The first golf bunkers were formed when sheep sought shelter from the cold North Sea winds by hiding in hollows made of sandy linksland. The first golf bunkers were created when roaming livestock was allowed to graze on the tough links grasses.
Playing links golf in Scotland or Ireland, or at any of the venues for the Open Championship is still the ultimate golf experience. Many golfers travel all over the globe to visit the best links golf courses.
You’ll feel like you are playing a completely different game if you have never faced strong sea breezes or navigated a fairway lined with gorse bushes.
Matthew Moore, Global Golfer’s editor, is a one-handicap golfer who lived in St Andrews four years ago and has devoted his life to learning the art of links.
This is a guide for playing links golf.
Learn how to play the game
Links courses fairways can be narrow and lined with gorse, a dense and hardy prickly shrub, pot bunkers, and tall tall rough fescuegrasses.
It can be difficult to keep the ball in play when the wind blows hard. This is especially true if you’re used to driving the ball high through air with lots of spin and shape.
Links courses are best played low and straight under the wind. You need to use less spin to ensure the ball lands on the fairways.
This can be done by hitting the “knuckleball” with your driver. This creates a low-top spinning flight that releases on landing and then runs.
* Tee the ball very low and close to the turf
* Grab the grip and clench it.
* Reach the ball from the middle of your stance.
* Place 60% of your body weight on your left side
* Keep your stride at three quarters length and keep it moving at a steady pace. Resist the temptation to strike the ball hard, and focus on making a good strike.
Remember that, just like all full shots in wind, the harder you hit it, the more spin it creates and the higher it will be exposed to the wind.
Although the knuckleball drive is shorter than other drives, it will still run on the fairways with hard links. It’s fast and accurate, and is great for beating wind and keeping the ball in short grass. This almost always equals a penalty drop.
Play with Punch, not Ego
You might find yourself facing a shot at 125 yards on a small green, with gale force winds blowing in your face. You need to let go of your ego and forget about hitting gap wedge 130 yards if swinging full out. Instead, choose a longer club and punch it to reduce spin and keep the flight down.
Links golf is a game that requires you to be open to the possibility of hitting a 4-iron from 140 yards, or an 8-iron from 85 yards. This is done by playing the punch shot, which is the best friend of links golfers.
To punch the shot, you will use a shorter backswing and de-loft the club for a lower flight. You will also be using your body and forearms together to reduce your follow through.
Top Tips for Punch Shots:
* Grab the shaft
* Move the ball towards your right foot by putting it further back.
* Position your hands slightly more in front of the ball.
* Transfer 65% of your body weight to your left side
* Perform a 3/4-length swing and punch through the shot using a shorter follow through at shoulder height
The wind is less likely to affect flight that is lower than it.
Adjust the ball to fly in lower. Land it just short of the flagstick, and let it run towards the hole.
You will most likely use your lob wedge or sand wedge when you are playing on inland courses or golf resorts.
Links courses can be whipped by strong winds, making chipping difficult. It is rare to find thick, rough around links greens. The most common hazards are bank sides, hollows, bunkers and runoffs. This allows you to leave the wedge behind and putter off the green.
The Open Championship will see top pros putting 25 yards from the green. They are achieving great results. Because putting off the green is one the most effective short game options you have on a links, Because fairways are often very tight, it can be difficult to nip the ball off of the hard turf. It’s also easy to thin, blade and skull the shot.
Your worst putt is always better than your worst chip. So consider the slope and undulations of the terrain and be practical. Then use your putter to move the ball up and back.
Bump and run makes this game fun
The Scottish bump and run is something you will have heard of or seen. This shot is low and flies just short of the green. It then rolls towards the hole as a putt.
The bump and run is an excellent option if you don’t have anything between you and the flag. Once it lands, it behaves like a putt and can track toward the hole. Links greens are often undulating or sloping, so landing a high pitch or chip onto a steep downslope can result in inconsistent bounces and unpredictable results.
How do you bump and run?
* Start with the right foot.
* You can use anything between a 5-iron and a 9-iron
* 70% of the weight is on the left side
* Sternum before the ball
* Club sitting up, heads ahead of the ball
* Use a putting stroke to hit the ball crisply into the back of the ball
* Place it on the green and let it run towards your hole.
Troon, Turnberry, or The Old Course at St Andrews would tell you it takes time to learn the subtleties of links land and the bounce of the ball. Sometimes slopes or natural features can redirect the ball towards the hole, get extra yards out of a drive, or stop a ball from hitting a hazard.
It’s a good idea to buy a yardage map and study the slopes and contours of each hole. However, it is important to be alert and attentive while playing the course. You can observe how your partners’ balls bounce and look at the fairways to see if they slope.
Sometimes, the flag is not the best place to aim on a links. You might have to aim at it for 30 yards to catch a shot that funnels the ball to the hole.
Playing links golf in wind can be dangerous. You should hit the ball hard on the back with a sharp swing, pushing the ball up into the air, and then apply backspin. It will balloon, and the wind will increase the spin, causing it to get into trouble.
It is a good idea to have several utility clubs or hybrid clubs available to choose from. A hybrid that has a flatter, shallower swing can be used to pick up the ball from the top of the lawn and swoop it towards the target.
Hitting hybrids is a better way to hit lower shots with less spin and more accuracy than driving down hard on long irons.