Links-Style Golf: Why So Tough?

Barnbougle Dunes Golf Links

Bob-Duncan-4cBy Bob Duncan

You would think that links-style golf courses would be pretty easy since you can putt from almost anywhere – but they are an entirely different game!  Speaking from experience; they are definitely a challenge.  I have played four of the newest links-style (or links-hybrid) courses in the world:  Tetherow in Bend, Oregon, Bandon Dunes in Bandon, Oregon, Barnbougle Dunes in Bridport, Tasmania, Australia, and Chambers Bay.

If you watched the U.S. Open you saw the conditions.  The youngest U.S. Open course and one of the oldest British Open courses share very similar characteristics;   there are very few trees—and there’s only one tree on Chambers Bay!  But here’s the real reason why they are difficult:  You have to worry more about your ball after it hits the ground.  And congratulations Jordan Spieth!

Both the 2014 U.S.Open at Pinehurst and this year’s championship at Chambers Bay were a departure from U.S. Opens of the past that featured penal rough that practically ate your golf ball.  Both Chambers Bay and St. Andrews feature mounds and slopes in the fairways that can redirect your shot or give you a very unusual lie in the fairway.  Stray far enough and both Chambers Bay and St. Andrews feature very long rough that will eat your ball.

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Tetherow Golf Course

What you saw at the U.S. Open was that golf – especially Links golf – is not linear!  Using banks, letting the ball run, putting from off the green…  So, how do you play courses like these?

  1. Putt from off the green.
  2. Plan for approach shots to fly shorter and run farther than normal.
  3. Plan to have longer first and second putts.
  4. Know your landing-zones and plan to use bank shots.

1. Putt from off the green. You can putt from practically anywhere on a links-style course.  Using a putter from off the green is very valuable.  This is often called ‘using a Texas Wedge’ due to a desire to keep the ball ‘under’ the wind and on the hard and dry ground.  When Tiger Woods won at St. Andrews; in one case he putted from 65 yards out and the ball finished within 10 feet of the cup!

Since many courses in the U.S. are so lush, this can be hard to practice.  If the fairways at your course are too slow, you can try putting length-wise through the fringe to a target near the fringe.

2. Plan for approach shots to fly shorter and run farther than normal. Fortunately, the grass in the fairways is short enough that the ball will often roll down into relatively flat areas, but unfortunately the lies will be very ‘tight’.  This generally means that shots will fly lower and shorter, and depending on the landing zone slopes, they may stop or run out.

The reason the flights are generally lower is because most shots will be struck slightly below the sweet spot.  The lower on the face the ball is struck, the lower the trajectory.  While slightly thin shots may spin more, they may not stop as well due to their lower descent into the landing zones.  Also, it’s very difficult to produce a controllable draw or hook from a tight lie.  The tour players can often overcome tight lies and hit the ball higher, but for the rest of us, technically the lie suggests it will be lower.

Playing Hint:  Tight lies usually don’t feel as good since you’re going to miss the sweet spot more often.  But don’t get discouraged, this is something everyone faces on a Links course.

3. Plan to have longer first and second putts.   As you saw at Chambers Bay, putting on Links style greens is more difficult than putting on regular greens because of the condition of the grass and the slopes and tiers you face.  And since it is difficult to stop your approach shots, you’ll likely have longer first putts.  This means you’ll probably have longer second putts, too.  Sometimes just getting the ball within 15 feet is a good first putt.

4. Know your landing zones and plan to use bank shots! The first time you play a Links course will probably be the most difficult game you’ll ever face.  With no experience on the course you know nothing about the carry distances, the slopes, and the landing zones.  Ideally, you should play a new course at least twice since the first round is a ‘get to know it’ round.

Pay attention to slopes that help you and those that hurt.  At Chambers Bay there were many times the players played ‘bank shots’, running the ball up slopes to have the ball then roll backwards toward the hole.

Tour players generally play at least one practice round.  You wouldn’t expect them to play their best without one, right?  Take it easy and give yourself a break.  Play a second round and you’ll have more fun!

Bob Duncan is a PGA Life Member, a Master Clubfitter, and developer of the Golfer Positioning System. http://golfecoach.com/

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