Why Are Golf Courses Called Links? Explained

Have you ever had a friend come up to you and say “how about we hit the links today”?

If you have, you may be asking yourself; why are golf courses called links?

The term link comes from the Old English word “hlinc” which means a sandy area along the coast. Link golf courses are ones that fit that description. There are currently only 247 true links courses in the world, with Scotland being home to 100 of them.

Read on to find out more about the difference between links and parkland golf courses, as well as the challenges you may face when playing a round on a links course.

The Origins of the Term “Links”

Before we dive into what a links golf course is, let’s first explore the origin of the term “links”. This word comes from Old English, from the term “hlinc” specifically. Hlinc was used to refer to sandy coastal areas with a lot of elevations.

What Are Links Golf Courses?

So, what is a links golf course? This type of golf course is the one that was used in the mid-18th century at the very beginning of the game’s inception in Scotland.

It’s characterized by its lack of trees and vegetation, and it maintains the original layout and topography of the land it’s on. Since links golf courses are located near the sea, the soil they’re on is very sandy.

The use of this type of land to build a golf course is not without its reasons.

The aforementioned sandy soil makes these vast expanses of land unfit for any agricultural activity. On the other hand, it’s perfect for golf due to its excellent drainage which keeps the ground above it structurally sound.

Links Golf Course vs. Regular Golf Course: What’s the Difference?

The main difference between links golf courses and regular golf courses (often referred to as parkland courses) is the terrain.

The terrain of parkland golf courses goes through plenty of modification and optimization for playing golf. In contrast, links golf courses are more natural, making those who play on them have to adapt their game to the course’s terrain.

A common difference in the terrain of links and parkland golf courses is that the former has a significantly more unpredictable topography than the latter.

Another distinction between these two types of golf courses is that parkland courses are built inland, far away from coastal areas.

The difference between the type of soil underneath links and parkland golf courses results in each having a completely different feel in terms of their ground.

Are Link Golf Courses More Challenging?

Links golf courses are harder to play than parkland courses in some ways and easier in others.

The first thing that stands out is the difference in weather. While parkland golf courses are filled with trees and all kinds of vegetation, links golf courses are way more open.

This means that there’s nothing to stop the wind from coming in at full force, making it harder to control the direction of the ball when you swing and send it flying.

On the other hand, this openness means that there are fewer obstacles stopping your ball from going further, so links courses are easier than their parkland counterparts in this respect.

Another challenging aspect of playing a links golf course is its unfamiliarity. Most people haven’t encountered links golf courses very often, or even at all. Therefore, most golfers’ game simply isn’t optimized for such courses.

This forces golfers to adjust their game and use techniques that they don’t practice regularly, in turn, their scores can get higher than usual when playing a links course.

How Many True Links Courses Are There?

Although there are many golf courses around the world that claim to be links courses, there are only 247 true links courses that are recognized by The Links Association. The main criteria for recognition by this official body are that the course should be on top of sandy soil, and along the coast.

The majority of these courses can be found in the UK, more specifically, in Ireland, Scotland, and England.

As can be expected, the country with the most links golf courses in the world is Scotland. The country from which the game of golf hails is home to a whopping 100 true links golf courses.

The most famous of these courses is the St. Andrew’s Old Course, others such as the Dumbarnie Golf Links are not as well-known but are equally beautiful.

What Does “Hitting the Links” Mean?

If you’re anywhere near the golfing scene, you’ve probably had someone tell your that they’re about to “hit the links” before.

This commonly used phrase simply means that someone is about to play a round of golf.

You should note that it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll be playing on one of the world’s 247 links courses. You can use this phrase even if you’re about to go practice your swing at the local country club.

Which Major Tournaments Are Played on Links Courses?

The biggest pro golf tournament that’s played on links courses is the British Open Championship. It’s played on several links courses that rotate every year. The St. Andrew’s Old Course is typically the tournament’s location once every five years.


If you were wondering: why are golf courses called links? The answer is that that moniker originated with the inception of the game.

The earliest versions of golf were played on courses along the coast that sat on sandy soil.

These courses were completely natural with unmodified terrains. On the other hand, the parkland courses that are more common in this day and age are designed by architects to look a certain way.

Your best bet at getting a chance to play one of the 247 true links courses in the world is to travel across the pond to Scotland.

Be prepared to adjust your game though, these courses can be tough to play!

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