“The British are always played on links. “ Almost every golf fan in the world has had it presented this way, to talk about the Major played every July in the UK. Okay, but what exactly is a links? What is the border between what is links and what is not? Is it enough to be a course by the sea to be a links? And does this categorization only make sense in a sport where, in the end, each course is unique? Let’s try four approaches.
A links, it’s bumpy with cratered bunkers
They are an essential part of the identity of the British Open, and of links courses in general: the famous “pot bunkers”. By that mean small bunkers, sometimes deep enough to make the player disappear behind the horizon, and not wide enough for him to take his stance comfortably. Nothing better, to understand the difficulty, than to see Rory McIlroy need six shots (luckily for him in training) on the very short par 3 of the 8 of the Royal Troon (a hole nicknamed the “Postage Stamp”) to get out of the sand.
Everything must, in principle, be accompanied by bumpy fairways, which will tend to send the balls of players a little too reckless in these famous bunkers. The latter, although iconic, can have several aspects depending on the layout. Thus, on the North Irish route of the Royal Portrush, which hosted The Open in 2019, the lips of bunkers often feature more rounded contours.
A links is on sand by the sea
Here is perhaps the main characteristic to define a links. And for good reason, the word “links” itself is derived from a medieval Anglo-Saxon term, “Hlinc”, designating these landscapes of tall grass by the sea.
These courses are therefore generally located by the sea, on sandy soil and subsoil which promotes rooting while having great drainage capacities. As a result, the grass naturally tends to stay short, and if a drought does get involved, the bale will tend to roll a lot. The 2018 edition of The Open, at Carnoustie, had given the most obvious illustration.
On a links, there is no tree
Direct consequence of the geographical location: between the wind, the salinity and the nature of the soil, it is difficult or even impossible to grow trees. The links are therefore typically surrounded by heather and shrubs, and in some cases (especially in the UK) high roughs where it is possible to lose not only your ball, but also your bag.
Without the protection of tall vegetation, the path is thus wide open for what the Scottish locals like to call “A light breeze”. Understand a good 60 km / h wind at the very least, with a little rain to decorate, as during the 3rd round of the 2002 edition of The Open, at Muirfield, or Tiger Woods in particular took the water, literally and figuratively, by signing an 82.
On a links, you have to roll the ball
Take a putter 20 m from the green and 40 m from the hole, hit a tee shot that does not take off more than 3 m, putter back to the hole to let the slope of the green do the rest… Few routes other than the links allow you to watch the best players on the planet perform these kinds of moves. During the Scottish Open 2018 in Guilane, Phil Mickelson had pushed the principle very far:
But of course, the most famous demonstration remained undoubtedly that of Tiger Woods, in 2006 at Hoylake during the British Open. The Tiger had only hit irons since the start on the last lap, on a Royal Liverpool totally yellowed by drought.