Although the ancient origins of the game of golf are subject to much debate, the modern game we play today originated in 15th century Scotland. Therefore, it should be no surprise that some of the world’s finest golf courses are in the UK. It is interesting to note that England has more golf courses than Scotland and Ireland combined. Yet wherever you play, just remember this: a bad day on the golf course is still better than a good day at work.
With that said, here are 10 of the best golf courses to play in the UK:
1. Royal County Down Championship Links
36 Golf Links Rd, Newcastle, Co. Down, N. Ireland BT33 0AN
Tel: +44 (28)4372 3314
The Championship Links at Royal County Down Golf Club might be the best course in the world to never host an Open. It is an extremely challenging course with plenty of rugged terrain and winds that can change directions at the drop of a hat. The course sits at the foot of the Mountains of Mourne on the Bay of Dundrum.
Tradition still reigns at Royal County Down, with the Hat Man mixing Saturday pairings as he has done for over a century. So pack your bag and head over to Northern Ireland for 7,000 yards of golf the way it was meant to be played – in the midst of nature and all her elements.
2. Muirfield – The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers
Duncur Road, Muirfield, Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland, EH31 2EG
Tel: +44 (0)1620 842123
The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers is the oldest known golf club in the world. It was formed in 1744, moving from Leith Lanks to Muirfield when the latter opened for play in 1891. It was originally designed with 16 holes; two additional holes were put in a few months after opening.
The layout of Muirfield consists of two concentric rings – the outward nine spanning the outer edges of the property and the inward nine in the interior. This layout means the wind is always a factor. Those who swear by Muirfield insist there is nothing like her thick rough and challenging bunkers.
3. St Andrews Links – Old Course
West Sands, St Andrews, Fife, Scotland, KY16 9XL
It is impossible to talk about the best golf courses in the UK without mentioning the Old Course at St Andrews. This is arguably the oldest golf course in the world, with a history dating back to the 12th century. It is also a course owing much of its design to the work of nature. The course might be the most famous links in the world.
First-time players are often surprised to discover the terrain is not as flat as it appears on television. What’s more, it can be difficult at times to define where fairway meets fringe and fringe becomes green. This course is a lot more challenging than it appears, thanks to some very good optical illusions from Mother Nature. Every golfer in the UK should play St Andrews Old Course at least once.
4. Sunningdale Golf Club – Old Course
Ridgemount Road, Sunningdale, Berkshire, SL5 9RR
From the openness and ruggedness of Scotland, we move to the heavily wooded sands of Berkshire and the Old Course at Sunningdale. First opened for play in 1901, the Old Course was originally a wide-open area with very few trees. However, time has taken care of that. When you play here, expect to play against a majestic backdrop of aged oaks and pines.
Many people love the 10th hole with its elevated tee, while others agree with the general acceptance of the fifth hole as being one of the finest holes in the world. Sunningdale has certainly seen its fair share of professional play, and deservedly so. This is a beautiful course that combines aesthetic appeal with a significant challenge.
5. Woodhall Spa Golf Club – Hotchkin Course
The Broadway, Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire LN10 6PU
The Hotchkin Course at Woodhall Spa first opened for play in 1905. Nevertheless, it was not until modifications made after the First World War that it became a truly world-class course suitable for competitive play. Today it is a favourite in Lincolnshire and the home of the English Golf Union.
The most prominent feature of this course are the numerous and treacherous bunkers. This is one course at which you want to stay out of the sand at any cost. For that matter, do your best to stay on the fairways. The heather at Woodhall Spa can swallow your ball and club with ease.
6. Royal Troon – Old Course
Craigend Road, Troon, Ayrshire, Scotland, KA10 6EP
Just outside of Glasgow is the historic Royal Troon Golf Club, originally established as a five-hole course in the 1870s. It is a traditional out and back course with a deceptively gentle start. Royal Troon is often described as deceptive because the severity of the rough and a legion of bunkers are not easily identified from the tee. It is not until the golfer gets into play that he or she begins to understand the challenges of a given hole.
Royal Troon is also well known for her incredible views. When the weather is fair, golfers are treated to the mountains on the Isle of Arran as well as the beautiful Ailsa Craig. We will see what the weather brings for the 2016 Open.
7. Royal St George’s Golf Club
Sandwich, Kent, England CT13 9PB
Royal Saint George’s Golf Club enjoys the distinction of being the first golf club outside of Scotland to host the Open Championship. What’s more, the course was only seven years old when the tournament was played. Since then, it has hosted 13 additional Opens.
This is a traditional out and back course with two circular sets of nine holes designed in a figure eight pattern. Course designers went to great lengths to ensure every hole offers its own unique challenges, including the UK’s tallest and deepest bunker on the fourth hole. Surrounding the entire course are incredible views of Dover’s famous white cliffs and Pegwell Bay. Royal Saint George’s is truly a treat to play.
8. Royal Portrush Golf Club – Dunluce Links
Dunluce Road, Portrush, Co. Antrim, N. Ireland BT56 8JQ
The Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush are considered by some to be Harry S. Colt’s finest work. He redesigned the course prior to the start of World War II, after finishing work at Muirfield. This course is the only course outside of England and Scotland to host the Open Championship; that tournament was held in 1951.
Royal Portrush is a classic coastal golf club with rugged edges and plenty of small, undulating hills. Of the two courses at Royal Portrush, Dunluce is the more challenging with some incredibly rugged terrain in spots. This is one course where you do not want to get off the fairways even for a moment. If you do, the beautiful views will hopefully relieve your stress.
9. Royal Birkdale Golf Club
Waterloo Rd Southport, England PR8 2LX
Royal Birkdale is a championship level course known for being both forgiving and hard to chase at the same time. It is a tournament favourite for fans because its spacious valleys and flat areas provide plenty of viewing area. For the golfers, it offers a pleasant experience with a less imposing feel. Having said that, it can be a very difficult course when the wind blows in from the Irish Sea.
The 15th hole at Royal Birkdale is a favourite among both amateurs and professionals. It is a long par five with numerous bunkers protecting the green at the end of a well-defined fairway. The right club choices put par well within reach on most days.
10. Royal Dornoch Golf Club – Championship Course
Golf Road, Dornoch, Sutherland, Scotland, IV25 3LW
The Championship Course at Royal Dornoch sits in the Scottish Highlands, about a four-hour drive from Glasgow. However, it is a course that every UK golfer should play at least once. Its relative isolation makes the course less refined and more wild, but it has its own unique beauty that adds to the challenge of its play.
The out and back layout here is fairly pedestrian by most standards. The challenge at Royal Dornoch is the approach. You need just the right shot to place the ball on one of the signature raised and domed greens, in a position that gives you a fairly makeable putting opportunity. Get the approach wrong and you will be adding a stroke or two.
This concludes our list of 10 of the best golf courses to play in the UK. There are so many more that it is impossible to do them all justice. At any rate, the British Isles are the place to play if you are looking for historic golf clubs that set the standard.