What is a Links Golf Course? (Explained!)

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All keen golf fans have almost certainly heard of a links golf course but might not be able to tell you precisely what it is.

A links is the oldest style of golf course and refers to an area along the coast where natural terrain is used in the construction. Most links courses incorporate sand dunes and low-lying vegetation and have a small number of trees, leaving them exposed to coastal elements like high winds and rain.

The first links courses were in Scotland, with St. Andrews, affectionately known as ‘the home of golf,’ being one of the most famous links courses in the world.

This article looks at links courses in more detail and introduces you to some of the finest links courses in the US.

What is the Difference Between a Golf Course and a Links?

The primary difference between a links course and a regular course is that golfers are forced to deal with the natural elements, which is often not the case on parkland courses. True links courses have not been manufactured and represent the original lay of the land.

The word ‘links’ derives from the Old English word ‘hlinc,’ which translates to ridge or rising ground.

The word perfectly describes the type of hilly land that is prevalent in coastal areas in the United Kingdom, which has been deemed useless by farmers due to its sandy, rugged, and undulating nature.

Therefore, when golf originated in the 15th century, this unfavorable coastal land was considered the perfect terrain upon which to play by the early course architects.

Due to the unpredictability of the natural contours and components of a links course (as well as the weather!), they tend to be much more difficult to play and demand much higher levels of concentration when compared with parkland or even desert courses.

Are There any Links Golf Courses in the US?

The undisputed home of Links golf courses is Scotland.

Tracks like Royal Dornoch, Royal Troon, and St. Andrews are the most prestigious links courses and are the holy grail for golfers all over the world hoping to test themselves on some of the most challenging courses found anywhere on the planet.

But what about links golf courses in the US?

Well, according to the PGA, there are only four true links courses in the US, namely: Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, Old Macdonald, and Highland Links on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod.

We introduce these four true links courses in more detail below:

The Four True Links Golf Courses in the US

Bandon Dunes Links, Pacific Dunes, and Old Macdonald (All situated at Bandon Dunes Resort in Oregon).

Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes, and Old Macdonald are all situated on the same rugged coastline of Oregon, so technically, there are only two locations in the US in which you can experience true links golf.

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Bandon Dunes was completed in 1999 and was designed by Scotsman David McLay Kidd.

Ocean views are prevalent on every hole, and the wind tends to howl right across the course all year round, making it a true and complete test of golf ‘as it should be.’

Also at Bandon Dunes Resort is Pacific Dunes, which opened two years after its sister course and was designed by renowned course architect Tom Doak.

Characteristics of Pacific Dunes are the rippling fairways and deep natural bunkers that have been formed by the elements.

With zero protection from the howling winds of the Pacific, accuracy here is essential, and it’s just as much of a test as Bandon Dunes itself.

Affectionately referred to as ‘Old Mac,’ the third true links test at Bandon Dunes Resort is the Old Macdonald course.

Tom Doak collaborated with Jim Urbina when they designed Old Mac in 2010, and the course pays homage to Charles Blair Macdonald, also known as the ‘Father of American Golf Architecture.’

Old Mac is perhaps the single biggest test of the three links at Bandon Dunes Resort and is so reminiscent of the links in Scotland that most players forget that they’re in Oregon!

Where is Bandon Dunes Resort Located?

Bandon Dunes Resort is located in southwest Oregon, a ten-minute drive from the seaside town of Bandon.

Those hoping to play Bandon Dunes tend to fly into Southwest Oregon Airport, located in North Bend, or face a five-hour drive from Portland.

Check this Bandon Dunes Resort video out:

As well as the three true links courses, players can also enjoy Bandon Trails, Sheep Ranch, and the 13-hole Bandon Preserve.

If you’re planning a trip to this remote part of Oregon, you might as well make the most of each of these six outstanding golf courses while you’re there.

How Much Does it Cost to Play at Bandon Dunes?

To play the courses at Bandon Dunes Resort (excluding Bandon Preserve), the rates depend on the month of the year, and it depends on whether you’re a resort guest, day guest, or Oregonian resident.

Below is a guide to how much you can expect to pay to play at Bandon Dunes:

  • Resort Guest: $100 – $295
  • Day Guest: $135 – $345
  • Oregonian Resident: $100 – $260

All courses at Bandon Dunes are walking only, and you can find out the exact costs at the time of year you hope to play by clicking here.


Highland Links on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod

Aside from Bandon Dunes Resort, the only other place you can enjoy a test of true links golf in America is Highland Links on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod.

Under the watchful gaze of the Highland Cape Lighthouse, the nine-hole par 35 course at Highland Links is replete with deep natural rough, Scotch broom, heath, and spectacular views out to the Atlantic.

Want to see the course for yourself?

As a municipal course, Highland Links is open to the public all year round for affordable rates, as we introduce below.

Where is the Highland Links Golf Course Located?

Highland Links golf course overlooks Cape Cod Bay and is situated in Truro, Massachusetts. You can reach Highland Links from Boston, MA, via a 2-3-hour drive.

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How Much Does it Cost to Play at Highland Links?

Nine holes at Highland Links currently costs $35, while eighteen holes are $65, regardless of the time of year.

The cost for junior golfers is $20 and $40, respectively, while golf cart hire is $10 or $20 per person, depending on whether you play nine or eighteen.

For a full price list and for seasonal golf rates at Highland Links, click here.

Fun Facts about Links Golf Courses

If you want to impress your golf buddies with some trivia, here are four fun facts about links golf courses:

  1. The Old Links at Musselburgh competes with the Old Course of St. Andrews for the title of “the oldest links course in the world.”
  2. There are 92 true links golf courses in Scotland.
  3. Globally, true links courses account for less than 1% of all golf courses.
  4. Pebble Beach, Whistling Straits, and the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island are all examples of links-style courses but aren’t true links tracks.

Is the Open Always Played on a Links Course?

The British Open Championship has always been played on links courses. Throughout the history of the competition, fourteen British courses have hosted the open, but only ten of those are currently used.

The current British Open courses are St Andrews Old Course, Muirfield, Royal St George’s, Royal Liverpool, Royal Troon, Royal Lytham St Anne’s, Carnoustie, Royal Portrush, Royal Birkdale, and Turnberry.

What is the Opposite of a Links Golf Course?

It’s not possible to say what the ‘opposite’ of a links course is, but it’s one of three traditional types of course and exists alongside parkland and desert courses.

The vast majority of golf courses in America are parkland courses, which are characterized by luscious green fairways and well-manicured areas. Parkland courses tend to be in stark contrast to links tracks.

Is Augusta National a Links Course?

Augusta National is a parkland golf course, not a links course. It is undoubtedly one of the most famous and beautiful golf courses in the world, with expertly manicured gardens, exceptional fairways, and meticulous greens.

In many respects, Augusta is everything a links course isn’t, but is equally if not more challenging, as you can see every year as the world’s best compete for the Green Jacket at the Masters’ Championship.

Everything About Links Courses Explained!

Links courses originated in Scotland and are characterized by their natural exposure to the elements.

Although there are many links-style courses in the US, there are only four true links courses in America, three of which are located at Bandon Dunes Resort, while the other is the Highland Links on Massachusetts’ Cape Cod.

Golfers from all over the world travel to play the famous links courses in Scotland, and there is no truer test of links golf anywhere than at the Old Course at St Andrew’s.

If you opt to play a links course, particularly in Scotland, bring some waterproofs, as you will almost certainly get wet!