In California, Half Moon Bay's new 'links enhancement' project is more proof links golf is hot
Maybe it’s Tom Watson’s display at the Open Championship at Turnberry, or maybe it’s just been word of mouth from the droves of golfers who trek over to Great Britain and Ireland for an old world links experience and return with their gushing tales.
But more and more golf courses have realized it’s okay to let mother nature do the talking rather than a steam shovel and a seven-figure beautification budget. Natural, rugged links golf courses are as hot as ever.
At Half Moon Bay Golf Links near San Francisco on the California coast, they’ve embarked on an initiative to “links enhance” the Ocean course, designed by Arthur Hills and opened in 1997. (Click here for aerial photos of the course).
Here’s how they plan links-ifying the property, from today’s press release:
As part of the project, rough will be mowed down around the bunkers to bring these traditional links hazards back into play on tee shots. Native fescue heights around tee boxes, between holes and in other non-playing areas will be raised to provide golfers with visual, strategic cues about how to play holes and to enhance the links-style atmosphere.
Green complexes and surrounds will be cut to “just above green” mowing height, enhancing ball movement on the ground, adding multiple shot opportunities and fostering creativity in the short game. Putting surfaces will be firmer and faster, placing a premium on approach-shot placement and ball-striking, as well as reading the speed – not just the break – of putts.
Half Moon Bay will not reseed their course, instead keeping their poa annua and rye fairways and greens. That will also mean the course can gradually shift to it’s optimal links style and not be forced to close for any period of time. While fescue is the best possible links-style turf, it can be a real pain to grow in. Obviously, when a place like St. Andrews has had a good 500 years to take shape, it’s the best playing surface for golf in the world.
While the rest of the modern golf world can only try and mimic St. Andrews and other old world links, I believe “links golf” can be achieved, even on a modern golf course like Half Moon Bay if they’re true to their vision. For me, a links course is simply one that is on natural, rolling terrain that is firm, fast and promotes the ground game.
Bandon Dunes and Pacific Dunes are obvious examples in America, but they’re on ideal links terrain, right down to the overwhelming amount of gorse onsite. But I’m personally in the camp that believes a links course doesn’t have to be located on the ocean. One such example is Mike Devries-designed Greywalls in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Here, tumbling, fast fescue turf and the ability to play angles and hit bank shots into the green leads is the real draw, even though it’s well off and high above Lake Superior in the distance. Creativity in playing each shot is what links-style golf is all about, especially when it’s due to natural land contours. Greywalls executes this magnificently.
On the contrary is Whistling Straits. Despite being built in the mold of an Irish links by Pete Dye and Herb Kohler, it never really felt like a true links course to me when I teed it up. I found myself hitting mostly aerial approach shots (aside from the accidental bladed wedge). There aren’t a lot of greens there that beg for a bump-and-run. Also, some of the greens are so steeply tiered, they just don’t appear natural, which makes sense considering the terrain was entirely manufactured.
Another new, highly-regarded course that I’ll be checking out in a couple weeks is Chambers Bay in Seattle. Built along the Puget Sound, it’s been described as “links-style,” but having looked at some photos and read about the site’s history as a former industrial hotbed, I’m hesitant to give it my own “links” label.
That said, if I find it to be naturally appealing to the eye and I’m hitting bump-and-runs from 50 yards off the green and low, screaming approach shots, I just might be convinced otherwise.
Half Moon Bay Golf Links on the Pacific Ocean will emphasize the “links” with it’s new maintenance effort.
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