Chasing a little ball across a technicolor, pesticide-primped lawn, with one hand wrapped around a light beer and the other on the wheel of a buggy, isn't golf. Golf – at least as it was envisioned by its founders – is something wilder, simpler, a game dreamed up in coastal Scotland in the Middle Ages. It was played by shepherds with sticks made of hickory, contested in the spirit of its rugged surroundings. But not long after golf hit our shores in the 1800s, the game became more beholden to commercial interests. Eventually, courses were used to sell condos, and then fake waterfalls fell into fashion. Never mind that these courses were economic and environmental disasters – people started thinking that's what real golf was.
But lately a different movement has been growing, bent on bettering golf's future by returning to its past. It's led by a new breed of course designer and a new type of player. Modern courses now have links-style layouts – by the sea and marked by humps and hollows that have always been there – with no condos in their midst. These courses are, above all, a lot more fun to play. You learn to play the bounces. The fairways are exposed. You embrace the elements. And more and more golfers refuse to ride: They haul their clubs over the natural contours. If the ground is browned out, that's because real grass is never the color of a glow stick. And it's seeping into the mainstream: The USGA is staging major tournaments on these rough-hewn courses instead of their CGI counterparts. Even Donald Trump has become an unlikely advocate.
Links-style layouts are back. Here are five of the world's best.
Cabot Links, Nova Scotia
This new course in remote eastern Nova Scotia spreads along the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and its holes run in all directions without losing sight of the sea. Lobster boats bob in a harbor beside the 11th green, reminders of the nearby fishing village.
Tip: Stop by the Red Shoe Pub, a family-run spot 15 minutes away, to warm up and listen to live Cape Breton fiddling, a famous violin style brought to Nova Scotia by Scottish immigrants. [cabotlinks.com]