The UK is home to many amazing innovations. We invented antibiotics, the steam engine, the World Wide Web, and even the toothbrush. Although, many would argue that among our finest creations is the game of golf.
Much is unclear about the origins of golf, but we do know that it was invented in Scotland sometime during the 15th century. And since then, it’s become a worldwide phenomenon and spawned some of the greatest athletes of all time.
There are many beautiful and unique things about golf. But one thing that sets it apart from other sports is that, here in the UK, you can play on the very same turf as legends of the game.
The clubs that host big tournaments like The Open Championship and the Walker Cup are open to the public all year round. This means that you can play on courses that aren’t only challenging and beautiful, but ones that have great significance in golfing history.
Plus, as many of these courses are found by the coast, playing them also provides a great excuse for a vacation.
With this in mind, we’ve come up with a list of 13 of the best golf courses to play in the UK…
1. St Enodoc Golf Club (Church Course) - Cornwall, England
The South West of England is home to a variety of spectacular golf courses, but the jewel in its crown is undoubtedly St Enodoc Golf Club’s Church Course.
St Enodoc is a links course (meaning that it’s been built on sandy, coastal land with plenty of undulating dunes). It’s located in the town of Rock on Cornwall’s West Coast and truly reflects the wildness and unpredictability of Cornish terrain.
It can be great fun navigating your way through the oscillating and twisting holes, which are a treat to play all year round.
As you play, you can also enjoy marvellous views of the Camel estuary and the picturesque fishing town of Padstow. Just make sure to watch out for the infamous Himalaya bunker on the sixth hole – a nefarious sand trap nestled into the side of a sharp hill that threatens to put a dent in even the best golfer’s scorecard.
2. Clwb Golff Nefyn Golf Club (The Old Course) - Gwynedd, Wales
There’s a scene in the 2007 apocalypse film I am Legend where Will Smith’s character, Robert Neville, the last man on Earth, is seen hitting golf balls off a battleship parked in the Hudson River. But, it’s more than just a cool shot, it’s also indicative of almost every golfer’s strange fascination with golfing on the edge of the world. And by playing the Old Course at Nefyn Golf Club in North West Wales, you can do just that.
Set high on the cliffs of the Llŷn Peninsula, Nefyn Golf Club offers world-class golfing and stunning views of the mountainous coastline and the tumultuous Irish sea. On a clear day, you can even see the Emerald Isle itself from the fairway.
The main draw for the Old Course, however, is the world-famous group of nine holes situated on ‘the Point’ – a thin protuberance of land that makes you feel as if you’re playing on the ocean. These can be played as either your front or back nine, whichever you prefer.
So if you’re looking for a truly wild golfing experience, then why not give Nefyn Golf Club a visit?
3. Royal Dornoch Golf Club (Championship Course) - Sutherland, Scotland
The Championship Course at Royal Dornoch is a serious course for serious golfers. This isn’t only because of its difficulty, but because of its location.
Situated 45 miles north of Inverness, this world-famous links course presents a significant journey for most of the UK. Although, as anyone who’s made the trip will tell you, it’s well worth the trek.
Another great example of truly testing golf and splendid views, Royal Dornoch is famous for its raised, dome-like greens, which require masterful precision, even when the wind is kind.
There are plenty of other reasons to make the trip to Dornoch. Not only is it situated in the arresting landscape of Northern Scotland, but there are lots of things to see and do in the town and surrounding area.
So why not visit Dunrobin Castle or the Glenmorangie whisky distillery, which are only a short drive away? More gruesomely, the town of Dornoch was also the site of Scotland’s last witch burning in 1727.
4. Sunningdale (Old Course) - Berkshire, England
Golf was invented on links land – and still, many of our most traditional and revered courses can be found by the sea. This is because the terrain naturally provides an ideal shape for the various features that make up a great golf course.
But while many golfers consider links courses to offer the purest form of golf, there are also a wide range of top-rated courses in the UK that are found inland. One such course is the Old Course at Sunningdale Golf Club.
