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.
Pacific Dunes, Oregon
Golfers love to debate which is the finest of the five courses at Bandon Dunes. Our vote goes to Pacific Dunes, with artistic routing that spreads across bluffs so close to the ocean you can taste the salt spray. On windy days, which is most of them, fickle breezes increase the shotmaking variety on a course that calls for every club in your bag.
Tip: The newest course is Bandon Preserve, a 13-hole par 3. It's great for early morning warm-ups or settling tiebreak as the sun goes down. [bandondunesgolf.com]