Skip to content

Links golf, desert golf show contrast in game and greatness of those who can master both

Round 1: Rory McIlroy walks down the fairway in the trampled rough.

Round 1: Rory McIlroy walks down the fairway in the trampled rough.

On the surface — literally the surface — playing golf in the Coachella Valley and playing golf on the links courses of The Open Championship couldn’t be more different.

Golf in the desert tends to be strictly target golf, with big lakes and large bunkers protecting large greens surrounded by homes at both private and public golf courses. Even in drought conditions, desert golf courses find enough water to be green while still playing firm and fast.

The links golf courses of The Open Championship, like Royal Liverpool this week, have few if any lakes or water of any kind with the exception of the occasional burn. The courses can be green or brown, depending on what the weather pattern has been in the last few months since there are no irrigation systems. The firm and fast conditions are also dependent on the weather, not the art of course setup.

The large bunkers of the desert give way on a links course to tiny pot bunkers that seem to suck a ball in from 20 yards away. And if the greens in the desert are large, they are nothing compared to the massive putting surfaces of links courses.

More: Summer golf in the desert requires caution, sunscreen and water for the smart player

But the two kinds of golf are not mutually exclusive, as the roster of winners at The Open Championship and The American Express prove. Since the tournament now known as The American Express debuted in 1960, seven players have won both a desert title and an Open Championship. Some of those names are obvious, like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Phil Mickelson and David Duval. Others, like Justin Leonard and Bill Rogers, might not be as obvious.

It is the unique nature of links golf that causes the Open Championship (yes, you can call it the British Open) to be so compelling for American golf fans. In a game where the differences in design can make a player chase a tee time on a different course, The Open Championship offers not just different designs, but a different take on the game entirely.

Left courses fight back

Even in a day of powerful players and souped-up clubs and golf balls, links golf can still encourage a player to play the game along the ground. Links courses have been no more made obsolete than some of the great old courses in this country, still finding a way somehow to defend themselves against technology.

Of course, the greatest defense for a links golf course is the weather. Conditions that would shut down a PGA Tour event or send recreational golfers scurrying to the clubhouse don’t stop playing in the United Kingdom. Unfortunately for the golfers at Royal Liverpool this weekend, some of those conditions are forecast to appear and could send scores soaring over the final 36 holes, certainly over the final 18 holes. Wind worthy of a tropical storm and sideways rain might not be tolerated at Augusta National, but they might be the norm at this year’s Open Championship.

Links golf also requires greater patience than the typical American course. At least once a round a links golfer is guaranteed to get a bounce he doesn’t understand, a lie in a bunker that seems unfair or a wayward drive into an area that would take a search team to find the ball. Let that get to you, frustrate you, even anger you and your round will unravel. Accept the unfair or unforeseeable and you can still play well.

Hardcore golf fans will be riveted to the television this weekend to watch Royal Liverpool and appreciate a kind of golf that just isn’t available in the United States. But casual fans who might not understand the links game should watch, too. It might not seem like “real” golf for American golfers, but the links game is actually as real as it gets in the game.

Larry Bohannan is the golf writer for The Desert Sun. You can contact him at (760) 778-4633 or at [email protected]. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @larry_bohannan. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Desert Sun.

Larry Bohannan Larry Bohannan (Richard Lui The Desert Sun)

Larry Bohannan Larry Bohannan (Richard Lui The Desert Sun)

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Links golf vs. desert golf: A whole different ballgame for Tour pros