Golf Courses: Comparing American and European tracks

TROON, SCOTLAND - JULY 11: AAM Scottish Open Pro-Am at Dundonald Links Golf Course on July 11, 2017 in Troon, Scotland. (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)
TROON, SCOTLAND - JULY 11: AAM Scottish Open Pro-Am at Dundonald Links Golf Course on July 11, 2017 in Troon, Scotland. (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images) /

American and European golf courses tend to be characterized by differences in bunker, fairway, and putting surface design and by the nature of the rough.

Golf courses in Europe are much different than those on American soil. Players who have found success on the PGA TOUR have often found it more difficulty when playing on the European Tour. How are the two types of courses different? I’ll compare four aspects of American and European tracks and identify general differences in structure and design.

As we can see from looking at this week’s Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open leaderboard, where eight of the top 10 players on the leaderboard are European, those differences can have an effect on players’ success.


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The bunkers on U.S. golf courses tend to be smooth and they aren’t very deep. On the flip side, bunkers on European courses can be quite deep. The 4th hole bunkers at St. Andrews are typically diabolical.

They are called “pot bunkers” because they look just like potholes. The edges of these bunkers also have a lot of height. This means that on European courses, players have to make the ball go higher to get out of the bunker.


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The ground on fairways on American courses are softer which allows players to let the ball fly. Tony Korologos explained the difference this way in his blog, HookedOnGolf:

"Scottish courses are set up to receive shots which are running versus flying."

Korologos’ explanation perfectly fits the Royal Birkdale fairways.

With the way links courses are designed, there are a lot of bumps which encourage golfers to get a lot more creative than on American courses, which tend more often to elicit a “grip it and rip it” style of shot-making.

The Rough

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As this view of the Royal Birkdale 7th hole illustrates, the rough on European courses, specifically Scottish or links courses is very thick and there is hard grass which makes it difficult to get escape.

According to, a links is “any rough grassy area between the sea and the land.”

The rough is not as tall on American courses and it’s much easier to punch out with accuracy.


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The greens on American courses are flat which makes it easier to putt and read the greens. According to, on European courses, there are a lot of sloping greens. The devilish Royal Birkdale 17th green is typical. Players have to account for not only the break on putts but also the slopes.

Greens on European courses can also be faster than those on US courses. The one American course that comes close to modeling a European style course is Chambers Bay in Seattle, Washington.

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Golf courses in Europe and the ones stateside have a lot of differences. That’s what makes golf different from many other sports. For example, in Football, anywhere you go, the field is similar if not the same each time you play. The beauty of golf is that each course is a different experience. So don’t expect to find all golf courses to be similar, because each one is unique.