Date: Mon 10 Apr 2017

Spotlight on Links Golf

We all know what we mean by ‘Links Golf’, don’t we?

Carne Golf Links

However, when I started to research what information we have in the Library collection on the subject, I realised that it is not quite so straight forward.

The New Encyclopedia of Golf, by Malcolm Cambell, 2001, defines ‘Links’ as

  • A stretch of seaside land used for playing golf. Linksland is usually low-lying, with sand dunes supporting fine, salt-resistant grasses. The word probably derives from the fact that linksland links the foreshore and agricultural land further from the shore.

Wikipedia says:

  • A links is the oldest style of golf course, first developed in Britain. The word "links" comes via the Scots language from the Old English word hlinc : "rising ground, ridge" and refers to an area of coastal sand dunes and sometimes to open parkland.

And the Scottish Golf History website has the following:

  • A 'links golf course' refers to the type of soil and terrain on which it is built.
    Only 92 of the golf courses in Scotland (17%) are true links courses, though this includes most of the historic courses. Another 5% of Scottish courses are coastal with some properties of 'links' courses and moorland vegetation. Apart from links courses, the other main types of Scottish golf courses are parkland (61%) and moorland (17%).
    A Links is any rough grassy area between the sea and the land and the word itself is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word 'hlinc', of about 931 AD, meaning a ridge. Later the word was used to denote any common grassy area and today the term 'The Links' is used to refer to any golf course.

When I searched for ‘Links’ in the Library Catalogue, it returned 75 books – great! However, when you look closely, nearly 50 of these are golf course histories, or clubs set in ‘linksland’.

And when I started looking at the rest I realised that ‘links’ used to be synonymous with ‘golf course’. So, the following books all deal with general golf course care in the early 19th century.

  • The Links, by Robert Hunter, 1926.
  • The Book of the links, a symposium on golf, by Martin H F Sutton, 1912.
  • Laying out and keeping golf-links, by Willie Park Jr, 1896.
  • British Golf Links, by Horace Hutchinson, 1987 (although many of the courses he describes are links courses as we understand them today).

So what are we left with?

sand and golf

Sand and Golf: How Terrain Shapes The Game, by George Waters, explores what makes golf, and golf course architecture, so special on sandy terrain. Golf was born on sandy ground and the features of the game are a direct product of that terrain. Fairways and greens were derived from the naturally occurring areas of short grass found among the coastal dunes of Scotland.

Daniel Wexler’s Lost Links: Forgotten Treasures of Golf’s Golden Age (2003) which profiles many courses by the likes of Donald Ross, A W Tillinghast and Dr Alister MacKenzie which have now vanished.

Paul Daley’s Link’s Golf (2000) explores the history, characteristics and likely future of links golf and discusses many courses in Great Britain and Ireland.

Donald Steel’s Classic Golf Links of Great Britain and Ireland (1992) takes in 75 courses throughout the British Isles, while David Worley’s Journey through the Links (2007) contains detailed appraisals of 155 links courses and contains many photographs.

Links of Heaven, a Complete Guide to Golf Journeys in Ireland, by Richard Phinney and Scott Whitley (2007) covers every full length links in Ireland, and 150 further golf courses which are worth while visiting on a tour. This book is a narrative description of the courses and contains no photographs.

True Links

George Pepper concentrates on Scotland in his On Scottish Links (2012) including what he calls ‘The Pilgrim’s Trail’ of 12 must-play courses, and a hole-by-hole description of The Old Course at St Andrews.

He has also written, together with Malcolm Campbell, True Links: an Illustrated Guide to the Glories of the World’s 246 Links Courses (2010), which is perhaps the most comprehensive book on the subject. He describes the nature of links courses and the creators of them, including Tom Morris, Willie Park Jr, and Harry Colt. He looks at the rise of heathland courses – built on a sand-based landscape. The courses he includes are from all over the world – Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, North America and continental Europe, as well as the British Isles.

Finally, as all courses need to be managed in some way, A Practical Guide to Ecological Management of the Golf Course, by Bob Taylor (1995) includes a chapter on links courses and how to deal with the problems of management. 

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