Golf Course Styles

By: Andy Marshall

Lahinch Golf Club

Lahinch Golf Club, IRELAND. One of Ireland’s classic links courses. A golfer and his caddie head for the green at the par-3 11th, a short hole punching out to sea with fine views of Liscannor Point. GOLF COURSE STYLE: LINKS.

One of the wonderful aspects of golf is that wherever you play in the world, no two courses are alike and variety is astounding.  The three main styles of courses are links, parkland and heathland, with several sub-categories that include: desert, mountain, forest, moorland, cliff-top, volcanic, sand, snow and even artificial turf courses. Whether it’s the narrow tree-lined fairways of a forest layout, the prickly yellow gorse of a heathland design, or the devilishly difficult pot bunkers of a links, each type of course has its own characteristics and particular hazards to negotiate.

Duke’s Golf Course

Duke’s Golf Course, St Andrews, SCOTLAND. Opened in 1995 and designed by 5 times Open Champion, Peter Thomson, the course was re-designed in 2007 by the U.S. based Kohler Company, home to the famed Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run golf venues. Today, the Duke’s is a heathland gem. Gone are the rivet-faced pot bunkers and in are rough-edged spacious bunkers synonymous with bygone years of heathland golf. GOLF COURSE STYLE: HEATHLAND.

A favourite style  among golfers is a ‘links’, sometimes referred to as a seaside links. One of the oldest and most traditional types, it was first developed in Scotland where golf originated. Links are located in coastal areas, on sandy soil, from which the sea has retired in recent geological times, often amid dunes, with few water hazards and usually no trees.

Links present some special challenges, and due to their coastal location most are frequently influenced by the wind, favouring players who can hit low accurate shots. In addition, most links courses consist of an outward nine in one direction along the coast and an inward nine which return in an opposite direction, meaning that golfers have to cope with differing wind patterns in each half of their round.

Links turf is often hard and bare, which gives the ball bounce and is something that needs to be allowed for when hitting shots. The wispy long grass in the rough makes play very difficult even in a good lie, and if a ball heads too far off line and into the dunes it can be impossible to find. Links also feature undulating fairways, fast contoured greens and small deep sand traps known as ‘pot bunkers’ that are often hidden from view. If you are unlucky enough to go in one, they are difficult to get out of, sometimes requiring a shot played sideways or even backwards.

Ballybunion Old

Ballybunion Old, IRELAND (established 1893) located on the Shannon estuary is one of the grand seaside links of the world and is a ‘must play’ for every keen golfer. LINKS

Several centuries old links have survived in Scotland, Ireland and England but they can also be found in other parts of the world too.  Excellent courses that typify the links style include Royal Dornoch (Scotland), Ballybunion Old (Ireland) and Royal St Georges (England).

Throughout the decades, golf moved inland, and courses were built in more pastoral settings giving rise to another popular golf style – the parkland course. Featuring well-manicured fairways and greens, a parkland design is usually in a treed landscape often with mature species such as beech and oak, and the fairways are usually tree-lined.

Elevation changes, plus water in the form of lakes and crisscrossing streams may add to the challenges, making it important to plot a strategic route around. Most PGA Tour courses are parkland courses and Augusta National is the classic example that other parkland courses aspire to.

Positioned somewhere between a links and a parkland is the heathland, best described as a more open, less manicured inland course, typically less wooded than parkland courses with fairways often bordered with gorse and heather. Walton Heath, Ganton, Alwoodley and Aldeburgh are classic English heathland layouts.

A more recent golf course style is the desert course, particularly popular in parts of the USA and the Middle East, where the desert landscape has offered golf course architects an amazing blank canvas from which to create their works of art – swathes of emerald green fairways in a sea of red rock.

Rathsallagh Country Club

Rathsallagh Country Club, IRELAND. A top-quality parkland course dotted with mature oak and beech trees. GOLF COURSE STYLE: PARKLAND.

Elevated tee blocks and greens are a frequent feature of desert courses and hazards may include rocky scrubland dotted with cacti and rattlesnakes. Although they require heavy irrigation for maintenance of the turf, leading to ecological concerns about excessive water consumption, there is no denying the visual and aesthetic appeal of desert courses.

In countries such as Canada and Austria, mountainside designs provide greater distance due to the altitude, and well-struck shots can fly an extra 10 percent through the crisp clean air. Some courses in the volcanic country of Iceland are routed through rugged lava fields, while others in the outback of Australia play entirely over sand with the putting area consisting of ‘browns’ (a mixture of sand and oil), which is blended and rolled.

If sand or snow golf doesn’t appeal to you, and links and parkland are too familiar, then perhaps a round on a tropical links, a tight forest layout or a rugged cliff-top course could be more your style..?

About Andy Marshall

(Handicap 16)—Born in England in 1961, Andy has been a professional freelance travel writer for the past 20 years, During that time, he has travelled to over 50 countries: including Sri Lanka, Solomon Islands, Panama and Hungary to cover a diverse range of lifestyle, travel, golf, food & wine features for various magazines worldwide.

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