This month Compleat Golfer’s playing editor Brandon Stone talks about the memories – and the challenges – links golf provides.
While most of you are still in the heart of winter over in South Africa, I am enjoying the British summer. But there are days when I don’t know what season it is, given the variable weather. I’m told summer was on a Tuesday this year in England.
But I’m sure that being avid golf followers, you will have been glued to your TV screens over the past few weeks, watching the Irish Open, the Scottish Open and The Open Championship. Which in turn has opened the window into the most magical of art forms you will find in all sport: links golf.
It’s beautiful and brutal – at the same time. People often talk about life being a rollercoaster, or having a rollercoaster of a golf round, but believe me, there is nothing quite like links golf to awaken every one of your five senses.
Very few things in life are more beautiful than a well laid-out links course. Close your eyes and picture it: sand dunes lining the fairway, covered in thick heather, deep pot bunkers strategically placed in the perfect areas along the way, instantly penalising any wayward shot. Massive greens with severe sloping and the most subtle of breaks, testing even the greatest putters.
Ah … doesn’t that just paint the most surreal picture in your head? But wait just for a moment, because you need to be mindful of the adage, ‘If it seems too good to be true it probably is.’ Most of you would have been picturing a gorgeously beautiful day. The sun blazing, a calm breeze without a cloud in the sky and a temperature of around 25˚C that would allow you to play in short sleeves. But, the reality is most links courses experience just seven days like that a year. That’s ‘summer’ for you!
More often than not you’ll be greeted by lashing winds, rain hammering down and a temperature more appropriate for a trek to the Arctic. Yet, the courses are always full, which is truly amazing. On the surface, one fails to see the logic and reasoning for even playing the game. But like I’ve said many times before … you have to be a little crazy to be a golfer.
The flipside is that when you play links golf it will have you hitting shots you’d never dreamed of. You’ll also see shots your golfing buddies won’t believe were possible when you share them at the 19th hole. And I’m talking from experience. This season alone I’ve hit a 400m drive and a 200m drive and on both occasions I almost swung myself out of my shoes. Would it surprise you if I told you it was on the same hole, one day apart? Well, that’s links golf for you.
It has taken me almost 10 years to develop my way of playing links golf.
After all, very few of us are as gifted as Tom Watson. He’s a legend who made winning The Open look easier than taking cash off your weekly fourball. He won the toughest golf tournament on the planet five times, at Carnoustie, Turnberry, Muirfield, Royal Troon and Royal Birkdale from 1975 to 1983.
Links golf takes no prisoners and it will leave you a quivering wreck, devoid of any confidence and provide the most extreme test of your mental strength. You will hit good shots that will end up horribly bad. Then you will hit bad shots that will end up making you look like a beginner. That’s just how it goes. If you’re not careful, it will take you to the brink of insanity and toss you over the line like a cheap doll.
The trick is to stay in control of your emotions. If you can do that you’ll be one step ahead of everyone else.
If you’re lucky enough to ever get to the United Kingdom I would definitely recommend trying to get in a links game. Playing courses like St Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Royal Birkdale and Turnberry will create memories you’ll take to your grave. But realise that you will have to surrender a few sleeves of golf balls along the way.