The difference between a parkland course and a links course is considerably greater than is commonly known. They are both 'somewhere to play golf' but that's about where any similarity ends. Most people (well, golfers anyway) know that a golf links is a golf course on the coast - a seaside course. However, the definition is even narrower than that. The word 'link' or 'links' comes from the Old English word 'hlinc' meaning a ridge or a stretch of flat, undulating land along a seashore. Nothing to do with a succession of holes linked together like a chain.
Before looking at the characteristics of a links let us just define a parkland course. Well, it's almost a case of 'everything is parkland except a links'. But there is an exception in that there are a number of courses (usually northern) which are 'moorland'. And mountainous courses are rare for obvious reasons. Gravity mainly.
Parkland courses are very often set in an area not infrequently wooded to some degree and often with heather, gorse, sand bunkers and sometimes water in the form of ponds or lakes. However, the main and striking difference between links and parkland is that the latter is much more obviously manufactured. This is not said by way of criticism since inland courses by definition have to be manufactured. The quality of the course though is more to do with the skill of the designer and how much this "manufactured-ness" shows. The optimum use of the space available and the incorporation of existing natural features - woods, trees, water, ups and downs - are where the architect can bring his creative powers to bear.
A great advantage of playing on a links course is that it can usually be kept open all year round. The sandy soil encourages fast drainage and offers a firm playing surface even through wet weather. Links players have another aspect of weather to contend with and that is the wind. It can vary throughout the day in speed and direction and assessing how many clubs' difference to allow for a shot into the wind is gained only through experience. Skill in playing 'below the wind' shots is very useful. Other techniques you will need to learn are how to play out of the type of grass found on seashores. The nature of the grass is such that it can wrap itself around your club and cause all sorts of problems - hence the need to accustom yourself to a rather different style of golf and adapt to conditions that you won't find on the parkland courses.
Parkland courses in general are fashioned out of the existing 'geography' of the area and maximum use is made of the natural features of the landscape. If there is a convenient lake or stream it can be incorporated, as can any thickets or woodland. The important thing to look for in the design of a parkland course is variety from one hole to the next and, if possible, to give each hole its own character. Whereas the parkland course draws its character from the available features and makes it necessary for a player to have a strategy, the links has a constantly changing character that challenges the player at every outing.
It is the links courses that have traditionally been chosen for the great tournaments as the ultimate test. Places like Troon, Carnoustie, St.Andrews, Sandwich and Lytham are all courses which will test the very best in the world - with a very strong accent on consistency. Every day is different and every round demands your full concentration.
This is not to dismiss the parkland courses. They present the sternest tests for the championship players - Sunningdale, Wentworth, Woodhall Spa, Walton Heath, The Belfry to name a few. These will always provide tough tournament venues and at the same time they offer the most beautiful settings - particularly Gleneagles. For those who prefer a gentle venue but still want a real challenge, there are dozens of top class parkland courses to explore.
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