British golf is different. The lies are tighter, the wind is stronger, the rain is heavier. Even the beer in the 19th hole is different – and some would argue better.
Some might make that same argument for the game itself, that it’s better in Britain. While we love the links game and appreciate the vagrancies of it, the game is not any better on either side of the great water hazard. It is just different – very different.
The American game is defined by plush fairways, lickety-split green speeds, motorized transportation and course routings by designers who manipulate the land to fit their idea of what a great course should be. In the British Isles, the game is more rugged, more natural. You walk. You play through gorse and sometimes-towering dunes of the linksland, where fairways and greens are fit into what nature has so generously provided places like Royal Troon, Turnberry, Carnoustie and the Old Course at St. Andrews.
To experience the difference you must travel there, but to get a taste of the game in the British Isles, you can go to Myrtle Beach. You may not get the cold wind off the Atlantic, and the Guinness might not be as authentic after the round, but it doesn’t take much to imagine you’re traversing the linksland where the game came of age at places like these.
One of the truly great links impersonations on American soil is Legends’ Heathland course. Tom Doak is a master at taking what the land offers for golf and tooling it to near perfection, and in this case he created an interpretation of links golf that is spot-on. The Heathland course plays more like Scotland than anywhere but Scotland itself. It heaves and rolls across relatively flat land, offering indiscriminant bounces, devilish pot bunkers and the opportunity to play the ground game that we here in the States are so unfamiliar with.
Making a loop around the Heathland you catch glimpses of St. Andrews, Carnoustie and lesser-known gems like Crail and Cruden Bay. And in the end you can recount your links experience at the Scottish-themed Ailsa Pub.
If you have a hankering to lick the Postage Stamp hole at Royal Troon you can get a feel for the diminutive beast by watching the pros tackle it on television at next week’s Open Championship. Then head to Myrtle Beach and play a replica of the hole at World Tour.
The third hole on the Championship Course (pictured, above), like No. 8 at Royal Troon, is a mere wedge shot which would appear to be no problem at all if it weren’t for the long narrow green, the roll-away edges and the five pot bunkers your ball will likely find if you miss the target – just like the hole at Troon.
But World Tour’s Scottish flavor doesn’t end with a short par 3. The replicas holes of Nos. 1 and 18 at St. Andrews may not be lined by a white fence separating the fairway from the town, but it is the widest fairway in Myrtle Beach, and the replica of the Swilcan Burn bridge and the Valley of Sin make it seem like you’re there.
Scotland Around the Grand Strand
There is a smattering of other Scottish flavors up and down the Strand. Heather Glen offers occasional tastes of rolling links land and the pot bunkers that make courses in the British Isles different and difficult, and even boasts a traditional Scottish-style clubhouse.
Prestwick Country Club is named for the Scottish course near Troon that hosted the first 12 Open Championships. It features everything you'd come to expect in a Pete & P.B. Dye design - railroad ties, pot bunkers and rolling greens – and delivers a top-flight experience synonymous with one of the biggest names in golf course architecture.
The Thistle Golf Club is named for an 1815 Scottish club that existed on the linksland near Edinburgh – the same linksland now occupied by the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers at Muirfield. The Thistle course is neither Scottish nor links-like but the stone clubhouse gives off an aura of the Old Country and the 200-year-old memorabilia inside is authentic Scottish.