Appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of LINKS
IN 1995, an editor sent an advance copy of a book called Follow the Wind to former PGA champion Dave Marr. The ever-gracious Marr read it quickly and surprised the editor with a phone call just a few days later.
He loved it, he said of the novel that wove golf history into a fantasy world featuring the greats of the game and centering on Ben Hogan. Marr took note of the author’s name: “I don’t know if you’ll ever be able to tell me who this ‘Bo Links’ really is,” he said, “but it’s obvious it’s someone who knows Hogan really well and doesn’t want Ben to know he’s writing this.”
Despite Marr’s skepticism, Bo Links is not a pseudonym—and no, he never met Hogan. Robert D. “Bo” Links is a San Francisco attorney whose ancestors hailed from Eastern Europe; the surname was originally Linksz. “Bo” substituted for “Bob” in high school, after a newspaper erroneously listed his friend John Susko as “Joe”; they were Joe and Bo to each other from then on.
In addition to his legal practice, Links is a writer, historian, photographer, painter, and advocate for affordable public golf. He played a small role in the revival of what is now TPC Harding Park, and a much larger one in saving Sharp Park Golf Course in Pacifica, California, Alister MacKenzie’s only public seaside links. “[Former USGA president] Sandy Tatum was the leader on Harding Park, but I went to a lot of meetings and urged the public officials that it was a course worth saving and that it had potential,” Links says. “In politics, 90 percent of it is just showing up.”
The experience came in handy when he and Richard Harris, a friend and former captain of the Stanford golf team, set out to save Sharp Park from groups seeking to protect two endangered species, the Red-legged Frog and the San Francisco Garter Snake. The SF Board of Supervisors voted 6–5 to close the course, but Mayor Ed Lee vetoed the action. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has since given the city permission to operate the course in a manner mindful of the two species. For their efforts, Harris and Links received the 2014 Distinguished Service Award from the Northern California Golf Association, and were named Jack Lemmon Ambassadors of Golf by the Northern California Golf Writers Association.
Links got his start in golf through minor acts of theft and trespassing. “When I was 12, my friends and I found some wooden-shafted golf clubs in a garage,” he recalls. “We were a half block from [San Francisco municipal golf course] Lincoln Park, so we went up to a hole where people would hit over a hill; a couple balls trickled over the hill, we obtained those golf balls, waited until the coast was clear, then tried to hit ‘em. And the first shot I hit was one of the purest golf shots I’ve ever struck—with a 5-iron. It probably went 75 yards, but it was pure.”
The word that best describes Links is “enthusiast.” He has been on the USGA’s Green Committee since 1990; designed and supervised construction of a two-level practice bunker at Lake Merced Golf Club, where he was a member for 33 years; photographed multiple major championships for the USGA’s late, lamented Golf Journal; and recently turned to painting golf holes from such far-flung places as Sand Hills, Muirfield, Bandon, and Barnbougle Dunes.
A MacKenzie devotee, Links submits annual entries in the Lido Design Competition conducted by Golf World and The Alister MacKenzie Society and won it in both 2007 and 2008.
The game still entrances the 64-year-old Links, who carries a 3.8 handicap index. “It’s the most complete recreational activity that I can imagine,” he says. “You’re out in nature, there’s an orienteering aspect to it, you cope with the weather, you cope with yourself, there’s all kinds of choices you have to make, what kind of shot to hit and picking the right club. Putting, reading greens, knowing speed, the delicacy of all that. I’ve always played sports, but I wasn’t real big, I wasn’t real fast, I wasn’t real strong, and I have lousy eyesight. And golf was something I could do reasonably well, and I could do alone. I found such satisfaction and such peace being on a golf course—and it’s become a defining part of who I am. I’m a golfer.”
And he’s found one extra benefit of being a golfer named Links: “I get a lot of free drinks in Scotland.”