There are comparatively few golf-links in this country, in the true sense of the term, while there are hundreds of courses. Most links are situated close to the sea, and the nearer they are to the level of the sea the better they are. The genuine article has a substratum of sand, or sand and gravel, with an alluvial deposit of loam on the surface of varying depths. There are a few inland which possess these characteristics, but the majority lack the essential elements of sandy bottoms, and are more properly described as courses.
On the true and relatively rare links, where sand enters largely into the composition of the soil, the grass is naturally of a finer and less luxuriant nature than on the richer and more fertile inland soils, and much better greens are found.
It is, of course, not always practicable to establish a golf-course on the best ground adaptable for the proper playing of the game, irrespective of the desired quality of the soil, and many regrettable mistakes have been made in this direction and a great deal of expense incurred in the formation of courses which are but sorry imitations of what they should be. Many of them combine a maximum of mountain-climbing with a minimum of golf, while more are spoiled through being improperly laid out in respect to the distances of the holes or the disposition of the hazards. Of course this has been largely inevitable owing to the remarkably rapid spread of the game, and the lack of knowledge or inexperience of players, or those having the matter in charge. With the growing improvement in play, however, it is gratifying to observe a more general desire to bring the courses up to a better standard in every way. Probably the best courses in this country are Garden City, Wheaton, Atlantic City, Morris County, Newport, Nassau, Apawamis, Midlothian, and Myopia, while for a nine-hole course Meadowbrook is easily first, with West-brook and Oakland good seconds. The eigh-teen-hole course of the Ekwanok Country Club of Manchester, Vermont, laid out last season, also has promise of being a really good one in time. Apart from soil characteristics, all of the courses mentioned lend themselves favorably to beregarded as being pre-eminent by reason of the contour of the ground, the distances of the holes, and the matter of hazards, natural and artificial. A perfectly flat expanse of ground, quite apart from the varying distances of the holes, is not nearly so good as one with gentle undulations, affording diversity of play, and presenting new and interesting problems at each hole. On the other hand, a very hilly course is open to objection on account of the physical fatigue involved, there being more exercise required than is commensurate with the mere playing of the game itself. Mountain-climbing is one thing and golf is distinctly another. It is never enduringly satisfactory to attempt to combine both.
In laying out or making changes in a course it is highly desirable that the distances should be such as to reward good play and not put a premium on poor play. Consideration of distance should go hand-in-hand with the consideration of hazards. * It is quite possible to have a very good course so laid out in respect to distances as to be entirely free from hazards of any kind, where each shot, perfectly played, would carry its own reward. On a single-shot hole the good player would be on the green in one, while on holes calling for two or three strokes, properly executed, to reach the green the distances should be on the basis of from one hundred and seventy-five yards to one hundred and ninety yards, or the multiple thereof, so that no opportunity would be afforded a player flubbing a stroke to make it up on the next.
A course, however, laid out on these lines would be lacking in interest, as all first-class players occasionally make mistakes, and those mistakes should carry a penalty of some kind. Distance alone is not the essence of the game. Then, too, the moral effect of a hazard ought to be considered. It is a very potent element. As furnishing a really good test of golf, my idea of distances, based on fairly level stretches and eliminating wind influences, and with the hazards scientifically arranged, is somewhat as follows:
Out.........340 310 490 150 320 360 190 510 300-2970
Par Play--- 4 4 5 3 4 4 3 5 4-36
In..........115 400 350 500 270 330 370 470 315-3120
Par......... 3 4 4 5 4 4 4 5 4-37
Total distance, 6090 yards. Par play, 73 strokes.
Now these distances have not been arrived at in a haphazard way, but have been definitely determined upon so as to call into requisition during the round every club in the bag, provided each shot has been well executed, and so bring out all the well-rounded qualities of the first-class player. Let us analyze each hole - play such imaginary round, as it should be played, when every shot comes off ideally right - and see if it comes up to the proper standard. We will assume that we can drive from one hundred and seventy-five to two hundred and ten yards; brassey, one-hundred and seventy to one hundred and ninety yards; get from one hundred and fifty to one hundred and eighty yards with cleek or driving-mashie; one hundred and twenty to one hundred and fifty yards with a mid-iron, and lesser distances with a mashie. There is nothing extravagant in these distances, with class players.
At the first hole (three hundred and forty yards) we find confronting us a bunker one hundred and twenty-five yards from the tee, with hazards beyond on either side to catch a sliced or pulled ball. We get over the bunker safely with some fifty or sixty yards to spare. Some eighty yards from the green is a sand ditch. A cleek shot will carry this and land us comfortably on the green, without overrunning into the long grass on the other side. The regulation two putts and we are down in a par four.
On the second hole (three hundred and ten yards) all is plain sailing on the drive, except for the omnipresent long grass on either side of the fair green, and which is a feature of nearly every hole on the course. Some sixty yards from the green is another wide sand ditch, with the same rough going the far side of the green that will be found on nearly every hole. An ordinary iron shot should easily enable us to get the green.