You could count me in that category a decade ago. I just dismissed the claims of those snobby golf friends who came back from overseas trips complaining that golf in America was a bore compared to playing in Scotland and Ireland.
I had no clue how a links course looked like or felt like to play.
I had written and reviewed “links-style” courses in America. Those courses all sported typical links characteristics such as double greens and pot bunkers. Some courses tucked along the coast even had links in their names (Pebble Beach Golf Links and Harbor Town Golf Links are the two most famous examples).
But not until I stepped off the plane in Wales and walked onto the first tee at Royal Porthcawl did I truly get it. That day in 2003 was a wild introduction to links golf. The wind was howling so hard that pitching wedges became 5 irons downwind and balls blew off the greens. I hated links golf that day, but I’ve since learned to love it.
Links golf is the best golf. Period.
And that’s what makes the release of the book True Links so fascinating. Authors George Peper, the former editor of Golf Magazine, and Malcolm Campbell scoured the planet to find and define the world’s definitive list of links courses. They came up with only 246 that fit their standards.
True links, by their definition, must have sandy terrain near the ocean populated by few trees featuring fast-running fairways and greens that accept run-on approaches, accompanied by swirling maritime winds. (The three categories are Terrain, Turf and Weather).
Golf kingdoms like Ballybunion and Lahinch in Ireland, Royal County Down and Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, and the Old course at St. Andrews and Carnoustie in Scotland are profiled, but it’s the information on lesser known links that I treasure most.
Their research attempts to put to rest any debates about links golf in the United States. Only three oceanfront courses at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon (Old MacDonald, Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes) and a course on Cape Cod are “true links.” The authors decided that by their definition, inland courses – think Sandhills in Nebraska – can’t be “true links.”
I found the most interesting chapter devoted to the men who designed the links, touching on the contributions of Old Tom Morris thru Ireland’s Eddie Hackett and Pat Ruddy to America’s own Tom Doak.
Even though I enjoyed the book, I don’t agree with everything inside it. I believe Chambers Bay, the Robert Trent Jones Jr. creation on the shores of the Puget Sound in Washington, should be included as a “links.” And I don’t recall Seapoint in Ireland having enough links holes to make the cut. The three finishing holes in the dunes are superb but much of the rest of the course is parkland with some wetlands mixed in.
Nonetheless, the rich text is filled with so much historical information, complemented by more than 300 photos, to make a great book.
Published by Artisan Books, True Links retails for $40.
Jason Deegan writes about golf for Athlon Sports and Worldgolf.com.