‘True Links’: Intriguing but debatable premise

The 11th green (left) and seventh green (right) on the Old Course at St. Andrews.

The 11th green (left) and seventh green (right) on the Old Course at St. Andrews.

The first thing readers will notice when they pick up a copy of “True Links” is the number 246. That, in the authors’ estimation, is the number of golf courses that accurately can be described as “links.”

The concept is, at best, dubious. George Peper and Malcolm Campbell have created a fraternity for which the rules of admittance are clear, except when they’re not – sort of like Augusta National, come to think of it. But this weakness also is part of what makes “True Links” intriguing.

photo

True Links: An Illustrated Guide to the Glories of the World’s 246 Links Courses • George Peper and Malcolm Campbell • Workman Publishing Co. • 320 pages- hard cover • $40

While golf books often sidestep controversy, Peper and Campbell have embraced it. The device of establishing a specific number – 246 – arguably is a gimmick, but it’s one that will spark debate. The authors provide plenty of information to support their arguments, which aren’t necessarily scholarly but are compelling.

The process, however, smacks of bureaucratic rulemaking with inherent consistencies. The authors note, “Proximity to the sea would seem to be an artificial sort of criterion,” but then exclude Sand Hills because it’s not near an ocean, despite the fact that “this magnificent Nebraskan course looks and plays more like a links than some of those on our list.”

Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course passed the seaside test but got bumped for using Bermudagrass; meanwhile, South Africa’s lone entry, Humewood, passed muster despite using Bermuda and Kikuyu.

The authors say Bayonne Golf Club “looks and plays like an Irish links,” but exclude it because it’s “so totally and artificially created.” Yet they included Kingsbarns and Castle Stuart, despite using adjectives such as “man-made” and “manufactured” to describe those wonderful recent additions to the Scottish golf landscape.

Elsewhere, Newport’s soil is deemed “too rich,” Maidstone too marshy, Scotscraig too tree-lined, Pebble Beach and Old Head too high above the sea. The Old Course is jussst right.

U.S. courses fare poorly – only three courses at Bandon Dunes and nine-hole Highland Links on Cape Cod made the cut – putting U.S. links golf roughly on par with Sweden and The Netherlands in the authors’ estimation. If there’s a big winner here, it’s Bandon owner Mike Keiser, who also is backing the development of Cabot Links, which the authors claim will be the first true links in Canada.

Peper and Campbell’s work is complemented by an abundance of course photography, most by Iain Lowe.

Because of these wonderful images, it is tempting to classify “True Links” as a coffee-table book. But Peper and Campbell clearly aspired to much more than that. Their arguments, in the end, might raise more questions than they answer, but that seems certain to fuel some entertaining debates on the discussion boards.

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