Our Favorite Links Courses, Holes and Tips From the Staffers at Golf.com, Golf Magazine and Sports Illustrated
In the spirt of the upcoming Open Championship, we surveyed the staff here at Golf.com, Golf Magazine and Sports Illustrated on a variety of links golf-related topics. Check out their responses and join the debate in the comments section below.
Favorite links course you’ve played:
Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@Jeff_Ritter): St. Andrews, Old Course. It's like playing golf in a museum … and you can actually score well if you stay out of those pot bunkers.
Mike Walker, assistant managing editor, Golf.com (@michaelwalkerjr): Royal Birkdale is my favorite links course because it's the first one I ever saw, at the 2008 British Open, during golf's brief Padraig Harrington era. The dunes are spectacular -- every hole is bordered on all sides by giant mounds so that each hole is its own stage. I also dig the space-age clubhouse.
John Garrity, special contributor, Sports Illustrated (@jgarrity2): A tie between the Carne Golf Links in Ireland and Askernish Old in Scotland. Too many reasons to list here … Basically, I'm a fan of big-dunes links golf, the more natural the better. And these two courses are the ultimate in big-dunes golf.
Josh Sens, contributing writer, Golf Magazine (@JoshSens): I'd go with Barnbougle Dunes in Tasmania. Amazing scenery, beautiful lilting land, timeless-looking holes that might very well be in Scotland except that you've got wallabies bounding here and there.
Jessica Marksbury, associate editor, Golf Magazine (@Jess_Marksbury): My favorite links course experience thus far has been Tralee in Ireland. I played in the sunshine in a howling 40 mph wind, and it was one of the most fun rounds of my life. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking, and the back nine is perhaps the best I've ever played, anywhere.
Connell Barrett, executive editor, Golf Magazine (@connellbarrett): Lahinch, on Ireland's west coast … It's utterly charming, from the goat mascots that roam the course, to the so-called "New Bridge" that's centuries old, to the village of the same name that has more pubs than a town that small has any right to.
David Denunzio, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@daviddenunzio): If I had the chance to replay any of the links tracks on my pegboard, it would have to be North Berwick. Take every quirky links trait and throw them across seaside land as pure as any of the big names and you have North Berwick. You'll face a flop shot over a centuries-old wall on one hole, then hit a tee shot so blind it's almost comical. You'll shoot 95 and still walk off with a smile on your face.
Eamon Lynch, managing editor, Golf.com (@eamonlynch): The Old Course at St. Andrews. It doesn’t have the aesthetic charm of Turnberry or Royal Dornoch or Royal Portrush, but the sense of history is palpable. Like all great links courses, it reveals a little more of itself with each playing, with each subtle shift in wind direction and with each pin position.
Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine (@CameronMorfit): All things considered, I'd say my favorite is St. Andrews. The Road Hole, the 18th, even the 1st -- all are so iconic. I'm hoping they won't be too unrecognizable after the nips and tucks. Also, the town is such a fun hang it would almost make sense to have the Open there every year.
Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): My favorite links course is the Old Course at St. Andrews. I darned near hyperventilated on the first tee here during my maiden voyage in 1992 -- and if you love golf, it's easy to see why. The aura of golf history is overwhelming. Golf was born here, on this patch of grass. Every great player of every era has competed here, from the days they were stuffing golf balls with feathers until now.
Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): Cruden Bay. It's the most fun you can have with your clothes on -- a dazzling variety of holes, endless quirkiness, sweeping views and, not least, great food in the clubhouse.
Do you prefer Irish Links or Scottish Links?
BARRETT: I prefer Irish links because it's much less damaging to drown my post-round sorrows in Guinness than with Scotch.
SENS: That's a split decision on my card in terms of the layouts themselves. You can answer the grandeur of Muirfield with the greatness of Royal County Down (Northern Ireland). The charm of Cruden Bay with the quirks of Lahinch. The food is better in Ireland, and the overall vibe isn't quite as dour. The Scots seem to take particular pleasure in showing off their resistance to joy, unless, of course, they've had enough to drink.
