In The United Kingdom and Ireland most of the golf courses running along the sea are considered genuine ‘links courses’. The country has a lot of great and famous links courses like St. Andrews Links, Royal Portrush, Portmarnock Links, Royal Birkdale and Royal St George’s. A links is the oldest style of golf course, first developed in Britain.
There are a lot of links lovers around the world, but not every sea-side course is considered a links course (as you can read below). But often they are just as great to play. The wind, the dunes, the sandy soil and the scenery make these courses just fun to play. If you want to enjoy real links courses, then head to Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. But Continental Europe also has a lot of great courses to offer as well. Maybe not all them are genuine links courses, but they certainly have the ‘feel’ of a links course and are just as fun to play!
In this post we want to present some great links-style sea-side courses with certain links characteristics in Continental Europe, some well-known and some real hidden gems. We will first try to explain what a links course actually is and what the fuss is all about.
Early golf developed on links land and in time the golf links were cultivated and the sand and burns (small rivers) that crossed the links were shaped into the hazards that they are today. A links is the oldest style of golf course, first developed in Britain. For people who do not know what a links course exactly is, we will try to explain how to recognize a real links course.
The word ‘links’ comes via the Scottish language from the Old English word hlinc: ‘rising ground, ridge’ and refers to an area of coastal sand dunes and sometimes to open parkland. Linksland is typically characterised by dunes, an undulating surface, and a sandy soil unsuitable for arable farming but which readily supports various indigenous browntop bents and red fescue grasses, that result in the firm turf associated with links courses and the ‘running’ game.
Summarizing, the main features (according to golf purists) which determine a links course are the following:
- A links course is built along a major body of water
- A links course usually has very few trees, if any
- A links course resides on sandy soil that drains easily
- A links course has a natural open layout where the native landscape, wind and rain play a major factor
- A links course features ground contours that provide remarkable inherent undulations and slopes in the fairways and greens
- A links course rarely has any internal water features
- A links course’s rough areas feature pure seaside grasses
Traditional links courses are often arranged with holes in pairs along the coastline. Players would play ‘out’ from the town through a series of holes to the furthest point of the course, and then would return ‘in’ along the second set of holes. The holes may share fairways (and most notably at St Andrews, greens) to economize on land use, but in modern times this is rare as the potential for injury from balls coming the other way is quite high. It also slows down the pace of play, thus decreasing the profitability of the course (as the number of rounds which can be played on the course on a specific day will be lower).
A fun thing to know is that the different colored flags for the first and second nine comes from the use of shared fairways and greens. It would help the golfer to decide for which flag to aim.
The best links-style sea-side courses in Continental Europe
We have only added 18-hole courses with a rating of 8 and higher and which you are able to play without the need of being introduced by a member. Not all of the golf courses mentioned below will be considered to be a true links course. But, they do have certain links elements (sea-side location, broom, dunes, gorse, wind) which make playing a links course fun. If you have suggestions, then let us know!
Koninklijke Haagsche G&CC – De Haagsche (The Netherlands)
Currently the number 1 in The Netherlands (Golfers’ Choice rankings). The course was designed in 1938 by the famous golf architect Harry Colt and Col. Hugh Alison. Architect Alison did most of the design. This can be seen from the slightly larger bunkers and it is often more extreme design of the course itself. The undulating dunes have been preserved resulting in a very natural golfing environment. Each hole offers a completely different view and offers a surprisingly new challenge. The tee of the 18th hole has a great view of the clubhouse and its terrace.
Falsterbo Golfklubb – Falsterbo 18-hålsbanan (Sweden)
The present 18 holes, a well bunkered traditional links course, designed by the local medical doctor Gunnar Bauer, was inaugurated in 1930. The two holes remaining from the original 1912 course are the 7th and the 14th. Apart from a total renovation of all the green areas during 1996-2001, designed by Peter Nordwall and Peter Chamberlain, the course layout remains practically the same. The course is located in a nature reserve and is frequently visited by non-golfers (especially bird watchers since the Falsterbo peninsula is the last stop for many migratory birds). This requires mutual consideration and respect.
Noordwijkse Golfclub – De Noordwijkse (The Netherlands)
The Noordwijkse Golfclub is one of the best courses in the Netherlands and also ranks high in Continental Europe.
