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the air, land it 20 yards short of the green and watch it bound forward. Or maybe you have to

figure out how to chip a run- ning 5-iron 110 yards under a stiff breeze. Or maybe your best option

is to putt from 50 yards short of the green, instead of auto- matically reaching for your lob wedge. Properly judging a shot

is as skillful as the swing you make. The strategy involved in links golf is captivating, and ensures every round will be a thought-provoking experience. The challenge of links

golf is in its no-frills simplic- ity. You don’t need greens stimping out at 15, U.S. Open rough or Tiger Tees. Just keep the fairways firm and dry, preferably with a hue of brown. And lots of options. Let the grass be greener

somewhere else. And let our imagination take care of the rest.

KEVIN MERFELD is the Communications Manager for the NCGA.


irst, a disclaimer: I love the bump-and-run. If my ap-

proach shot misses the green (which happens all too often), and the ever-intriguing “up or down” question presents itself, I frequently choose “down.” Leave the pitching wedge in the bag, keep the ball low and watch it scoot along the ground, hopefully stopping in the vicinity of the hole. It’s so cool on those rare

occasions when it works. But does this count as a

symbolic endorsement of links golf over the American-style game? No way. Given the choice, I’ll enthusiastically take the version played in the United States—for the vari- ety, for the enjoyment, for all those towering and majestic trees flanking the fairways. You don’t get towering,

majestic trees on a links layout. Let’s start with this

premise: Setting matters. A big part of golf ’s appeal, at least for me, is spending several hours outdoors, ideally on an exhilaratingly sunny day. It helps when the course offers a picturesque setting, usually with green grass and endless rows of, yes, towering and majestic trees. Golf means

trees, at least in my perfect world. One example:

My 13-year-old son has attended a one- week golf camp the past few summers at Tilden Park in Berkeley. Tilden is a bit funky—some- times, it seems as if flat lies are strictly prohibited—but the setting is invigorating (lots of trees). Every morn- ing when I drop off my son and his friends, the thought

of ditching work and joining them leaps to the forefront. More relevant to this

debate, the style of golf is ap- pealing on many levels. There are still ample opportunities to hit bump-and-run shots on American-style, “parkland” courses such as Tilden. And dealing with uphill/downhill/ sidehill lies is an integral if exasperating part of the game, as my son is learning. Or consider more promi-

nent Northern California courses, like The Olympic Club and Harding Park. Tight, tree-lined fairways re-

quire accuracy. Changes in el- evation demand precision and careful thought with uneven lies, especially on Olympic’s Lake Course. Small greens present an elusive target and offer an understated element of defense. There aren’t even water

hazards to contemplate. That’s the overwhelming advantage of American-style golf over links golf—the wide variety of tracks. Just consider the past four U.S. Open venues. Pebble Beach is a quasi-links layout, but with non-links-ish touches (including countless sprawl- ing bunkers); Congressional is a more traditional parkland course, long and tree-lined; Olympic offers those distinc- tively tilted fairways and tiny greens; and Merion presents a tantalizing mix of long, hard holes and short, inviting ones. Sorry, but the British

Open rotation seems slightly redundant by comparison. This is not to diminish

links golf and its marquee showcase—I thoroughly enjoy getting up early on those July mornings to watch the game’s oldest major championship. It’s captivating, mostly because it’s so different than what we see every week on the PGA Tour. But would it really be

captivating if all high-level tournaments were played on a seaside links, with capricious winds and crazy bounces playing a significant role in the outcome? Not at all. Just ask Tiger Woods about the whims of Mother Nature in the third round of the 2002 Open at Muirfield. Put another way: The occa-

sional links tournament, while laden with rich history, serves as a cool, quirky diversion. Maybe the best evidence

in support of American-style golf is Augusta National and its storied turf. There are

Golf means trees, at least in my perfect world.

plenty of trees and abundant water hazards. The ball is played mostly through the air, not along the ground. And it manages to produce fairly exciting tournaments every April. Augusta’s back nine might count as sacrilege to a links loyalist, with ponds and creeks in play on Nos. 11, 12, 13, 15 and 16. But those holes are some of the most enduring and memorable in the world, with a long history of produc- ing dramatic theater—from Jack Nicklaus’ epic charge to win the 1986 Masters to the wild, final-round horserace in 2011, ultimately won by Charl Schwartzel. That happens, in part,

because of the playing style re- quired at Augusta National. Its towering, majestic trees (yes, I’m a tad obsessive) give the course physical character. Its collection of distinctive, risk- reward, hazard-strewn holes also gives the course a strong sense of sporting character. This is no indictment of

links golf—but the American- style game wins in my book. And if I can somehow sneak in an occasional bump-and- run, then it’s all the better.

RON KROICHICK covers golf for the San Francisco Chronicle.

FALL 2013 / NCGA.ORG / 17


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