MARKSBURY: I have played far more golf in Ireland than Scotland so I think I'm biased when I say I prefer Irish links. But that has a lot to do with the whole experience of visiting Ireland, too. It's impossible to have a bad time. The pub culture is fantastic, the food is delicious and you won't find friendlier or more hospitable people anywhere.
GARRITY: I love them both, but if forced to choose, I'd take Ireland. The Scottish courses have become somewhat tamer over the centuries. (Exception: Askernish.) They tend to be more manicured, their revetted bunkers have more of a "constructed" look. Ireland has more "wild" links with giant dunes, massive blowouts, undefined fairway/rough lines and oddball greens. But please, don't make me choose.
WALKER: St. Andrews is the best place in the world, so I give Scotland a slight edge, but there's no wrong answer.
DENUNZIO: Tough Q. Ballybunion or Muirfield? I think Scotland has the stingier rota of "elite" courses, but the hidden gems of Ireland outweigh those in the UK. Irish links feel a bit more natural and welcoming. On the whole, your dollar will go farther on the Emerald Isle.
LYNCH: Scottish. I think the upper tier of courses there is better (St. Andrews, Muirfield, Dornoch, Turnberry, Carnoustie, Troon) and the bench of second-tier courses is deeper. If North Berwick and Prestwick are on your reserve team, you've got an all-star lineup.
MORFIT: I prefer Scottish links, only because those are the ones I know, thanks to an extensive trip prior to the 1999 Open at Carnoustie. I played Dornoch, Aberdeen, Cruden Bay, Nairn, Carnoustie and some others.
PASSOV: In general, my preference is for Irish links -- at least those in Southwest Ireland. Lively towns like Killarney and Kinsale, superb hotels such as Adare Manor and Waterville House and a fistful of the most dramatic links courses anywhere --Ballybunion, Lahinch, Waterville, Doonbeg, Tralee -- make this the gold standard.
SHIPNUCK: I love Irish links -- the land tends to be more rugged and the dunes taller, and the people are so much fun. But it's impossible to beat the history of Scotland's courses, and that's the tiebreaker for me.
Favorite links hole, anywhere:
LYNCH: The 216-yard 15th hole at Ballybunion. A few years ago, I played 36 holes there. In the morning round, the wind was a little against, I hit 3-wood to 15 feet and made the putt for birdie. That afternoon, the wind was stronger so my caddie recommended a choked-down driver. I hit it to 20 feet and made another birdie. In the bar afterwards I proudly relayed this to a pal -- a former top amateur in Ireland -- and offered that not many people had made two 2s there on the same day. "I did," he said, "playing for Ireland in the 1970s." Miffed, I replied: "Well you didn't do it with a f---ing driver and 3-wood, did you?"
SHIPNUCK: The 14th at Cruden. You drive uphill to a twisty fairway and then need a full-blooded approach shot (3-hybrid into the breeze) over a rise into the abyss. Then you race up the hill and a gorgeous dell green is revealed nestled in the dunes. It's the kind of shot that compels a man to cross an ocean.
PASSOV: My favorite links hole is the 13th at North Berwick's West Links in Scotland, a 355-yard par 4. The essence of the hole is its long oval green, which sits in a shallow depression on the other side of a low stone wall. Besides serving as an amusing curio that no modern architect would dream of getting away with, the wall functions as a strategic hazard as well. Do you hug the riskier left side of the fairway with your drive, which provides an angle for your wedge approach along the wall, or choose the safer play to the right, then have to pitch directly over the wall to a green that's been rendered shallower from this angle, with a beachside dune beyond?
MORFIT: I like the Postage Stamp at Troon, the 123-yard, par-3 8th hole -- the shortest hole of any in the Open rota. The hole is deceptively hard. It often plays dead into the wind, which makes precision all the more important. In 2004, I saw Miguel Angel Jimenez hit a dazzling shot there into a stiff breeze. His ball held its line and dropped right next to the flag for a kick-in birdie.
DENUNZIO: The par-4 5th (411 yards) at Royal Portrush Dunluce Links. It’s a long, slender dogleg right that begs you to drive over an expanse of gorse (you can play straight away, but you'll have a much longer shot). Approach is toward a bunker-less green that sits hard against a white sand beach and the North Atlantic that'll accept any shot possible. You can play the hole a hundred different ways, but the views are always stunning.
