Links courses underpin this year's majors

After this year`s four majors are consigned to the record books, golf fans will reflect on a most unusual season when three of them were played on British-style links courses -- including two on American soil.

Reuters| Last Updated: Jul 12, 2015, 10:09 AM IST
Links courses underpin this year's majors

Los Angeles: After this year`s four majors are consigned to the record books, golf fans will reflect on a most unusual season when three of them were played on British-style links courses -- including two on American soil.

Chambers Bay in Washington State hosted the June 18-21 U.S. Open while Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin will hold the PGA Championship for a third time when it stages the final major of 2015 from Aug. 13-16.

In between those two, the British Open will be played next week at the home of golf in St. Andrews, Scotland.

For some, this is proof positive that links-style golf is becoming much trendier in the United States but golf course architect Geoff Shackleford views it more as a greater appreciation for the historical roots of the game.

"Venues (for the majors) are sorted out so far in advance and I would argue that in the case of Chambers Bay and Whistling Straits, they are less links-like," American Shackleford told Reuters in a telephone interview.

"In terms of a trend, I would say there is now a greater appreciation for links golf in the U.S. and there is also less resistance to links golf from the top players.

"It wasn`t that long ago really that players viewed playing too much links-style golf as not good for their game."

Shackleford, who is in Britain for the Scottish Open and the British Open that follows, cited the example of Phil Mickelson`s victories at both events in 2013.

"When Phil won the back-to-back Opens here, that proved to players that you could play over here for a few weeks and it would be a good thing for your game," said Shackleford, who has written several books on golf course design.

"There was a mentality that you would get into bad habits by playing too much links golf. So I think it`s less a trend and more of an embrace of it again, a greater appreciation of how much fun it is to play and to watch links golf."

While the hallowed ground of St. Andrews epitomizes the very best of natural links course golf, both Chambers Bay and Whistling Straits are manufactured layouts that required a massive makeover by their respective designers.

The rolling course at Chambers Bay was formerly used as a rock quarry and gravel mine while Whistling Straits was transformed from flat, windswept and featureless terrain that previously accommodated a military base.

Both U.S. venues generally required high approach shots to the greens whereas true links courses allow for low bump-and-runs and an emphasis on the `ground game`.

"What`s interesting about Whistling Straits for me is that it`s a Scottish-looking course that plays like an American course," said five-times major champion Mickelson.

"It doesn`t play like a course in Scotland, but yet it has all the aesthetics of it. You see the fescues and the sand, the dunes and the pot bunkers ... and the openings in front and you think you want to run balls up.

"But it just doesn`t work. It`s too soft and the ball stops so you have to fly balls on to the green. So that takes a little getting used to, especially when we`re just coming from the British Open."

Unquestionably though, American golfers have become much more attuned to the attraction of links-style golf, and especially since four top-quality layouts were opened for play in Bandon, Oregon -- in 1999, 2001, 2005 and 2010.

"Bandon has been enormous for opening people`s eyes," said Shackleford, who worked with golf course architect Gil Hanse on an extensive restoration of Los Angeles Country Club`s iconic North Course in February 2010.

"The Streamsong Resort down in Florida, while not pure links golf, is another positive trend already in that it has exposed more people to links-style courses, more exposed courses, wider courses, rougher looking courses.

"Anything that allows people to see that it`s not evil, that it`s fun golf and that golf is not just tree-lined courses is a huge plus. You barely hear about people that come back from Bandon not having had a great time."