The combination of its layout near the North Sea shore – which gives it its links character – the remarkable views and archictecture makes this course very challenging. The course has two faces: a links-style course and a section that runs through a sea-side forest. Not a pure links course, but it comes very close…
Golf De Pléneuf Val-André – Pleneuf (France)
Set between heathland and sea-cliffs, this superb course offers magnificent views along the jagged coast of Northern Brittany. Enjoy a truly invigorating walk among the scent of wild broom and the sea along its 6052m of fairway overlooking the English Channel and the beach.
When the wind blows, Val André is a truly formidable challenge! There are 12 holes with a sea view! Hole 11 is voted amongst best golf holes by golf magazine USA.
Oitavos Dunes Natural Links Golf – Oitavos Dunes (Portugal)
Arthur Hills carefully crafted Oitavos Dunes, working with the beautiful natural site overlooking the Atlantic Ocean to create a world-class Natural Links Golf course.
The setting of Oitavos Dunes is dramatic with magnificent views of the Sintra Mountains, the Atlantic Ocean and the westernmost point of Continental Europe.
Golf De Belle Dune – Belle Dune (France)
The Belle Dune golf course is situated between Quend-Plage and Fort-Mahon-Plage, in the heart of the Marquenterre dune massif – one of the most beautiful areas in Northern Europe. Belle Dune is a real challenge, among dunes and pine forest, it combines technology and performance. Recognized and appreciated by golf professionals and experts especially for its manicured fairways millimeter.
Estala Golf Club – Estela Golfe (Portugal)
The Estela Golf course is a true links course, located in a magnificent area with a climate cooled by the Atlantic breeze in summer and warmed by the Golf stream in winter. From the back tees, the Estela course stretches over almost 6,300 meters (7,000 yards), with a par of 72. This is not a golf course for those who have difficulties with the driver!
Unlike the south of Portugal, where the summer can bring extremely high temperatures, at Estela the temperature rarely rises above 25ºC (80ºF).
Dinard Golf – Dinard Golf (France)
Designed by Tom Dunn in 1887, this course is the second oldest in France after the Pau Golf Club (1856). Laid out alongside France’s Emerald Coast, players enjoy sea views from all 18 holes, each of which has its own individual name. This course is neither long nor tiring, so it may deceive the unwary into thinking that it is easy, but the final score tells the real story. This course is more tricky than difficult, with its sandy soil, undulating fairways, small, high, very fast greens and many bunkers; it also has very few trees but plenty of broom and gorse bushes.
Golf de Sperone – Spérone (France)
The Sperone golf course is created in the early 1960s by Jacques Dewez, a former fighter pilot. He acquires 130 hectares of land for just 1 franc per square meter. An archaeological site of 4 hectares, including a large Roman villa and a dry dock, is located nearby the golf course.
Golf de Sperone is considered to be one of the finest courses in the world, especially hole number 16, which makes you play alongside a dazzling turquoise sea.
Praia D’El Rey Golf & Beach Resort – Praia d’El Rey (Portugal)
Praia D’El Rey is arguably one of the most stunning golf courses in Europe. Set among extensive pine forests and undulating dunes, with spectacular views over the Atlantic and the Berlengas Islands beyond. The 18-hole golf course was designed by the renowned American golf architect Cabell B. Robinson and was inaugurated on 14th June 1997. Deep bunkers, sloping greens and sandy dunes contrast sharply with the lush fairways, making it the complete golfing challenge.
Golf Club Budersand Sylt – Budersand Sylt (Germany)
The Golf Club Budersand Sylt as a typical 18-hole links course , which is dominated by the barren Sylter dunes and the lush moorland, which alternate with billowing beach grass.
To play a round of golf between the sea and dunes is a unique experience: Enjoy the views of the wide, rough North Sea and the ever-changing Wadden Sea – a nature experience of a special kind.
Golf De Saint Jean De Monts – Saint Jean De Monts (France)
St Jean de Monts Golf Club is bordered by 8 km of beautiful fine sandy beaches. It benefits from a Riviera-like climate and is famous for its lifestyle and good food. The course has, since January 2013, been managed by the team that also owns Dinard Golf. The course has a dramatic opening where the player is beguiled with attractive but very demanding evergreen oak woodland before being thrust out into open duneland at the 7th. The player returns to woodland briefly at 13 and 14 and then emerges back out into the open for a true links finish.
