how to play links golf The work of nature Links courses cop more than their fair share of criticism. But Chisholm Park professional Andrew Whiley says golfers who are well prepared and take a positive attitude to a links course will enjoy a unique experience 40 thecut STORY Andrew Whiley Photographs Paraparaumu GC Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club. improve your game 41 Andrew Whiley loves playing links golf. G 42 thecut rowing up playing golf at the ‘old’ Miramar Golf Club, I learned to love the wind and the bounce and run golf that is links golf. If you didn’t enjoy the conditions you were not going to have too many fun days on the course. I always loved seeing the browning-off of the golf course because it meant my drives attained that extra 50 metres of roll, while playing the par-3 10th hole at Chisholm Park could mean one day hitting an easy 9-iron and the next cutting loose with a solid 5-wood. I guess my love of the links has grown with my appreciation of the game. From Miramar, I spent time working at Spanish Bay and Pebble Beach in California before moving to the Wanganui Golf Club. Now I am at the Chisholm Park Golf Links in Dunedin. Throughout this time, I have encountered hundreds, if not thousands, of golfers who either love or hate links golf. Links golf is an appreciation thing. Like a famous piece of art, everyone has an opinion and they are all happy to share it with you. Just ask the USPGA Tour players what they think of links golf. The ones who embrace it play well at The Open while those who complain about the luck of the bounce and how their ‘perfect’ shot was rejected by the course might as well pack their bags and go home! All good links golf courses have survived the test of time and the introduction of new technology. Where some of the traditional parkland courses have struggled, with modern equipment rendering the courses obsolete, the links golf course design has survived today’s test of golf with titanium drivers, hybrids, lob wedges and five-piece golf balls. Golfers of all levels still find the courses as difficult today as they did 50 years ago. What is links golf? The Oxford English dictionary defines links as: a golf course, especially on grassland near the sea; sandy ground near the sea, covered by coarse grass. Links golf is the work of nature. Starting with the sandy, barren windswept conditions and undulations caused by time, the canvas is set for great golf. Traits of a true links golf course are that they are located seaside where the land ‘links the sea’ and they are built on sand and bleak landscapes. The course will be buffeted by wind from multiple directions making for testing golf conditions. It is the layout and the weather conditions that make links golf a true golfing test. Links golf courses are generally laid out with the ninth green and 10th tee representing the furthest points from the clubhouse, meaning you have the outward nine plus the inward nine back to the clubhouse. The flow of the golf course rolls with the terrain and the bunkers are moulded into the surrounds so as not to lose the sand out of them when winds sweep across the course. Trees will be sparse or growing at angles with the heathery rough and coastal bushes defining the flow of the course. Stand on a knoll or rise and most of the golf course will flow out in front of you. A links golf course generally dries out and browns off with weather conditions and plays hard and fast. The ball will sit down on Traits of a true links golf course are that they are located seaside where the land ‘links the sea’ and they are built on sand and bleak landscapes The second hole at Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club. the fairway, you will have blind tee shots and have to think about your shots into the green: How will the bounce go? Do I land short or use the run off the bank to the right? Do I bump and run it in? No two days on the links will ever be the same. Links golf in New Zealand The Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club is regarded as the best links golf course in New Zealand. It is a true gem with flowing fairways, some short challenging holes, and pot bunkers that blend into the contours of the land to ensure a great mental challenge. The short par-3 second hole, the short par-4 risk/reward sixth, and the 17th all make you think ‘how do I play this hole today?’. I’ll show my bias here, as I believe Chisholm Park in Dunedin is the best ‘true links’ in that it truly links the land to the open sea. Muriwai Golf Club, Kaitaia Golf Club, Waipu Golf Club and Hokitika Golf Club would rate honourable mentions, in my book. Miramar Links, Wanganui Golf Club and Oreti Sands Golf Club (Invercargill) are not seaside courses but they do have a true links ‘style’ to them. Understanding links golf When Jack Nicklaus, Robert Trent Jones Jnr and Pete Dye played the Spanish Bay Links at Pebble Beach – at the annual golf architects conference in 1990 – I was fortunate to be in their company, caddying for Trent Jones. During the round, these three great designers debated design characteristics that should be considered in links golf design. The key points were: the course should be improve your game 43 The Kataia Golf Club is renowned for being as tough as it is scenic. playable for all levels of players; from 100 metres out, there must be multiple shots that can be played into the green; make the golfer think from the green to the tee – links golf is like playing chess, you really want to set yourself up for the next shot; false fronts, swales and mounding need to challenge the player and create some illusion, rewarding good shots and creating frustration for poor shots; bunkers should essentially be seen but not heard (blend into the land); weather, weather and weather – the golf course should be difficult in all wind directions thus exhibiting no favouritism in any prevailing wind. Playing links golf First, I see many golfers not prepared appropriately to play links golf. Wearing the right gear is a big asset. Wear layered clothing and a wind/rain jacket with enough mobility so that you can swing the club while keeping the wind chill out. Peak hats that can be tightened are a must, so the wind doesn’t 44 thecut blow them off, especially when putting. The secret weapon is to wear wrap-around, lowglare sunglasses as they keep the wind out of your eyes and you will see terrain definition much clearer. Wear lots of sunscreen as golfers often walk off links golf courses with severe sunburn and windburn. On the course, you want to have imagination and the ability to play creative golf, whether it’s a punchy 3-wood shot, a knock-down 7-iron from 100 metres out or a delicate chip-and-run shot. Links golf tee shots are all about placing the ball on the fairway and setting yourself up for your next shot. The 4 or 5 hybrid has become the perfect bump and run club. You can even use your putter from several metres off the green. For your hands, you want to be gripping down the club. This can also be applied to the driver to keep the ball down. This shallows out the swing arc resulting in lower ball flight which really helps in windy conditions. Picking the ball clean off the fairway is a must. This is due to the fact that links golf courses are drier and the types of grasses that survive links golf course conditions are not as lush. A handy tip to achieving quality iron shots on links fairways is to play the ball slightly back in your stance. Make sure you have a good sand wedge with low bounce as sand in a links golf course is heavier than a parkland course. When the sand is light and fluffy, the wind blows it about. You’ll enjoy links golf more if you consider the wind your friend. Many golfers become frustrated and blame the conditions. Hit your shots so the wind assists the golf ball rather than you fighting against it. When putting in the wind you want to widen your stance and achieve a lower centre of gravity to reduce the buffeting effect of the wind. Overall, enjoy playing links golf and the challenges it presents. Accept the different conditions and take time out to appreciate the coastal views. You’ll truly relish the experience.
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