What is Links Golf? History, Rules, and Where to Play

by | Last updated May 23, 2024

What is Links Golf

Ever heard of Pebble Beach Golf Links?

It’s one of the most famous golf courses in the world, and it’s a classic example of a links course. But what exactly is links golf?

Links courses are different from the usual golf courses. They’re built on sandy coastal areas, often with rolling hills and few trees. The wind is a big factor, and the bunkers are deep.

It’s a challenging but beautiful style of golf. We’ll cover its history, the special rules, and where you can find the best links courses to play.

  • Links golf is a unique style of golf played on coastal courses with sandy soil, rolling hills, and few trees.
  • In short, links golf is all about embracing nature’s challenges on the course.
  • It originated in Scotland centuries ago and spread to other countries with similar landscapes.
  • Links courses are known for their firm, fast fairways, deep bunkers, and undulating greens.
  • The wind plays a major role in links golf, requiring players to adjust their shots and strategies.
  • While the rules of links golf are generally the same as regular golf, the unique terrain and weather conditions can make for a very different playing experience.
  • Scotland and Ireland are home to some of the world’s most famous links courses, but you can also find great options in England, the United States, and other countries.
golf ground
  • Scotland: The Birthplace: Links golf wasn’t invented on a drawing board. It was born on the wild, windy coasts of Scotland. The word “links” refers to the sandy areas along the coast where the game first took root.
  • Nature’s Golf Course: Imagine a golf course designed by Mother Nature herself. Early links golf was played on this natural terrain, with rolling hills, sandy soil, and few trees.
  • Wind: A Key Player: The ever-present wind became a major factor in links golf. Golfers had to learn to play with it, not against it. This made the game more challenging and strategic.
  • From Land to Links Course: Over time, people started to build actual golf courses on these links. But they were careful not to change the land too much. They wanted to keep that wild, natural feel.
  • True Links: A Rare Breed: True links courses are pretty rare, and they’re different from the typical parkland courses most people are used to. Parkland courses are usually found inland, are more manicured, and have lots of trees. Links courses are all about embracing the natural landscape, and that’s what makes them so special.

So, what makes links golf so different from other types?

Let’s break it down…

golf ground
  • Land, Sea, and Wind: Links courses are always found near the coast. This means you’ve got the ocean right there, and the wind is almost always blowing. The wind can really mess with your shots, so you have to be smart and adjust your game.
  • Bumps and Rolls: Links courses are anything but flat. The fairways are full of natural bumps and slopes, which can make the ball roll in unexpected directions. You have to be careful where you aim, and you might have to get creative with your shots.
  • Sandy Soil: The ground on a links course is mostly sandy, and that’s important for a couple of reasons. First, it means the ball can bounce and roll a long way, which is good if you hit a good shot. But it also means the ground is firm, so the ball won’t stick when it lands.
  • Deep Bunkers: Links courses are famous for their deep bunkers, sometimes called “pot bunkers.” These are tough to get out of, so you really want to avoid them.
  • Fast Greens: The greens on a links course are usually very firm and fast. That means the ball will roll a lot further than you might expect, so putting can be tricky.

All of these things combine to make links golf a unique and challenging experience. It’s a different style of golf than what you see on the PGA tour events, which are usually played on inland courses.

Some people compare links golf to heathland courses, which are also found in coastal areas. But true links courses are even more rugged and windswept.

If you want to see what a true links course looks like, check out Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Oregon. It’s one of the few places outside of the UK where you can experience real links golf.

golf ground
  • Rules are the Same… Mostly: Don’t worry—you don’t need to learn a whole new rulebook for links golf. The basic rules are the same as those for regular golf. The goal is still to get the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes possible.
  • Wind is Your Caddy (And Your Opponent): Wind is the biggest difference-maker in links golf. It can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Depending on the wind’s direction and strength, you’ll need to adjust your links golf club selection, your aim, and your strategy.
  • Bump and Run: A Links Staple: The firm, sandy soil of links courses allows for a shot called the “bump and run.” Instead of trying to fly the ball all the way to the green, you hit a lower shot that rolls along the ground. This can be a really effective way to approach the green, especially in windy conditions.
  • Bunkers: Deep and Dangerous: Links courses are known for their deep bunkers, often with steep edges. These can be very difficult to escape from, so it’s best to avoid them if you can!
  • Putting on a Roller Coaster: The greens on links courses are typically firm, fast, and undulating (meaning they have lots of bumps and slopes). This makes putting a real challenge, and even the pros can have trouble reading the greens correctly.
  • Nature’s Obstacles: Some famous link courses, like the Old Course at St. Andrews, don’t have many bunkers. Instead, they use natural features of the land, like hills, hollows, and even old stone walls, as hazards.
  • A True Test of Skill: All in all, links golf requires a different set of skills than playing on a manicured parkland course. You need to be able to adapt to the ever-changing conditions, use the wind to your advantage, and get creative with your shots. That’s what makes it such a fun and rewarding challenge!

