My thoughts on links golf….

Reader KC asked an interesting question this morning:


Here you are again expressing your love for Scottish golf. What really are the factors that make Scottish golf that much better for you? Is it because it is links-style or does being in Scotland make a difference?

There are some rather nice links-esque courses this side of Atlantic – Sand Hills, Whistling Straits, Bandon Dune, Pacific Dune, Shinecock. Heck, even GTA’s own Eagle’s Nest. Other than being steeped in tradition and history, what makes the Scottish golf (courses?) better than the aforementioned courses?

[photopress:montrose1.jpg,full,alignright] I’ve thought a lot about this and for me there is a strong draw to links golf, and Scotland in particular.

Let me say this for starters: One of the great attractions for me is the pace of play. I love the fact the game can be played in under three hours while walking. On my most recent visit, our longest round was 4 hours (Royal Troon in the rain), while our shortest was 2 hours and 35 minutes (Montrose). I am a person who likes to play quickly and the pace of play and the way it is accepted and respected really, really appeals to me. So much so that I’m often tempted to walk off courses where a round is in danger of going past 4.5 hours.

Of course, there is also the courses. The lure of the seaside links has great appeal. I love the unmanicured look, the sense of history and the options the courses offer. I like the fact that quirky elements are embraced, as opposed to bulldozed, as is often the case in North America. Somewhere along the way, the separation between Scotland and North American golf has become quite considerable. In North America, we pay fortunes to build and maintain so-called “natural looking” golf courses that are actually unnaturally green and over done. That’s simply not the case in Scotland, where brown is beautiful and courses often look like they are rarely touched. Now the greens aren’t going to be as fast as in North America, but that’s a little issue in the greater scheme of things.

And it isn’t just the name courses that I love. I’m hugely fond of Kingsbarns and Royal Dornoch, but I also have had great experiences at Western Gailes, Murcar, Crail and Brora — places North American visitors rarely go when checking off the list of Open Championship courses they feel they must play.

To me, those who don’t understand links golf, don’t really have an appreciation for the game. I’ve been to the U.K. and Ireland four years in a row — and the lure is strong to bring me back time and again.

That doesn’t mean that links-like courses in North American aren’t great, but these facilities, more often than not, just make a nod at the notion of links golf. Carts are everywhere. Courses can’t be walked. The notion of walking is intrinsic to links golf, in my estimation. That’s why places like Bandon Dunes seem so authentic.

Trust me on this one — until you go to Scotland, you’ll never really have a sense of what golf should be.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Good points. To add a couple of more I have found the the “experience” of playing in Scotland is enhanced by:

    1. The hospitality of the Scottish people (which is grossly underestimated). Everytime I play there they feel very warm and welcoming.
    2. There is a much more active “caddy culture” in Scotland – nothing like a caddy with a great Scottish sense of humour to enhance the round.

  • Robert, thanks for taking the time to elaborate….From what I gather, I reckon the appeal is the combination of charm, tradition, simplicity, and ‘rawness’ of the golfing experience overthere in general. In comparison, we have Disney-style golf courses here this side of the ocean….

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