The Links Game
Last month, we shared audio of David McLay Kidd explaining the ideal match-play strategy of each hole at Bandon Dunes, highlighting that there is no ONE way to play links golf — which is exactly why we love it.
Kidd’s verbal tour through Bandon Dunes is not just about the best strategy to play the course. It’s a look inside the links game itself. The strategies. The myriad of choices each hole presents.
For us at Bandon Dunes, there is no purer joy in golf.
The key to bringing out your best links game is to embrace the quirks and strategies that the links game presents. Here are seven ways to make the most out of the links golf experience of Bandon Dunes:
Bad breaks can be fun
A defining characteristic of links golf is in the way that nature guides the way. Shaped by the contours of the land, the five championship golf courses at Bandon Dunes all feature undulating terrain and tawny and firm fescue grasses that may produce a tough bounce or two. Learning to accept those bounces and use them to spark your imagination to recover is essential.
Tom Watson, perhaps the greatest links player in American golf history, was not always a great links golfer. It wasn’t until the Missouri native adjusted his thinking that he began to thrive … eventually winning five Open Championships.
“I struggled with accepting links golf and the bad bounces for several years until I finally said, ‘Enough of this pity-pot stuff, and whining. You better get with it and just accept your fate and play on,’” Watson recalled last year on The Erik Anders Lang Show podcast.
The wedge is not always your best friend
Inevitably, even excellent American amateurs accustomed to dropping a wedge in tight at their home course, make the mistake of trying to hit a flop shot off a tight fescue-carpeted lie at Bandon Dunes. Often, it does not go well, leading to a chunked dribbler or thin screamer that might give an unsuspecting playing partner a close shave.
Because of the ocean winds and the tight lies, wedges play a diminished role in links golf. Instead, bump-and-run shots are often an easier shot and a much smarter play.
Unless, of course, you can putt it
If there is a singular strategy that is all but guaranteed to save an amateur strokes around Bandon it’s this: When in doubt, putt it.
With tight lies that characterize those firm, fast fescues, a putter is almost always a reliable weapon ... even from the fairway where the lies more resemble a putting surface than they do the lush fairways of parkland-style golf.
The wind is almost always a factor
Set on the rugged coastline of the Oregon Coast, with few trees to interrupt the Pacific Ocean breezes, the wind is ever-present at Bandon Dunes. Being able to control your ball flight, to keep the ball low and under the wind, helps a golfer control their distances, which is critical in the links game.
Also, if the wind is really howling, an occasional challenge in links golf — it is often better to take a bit more club and swing easier with three-quarter or half swings. And don’t forget to factor in the wind on your putts on those most breezy days. Yes, a stiff wind can affect your line.
“The key for success in links golf is hitting the ball the right distance,” Tom Watson says.
Who are we to argue?
Precise distance — more than length — will serve you well at all five of Bandon Dunes championship courses. Sometimes that means forsaking the driver and hitting iron off the tee to set up the right distance and angle on your next shot. Sometimes it means playing approaches to land short and bounce up to the green, rather than going right at the pin.
Be a thinker
Thinking your way around the course is truly the magic of links golf. Links golf encourages imagination. Rarely is there just one obvious route to the hole, and recovering from a bad shot often comes down to finding the alternative route or playing a different kind of shot.
It’s as if every hole is a choose-your-own-adventure book.
Play match play
Match play isn’t just for links golf, but links golf brings out the best in a good match. The reason? With most holes offering so many strategy options, matches become less about who can hit the ball the farthest and more about who can outthink their opponent.
And winning your match makes the post-round visit to McKee’s Pub all the better when your buddy is buying.