It's British Open time (or the Open Championship, as it's known in the rest of the world), which means links golf, a strange game for most Americans.
It's played more on the ground than the typical U.S. course, and for the most part, you can forget firing over the pin and sucking it back to the hole. Fairways run hard and fast, and often there's not much differentiation between greens and the rest of the course in terms of speed, which is why you see so much putting from off the green.
And with few exceptions, you don't use powered golf carts. This is walking golf.
You'll see pros this week at Royal Liverpool, the second-oldest links course in England, hitting straight-faced clubs from 140 yards away because of the ever-present sea breeze or wedges from 190 yards. Then there's the gorse, pot bunkers and array of other fun challenges we usually don't see over here.
If you've never played links golf, it's hard to relate. And in the U.S. quite frankly, there's not a lot of opportunity, but it isn't impossible to find.
According to the book, "True Links: An Illustrated Guide to the Glories of the World's 246 Links Courses," there are only four true links courses in the U.S. (in the book, a links course must have sea views, sandy, dune-like terrain with fast-running fairways and ever-changing maritime winds.) But there are certainly a few American courses that have enough links elements to give you a feel for what's it like to play in golf's oldest major championship.
Here's a rundown of some of our favorite public-access links or links-like courses on this side of the pond.
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (Bandon, Ore.)
Of the four true links courses in the U.S., three of them are at Bandon Dunes on the southwest coast of Oregon. If you didn't know any better, you'd think you were in Ireland, except instead of the North Atlantic, you've got the Pacific Ocean as your backdrop below the cliffs. The original course, the David McLay Kidd-designed Bandon Dunes, opened in 1999. Pacific Dunes, which certainly put architect Tom Doak on the short list of the world's great modern architects, followed it closely. Both feature plenty of views and rugged bunkers. Pacific Dunes, however, may be the more natural of the two with fairways and bunkers simply plotted where they naturally occurred. Old Macdonald, the third links course at Bandon Dunes was designed by Doak and Jim Urbina and answers the question: What would the late architect Charles Blair Macdonald have created had he had the Oregon coast as his canvas? In short, with the other two courses at the resort, Bandon Dunes has become a pilgrimage for American golfers seeking the links experience without crossing the Atlantic.
Highland Links (North Truro, Mass.)
Located near the tip of Cape Cod in the shadow of an old lighthouse, Highland Links is the most affordable links experience in the U.S. It's also the only other true U.S. links course, even if it is only around 2,500 yards. Yes, it's only nine holes, but at around $35 ($65 for 18 holes) to experience fast, firm fairways and howling winds off the Atlantic, it's one heck of a bargain. It's also the oldest course in the area, dating back to 1892. Legendary U.S. Open winner Francis Ouimet once played an exhibition match there. How authentic is the links golf at Highland Links? The fairways aren't irrigated and the rough is all natural.
Whistling Straits (Kohler, Wis.)
It's no secret that architect Pete Dye loves links golf, which is why you see those elements in everything he designs. But at Whistling Straits, located on the shores of Lake Michigan, he went all out, taking a flat piece of property and moving enough dirt to create bluffs and dunes to trick us into thinking there was seaside golf there for ages. There are two courses at Whistling Straits, which is part of the four-course American Club Resort: the Straits Course and the Irish Course. The Straits is a site of the PGA Championship (it returns for the third time in 2015) as well as the 2020 Ryder Cup. Most memorable was the 2010 Ryder Cup when Dustin Johnson grounded his club in a bunker (not realizing it was a hazard) and missed out on a playoff. Johnson's error was understandable. There are almost 1,000 bunkers on the Straits Course, and often it's difficult to tell where these hazards begin or end. The Irish Course, also designed by Dye, lies in the shadows of the Straits, but is also well worth playing to get an American links experience. And playing it will cost about half of what it does to play the more famous Straits Course.
Streamsong Resort (Bowling Green, Fla.)
Opened in 2012, the two courses at Streamsong Resort, located between Tampa and Orlando, are all the rage in the Sunshine State. Both courses were designed for walking, the Red Course by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw and the Blue Course by Doak. It's pricey but well worth it for golfers looking for something completely different in Florida. Both courses make great use of old sand dunes and natural bunkers, woven around expansive lakes, rolling terrain and open Savannah, making this uniquely American golf links. With its new lodge opening early this year, the resort is offering "Royal Liverpool" packages, just in time to celebrate the Open.
The Rawls Course at Texas Tech (Lubbock, Texas)
Another Doak design, The Rawls Course at Texas Tech University, is links-like golf created in the plains of the Texas Panhandle. Opened in 2003, it's somewhat reminiscent of another great inland Doak design, Ballyneal in Colorado, which is ranked among the world's best. The Rawls was actually built below grade level to give the illusion that there's more elevation change than meets the eye when you first drive up. Tees and greens are close together so it's easy to walk. And with Lubbock's ever-present winds, holes can be almost unreachable in regulation or driver-wedge depending on the day.
Arcadia Bluffs (Arcadia, Mich.)
Designed by Warren Henderson and Rick Smith, Arcadia Bluffs, on the shores of Lake Michigan, has all the features you look for in links golf -- huge dunes, sod-walled bunkers, plenty of tall rough and expansive greens set along what appears to be an ocean coast. The course has been softened somewhat since it opened in 1999, but it still represents a tough test, especially from the back tees at 7,300 yards. It's not an easy walk, so carts with forecaddies are available and recommended.
Royal Links and other replica courses
Unlike the other courses on our list, courses like Royal Links Golf Club in Las Vegas and The New Course at Grand Cypress in Orlando aren't so much original American links golf courses as they are replicas or tribute courses to British links courses.
At Royal Links, the holes are "inspired" by courses that have hosted the British Open, such as Prestwick, Turnberry, Royal Troon and the famous Road Hole at St. Andrews' Old Course. You'll also love the Scottish castle-style clubhouse. The New Course at Grand Cypress, on the other hand, is architect Jack Nicklaus' tribute to one of his favorite golf courses, the Old Course at St. Andrews. While most of the holes are inspired original holes, the first and 18th are basically replicas of the same two holes at St. Andrews and run alongside each other.
In Texas, just north of Dallas, you can play The Tribute, which also features replicas of famous Scottish holes much like Royal Links, except The Tribute runs around Lake Lewisville. And finally, The Gailes at Lakewood Shores Resort in Oscoda, Mich., also replicates famous seaside courses in Scotland, where golfers will experience large double greens, berns, sod-faced bunkers and deep fescue.