How To Play Links Golf
First, if you already play a lot of links golf – real links golf – then this blog probably isn’t for you. If so, I apologise.

Second, you may think golf is golf… what makes links golf any different to the ‘regular’ parkland golf I play?

The thing is, it is different. Very different. Forget for a minute that links golf is the purest and earliest form of the game… what makes it stand out is the physical characteristics of the landscape. The dunes, the lack of trees, the deep bunkering, the shapes of fairways and greens.

That in itself suggests the need for a different style of golf. And then there’s the wind.

So yes, a few extra skills, a different point of view, an acceptance of your fallibility… they’ll all help.

Here are eight tips and suggestions to consider when you decide it’s time to play links golf. Once you’re done, come to Carne Golf Links and give it a try.

Views over the Kilmore nine's 6th hole

1. Pay Attention

Especially around the greens. Look at the contours, the humps and hollows, watch your partners’ shots and how the ball rolls out. Chasing flags may not be the answer as you can use banks to move balls around. You can hit approach shots 10 yards right of the green and have them bounce right up to the pin.

The same applies to the bunkers, especially around the greens, as the slopes can run straight into them.

And don’t get too distracted by the views. Links golf courses typically boast the best scenery in the world.

2. Be Patient

Yes, endless patience. Patience because not everything is going to go your way and you have to be prepared to watch half decent shots tumble into rough or disappear into bunkers. Patience because links golf calls for smart course management, creativity and ingenuity… things not always required on a parkland. Patience because sometimes you’re playing the wind as well as the course. And, finally, patience because while a 100 yard shot usually requires a wedge, on a links you might need to take a six iron and work that ball below the wind instead.

If you haven’t played any or much links golf you’ll find it an enthralling education, but it takes time to appreciate its subtleties. Don’t get me wrong, you can play links golf any way you like – as so many of the Pros did at St. Andrews this year – but sometimes you’ll need a different style of shot to that everyday parkland shot. A low punch shot into the wind, for example…

Approach to the 8th on the Hackett 18

3. Learn to Punch

The low tee shot (think Tiger Woods’ stinger) will reap huge rewards on the links. Not only do you keep it below that wind but, wind or not, a low shot will always run and run over that tight sandy turf. Compare that to a high tee shot that the wind can swat away into the dunes, into the marram grasses or out to sea.

It’s not an easy shot if you haven’t practised it, so it’s something to work on before your links adventure begins. This blog (and this author) is not designed to give you definitive training in the art of the punch shot, but here are some basic starting points for you to work on:
  • Tee your ball low to the ground.
  • Move your hands down the grip (this is not a full swing shot).
  • Position the ball in the middle of your stance.
  • Favour your weight onto the front foot – a touch more than normal.
  • Take a three quarter length swing and keep your rhythm smooth. There’s no need to hit it with lots of power… this is more about timing.
A low punch shot off the fairway follows a similar formula, with the ball set even slightly farther back in the stance. Unlike the drive, however, you want to restrict your follow through. Think about an actual punch and you’ll get an idea of the type of swing required. Now imagine hitting a shot of 100 yards into a sharp headwind. Put the wedge back in the bag and land a punched 6 iron about 20 yards short of the green. What’s more, you’ll have far more control when you take the wind out of the equation.

Views over the 3rd green on Hackett 18. A great bump and run opportunity

4. Bump and Run

A commonly used term in links golf, and the next step on from the punched shot. The same principle of keeping the ball below the wind applies, but the beauty of a links is the turf you play over. It’s fast and tight and it allows you to run shots over the fairway surface and onto the green. In other words, it’s pretty much a putt with just a short amount of flight to get you started. You even play the shot like a putt.

The key is to play the ball well back in the stance while keeping most of your weight on the front foot… then hit the ball crisply.

The other thing to consider is the hardness of the greens. Often when a green enjoys a lengthy burst of sunshine and/or it has been windswept the putting surface becomes very firm indeed. A lobbed shot can kick up high and bound through the green, whereas the bump and run shot offers far greater control.

5. Putting

Truth is, you can putt from anywhere on a links. There’s a story of Pat Sweeney, a former manager of Enniscrone Golf Club, playing the par five 16th with a putter, tee to green… and making par.

Putt around bunkers, putt up steep inclines, putt through deep swales… it all works on a links and it means you take the wind out of the equation. It also means that there’s no risk of chunking your chip off the very tight turf.

There’s rarely any rough close to the greens (which explains why a ball can land on a green but end up 40 yards down the slope off the side), so putting is always an option to be considered… and there’s one simple thing to remember: a bad putt will always be better than a bad pitch.

Views back down the par five 16th at Enniscrone

6. Work the Wind

Just because the wind is against you doesn’t mean you have a tougher shot. For instance, when the wind is in your face it can give you greater opportunities to stop a ball on the green.

Downwind, your usual 250 yard drive can easily go 350 yards. (Remember that on short par fours with doglegs!)

Cross-winds are more tricky, but they can still aid you in shaping shots. It’s where that patience comes in to play. If you hit a shot where you have deliberately used the wind but it doesn’t work out… don’t be too surprised or disappointed… it’s a tough learning curve. On the other hand, if it does work out, give yourself an imaginary high five because there’s nothing sweeter than seeing a ball on the fairway or on the green, exactly how you planned it.

Remember, never fight the wind because you will lose 9 times out of 10. And the harder you hit it, the higher the ball will fly, so lower your tempo.

If you take the time to play a course like Carne twice, then you can play the same holes on consecutive days but play an entirely different course. As an example, I played the par three 14th with a wedge one day and a five iron the day after. That’s what the wind can do to links golf… and it is enthralling to play such different conditions.

Views over the par three 14th green at Carne Golf Links

7. Banana Skins in the Bunker

Pot hole bunkers are very different to typical parkland bunkers where, from the fairway sand, you can often go for the green. Links golf courses favour pot hole bunkers for the simple reason that they protect the contents from the wind and ensure that there’s plenty of sand for you to play with.

‘Pot hole’ describes the deep and often small bunkers perfectly. When you stand over your ball you may be able to see nothing ahead of you but the revetted face of the bunker… so unless you are a very skilled bunker player, you may want to consider

1. playing out sideways or backwards, or

2. picking up and taking a drop. Yes, I know that sounds defeatist but it can also save a lot of pain. Think of Japan's Tommy Nakajima, who took 5 shots at the Road Hole bunker at St. Andrews (1978), or David Duval who took 4, in 2000.

3. or… playing a different club off the tee so that the bunkers are taken out of range entirely. Keeping your ball in play has to be one of the biggest priorities in links golf.

Now, not all links bunkers are of the pot hole variety and at Carne they are nether deep nor plentiful, but if you are in one of the deep versions… don’t step on a banana skin by trying to play that glory shot.

Just two of Carne's bunkers, around the Kilmore nine's 8th green

8. Enjoy Your Links Adventure

All of the above might make links golf sound like a daunting challenge. It is but it’s also an exhilarating one. It’s the same game but played in a different way. A bit like driving a car with a stick shift on the other side of the road (as you may well be doing in Ireland). In other words, the basics are second nature but you have to tweak them to the situation.

Links golf is special and, combined with a golfing trip to Ireland, you will never leave this small island without a smile on your face and memories that you can drag into stories for many years to come… or at least until you return to these shores.
Posted by admin at Jun 23, 2016 Category: Other
Tags: Bump and run, carne golf links, How to play links golf, Irish Links Courses