Tired of golf’s wild events? Who turned the men’s professional game into a new toy for Saudi investors? What U.S. senators drag their golf (no bags) to work? Who said PGA Tour star Rory McIlroy felt like a sacrificial lamb in the proposed PGA Tour/LIV Golf partnership?
Rest well. This week, the windswept rustic game of Links Golf makes its annual appearance on golf’s main stage. For golf, it’s a chance to retell its origin story. His fourth and final British Open of the annual Grand Slam tournament is approaching.
The host course this time is Royal Liverpool, also known as Hoy Lake to those in the know, featuring uneven fairways that turn a pale khaki green from the summer sun and brackish air.
In the words of BBC commentator Peter Allis, who died in 2020, the Open will always be held “in the sights and sounds of the sea”. They are contested on his century-old links course, or much older. Royal Liverpool held its first opening in 1897 and faces Liverpool Bay, which you might think is the Irish Sea. The course is one mile from Hoylake train station (many fans access it via the Merseyrail) and about 25 miles from Liverpool’s Penny Lane.
Lifelong Texan and 2017 British Open winner Jordan Spieth geared up for Royal Liverpool last week when he qualified for the Scottish Open on the links course at the Renaissance Club. Spieth sneaked out one afternoon to face the all-time favorite lynx, North Berwick. His 13th green is guarded by stone walls. First there is the wall and the course dates back to his 1832.
“In the British Isles, they like the quirky,” said American golf course architect Reese Jones recently.
Architectural promotion of courses, a powerful marketing tool in American golf, is not common in the UK. A few years ago, Jones first visited Western Gales, a rugged course on Scotland’s rugged west coast. The club’s starchy club secretary, or gatekeeper, told Jones that he could play the course if he could name the architect.
Mr. Jones offered a series of names.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
“Who designed it then?” Jones asked.
“God!” yelled the secretary.
Spieth’s plan was to play just a few holes at North Berwick, but it turned out he couldn’t stop. He played the entire course. In it he spoke of his enjoyment of links golf.
“There’s nothing like links golf,” he said. “Playing turf is completely different. Depending on the wind, your shots will fly shorter or farther than elsewhere. It’s very exciting. It’s fun. It uses your imagination. When you’re playing links golf, you don’t shoot on the driving range.”
In the background, someone in Spieth’s group called out to another player, “Good shot.” However, if you play Lynxland, you should be careful with this phrase.
No one knows that better than Tom Watson, who won the Open Championship five times in the 1970s and 80s.
“In 1975 I went to Carnoustie to play the Open Championship for the first time,” Watson said in a recent telephone interview. Carnoustie on the east coast of Scotland is notoriously rugged, bleak and difficult. Watson arrived at the course on Sunday before the tournament started, but the rulers turned him away. he was too early Luckily, there are 240 traditional links his courses across the UK.
“So Hubert Greene, John Mahaffey and I made our way to Monifice,” Watson said. “I hit the first shot down the middle. Everyone says, ‘Good shot.’ I walk the fairway. I can’t find my ball. It’s gone. I’m thinking ‘I don’t know about this links golf’. ”
Watson won the 1975 British Open at Carnoustie. And while he may have won at Turnberry in 2009, his 8-iron second shot at the 72nd hole landed short of the green, bounced badly, and ended up on fluffy grass. For him to win, he needs one simple closing par. Rather, his bogey meant a playoff and the 59-year-old Watson lost his fortune. Stewart Sink won.
Watson walked into the reporter tent and said, “This is not a funeral.” Links golfers learn to embrace the good and bad bounces of any golf life over time. ”
After graduating from Cornell University in 1982 with dreams of becoming a golf course architect, Tom Doak became a summer caddy at the Old Course in St Andrews. Doak, now a celebrated architect (and designer of Renaissance courses), has been studying links golf ever since. In a recent interview, he said older golfers often do better at the Open Championship. Greg Norman was 53 when he tied for third in 2008. Darren Clarke was 42 when he won in 2011 and Phil Mickelson was 43 when he won in 2013.
According to Doak, links golf isn’t about overwhelming drivers with youthful grit. When Tiger Woods won Royal Liverpool in 2006, he only hit a driver once in four days. The greens of the British Open are usually flat and slow, especially when compared to the greens of the Augusta National, for example. A game within a game that favors young eyes and young nerves with less stress on putting. The most related to golf rewards are the wind, your ability to read the bounce, and how you hit the ball with your irons.
“In links golf, you have to bend the ball in both directions, depending on the direction of the wind and the position of the pins,” Doak says. “You have to understand what happens after the ball lands.”
It takes cleverness, skill and acquired golf wisdom. All of this will come in handy whether you’re playing at the British Open or playing a casual match with friends in the long evenings of the English summer. An open-minded fan can also end his day of golf with his nine (or more) dinners at the nearby seaside links. Greater Liverpool has a lot of them. The same goes for any venue at the British Open.
While playing night golf at these courses, you may also spot golf officials, equipment men, sportswriters, caddies, and Jim McKay. McKay, better known as Bones and caddie for Justin Thomas, was Mickelson’s caddy when he won at Muirfield a decade ago.
McKay, like millions of other golf enthusiasts around the world, can’t get enough of the game. So it’s the actual game, not politics or business opportunities. As a golfer and caddy, McKay knows that success in links golf requires a certain kind of golf magic: the ability to move the golf ball the way you want it to.
Playing links golf “is like standing 50 yards in front of a hotel and having to decide which window on which floor you want the ball to go through,” he recently said.
Cady as a poet. Golfer with options.
Links Golf represents, as John Updike once wrote, “wild and windy freedom.” On some level, the Royal Liverpool winner will get it. The same goes for the winner of a suppertime match. Yes, the British Open winner will receive $3 million this year. But he also gets a one-year custody of the Claret Jug, the winning trophy that will have his name engraved forever.
Do you know how much Woods made winning Hoy Lake in the summer of 2006?
But many of us remember Woods sobbing in Caddy’s arms. We remember Woods cradling a jug of victory. We remember the brown dirt cloud, the soaring ball, the twirling clubhead that heralded his shot.
“Wind, hit,” Woods occasionally said to the ball in the air, as if the wind could hear him.