A classic links always sits beside the sea, a shoreline or estuary and features sand dunes and sandy, waste ground recovered from ebbing tides, usually by an evolutionary process over centuries. The word ‘links’ actually means that the uncultivated shoreline is ‘linked’ to more fertile soil further inland.
In the early days of golf, the game was always played on this type of common, waste ground where the natural characteristics made it unsuitable for agriculture. The sandy, gravelly soil and short, stubby, relatively thin bent grasses were ideal for golf because they required minimal upkeep. The flattish ground amongst the sand dunes was easily adaptable to the challenges of the game as it evolved over the centuries and it did not require a huge amount of costly care and maintenance. Rabbits, sheep and goats did most of the green keeping work keeping the grass short, crisp and free from weeds as well as fertilizing it in the process!
The key distinguishing factor between playing on a links as against the inland/parkland variety of the same game is the way experienced links golfers anticipate how the ball will bounce and skip across rumples, ridges and slopes.
On inland courses you can loft the ball up in the air with a less than perfect contact from lush, grassy lies but on a links, the tight turf makes it impossible to get the ball up high without the most precise and accurate ball striking.
Instead of trees, hedges and bushes that one finds on inland, parkland courses, there are usually awkward, side hill lies and taller, wispier grasses in the roughs that devour golf balls.
Most links courses have the additional hazard of deep bunkers, while the exposed nature and undulations on the greens in strong winds present the severest of tests in putting skills.
The members at Ballybunion have realized that modern green keeping methods had introduced a certain amount of ‘inland, parkland characteristics’ to their links and to make sure that course conditions would recover its traditional features, they have agreed to lift and re-lay all 18-greens on the Old Course next winter as well as construct an entirely new, 7th green complex to once and for all deal with a continuing erosion issue.