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Links Lessons

I read your Q&A every week. Thanks for all you do for us hackers. Have a question: I have never been to Scotland, but will be enjoying the Open Championship on TV this week. Is links golf so different from the courses we see the players tackle on the PGA Tour? What equipment changes do you think the players will make this week to cope with the demands of links golf?
' Dave

Thank you for your kind comments. Glad you are enjoying the Q&A.
Links golf courses differ significantly from the courses we commonly see in the United States. Most of the bunkers on links courses have a catchment area (the terrain around the bunker which diverts the ball back toward the bunker) that is two or three times the size of the bunker itself, without any rough around the bunker's edge. In the U.S. and in particular the U.S. Open, it's often more desirable to be in the bunker than on the edge of it, in thick rough.
The second main difference is that the approach shot to the green is usually unguarded; therefore, you tend to see a lot more pitch-and-run shots. We know little about this shot in the U.S. because almost every approach shot is over a bunker, or the edge of a bunker.
The third difference is the very tight and relatively firm fairways on links golf courses, which certainly punish a fat shot that you may get away with on a lush fairway in the U.S. For this reason, the pros at the Open Championship will in many cases have the leading edge of their wedges sharpened to go through the hard turf more effectively, and the bounce ground down to prevent the dreaded blade shot.
The fourth difference is the steady presence of wind, which forces the players to hit a lower ball on drives and on many long shots into the green.
To sum up, one must learn to anticipate the size of the catchment area for the bunkers, perfect the pitch-and-run shot, decrease the bounce on their wedges (except for the sand wedge) and learn to play a low trajectory shot so it is not detrimentally affected by the wind. And a good bounce here and there will make all the difference to your scorecard.
Dave, I hope this helps when you visit Scotland to experience links golf for yourself. This is something I know you are going to enjoy.
Frank Thomas, inventor of the graphite shaft, is founder of Frankly Golf. Thomas is chief technical advisor to He served as technical director of the USGA for 26 years and directed the development of the GHIN system and introduced the Stimpmeter. To email a question for possible use in an upcoming Let's Be Frank column, please email
Frank Thomas