To the Linksland at Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links and Ireland’s Southwest

Lahinch Golf Club, Ireland (Image: Sharon McAuley)

Lahinch Golf Club, Ireland (Image: Sharon McAuley)

Like many well-travelled golfers, the more I play links golf the more I love it. Indeed, no golfer’s education is complete without an extensive tour of the fabled links of Scotland and Ireland. Derived from the term linksland, links golf is played on ground uncovered when the sea receded and is without doubt the most exhilarating and challenging experience in the game.

During a memorable 2012 season, I had the good fortune to play exceptional true links on both sides of the Atlantic — and on opposite North American coasts. First up was Cabot Links, in the Cape Breton town of Inverness. Officially opened June 29, 2012, this gorgeous wind-blown Rod Whitman design offers such a wonderfully pure links experience that growing numbers of golfers are arriving from around the world to play it. (Read more in our feature story, Canada’s First True Links Opens in Cape Breton.)

Then, in early September, I travelled to Oregon’s Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, famous as the home of three of North America’s five true links. The first of them, Bandon Dunes, is a strategic cliff-top David McLay Kidd design that debuted in 1999. I also played Pacific Dunes, a Tom Doak beauty that sweeps through towering sand hills, following the natural contours of the land in traditional links fashion. The property’s third true links is Old Macdonald, a Doak and Jim Urbina collaboration launched in the summer of 2010 that’s the most open and exposed to the elements of the three.

Waterville Golf Links, Ireland (Image: Waterville Golf Links)

Waterville Golf Links, Ireland (Image: Waterville)

The topper to my season was a fabulous week in Ireland’s picturesque southwest, where I played Lahinch, Ballybunion and Waterville. Many golfers are already familiar with Lahinch and Ballybunion, which easily rank among the world’s finest links. Waterville is slightly less well known on this side of the pond, though no less thrilling and deserving of acclaim. In fact, it’s so good that Tiger Woods, Jim Furyk, Mark O’Meara and the late Payne Stewart have all used the links as a warm-up for the Open Championship.

A highlight at Waterville is the 12th hole, a spectacular par three that plays over a grassy hollow where Catholics secretly celebrated Mass during the tyrannical rule of Oliver Cromwell in the seventeenth century.

That’s links golf: inspiring and even spiritually uplifting. No golfer could ask for more.