How many links golf courses have you played in the United States?
According to a new book, it's probably fewer than you think.
The book, entitled True Links, claims there are 246 authentic links courses in the world, but only four of them exist in the United States (and none yet in Canada).
Now, it would be very easy to dismiss this book if it weren't written by two well-known experts on the game.
Here are the US courses they say are "true links," and some of the very famous and historic ones they say are "mere imposters":
What names come to mind when you think of authentic links golf courses in the USA?
Shinnecock? Maidstone? National Golf Links?
No, they don't qualify, say the authors of True Links, George Peper, former editor of Golf Magazine, and Malcolm Campbell, former editor of Golf Monthly.
The only four courses in the United States they say are "true links" are Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, and Old Macdonald (all at Oregon's Bandon Dunes Golf Resort) and Highland Links on Massachusetts' Cape Cod.
Cabot Links (which opened in 2011) and Cabot Cliffs on Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island would likely be included if a second edition is ever published.
On one hand, I applaud the authors for their open-minded approach to what qualifies as links golf, an approach that gives us about 100 more links courses worldwide than previously accepted, narrower, definitions.
My only issue is, their selection process seems to contradict their criteria at times.
For instance, in devising their rules for what "true links" courses are, the authors feel that authentic linksland is not a prerequisite for links golf.
They write: "With a conducive site and sufficient resources, man can replicate the experience of links golf - indeed create a links course - on nonlinksland."
Yet, they seem to then use the man-made nature of a site to cut it from their list.
For example, regarding Bayonne Golf Club in New York Harbor, they write:
"The course looks and plays like an Irish links. It also satisfied our requirement of proximity to the sea. In the end, however, we couldn't call a course so totally and artificially created a links."
Wait, didn't you just say....?
Oh well. Regardless of my nitpicking, I will say this about the book ($26 at Amazon.com): it is very well written (and includes historic and future perspectives on links golf); it showcases stunning photographs; and it made me stop and examine my own opinions about links golf.
Number one, it reminded me that there is no universally accepted definition of what authentic, links golf is, and therefore any discussion of it - including this book - comes down to opinion.
My opinion? The experience trumps everything else.
In other words, if it looks like links golf, feels like links golf, and plays like links golf...it's links golf. I couldn't care less if it has the "right" soil composition or "right" proximity to the sea.
(Do you hear that, members of Sand Hills in Nebraska? I'll gladly accept an invitation to play your links course.)
What do you think? Do you need true linksland to have links golf? Are there more than five real links courses in North America? Please share your comments below.