Royal Ostend Golf Club – Royal Ostend Golf Course (Belgium)
The Royal Ostend Golf Club was founded in 1903 and stretches out in the dunes in the middle of the Belgian coastline. As the only real links course in Belgium, it provides a challenging and technical golf course, as well as outstanding views over the sea and the dunes.
When the wind is blowing across the narrow fairways, the course challenges one’s skill and concentration!
Golf d’Etretat – Etretat Course (France)
Golf d’Etretat was created in 1908. Mainly because then a lot of Britons – who like to golf – frequented the the French coast during the summer.
The course, which only had 13 holes originally was designed by Julien Chantepie, architect of Golf de la Boulie in collaboration with Arnaud Massy, a professional golfer who taught at Etretat and remains the only French to win the British Open (1907) to this day. Golf d’Etretat enjoys an exceptional location, overlooking the sea and the bay of Etretat.
Golfbaan de Texelse – De Texelse (The Netherlands)
Golfbaan de Texelse is a special course with dunes, ponds and large greens. The experienced golfer can indulge themselves on the par 72 course with challenging obstacles. The golf course has a lot of characteristics of a links course. Links courses are known for their beautiful setting in the dunes and De Texelse is certainly located in a special location – on Texel, a beautiful Wadden island. Depending on the wind direction, you can hear the rushing of the sea.
Golf Club de Granville – Links Course (France)
Granville is a true links course – perhaps the only one in France to have retained a pure duneland track. It stands alongside the great links courses of Scotland and Ireland providing a golf course true to the origins of the game. In recent years, the club has made a concerted effort to restore the natural links quality of the course by reseeding with carefully chosen grass varieties and by refurbishing the bunkers. The course celebrates its centenary in 2012 but the original design of Colt and Allsion still provides a stern test – especially if the wind blows. There are some spectacular tees giving views over the whole course and far beyond over the sea to Jersey.
Golf de Wimereux – Wimereux (France)
Golf de Wimereux was originally laid out in 1901 and is a links course located close to the Channel. The course was redesigned by Guy Campbell and Cecil Hutchinson after World War one, but the lay-out has been changed many times since then.
On a clear day you can see the cliffs of Dover on the other side of the Channel. Nice touch: there are some real bunkers (so not the hazards, but the ones from WW1 or WW2) dotted across the course. On hole 12 (a par 3,147 meters from yellow) it is possible to tee off from the top of the bunker (white/black tees).
Do you have more great additions to this list? The just drop us a line or comment on this post!
How to play a links course
Fairways at links courses can be narrow and lined by gorse, pot bunkers and thick tall rough fescue grasses. When the wind blows hard, it’s difficult to keep the ball in play and out of trouble, especially if you are used to driving the ball high through the air with a lot of spin and shape.
To play a links course you need to drive the ball low and straight, under the wind, with less spin so that it lands and runs down the fairways. As with all full shots in the wind, the harder you hit the ball the more spin you create and the higher you will hit it, exposing it to the wind. Tee the ball low and don’t make a full swing. Such drives will be shorter than your usual ones, but will make up for it by running on the hard links fairways.
On a links course it’s not unusual to find yourself facing a shot tee a small green with a hard wind blowing into your face. This is when you have to leave your ego behind and play smart by choosing a much longer club and punching it to keep the flight down and reduce spin. The punch shot is the links golfer’s best friend. To punch a shot you have to use a shorter backswing, de-loft the club for a lower flight and use your forearms and body together to shorten your follow through and punch aggressively through the ball at impact.
Bump and run is a great strategy on a links course. This low flying shot lands short of the green or just on the green and rolls out towards the hole like a putt. And around the green, use the putter. Your worst putt will always be better than your worse chip, so look at the slope and undulation of the land, be practical and use your putter to get the ball up and down. And last but not least, play safe when you find yourself in bunkers (especially pot bunkers). If you aren’t certain you can clear the lip don’t take the risk. Just play the ball out sideways or even backwards.
Well, now that you are ready to tackle a links or links-style course, let’s get into some courses which are worth playing in Continental Europe, which run along the sea and have links characteristics.