As the professional women begin competing in the AIG Women’s Open this week, we all dream about taking a trip over to experience links-style golf in Scotland. Before we can discuss the 5 most important items you must pack for your next excursion, it’s important to understand what makes links golf so different. The phrase “links golf” was coined based on the type of soil courses are played on. It doesn’t mean there are no trees or near the water.
Courses are considered links-style because they are built on the land that “links” the agricultural (farming) land to the seascape. The soil composition is terrible for farming but great for building firm and fast surfaces. Combine that feature with a commonly windy location along the water and you get a better appreciation for how to prepare.
When you announce you’re heading to the birthplace of golf or another links-style destination everyone tells you to pack your rain suit. Although that is important, here’s a list of items your PGA Coach would recommend you throw in your golf bag before the jacket and umbrella.
Practice your lag putting.
Links golf is played on the ground as much as possible. This is no more important than on and surrounding the putting greens. Get to the practice green at home and start working on getting the ball inside a two-foot circle around the hole from all types of situations. Through the fringe, over hills and especially long putts on the green. This is the number one item to pack for a reason. No one skill will help lower your score more on your trip.
Learn to hit it low.
Windy conditions force us to hit it low. The soil is extremely firm on links courses. This will cause you to launch the ball higher than usual when you catch it with clean contact. Create more shaft lean in your range sessions. Get comfortable with having your hands in front of the ball at impact. Getting there is easy when you commit to an early weight shift into that lead leg and a low follow-through.
Master the ground game.
If you don’t employ a bump and run shot in your short game; start right away. Golf is a ground game on the links. Learn to use a 5,6 or 7 iron when chipping. Swing motion and principles are the same as a pitching or sand wedge, but the ball will come off lower and roll more. Only putting will be used more than this type of shot.
Sky it in the Sand.
Bunkers will be deeper than usual because of the windy conditions. You may even need to add a lob wedge to your bag if you don’t already have one (That’s a 58 or 60-degree wedge). Combine the correct tool with proper form from a coach and you’ll be able to get out safely.
Use more than the driver.
The fairway conditions will be very firm and extremely fast. You will receive more roll than you are used to if you hit them. Modern drivers are built to launch the ball high. Once caught in a crosswind, it may be impossible to find fairways. Get to the range and find a comfortable long iron or hybrid from your bag to hit off the tee. Place the ball an inch or two further back than usual and swing away. Gain a sense of trapping the ball and tumbling it down that fairway.
These items may not keep you dry or warm, but they will help improve your ground game. Embrace the different nuances needed to succeed on firm conditions and you’ll greatly enhance the enjoyment of your trip...
...even if it rains.
Keith Stewart is a 5-time award-winning PGA Professional with 25 years of experience in the golf industry. His network of players, coaches and insiders provide him with a unique perspective on the game. He's a writer on PGA.com and host of the ProShow on ESPN 920 AM Friday afternoons at 3:00pm EDT. Check out his PGA Coaching articles archived here or his conversations on air with this link to his website The ProShow.