes, infertile sandy soil and indigenous grasses such as marram, sea lyme and the fescues and bents which, when properly managed, produce the fine textured, tight turf for which links are famed”.
So, the Museum’s definition appears to give primacy to coastal location with ‘undulating terrain’ in its definition of links golf.
However, for many Scottish golfers the word ‘links’ implies a golf course laid out on a strip of land (aka linksland) between sea on one side and agricultural land on the other – such as the broad belt of dunes that extends down much of the north-east coast of Scotland.
In the UK ‘links’ is more usually interpreted as coastal golf courses built upon sand dunes and providing a style of course characterised by undulating fairways and large greens together with a style of play characterised by fast-running fairways and bouncing the ball onto the green.
'Target golf' is not a feature of links golf. Wet and/or windy conditions are a feature, but links golf courses generally drain well and are firm and playable all year round.
The distinction between links and parkland golf is more than academic. The term ‘links golf’ has a certain cachet and links courses can command premium, if not exorbitant green fees.
It is likely that the word links, at least in the context of golf, had its origins in an old English word meaning ridge. Long transverse ridges are characteristic of coastal sand dunes formed in conditions of prevailing onshore winds.
So it would appear likely that early users of the word ‘links’ commonly alluded to their golf courses by reference to the most dominant feature of the land on which they were built.
This observation might appear to justify the primacy of hill-forms in any definition of ‘links golf’. However, erosion of dunes with loss of prominent features such as ridges is a natural part of the evolution of sand dunes.
Indeed, a number of well-known links golf courses have been built on rather featureless linksland and at first glance may be mistaken for parkland. It is therefore reasonable to employ the underlying sand dunes, rather than undulations or ridges, as principal evidence that a golf course is a true links.
The matter of definition of links golf courses is however more complicated than that. Coastal sand dunes do not exist in isolation. Dunes are part of a complex and dynamic ecosystem. In short, the formation of coastal sand dunes requires a maritime source of sand, prevailing onshore winds, tidal waters, waves, a suitable beach from which sand may be propelled onshore, and adjacent land on which the sand may be deposited to create dunes – in effect, a sand pump.
By process of accretion, sand dunes may subsequently creep inland to cover a significant area. Later stages in evolution of sand dunes include colonisation with increasingly complex flora and fauna, stabilisation of dunes by grasses, and erosion by wind and storm.
In summary, the essential features of true links golf and Highland golf links include:
- Golf courses which are laid out on naturally formed sand dunes
- Coastal locations close to sandy beaches which provide the source of sand for dune formation
- Tidal waters, waves and onshore winds which propel sand from sea to beach and then from beach to dry land to create and maintain the dunes
- Succession of indigenous vegetation which stabilises the dunes
- Temperate climate which sustains the fine fescue grasses for which true links golf courses are famous.
So the short answer to ‘what is links golf?' or ‘what is true links golf?’ appears to be that it is played on golf courses laid out on naturally formed coastal sand dunes. Perhaps calling it 'dunes golf’ would simplify matters.
Our course, at Newtonmore Golf Club, is inland and set in the Spey Valley amidst the spectacular mountains of the Cairngorms National Park. A visit to our beautiful course is an essential part of any Highland golf tour that seeks to provide the total and unique Highland golf experience.
To book a tee time at Newtonmore Golf Club or make other enquiries call 01540 673878.
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