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Point Counterpoint

Links Golf vs. American Golf –Which Do You Prefer?


inks golf sets Michelangelo loose in the Sistine Chapel.

American golf confines him to the ceiling of an outhouse. Links golf is dealer’s

choice—pick any poker game you want. American golf thinks Texas Hold ’em was the only poker game ever invented. It’s a left-brain, right-brain

sort of thing. Do you want your golf game to have free- dom or boundaries? Variables or constants? Golf Magazine ranked the

Top 100 Courses in the world, and the first three are in the United States: Pine Valley, Cypress Point and Augusta National. There’s no need to morph into a martyr and turn down a tee time at any of these sacred courses in the name of links golf. But let’s quickly define

what American golf is, and what it has become. In short, links golf asks you how you want to play a hole. It gives you options. American golf orders you.

Can’t hit the shot required? Go back to the driving range, you weakling. No doubt America has

more diverse geography than Scotland, the birthplace of golf, where the courses derived their name because they linked land and blustery sea on sandy and rolling terrain. In the United States, we

have courses carved out of thick forest, perched atop 6,000-foot mountaintops, routed along rivers and lakes and oceans, built through

16 / NCGA.ORG / FALL 2013

deserts and valleys, and in climates that range from freezing to 120 degrees. We have altitude and humidity, whipping winds and scorching sunny days. We have it all, right? Well, we did. When you look at Golf

Digest’s Top 100 Courses in America, 12 of the first 13 were built by 1933. These courses were mostly limited in their earth-moving capabilities during construction, which turned out to be a blessing. They were built using the same philosophies as their links ancestors. The tees are just a few

paces away from the previ- ous green. The holes use the existing features in nature to create interest, intrigue and strategy—sometimes subtle, sometimes severe, but always authentic. All abilities and shot types were not just considered, but tolerated, in their design. But then American golf

fell in love with the bulldozer. Difficult became confused with great. Building a course that would test, or even better, embarrass, tour pros was the new goal. American golf went Old

Testament on us. The Golf Gods on this side of the pond became angry and vengeful, and would smite you with the wrath of 7,600-yard courses. You must atone for your

golf sins in America, and you must sacrifice par to do it. You shall not miss fairways or play a hole any other way than it was intended.

The Golf Gods here rule

by fear. We say we love the challenge, but great shots aren’t met with satisfaction— simply relief. American golf is uncomfortable, claustrophobic and unforgiving. Accuracy isn’t rewarded—it just isn’t punished. We obsess over protect- ing par in America (see our national championship, the U.S. Open), and we overcom- pensate by showing off our bigger and bigger golf courses, which has led to a prolifera- tion of cookie-cutter tracks on the PGA Tour.

But as we do that, we

squeeze out the spirit of the game, the enchanting and romantic characteristics that make golf so lovable. Ameri- can golf doesn’t just suppress shot-shaping and creativity, it renders it nearly obsolete. And isn’t that the most

skillful part of the game? The most impressive expression of talent? Shouldn’t that be fea- tured? Protected at all costs? While American courses

are varied in setting, their evo- lution to target golf requires the same stock shot over and over again. It is a dialed-in game played almost exclusive- ly through the air. And that has turned golf into glorified artillery practice. Links golf is brains over

brawn, even some 600 years af- ter the Old Course at St. An- drews was formed. It’s about showing you what you can do, instead of punishing you for what you can’t. Yes, there is an ideal line of play that will

set up a favorable approach in links golf, but there is always another way, if you can channel your inner Seve Ballesteros. Links golf allows you to

embrace your imagination and recovery skills. Its designs are genius because they challenge and entice from so many dif- ferent angles. You can play the hole however you see fit. Heck, you can play the

Old Course both forward and backward! Links golf keeps the

rangefinder in your bag. Sure, it’s helpful to know that you are 200 yards out, but when there is a 30-mph wind at your back that has dried out the course, maybe your best play is to hoist an 8-iron in

St. Andrews’ Swilcan Bridge

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