'True Links' by George Peper & Malcolm Campbell

By: Steve Habel

Let me begin this review by telling you straight out that I never played not even one of the 246 links golf courses profiled so lovingly - as is the genre as a whole - in the gorgeous, recently released book. That doesn't include any of the five in North America.

For that very fact, I am a much poorer man. By reading "True Links" and gazing at the wonderfully dynamic photos that all but bring these courses to life, I want to head to the Old Country for a crack at these demanding and mostly ancient tracks - never before have I had such a jones for bundling up and flying across the pond.

With "True Links," authors George Peper and Malcolm Campbell, two of the world's most respected golf journalists, have created a subjective inventory of the globe's links courses.

In the same move, the duo has drawn attention to these courses' influence on the game we all cherish, while reiterating the need to preserve the lands on which these tracks sit and the impetus to build more courses where the terrain dictates the routing; brown is good and water usage is minimal.

Based on years of research around the world - where does one stand in line for that job? - Campbell and Peper have isolated the genetic makeup of links golf, emerging with a strict method of defining the ancient and distinct breed of course. "True Links" offers the authors' personal and passionate views of links golf by observations and through references from both the British Golf Museum and the United States Golf Association.

The authors' insight narrows the demands for a real links golf course while dismissing hundreds of others - some famous in their own right - as mere imposters. The essential requirements to qualify as a "True Links" golf course center on terrain and location; a course must have sea views, sandy, dune-like terrain with fast-running fairways and be at the mercy of the ever-changing seaside winds.

"There is an independent, almost defiant, aspect to links courses," Peper and Campbell write. "'True Links' shows off the world's best links in all their glory."

Thanks to pictures taken by crack principal photographer Iain Lowe, one can almost smell the salt air and feel the wind at his back.

"Nearly 90 percent of the world's links courses lie in the British Isles," the authors claim. "This is simply due to the vicissitudes of geology. Somewhere around 14,000 B.C., Grandmother Nature decided that the lion's share of genuine linksland would take shape in the northern latitudes on the eastern side of the Atlantic Ocean."

"True Links" devotes a whole chapter to the Old Course at St. Andrews (under the heading of The Crucible) and then breaks the world's links into sections called The Icons (a listing and description of 25 courses, all from Great Britain - 12 in Scotland, six in England, four in Ireland, two in Northern Ireland and one in Wales - considered right below the Old Course, each with its own legitimate claim to fame in the links hierarchy); The Classics (other distinctive course from around the British Isles); and The Moderns (links courses around the world).

The latter designation seems almost an oxymoron since more than half of the world's links course are certified as antiques - more than 100 years old - and a full three-fourths were fashioned and in place by the end of World War II, according to Peper and Campbell. "Between 1950 and 1990, more than 20,000 courses were added to the world's inventory," Peper and Campbell write. "Only 19 of them are links courses."

The final chapter takes a look at the importance of learning lessons from the designers of links courses and how practices that have been in place for centuries can be - and should be - adopted for modern use.

There are more than 30,000 golf courses in the world and, even though many are called links or have some characteristics of a links course, less than one percent fit Peper and Campbell's criteria. Among the choices in "True Links" are such celebrated tracks such as Carnoustie, Montrose, and Royal Liverpool, all from the British Isles, Lahinch in Ireland, as well as relative newcomers like Oregon's Bandon Dunes, Pacific Dunes and Old Macdonald, Nova Scotia's yet-to-open Cabot Links and Barnbougle Dunes and the yet-to-open Lost Farm in Australia.

"True Links" is certain to stir the blood of the casual golfer and purist alike. For someone who has never played these courses, it is almost like a wish book of future golf memories and a primer for trips in the near future. Pick up this book and cherish it.

"True Links," by George Peper & Malcolm Campbell, Artisan Books, $40, ISBN 9781579653958

Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's national correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also the managing editor for Texas CEO Magazine and works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports. He also writes a blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com), which features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com) on his many travels, which took him across the nation and to 105 different golf course in 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.