A links golf course is the oldest style of golf course, first developed in Scotland. The word comes from the Scots language and refers to an area of coastal sand dunes, and also sometimes to open parkland. It also retains this more general meaning in the Scottish English dialect.
Many links – though not all – are located in coastal areas, on sandy soil, often amid dunes, with few water hazards and few if any trees. This reflects both the nature of the scenery where the sport happened to originate, and the fact that only limited resources were available to golf course architects at the time, and any earth moving had to be done by hand, so it was kept to a minimum.
At Bruntsfield Links in Edinburgh, Scotland, the course (a considerable distance from the coast) is still used for pitch and putt golf, and boasts a sign erected by the City Council which asserts that golf may have been invented there.
The challenges of links golf fall into two categories. Firstly the nature of the courses themselves, which tend to be characterized by uneven fairways, thick rough and small deep bunkers known as “pot bunkers”. Secondly, due to their coastal location many links courses are frequently windy. This affects the style of play required, favoring players who are able to play low accurate shots. As many links courses consist literally of an “outward” nine in one direction along the coast, and an “inward” nine which returns in the opposite direction, players often have to cope with opposite wind patterns in each half of their round.
Links courses remain most common in Ireland and also in the United Kingdom, especially in Scotland. The Open Championship is always played on links courses, even though there are some celebrated courses in the United Kingdom which are not links, and this is one of the main things which differentiates it from the three major championships held in the United States. There are also some well known links courses in other countries, including these courses in North America: Pebble Beach Golf Links (on the Pacific Ocean), Whistling Straits in Wisconsin (on Lake Michigan), Seaside Golf Course and Ocean Forest Golf Course (on Sea Island, Georgia), Bandon Dunes Golf Resort in Bandon, Oregon, and Shinnecock Hills (between Peconic Bay and Shinnecock Bay) in Southampton, New York, all in the U.S.; and, in Canada, Harmon Seaside Links (in Stephenville, Newfoundland and Labrador).
Links courses tend to be on, or at least very near to, a coast, and the term is typically associated with coastal courses. However, links conditions can be duplicated on suitable ground, even hundreds of miles or kilometers inland. One especially notable example of an inland links-style course is Sand Hills Golf Club, a much-acclaimed early-2000s layout in the Sand Hills of Nebraska.