Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Links? Why “Links”?

When we visited Oahu last fall Kent and I drove past another one of those signs that announces the “Links,” by which we are to understand we are passing a golf course. Kent offered his version of the origin of the term - the holes are linked, therefore, the Links. While not without logic this explanation didn’t seem enough. But I didn’t remember to look it up. Nor have I on other occasions. So when I came across an explanation in The New Yorker, I had to show Kent. And now, I’ll show you:

[I]t’s actually a geological term. Linksland is a specific type of sandy, wind-sculpted coastal terrain - the word comes from the Old English hlinc, “rising ground” - and in its authentic form it exists in only a few places … the most famous … in Great Britain and Ireland. Linksland arose at the end of the most recent ice age, when the retreat of the northern glacial sheet, accompanied by changes in sea level, exposed sandy deposits, and what had once been coastal shelves. Wind pushed the sand into dunes and rippling plains; ocean storms added more sand; and coarse grasses covered everything. Early Britons used linksland mainly for livestock grazing.

When sheep graze linksland the result, apparently, is a lawn suitable for golf. The lawn-covered dunes provide gentle slopes and curves to knock a ball over. Nor, it seems, was there much competition for linksland. With all the sand under its thin topsoil, it’s no good for planting.

Golf, says the author “was permanently shaped by the ground on which it was invented.” The word for the kind of terrain on which the game is played has become a golf term.

source: “The Ghost Course” by David Owen
The New Yorker, April 20, 2009

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