The following is excerpted from Bunkers, Pits & Other Hazards, by Forrest Richardson & Mark Fine (©John Wiley & Sons, 2006)
The definition of linksland is land located near an open sea or bay which happens also to be connected directly to the sea through natural drainage patterns. Linksland is low lying land which has been formed by centuries of drainage, tidal changes and the brisk weather along the sea. It generally possesses the characteristics of naturally rolling sand dunes and natural features which have been formed by the wind, the ocean, and the action of receding tides in ancient times.
The word links comes from the Old English hlincas, meaning “ridges.” The Scottish term links came to mean the undulating sandy ground near a shore, which was full of windswept ridges and hills formed by the forces of the weather and sea. In no other language is there a word to define, with such precision, this distinctive type of land.
It is no coincidence that “links” also came to mean a golf course, for this is where golf took hold for good. Today, “links” is often used as a synonym for any “seaside golf course,” and sometimes for any golf course at all. Yet there is a valid point of contention concerning these latter uses. A true links golf course requires linksland. And while linksland may be approximated in 100 ways or more, and it may be that a few inland dunes have nearly the same qualities, courses which are not on linksland are not “links,” at least not when we think carefully about the word and its origin.
In A History of Golf In Britain , by Sir Guy Campbell (1952), the formation of golf courses upon linksland is put into sequence. Our condensed summary goes as follows:
1. Over the ages the sea gradually recedes.
2. It leaves behind natural channels cut through a sandy terrain, some serving as rivers and streams which carry rainwater from higher ground back to the sea.
3. Coastal winds dry the sand and blow it into dunes. Over time, ridges, knolls and hollows are the result.
4. The protected areas of this landscape become a haven for birds, and with their presence comes bird droppings, and with this comes an upper layer of rich silt.
5. Seeds blown toward the ocean, and some from bird droppings, take hold and germinate.
6. Grasses, such as marram and fescues, take hold and adapt to the sandy soils and wind, as do a few bushes and the occasional tree.
7. The lower areas, those in between dunes and ridges, were naturally greener and easier to traverse. Animals-rabbits and the foxes who preyed upon them; and finally, the hunter and his dogs after the fox-wore these areas into tidy pathways.
8. The golfer discovers these areas and puts them to use. They are forgiving compared to the dunes, the taller grasses and the dense brush. These lower areas trampled and worn by animal and man become the golfer’s fairways and greens. The rugged dunes and ridges become the challenge — the obstacle course. These areas are the first golf courses.
The many landforms of natural linksland are the ancestors of all golf hazards. Bunkers originated amongst the sand dunes as natural hollows of sand and blow-outs of towering sand held in place by natural grasses. Bumps and undulations are the hallmark of linksland terrain; it is no wonder that they are replicated in modern courses. Natural ground left in place, and even artificial landscaping created throughout the modern golf course, takes a cue from the pot-marked broken ground which runs between tee and fairway and throughout any true links course. The drainage channels, either natural rivers or channels dug to carry runoff from towns back to the sea, were the predecessors of today’s artificial channels and streams. Lakes and ponds on our modern courses are responses to the sea itself; placeholders for bays, inlets and lowlands which are components of a links environment. And even trees, while much higher in profile than gorse3, are mere reinterpretations of the stretches of unimproved land which border fairways and pop up at often inopportune places to add challenge across linksland courses.
The thoughtful Robert Hunter, writing in The Links, proclaims the association between linksland and golf hazards by saying “…golf was born on the crumpled and corrugated areas along wind-swept dunes. Wind and water, hillocks and hollows, mounds and pits, marram-grass and bents-these are the hazards of the links.” Hunter goes on to sum up the very nature of golf, that “There can be no real golf without hazards.”