You may have heard about or seen advertising for a links golf course. You may be wondering what the difference is between links golf vs regular golf. So, what is the difference between links golf and regular American golf?
Links golf refers to a golf course built on a piece of land next to a coastline that connects the sea to the inward farmland and has very few trees in comparison to American golf courses.
Regular golf, or sometimes referred to as American golf, usually refers to courses that are well manicured with green fairways and lots of trees.
In this article we will discuss in further detail links golf vs regular golf. We will also discuss the challenges that each kind of course offers and how professionals will alter their play based on the conditions of each course.
Links Golf vs Regular Golf
Links Golf Characteristics
As mentioned, true links courses are built on a piece of land next to a coastline that connects or links the sea to inward farmland. They will have a lot of sandy areas and typically have deeper bunkers. The deep bunkers help keep the sand from blowing away in the strong sea winds.
These bunkers are so deep, that often times a golfer will have to hit their shots out sideways or even backwards jut to get their ball out of the green. These types of bunkers are known as “pot” bunkers. These bunkers are usually circular in shape and not very big, but very deep. Here is an example of a pot bunker:
The wind will also be a major challenge on links golf courses. When discussing links golf vs regular golf, the difference in wind is one of the biggest differentiators.
Because links courses are on a coastline, strong sea winds blow in off the water. Links courses rarely have any trees because the land that they are built on isn’t suitable for large plant life. The sandy area doesn’t provide the nutrients and stability for trees to grow.
Instead, these links courses will have natural seaside grasses and bushes that can survive in these harsh conditions. These grasses grow freely courses do not mow them, so they will be very tall and almost impossible to play out of.
Here is an idea of what type of grass links courses have:
Links courses will often be very brown in color and require very little maintenance from a golf course staff. The ground will usually be very hard and play very fast, which causes shots to roll out rather than stopping close to where it lands.
The greens will be very large and the natural undulation of the terrain will be kept to make it as challenging as possible.
These greens will also roll much slower than regular golf courses. The grass on links greens are purposely kept longer to keep the ball from moving due to typical high winds, and does have a small affect on the ability to make birdie in golf.
American Golf Characteristics
Regular American golf courses are basically the opposite of links courses. Regular golf courses will be built on large pieces of property, usually containing houses.
These courses will likely have some water around the courses, but aren’t usually purposely built around a sea or ocean. Regular golf courses will have lush green fairways and greens that are mowed on a frequent basis.
When discussing the greens on links golf vs regular golf, typically the greens will roll faster on American courses than links courses, which makes American courses more challenging. Since these golf courses are kept in lush conditions, the ball will not travel nearly as far as links courses after it hits the ground.
Keeping the course in pristine conditions requires larger grounds staff. The rough on these courses will challenge players because of how thick it is and how tall it is.
Often times there will be plenty of holes that have tree lined fairways or trees in strategic spots that will require a golfer to hit around or over. The bunkers in regular golf will not be nearly as deep but they will be longer. Bunkers in regular golf will typically be easier to play out of than the bunkers in links golf.
Links Golf vs Regular American Golf: Playing Styles
First and foremost when professional golfers are playing links golf they know they have to learn how to judge the wind. Playing in the wind requires players to be able to shape the ball, which is purposely hitting it to the right or the left.
For example, if the wind is blowing from left to right, a professional golfer will hit shots that will go from right to left. This way, the shot shape will counteract the wind and the ball will go straight.
Professional golfers will also hit shots with lower trajectory to keep the ball flight lower, so the wind has less effect on the flight of the ball. By keeping their shots down out of the wind, it allows them to have more control over where their golf ball is going to land.
In links golf, not only will a professional golfer keep the ball flight lower, they will often times prefer to hit the ball shorter distances in the air and plan on getting the ball to travel considerable distance on the ground. For example, if a golfer is 150 yards away from the green, instead of trying to hit the ball the full 150 yards in the air, the golfer may choose to hit the ball 135 yards in the air and have the ball roll out the remaining 15 yards.
