Despite what television announcers sometimes say (ahem), linksland is not called linksland because it “links the town to the sea.” Nor is “links” as a synonym for “golf course.” Links” is a geological term. Linksland is a specific type of sandy, wind-sculpted coastal terrain—the word comes from the Old English hlinc, “rising ground”—and in its authentic form it exists in only a few places on earth, the most famous of which are in Great Britain and Ireland.
Linksland arose at the end of the most recent ice age, when the retreat of the northern glacial sheet, accompanied by changes in sea level, exposed sand deposits and what had once been coastal shelves. Wind pushed the sand into dunes and rippling plains; ocean storms added more sand; and coarse grasses covered everything.
Early Britons used linksland mainly for livestock grazing, since the ground closest to the sea was usually too starved and too exposed for growing crops, although even that use wasn’t always allowed. As someone in Aberdeen wrote in 1487, “No catall sale haf pastour of gyrss apone the lynkis.” When significant numbers of Scotsmen became interested in smacking small balls with curved wooden sticks, the links was where they went (or were sent), perhaps because there they were in no one’s way.