WALKER: The 17th hole at Carne Golf Links in Ireland. The tee shot is played from a high dune out on the westernmost coast of Ireland with trouble left and right before an uphill approach to a green at the edge of a ravine. A golf hole that plays like a novel. Before you go, read John Garrity's book "Ancestral Links," an incredible story about family, golf and the 17th hole at Carne.
GARRITY: Two holes that I think of as one. The par-4 12th and the par-5 13th at the European Club in Ireland. This stretch along the water, late on a sunny afternoon, is so serenely beautiful that time seems to stop.
SENS: One of my favorite holes out there is the short par-4 4th at Barnbougle Dunes. It's drivable when the wind is right. You've got to take your tee shot over a towering fairway bunker on the right and kind of bound it up to a severely buckled green. Lots of punishment if you're long or if you leave it short left in an awkward bunker. It’s the perfect example of risk-reward golf.
MARKSBURY: My favorite hole is No. 14 at Tralee. I remember getting on the tee and saying aloud, "This is the most beautiful golf hole I've ever seen!" It's a relatively short par 4, the tee is a bit elevated and the entire hole just rolls out in front of you. You can see the shoreline, blue water, quaint country cottages in the distance, and black and white crows grazing in their pastures.
RITTER: For something a little under the radar, the 13th hole, nicknamed ‘The Pit’ at North Berwick, is unlike anything else I've ever seen. And old stone wall weaves around the course, and you even hit over it in a few spots, including on this short par 4.
BARRETT: The par-4 12th at St. Andrews, called "Heathery." It's the hole that best exemplifies the democratic nature of the Old Course's shot-making options: four players could play that hole four different ways and all make par.
Favorite tip for playing links golf?
MARKSBURY: My advice for mastering links golf is to stop thinking about your score. I've found that it's easier to focus on one shot at a time on links courses because, with the wind and weather as huge factors, each shot presents a special and specific challenge that's fun to execute well.
SHIPNUCK: Play yardages to the front of the green and make easy swings with more club.
PASSOV: Employ the knockdown shot. With so many links shots played from tight lies on closely cropped fescue turf amid moderate to heavy wind, I like the control afforded by the knockdown. Essentially, this is a three-quarter punch swing, where I choke down an inch or so on the club, using one extra club (or more) where called for.
MORFIT: I was just going over some of Tiger's quotes from the 2006 Open at Hoylake, and he was talking about how hitting driver can really hurt you if it goes so far in the wind that you can't control it. That's a good tip right there.
LYNCH: Dispense with every convention you know or have come to accept as the norm. Your golf ball won't always finish where it first hits the ground, par 4s are not always meant to be hit in two regardless of conditions, you aren't entitled to always play toward the target when escaping a hazard, and no matter what injustice visits you in a round, someone else had it worse before you.
DENUNZIO: Spend an hour at the range pounding the ground. Take big divots. Get used to interacting with the ground and eliminating your fear of hard turf. It’s easy to catch shots thin if you're not hitting down and through when you're on a links course. Easy way: think punch swing on almost every shot. It may be hallowed ground, but you still have to dig it out.
WALKER: Bring a rainsuit. Use your putter whenever possible. And don't order the steak.
GARRITY: Forget about your handicap. The scores you shoot on parkland courses are not achievable on a rugged links under trying conditions. Stick to match play, and don't dwell on your bad holes. Enjoy the game.
SENS: Hmmm. I'd say leave your highly lofted clubs at home. Forget the 60-degree wedge. Practice the Texas wedge (the long putt from off the green) and the putter-like stroke with your hybrid. Try to pinch too many lofted shots off those tight lies, and you're going to drive yourself crazy.
RITTER: Try to perfect your bump-and-run chip. Use wedges, 8-irons, even 5- and 4-irons, from various lies and angles from 100 yards and in. All those shots will come in handy on a true links course.
BARRETT: Move the ball back in your stance and play everything just on the inside of the right foot, to keep the ball under the wind. And check your ego at the clubhouse door: There's NO shame in putting from off the green.