Golfers on links courses are able to do that because the ground is so hard that the ball will still travel large distances after hitting the ground. This strategy will be used quite often when hitting the ball off the tee on par 4 and par 5’s. In fact, golfers will hit more irons and fairway metals off the tee to make sure they are more accurate knowing they will get plenty of roll out.
While using this strategy to be more accurate, golfers are left to chance on how the ball will bounce. Since links golf courses have a lot of undulation, which are bumps and slopes, golf shots can bounce in all directions depending on where they land.
Sometimes golfers will get great bounces and shots will end up much better than expected. Though on the flip side, really good shots can get awful bounces and end up much worse than expected. So when playing on a links course, you have to be mentally tough and persevere through the bad breaks and know they will eventually even out.
Wind will still be a factor for playing on a regular or American-style golf course, but usually won’t be nearly as difficult to judge as links golf courses. When playing in the wind on a regular golf course players will try to play lower trajectory shots like they do in links golf, but instead of trying to play some of the distance on the ground they will still try to carry the ball in the air the full yardage of the shot.
Planning on rolling the ball on the ground for approach shots isn’t very common on regular golf courses because courses are typically designed in ways that keep golfers from doing this. For example, American courses will often have elevated greens, or greens that are surrounded and protected by bunkers, rough or water.
Also, with the course regularly watered, the ground is softer, so landing the ball short of the green won’t result in the run up like it does in links golf.
Golfers playing American style golf courses will also try to carry their ball as far as possible off the tee. Since golfers don’t get the roll out with their tee shots like they do on links golf courses, they will try to carry it as far as they can so they get as close to the green as they can.
In general, the closer golfers are to the green the better chance they have to getting the ball in the hole with the least amount of strokes. With that said, some holes will require more accuracy than distance which usually means professional golfers will hit irons or fairway metals off the tee.
Golfers will usually have to shape the ball on American courses due to the design of the course. While links courses tend to have very straight holes, regular golf courses will have many holes with dog legs. Dog legs are holes that bend from right to left or left to right.
These types of holes will require golfers to hit the ball around obstacles such as trees or water hazards. So shaping the ball is also very important to playing regular golf courses.
What are ‘Links Style’ Golf Courses?
You may have seen or heard about links style golf courses and wondered if they were the same as links courses that you see the professionals play on during The British Open (also known simply as The Open).
Likely the links style course you play on or see outside the United Kingdom isn’t a true links course. It doesn’t mean that these course don’t resemble or play like true links courses, but likely they are missing a couple of the features that are true links courses.
The most common differences is link style courses are not built on a strip of land that connects farmland to a coastline. Some other links style courses will have lot of trees or be a course that is well manicured and not the natural grasses of the area.
These links style courses are basically a combination of regular American golf and links golf. These kinds go courses offer a combination of challenges and require golfers to be able to play both styles of golf to score well.
Links Golf vs Regular American Golf: Maintaining Courses
There are a lot of things that go into maintaining a golf course. Course maintenance is another big difference in links golf vs regular American golf. Regular or American style golf courses require a lot of water and large amounts of staff to keep the golf course well-manicured.
The rough is usually mowed every couple of days and high-end courses will be mowed every day. The greens will be mowed every day and will likely be watered multiple times a day. The greens will be cut very short to keep the green speeds high.
The greens on American courses will need more attention than links courses because they are softer so the greens get torn up easier. The bunkers will need to be raked daily as well.
Maintaining a regular style golf course tends to be very intensive and it will be very expensive. There are many communities in the United States that have water restrictions so some courses don’t have access to enough water to properly maintain their golf courses.
Maintaining a links style golf course is much easier. Links courses don’t usually have to mow the rough. If they do, the amount of rough they have to mow is much less because a lot of this area is allowed to grow naturally during the entire year.
Since they allow the greens to be longer, they don’t have to mow the greens everyday either. They also do not need as much water. They get plenty of rain but also since the courses are not expected to be green and lush, regular water is not as important.
Maintaining a links course is much cheaper and requires a lot less labor as well. For this reason alone, we are seeing more golf courses incorporate links characteristics to keep costs down and keep the water usage down.