What Is a Links Golf Course?

Links golf courses are some of the most unique and spectacular courses in the world, which are mainly situated in coastal parts of the British Isles. The best links courses can be found in Scotland. Just like the sport of golf, it was here that the first iconic links courses were born.

Why is a link golf course called that?

The first golf courses were laid out amongst the sand dunes around the coastline of Scotland in the 15th century and were soon known as the links. Although they originated in Scotland strangely the term links derives from an Old English word ‘hlinc’ describing the topography of the land.

As they were the first places people could play golf, interest spread to other areas of the UK and the rest of the world copied their design. They quickly sprung up in similar tracts of land readily available, which were not suitable for growing crops or other purposes. Typically, this was gently undulating sandy soil-based land that linked the sea with more inland areas.

Golf is a game very much based on tradition and because links golf courses were the first ones ever played, they have become almost the holy grail to golfers.  Most will want to play on a links style golf course at sometime in their golfing life. This ambition can now be fulfilled in various spots around the world.

Trump Turnberry golf resort UK 4

Turnberry Golf Course in Scotland

What defines a link golf course?

The type of land used dictates the design of each links golf course. Being so close to the sea, links courses are built on mainly sandy soil which has often been used previously as grazing land. This provides a close-cropped finish to the grass with good drainage, a big contrast to the lush fairways that have become standard on inland parkland and resort type golf courses.

There are typically no trees on a link course and the hazards consist instead of the natural sand dunes and the rough wispy grass that border the fairways. This makes accuracy off the tee very important. Weather also plays a big part in your experience of playing a link golf course.

There is a considerable difference between playing on a rare calm day and under the usual blustery conditions. Especially as many of the oldest courses were designed with nine holes going one way and the other nine going in the opposite direction.

Even modern links designed courses follow the basic traditional ideas and you won’t find man made water hazards or an abundance of trees on them. The architect’s intent is to keep the conditions as natural as possible and allow the landscape to dictate the design.

How many links courses are there?

As Golf started in Scotland it’s no surprise to find that there are more links courses there than anywhere else. There are in fact over 100 venues that qualify as true links courses. Each of these have the characteristic sea views, fast hard fairways, sandy subsoil and are protected by the dunes, rough grasses and of course the prevailing weather conditions.

There is some debate as to how many links courses there are in the world, but many leading authorities think that there are only around 250 out of a total of approximately 35,000 courses worldwide (0.7% of all courses). With around 200 of them in the UK and Ireland, it’s hardly surprising that golfers from all over the world come here to play and experience golf in its purest form.

What are the best links courses in the UK & Ireland?


Fairmont St Andrews in Scotland

What are the best links courses In Scotland?

The area from Fife in Scotland down to the English border has an amazing number of high-quality courses. St. Andrews is the jewel in the crown but there are outstanding tests of golf all along that coastline. On the western side of the country Turnberry is internationally renowned and along with Royal Troon and Muirfield near Edinburgh, is on the list of courses that stage the Open Championship.

There are more recently built magnificent golf courses such as Kingsbarns, the Renaissance Club, Machrihanish Dunes and Trump International that follow the traditional links design but with a nod to the requirements of today’s golfer.

What are the best links courses In Ireland?

Ireland is blessed with so many great links courses that it is hard to make a choice which to play. Most of them lack the necessary infrastructure and facilities in order for them to host the Open. However, the success of last years event at Royal Portrush highlighted the quality that can be found there.

Indeed, the world’s number one golf course in most rankings is Royal County Down in Northern Ireland, which is an absolute gem and a must for everyone’s bucket list. It seems that wherever there is a stretch of coastline someone has built a golf course overlooking it. It’s impossible to list them all but whatever region you visit you will be sure to find links golf of the highest quality in Ireland.

What are the best links courses In England?

The Northwest of England markets itself as England’s golf coast and it is not hard to see why with both Royal Birkdale and Royal Lytham St. Annes venues for the Open Championship. Several other lesser-known courses such as Hillside, Formby and West Lancashire are also well worth a visit.

In the south east of England, the Open Championship host Royal St. Georges and the adjacent Princes golf and Royal Cinque Ports provide great quality golf in a localised area.

In the South West meanwhile, there are several great links courses overlooking the Atlantic with Trevose Burnham and Berrow and Saunton well worth a visit.

What are the best links courses in Wales?

There are 18 coastal courses in Wales with Royal St. Davids and Royal Porthcawl perhaps the bust known but there are several others that offer outstanding golf.

What are the best links courses overseas?

West Cliffs Golf Course is a links course in Portugal

West Cliffs Golf Course in Portugal

Looking abroad, some of the finest links golf experiences can be found in Portugal. The Praia D’El Rey Golf Resort on the Silver Coast, north of Lisbon, features two stunning courses that are situated on the coast.

Praia D’El Rey is the original track that was developed and is one of the most popular golfing breaks abroad that we offer. The Atlantic Ocean provides a jaw dropping backdrop to this 18-hole course.

In recent years West Cliffs has been developed at the resort which is considered a real gem and a bucket list experience. This is another 18 hole track and as you can tell from the image, it is absolutely stunning!

If you are visiting the Algarve, then it is worth considering Onyria Palmares which is a 27 hole golf course but 9 of which, on the Praia Course, offer a fantastic links experience!

The holes on this loop are situated between the beach and a train line, offering some memorable scenery and a high quality test.

How can I play links golf?

In the UK and Ireland, we have more links golf courses then anywhere else in the world. So if you are seeking to play golf in its purest form, wherever you are in the UK, there will be a links course within easy travelling distance.

The costs of playing a links course can be well over a hundred pounds a round for the championship courses. But there are many much cheaper options that can be found that will still deliver the unique links golf experience and allow you to enjoy the beautiful sport at its finest.