What is a Links Course in Golf? (“links” = “golf”?)

As if golf wasn’t complex enough already…what is a links course in golf? Does the term “links” mean the same thing as “golf course”? If not, what is the difference between links and a golf course?

So, what is a links course in golf? A links course is a type of golf course. Same golf, different golf challenge. There are two types of golf venues: golf courses and golf links. What makes them different is three types of terrain suitable for golf: links, parkland, and desert.

Each type of environment poses a different challenge while still using the same rules. In golf, knowing these differences will make you a smarter, better golfer.

It’s similar to the idea of playing the same game of chess on two different boards. Do you play on the flat, normal chess board or the 3-D chess board?

Here’s what you need to know about playing a links course in golf.

Why is Golf Called Links?

St Andrews Links - the Home of Golf
A view of the 18th hole at The “Home of Golf”, St. Andrews Links in Scotland is one of the oldest golf courses in the world

Most know that golf came from Scotland a long time ago—in the late 1400s. It’s an old sport, isn’t it? The links, or link, is from the Scottish word hlinc. It’s their name for the grassy, uneven land between the sea and the valuable, farmable land.

This land wasn’t used for much of anything until golf was invented. And for golf it was perfect.

The soil of the link is sandy, but not like the sand of a beach. It is compacted yet drains well after a rainfall. The ground stays firm.

As you can see, a links is the original type of golf course. In keeping the rich history of golf tradition, it is proper to call the links a golf links. Use golf course for all other types of golfing venues.

3 Main Challenges of Golf Links

There are three main categories of links challenges.

1. The Fairways

Some golf courses look like carpet was laid out on the fairway. So smooth and even you could take a nap on it. The links are far from that. Their fairways are so uneven you might think you are at an old miniature golf course with warped carpets posing as miniature fairways, but on a grander scale.

Today’s links, thanks to earth movers, can be more even. I’m thinking Pebble Beach Golf Links. It is a links, but the fairways are mostly even.

In the early days of golf there were no big earth movers to even-out the fairways. No Golf Course Architects back then. Those are the people who design golf courses. They plan the digging, moving of dirt, and the planting of trees and grass—lots of grass. In the early days of golf there may have been more to it, but for the most part they used the land as they found it.

Neither were there any power mowers. They relied on sheep to keep the growing grasses in check, if at all. I’ll bet they didn’t worry about replacing divots.

2. Hazards

Another challenge is a type of sand bunker. At the links they are called pot bunkers, and they look like potholes on city streets but bigger and deeper. These are so deep that the strategy of everyone except the pros is to play it safe. Better to just get it out of the pot. Don’t try for distance. Aim high or the ball might not make it out of the bunker at all.

Don’t expect water hazards at links. They might have them, but because the soil drains so quickly, why bother?

3. The Weather

 Strong sea breezes are a factor at true links. If you watch PGA championships on TV, the crowds marvel at the high arc of the ball as the pros tee off. I do too. At a links those high shots are easily blown by the winds. Better to make low shots that are not blown too far off the desired direction of the ball.

 Many times a links has nine holes going in one direction away from the clubhouse and nine holes for the return to the clubhouse. This is so golfers can play the wind in both directions. Perhaps one of the two directions will feel good.

In spite of all these links challenges the one good thing is the soil is so firm that you can get a good bounce from your ball. In many cases it also runs nicely—that’s golf talk for rolls nicely.

Two Strategies When Playing Links

1. Specialized Golf Balls

There are golf balls made to be played on a links instead of courses. Bridgestone, Titleist, and Top Flight, all great golf ball manufacturers, make their versions of these specialized balls.

And in case you are wondering, “What makes a ball play straighter in the wind?” The non-technical, user-friendly answer is the dimple, the core, and the cover. The dimples are not as pronounced. The core is harder. And the cover is firmer. One other factor is the spin of the ball as it is hit, but that’s on you and your swing. So if you are a serious golfer, you will need to try all three, maybe other brands to see what works best for you at the links.

2. How You Practice

Do you practice at the driving range when the weather is good? If you intend to play a links, it’s a good idea to head to the driving range when weather is inclement. Remember, weather is typically windy at the links. It’s a good idea to know how to play when it’s blustery. And really, isn’t it a good idea to practice in all types of weather so you always know how to manage your game?

Most golfers practice their putting and driving. If you are not used to playing a links you should consider practicing your three iron and four wood on a windy day. These clubs keep your shot close to the ground with less drag from the wind.

All Other Golf Venues Are Courses

The links are a product of their environment. It is the same for parkland and desert courses.

Parkland Courses

Unlike links and desert courses, parkland courses are in forested areas, like a big park. They have lots of trees. An abundance of water makes for creative water hazards. They normally get greater rainfall which slows the ball as it bounces and runs.

Desert Courses

These courses take advantage of their climate. Deserts are a popular destination for golfers especially in warm winters. As with links courses there are not many trees and fewer, smaller water hazards.

Other Categories of Golf Courses

Many will tell you there are other categories of courses. What they are proposing are just variations on the basic three. But here they are:

  • Stadium courses – Built for spectators. These host tournaments with large crowds.
  • Championship courses – Long and tough.
  • Heathland courses – Contain heath and course grasses. Keep it in the fairway or you’ll lose a ball.

Short courses, sometimes called Par Three courses. – These are great for beginners and those who want to get a quick game in. These are frequently just nine holes.

Faux Links

Some courses in forests and deserts are created to mimic the challenges of the links. Their owners call them golf links, but they are not true links.

Nobody, however, seems to complain. And if someone dares to call any golf course a links course or golf links, golfers rarely bother to correct them. Maybe they don’t know.

Conclusion: What is a Links Course in Golf?

There are two types of golfing venues: a golf course and a golf links. The terrain is what makes them different. Each type of terrain—Links, Parkland, and Desert—poses a different challenge.

Now you are a better, smarter golfer!