Experts Say Only Four Links Golf Courses Exist in the USA

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.

Craig Better is one of the founding editors of Golf Vacation Insider. In addition to traveling to 15 foreign countries, he has twice traveled across America to play golf courses in all 50 United States. Prior to joining Golf Vacation Insider, Craig was a freelance writer who contributed to GOLF Magazine, Travel + Leisure Golf, Maxim Magazine, USAToday.com, and co-authored Zagat Survey’s book, America’s Top Golf Courses.
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Mitch Toews

John nailed it, I suspect: "It is a joke to leave out Chambers Bay, but obvious. They say it’s because it is “100 miles from the ocean”. Chambers is on Puget Sound ...Chambers is rapidly costing rounds at Bandon, so the Bandon crowd who produced the book couldn’t put it in there. Look at the list of who “helped” with the book, the owner and designer of Bandon. Very fair."

It would be good to know for sure if the fix was in. So many have commented in the same way I felt -- highly selective appraisals and uneven application of the criteria. Makes me think something was up.

Keiser is an exceptional guy, has done a lot for golf; for the communities; for the environment, etc. But, he competes with CB, as John suggests. Likewise, Keiser is slightly dismissive ("no ocean - no cigar" would paraphrase it) of the new string* of inland links courses in Colorado, Nebraska & SD - fearing perhaps their positioning themselves as "Bandon Lite" and siphoning off clientele from the midwest and east coast, who might see shorter flights and lower costs as reason enough to try out the inland links created by (some of) the same architects used on the Bandon properties.

As for Chambers Bay, the genie will be out of the Tacoma bottle (a city where glass artistry is a local strength) once the US Open showcases this 7-mile monster in 2015. But by then, BD will be a golf resort black hole that CB's growing brand will only help -- acting as an "introductory" links experience that will prep budding links buddy-groups for a bigger subsequent trip - to the venerable Bandon compound.

Sidebar: A pretty close playing experience to C Bay - less dramatic, much shorter & flatter and also less wallet-stress - is at Gearhart, just south of the WA/OR border. It's a seaside links, but in the 30's, Shore Pines were planted in rows along the fairways. These trees precluded pretty, little Gearhart from the True Links list. The trees were all removed recently and this terrific $30-$50 gem should be given its due recognition. Great bar, great hotel and true links golf - it's a perfect place to pinch a low 7-iron and run it up over springy, rumpled fairways of fine fescues and bent grasses.

*Ballyneal, Sand Hills, Dismal River, The Prairie Club & Sutton Bay.

Austin Aaronson

Dye's Kiawah course is a joke. Paspalam plays exactly the opposite of fescue - it grabs the ball like Velcro. Worse yet, the greens there are elevated, so even if it were planted with fescue, no shot could possibly be run onto a green from any length. Finally, although the course is on the ocean, the inability to run the ball along the ground prevents the player from shot-making under the wind. I have no idea what Dye was thinking when he designed the course, but it wasn't anything to be lauded or remotely mentioned in a discussion of links golf.

Austin Aaronson

A good deal of sophistication is reflected here. Here's a question: Is it possible to design a links course on non-fescue turf, such as paspalum? I don't see why not, as long as it's kept firm and fast. Dye says he's going to make it that way of the PGA at Kiawah. We'll see. I noticed a couple of the tracks were located in Australia, where I'm not sure fescue is used.

BigMac

I can now add this book to my list of things I hate about "experts"
1) the Golf Digest "top 100"-30 of these courses don't belong on anybodies top 100 and 10 of them are so contrived as to be laughable.
2) Pete Dye being included in "the World Golf Hall of Fame?" while Tillinghast isn't.
3) the USGA selection and set up of our Open championship venues.

John

It is a joke to leave out Chambers Bay, but obvious. They say it’s because it is “100 miles from the ocean”. Chambers is on Puget Sound an arm of the Pacific Ocean for the news of the east coast crowd. But Chambers is rapidly costing rounds at Bandon, so the Bandon crowd who produced the book couldn’t put it in there. Look at the list of who “helped” with the book, the owner and designer of Bandon. Very fair.

T Morris

I’ve never seen an in-land links and I doubt I ever will."

Have you seen Sandhills or Ballyneal? BN is the most linkslike course I've played in the US. They are links in every respect other than proximity to the sea. So, why do you think they are not "inland links"? They play exactly like the links I've played in GB &I.

On the other hand, to those who say Whistling Straits and Arcadia Bluffs should be included in the lnks list... Have you played in Scotland or Ireland? Although WS and AB LOOK like links and are on the water, they don't play like a links, at least not on the days I played. Chambers Bay and Bayonne played more like a links than WS or AB

Someone above mentioned Ladybank. The Scots themsleves don't consider that a links.

Barry Ward

I've been a golf writer for more than 50 years and I'm not sure how many links I've played around the world but I'd guess about one hundred, including many of the renowned ones. When I started out it was the received wisdom that a links course is land from which the sea has receded, leaving shifting sandhills and duneland. Eventually, thanks to bird droppings, this became over-laid with the gorse, marram, fine bents and fescue grasses that grow on such sandy wastes and which give links golf its distinctive back-drop and playability.
Some British links, like Royal Lytham, are these days quite removed from the sea but the evidence is there that at one point the land was part of the sea bed. Records show that the main street of Southport, the home of Royal Birkale, was under water a couple of hundred years ago and the Birkdale fairways now follow the natural valleys through which the sea finally receded. This is true links golf.
I've heard of seaside parkland courses (played a few good ones, too) but I've never seen an in-land links and I doubt I ever will.

Larry

I agree with Bob regarding Arcadia Bluffs and Whistling Straights. I've played these guys, all the Bandon courses (except McDonalds), Old Course, Macrahanish, Ladybank, and Aliso track at Turnberry. The only real distinguishing characteristic of Bandon courses that are shared with the Scotland courses that the others don't have is the gorse!

Frank

The surprise omission to me was Chambers Bay in Tacoma

J F GIPSON

I've played Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes in the U.S. They both compare in many ways to those I've played in Ireland and Scotland. Natural dunes, pitch-and-run options, and windy sea-side environment, plus the dreaded gorse which I understood was transplanted by the previous land owner from his native Scotland. The discussion is interesting, but I say a great course is one suited to the existing natural conditions and played the way it is. Some holes may naturally present "target golf" and some may call for ptich-and-run options. It's challenging yet playable and enjoyable for the many skill levels. I've seen some highly-rated very expensive courses, yet had no desire to play them.

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Experts Say Only Four Links Golf Courses Exist in the USA
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