10 Key Rules to Master the Links
We're just a few weeks away from the world's best golfers heading to St Andrews for the historic 150th Open Championship, and in honour of such a landmark occasion at the spiritual home of golf, we've been gathering some key rules to help you master the links.
Many traditionalists believe links golf to be the accurate barometer of a golfer's skill level. Playing your usual game probably isn't going to end well, so how can you tweak your approach to shoot a good score and enjoy your day on the links?
Check out our list of some key rules to master links golf courses below.
Play smart off the tee
On a links course, more than any other, it's imperative to keep the ball in play off the tee. Narrow fairways and the trouble on either side can be a lethal combination. On a more positive note, your ball will likely bound on forever if you can hit one down the middle.
With that in mind, you'll likely need to play more irons off the tee than usual. If you have a driving iron, that would be the perfect weapon for keeping the ball on the deck and in play. If not, your most comfortable iron will do.
If you decide to reach for the driver on certain holes, you'll want to try and keep the ball flight as low as possible, particularly when the wind is hurting. That should help you pierce through and have plenty of forward momentum when the ball (fingers crossed) lands on the short grass.
Ride the wind
When playing a links course, its primary defence and your biggest foe is the wind. Learning to use it to your advantage can be a real asset in helping you shoot a good score.
If you're playing on a hole that has wind at your back, you can try to use that to your advantage and gain more yardage from the tee box. You can learn to ride the wind by hitting your shot on a high trajectory if the wind is at your back. Of course, this can be a risky play. If you don't get it right, you're massively increasing your chances of missing the fairway - but the gains, when done correctly, are undeniable.
With crosswinds, you can aim to allow the wind to drift the ball back into play and away from bunkers and other hazards.
When it's breezy, swing easy
Swinging too hard is the biggest mistake many golfers make when hitting into the wind. Going hell for leather on every shot during a links round is not the play. The harder you hit the ball, the more backspin it creates and the ball will be sent higher into the sky and be worse affected by the wind.
Try making controlled swings around 75% speed, and the lower ball flight will ensure that the wind doesn't hurt the overall distance as much. It wouldn't hurt to club up a little too, the running ball can be your ally on the firm surrounds of the links.
Putt from off the green
On a links golf course, the percentages suggest that putting the ball when possible will lead to a better result than trying a variety of lofted, spinny chip shots. Unless chipping is your undeniable strength, we will wager that if you had ten long putts and ten chip shots, the putts would end up closer to the hole on average.
Use the putter if you can get the ball rolling. Don't forget to survey the length of the grass on approach to the green to help determine the speed. Typically though, the ball should run almost as smoothly as on the green.
If you haven't tried this approach before, it will take a bit of getting used to, but eventually you'll reap the benefits. Sometimes playing defensive is as much a skill as attacking the hole.
Stay out of the pot bunkers
One of the most important tips we can give you when it comes to links golf is to avoid the bunkers as much as possible - particularly from the tee box. If you find a fairway bunker, it's pretty much a one-shot penalty as the steep faces make it almost impossible to advance the ball forward any real distance.
Check your Hole19 app and take note of the yardage to the bunkers ahead before each shot. If you can play to avoid them as much as possible, you'll give yourself a far better chance of scoring well.
Take your medicine
At times during a round on the links, you'll be faced with an almost impossible shot. The challenge presented by a links golf course is hard enough without destroying your score by going for hero shots you've no business taking on.
Take the famous 'Road Hole' bunker on the 17th at St Andrews as an example - some of the world's best golfers have been made to look rather foolish in that sandtrap or flying long into the road, so if you feel like you have little or no shot, don't be embarrassed to escape sideways or play strategy.
Run it up
The openness of links greens is ideally suited to golf shots that come in along the ground. When you're up closer to the putting surface (but not quite close enough to putt it), it can often pay dividends to go in low.
This is where your bump and run technique will come into its own. In all likelihood, you won't need a lofted chip shot - unless you find yourself out of position and coming over a greenside bunker, for example.
The gorse will always win
Gorse is the nasty stuff you can have a run-in with on links golf courses. It's a prickly shrub that can mercilessly snare a golf ball, and, even if you manage to find it, it's never an easy out.
So what's the message then? You already know it: avoid gorse at all costs because it's a duel you'll rarely win. If you manage to find your ball, consider taking an unplayable lie unless you - by some miracle - have a legitimate chance of successfully hacking it out.
Factor in the wind on the green
The blustery, exposed conditions on a links golf course mean that you will have to make allowances for how the wind may affect the golf ball.
There's nothing worse than seeing your putt blown off line as the wind howls all around. It's far more fun when your poor putt gets blown back on line. That's when you know the golfing gods are really on your side!
Enjoy being creative
As mentioned above, various shots are required throughout your round on the links. While you may not be used to playing them on-demand, embrace the need for creativity, it's incredibly rare that there is only one way to play a links hole. If you poorly execute the correct shot, you will often come off better than if you hit the wrong shot well. Target golf is not the key to links mastery.
A links course sets you challenges and questions your game on every hole. It's doubtful that you will be playing 'target golf'. Instead, you'll have to think smart and be confident to step out of your comfort zone.