Alright, so you’re ready to take on a Links golf course? Great! Now you need to know where to find one.

Here’s the lowdown:

a man and a lady in golf ground
  • Scotland: The Holy Grail: If you’re a true links golf fan, you have to make a pilgrimage to Scotland. It’s where the game began, and it’s home to some of the most famous true-links golf courses in the world. Think St. Andrews, the Old Course (where golf has been played for over 600 years!), Carnoustie, and Muirfield. These are the courses that legends are made on, and they’ll test your skills like no other.
  • Ireland: A Links Lover’s Paradise: Right next door to Scotland, Ireland has an incredible collection of links courses. Royal County Down, Ballybunion, and Lahinch are just a few of the gems you’ll find here. The scenery is stunning, and the golf is just as good.
  • England: More Than Just Tea and Crumpets: England might not be the first place you think of for links golf, but it has some real treasures. Royal Birkdale, Royal Lytham & St. Annes, and Turnberry are all world-class links-style golf course that have hosted major golf tournaments.
  • Beyond the UK: While the UK and Ireland are the heartland of links-style golf, you can find great links courses in other parts of the world, too. Australia, New Zealand, and even the United States have some fantastic options. Bandon Dunes in Oregon is a must-visit for any serious links golfer.

Now, planning a links golf trip can take some work.

These courses are often in remote locations, and the weather can be unpredictable. But with a little planning, you can have an amazing experience.

  • Tip #1: Do Your Research: Not all link-style courses are created equal. Some are tougher than others, and some are more beginner-friendly. Do your research and pick a course that’s right for your skill level.
  • Tip #2: Book Early: Links courses, especially the famous ones, can get booked up months in advance. If you have your heart set on a particular course, make sure to book your tee time early.
  • Tip #3: Pack for Anything: The weather on a links course can change in a heartbeat. One minute, you’re basking in the sun; the next, you’re battling a gale-force wind. Pack layers so you can adjust to the changing conditions.
  • Tip #4: Embrace the Challenge: Links golf is a different beast than playing on a manicured parkland course. Don’t get discouraged if you don’t shoot your best score. Just enjoy the challenge and the scenery.

With these tips, you’re ready to embark on your own links golf adventure! Who knows, you might just discover a new favorite way to play the game.


A beautiful golf ground

So there you have it! Links golf is a whole different ball game, literally.

It’s a game born on the rugged coastlines of Scotland, shaped by the wind and sand, and played on courses that look more like nature preserves than manicured parks.

If you’re looking for a challenge, a change of scenery, or just a chance to experience golf in its most natural form, links golf might be the answer.

It’s not the easiest style of golf, but it’s definitely one of the most rewarding.

And who knows, maybe you’ll even catch a glimpse of Old Tom Morris’s ghost wandering the fairways of St. Andrews. I’m just kidding…or am I?

Either way, grab your clubs, embrace the wind, and get ready for a links golf adventure you won’t forget!

Frequently Asked Questions

A links golf course is a type of golf course built on sandy soil near the coast. It’s known for its rolling hills, few trees, and the ever-present wind. The classes are designed to blend in with the natural landscape, making each round a unique experience.

While the basic rules are the same, links golf presents unique challenges. Wind plays a huge role in shot selection, and the firm, sandy ground requires techniques different from parkland courses. The “bump and run” shot, for example, is a popular way to play approach shots on links courses.

The birthplace of links golf is Scotland, and it still boasts some of the world’s most famous links courses, including St. Andrews. Ireland is another top destination for links golf, with courses like Royal County Down and Ballybunion. England, the United States, and even Australia have their share of great links-style course, too.

Generally, links golf follows the standard rules of golf. However, individual clubs might have specific local rules due to the unique terrain and weather conditions. For example, a course might have a rule about how to play from a sandy area called a “pot bunker.”

Be prepared for windy conditions, which can dramatically affect your shots. Practice your bump and run shots, as they are often the best way to approach the green on-links courses. Most importantly, be patient and enjoy the challenge! Links golf is a different kind of game, and it takes time to master.

Fahim Joharder

Fahim Joharder


An avid golfer and author, merges his passion for the sport with insightful writing, offering readers a unique perspective on golf.

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