Beware A Dry Links Course
In April 2017, I travelled to North West Golf Club on the shores of Lough Swilly in North Donegal. After a few dry weeks in spring, our local parkland course had become a joy to play with firm but forgiving greens and fairways. Our club was playing in the Jimmy Bruen Shield at North West so it was time to get some practice in.
The round that followed was one that I can still remember vividly. After years of playing golf around Donegal, links golf has become second nature. The wind, thick rough and treacherous bunkers are all a given. On this day in late April however, after a month of very little rain, I was again left surprised by the tricks that a links golf course can throw at you. On the first hole, a classic Par 4 bordering the Swilly, a short approach of 120 yards with a wedge looked perfect. A bounce at the front of the green left me thinking of birdie. But then the ball kept going. And going. And going. AND GOING!! I arrived at my ball 30 yards through the green and thought to myself, this is going to be a long round!
This is links golf and this is why the game played as it was originally meant is both infectious and infuriating!
Forget Your Plan
Growing up in Donegal, I still have vivid memories of waking up on the morning of a round at one of the local links courses and checking out the window to see if the trees are moving. Even to this day, a journey to Ballyliffin or Murvagh is spent checking the wind as you approach the course.
A gentle breeze as you leave your accommodation inland can be a strong gale as you reach the coast. The beauty of this is that you can play the same links course 3 days running and depending on the wind, it can be a completely different challenge each day.
A practice round on a links layout can be completely redundant as a change in wind has huge ramifications. A Par 5 that is a chance to hit the green in two on Tuesday can be a struggle to reach in 3 on Wednesday.
The beauty of this is that you must be able to think on your feet during a round on a links course. Just this weekend during a round at Rosapenna Old Tom Morris, the first 9 holes were played in a gale. All of a sudden on the 10th tee, nothing! This type of change in conditions can play with your mind so mental strength on a links course is almost as important as rhythm and technique.
Every year for a few weeks the top professionals make their way to Britain and Ireland and display their ability to adapt. These guys have spent their lives figuring out all of the shots and so when it comes to a low stinger under the wind or controlling spin on a short iron, they have all of the shots.
For us amateur golfer however, these things don’t come so easily. Having said that, there are plenty of easy to use techniques which allow us to handle the wind better. Finding this out and conducting an excellent wind shot can be one of the greatest pleasures you will feel.
Take this example. As a parkland course golfer, your average drive is a 240 yard shot with a fairly high trajectory and a slight fade. You can knock this out for 14 long holes on your local parkland and have a nice shot into the green every time. Step up onto a 430 yard par 4 into the teeth of the wind on your local links course. Watch that same drive rise into the wind as the cut spin gets exemplified and the ball begins to balloon. Before the ball reaches land it may look as if it is going backwards. Your playing partners will be in fits of laughter as you approach your second shot from just in front of the ladies tee box over 300 yards from the green!
Here is where the ability to vary your shot making is vital. Links golfers will learn to reduce spin, create a lower flight and choke back on power to ensure that the wind has minimal effect. This technique can take a while but the satisfaction when you figure out how to negotiate a head wind is something else.
The Footsteps of Seve
One of the greatest joys of links golf is trying to learn a new breed of short game. Although your 60 degree wedge has a place on a links, there is a time and a place. Predicting the bounce of a high floated shot is perilous. As well as this you will face lies on a links course which are as tight as you could imagine. Try to get cute with a flop shot and the dreaded thin comes into play.
If you stand 20 yards short of the green with humps and hollows all the way to the hole, often on a links course you will be looking at either an extremely long putt or a very low chip and run with a 5 iron. Try this on your local parkland and you may be asked to leave the course and learn how to play golf!
That is the beauty of the game on a links. You are thinking on every shot. There is always option A, B or C and again it can take a bit of mental fortitude to deal with this. If you pick shot B and it goes wrong you can be left thinking about how you should have taken shot A or B! If you carry this frustration with you for a few holes, you can soon find your scorecard ruined beyond repair.
Links Options at the Abbey & Central
Donegal Town is a perfect hub if you want to learn the quirks of links golf. For golfers who are fairly new to the game, a trip to the Abbey or Central can include a round at Bundoran