Activities Sports & Athletics What Is a Links Golf Course? There are specific criteria for what makes a golf course a true links Share PINTEREST Email Print A view across the Carnoustie Links, one of the golf courses that make up the British Open rota. David Cannon/Getty Images Sports & Athletics Golf History Basics Gear Golf Courses Famous Golfers Golf Tournaments Baseball Basketball Bicycling Billiards Bodybuilding Bowling Boxing Car Racing Cheerleading Cricket Extreme Sports Football Gymnastics Ice Hockey Martial Arts Professional Wrestling Skateboarding Skating Paintball Soccer Swimming & Diving Table Tennis Tennis Track & Field Volleyball Other Activities Learn More By Brent Kelley Brent Kelley is an award-winning sports journalist and golf expert with over 30 years in print and online journalism. our editorial process Brent Kelley Updated June 08, 2019 "Links" and "links course" are terms that refer to a specific style of golf course whose hallmarks include being built on sandy soil along a coastline. Links courses are buffeted by strong winds that require deep bunkers to prevent the sand from blowing away. They are also completely or largely treeless. There are other criteria that specifically define a links course. All the first golf courses in the sport's history were links courses in Scotland. Great Britain and Ireland are still home to nearly all the true links courses, although links-like courses can be found in other areas, too. In many parts of the world — not the UK, but in many other places — it is common to see the terms "links" or "links course" used in one of the following ways: As a marketing term that is applied to any golf course that is relatively treeless. As a general term used as just another name for "golf course." It's not a crime to use the term "links" in either of those ways, but it's also not accurate. The term has a specific geographic meaning. The fact is, unless you've played golf in the UK or Ireland, there's a very good chance you've never seen a true links course in person. Links Golf Course Geography The British Golf Museum says that "links" are coastal strips of land between the beaches and the inland agricultural areas. This term, in its purest sense, applies specifically to seaside areas in Scotland. So "links land" is land where the seaside transitions into farmland. Links land has sandy soil, making it unsuitable for crops. Such land was often, in times past, thought to be worthless because it was not useful for crops. But back in the mists of Scotland, someone had the bright idea to start knocking a ball around that land, hitting it from point to point. And from those humble beginnings, links golf courses emerged. Because they were close to the beach, lots of sand bunkers were a natural feature (the soil was very sandy, after all). But such bunkers had to be deeply recessed to prevent sand from being blown away by the constant wind. Because the soil was of poor quality and constantly buffeted by the seaside winds, not much would grow on it — mostly just tall, reedy grasses, some scrub bushes, but very few trees. Hallmarks of True Links Courses A true links course is not just any golf course that is treeless. The term "links" historically applies specifically to strips of land in seaside areas that feature sandy soil, dunes, and undulating topography, and where the land is not conducive to cultivated vegetation or trees. Because they were built on narrow strips of land, early links courses often followed an "out and back" or "out and in" routing. The front nine went out from the clubhouse, one hole stringed after another until reaching the ninth green, which was the point on the golf course farthest from the clubhouse. The golfers then turned around on the 10th tee, with the back nine holes leading straight back to the clubhouse. In modern terms, a "links course" is more broadly defined as: A golf course built on sandy soil that is buffeted by the wind. Has few, if any, trees, but has a tall, thick rough of native grasses. Features many bunkers, with many of them deep (including pot bunkers) to prevent sand from blowing away. Plays firm and fast with sometimes crusty fairways and greens that feature many knolls and knobs to create odd bounces and angles. Most of its greens are approachable on the ground, allowing run-up shots. Links golf is, it's often said, "played on the ground" as opposed to being "played in the air," as with parkland-style golf courses. That means that links courses provide lots of roll-out and allow (or even require) golfers to run balls up to their greens, rather than demanding all carry to reach soft greens that hold shots. See Links Courses Some of the best golf courses on the planet are links golf courses, and one fun way to get a firmer grasp on what constitutes a links is to visit one of those courses. Or, do the next best thing: go to the photos. Photo galleries of courses in the British Open rota, all of them links, are instructive. The Old Course at St. Andrews is the "home of golf" and the most famous links. Others links golf courses in the Open rota featured in photo galleries include Royal St. George's, Royal Birkdale, and Royal Troon. Two more links that have been the sites of multiple British Opens are Turnberry and Muirfield. All of these are the type of golf course called links. Source "FAQs." British Golf Museum, 2019.