It’s an idyllic course, with beautiful fairways that thread through lush pine, birch, and oak trees. A fairly short course, this isn’t a beast that you’ll tame with sheer power, but cunning tactics.
The Old and New courses at Sunningdale are considered by many to be among the best pair of courses in the world. So if you’re looking for a big 36-hole day, then you won’t be disappointed with a trip here.
5. Royal County Down (Championship Links) - County Down, Northern Ireland
If you’re looking for breathtaking natural beauty and world-class links, then you can’t go wrong with a visit to Royal County Down Golf Club. Nestled at the foot of the imposing Mountains of Mourne in the Murlough Nature Reserve, it’s considered by many to be the most beautiful course in the whole world.
Founded in 1889, Royal County Down has been awarded first place in Golf Digest’s biennial top 100 golf courses in the world ranking the last three times.
When you’re playing Royal County Down’s Championship Links, you’re surrounded by towering gorse-topped dunes, which means you can’t see much of the moody Irish sea to the east. Although, its rumblings are always present, which only adds to the dramatic ambience.
The course is consistently challenging and thrilling throughout, though one of the highlights is the ninth hole – a long par 4 that plays towards the mountains. It’s considered to be one of the most photographed in the world.
6. Royal St George’s - Kent, England
No list of the finest golf courses in the UK is complete without a nod to Royal St George’s, with its rolling dunes and dramatic views of English channel. Located in the historic town of Sandwich, this course is on every serious golfer’s bucket list.
Royal St George has hosted The Open Championship a whopping 15 times, and for good reason. Each of the course’s holes will stay in the minds of the golfers that play them long after they’ve sunk their last shot – particularly the 4th, which is home to UK’s tallest, deepest bunker, and the 15th, in all its beautiful symmetry.
Steeped in golfing history (007 writer Ian Fleming was a member of the club), Royal St George’s will challenge your ball-striking ability as well as your tactical game. Plus, all the holes point in different directions, so you’ll get panoramic views of the distinctive Kentish coast as you play through.
7. Muirfield - East Lothian, Scotland
A mainstay of many golfer’s top 10 lists, Muirfield is one of the grandest feathers in Scottish golf’s cap. As one of the oldest clubs around, it’s been the site of countless historic moments. Muirfield has played host to The Open Championship 16 times, including Jack Nicklaus’ first-ever win in 1966.
Perhaps the most defining feature is its half-moon layout. The first nine holes of the course wind clockwise in a semi-circle, while the back nine follow back the way they came on the inside.
One of the more discreet courses on this list, it doesn’t have the sweeping views of Royal County Down or Nefyn Golf Club, but the golfing itself is top class. The clubhouse also offers a traditional three-course meal for lunch – but don’t forget your jacket and blazer, as they’re old school at Muirfield.
8. Royal Porthcawl - Bridgend, Wales
The second Welsh entry on this list, Royal Porthcawl is considered by many to be the country’s finest course. Located on the South Coast – a 45-minute drive from the capital of Cardiff – this esteemed venue has played host to a variety of competitions like the Walker Cup and the Senior Open Championship.
While playing at Royal Porthcawl, you’ll be treated to astounding views across the Bristol Channel from each and every hole. Although, it’s this openness that makes this venue notoriously tricky if you catch it on the wrong day. In fact, the channel itself acts as a funnel, drawing in the wind from the Atlantic and spitting it out across the fairways and greens of Royal Porthcawl.
The highlights of Royal Porthcawl include the first three holes, which are played as close to the shoreline as you’ll find, as well as its ancient and charming wooden clubhouse.
9. Woodhall Spa (Hotchkins Course) - Lincolnshire
The Hotchkins Course at Woodhall Spa Golf Club is another excellent inland golfing experience. Famous for its impressive (and terrifying) bunkers, pinpoint accuracy is paramount on this course. Although, you’ll need to drive some long balls as well if you want to stay out of trouble.
The Hotchkins is a classic heathland course, with wide-open spaces and fairways cutting paths through the dense gorse and heather. You’ll undoubtedly enjoy plotting your route through the brush and the sand traps – just make sure to take some time to admire the arresting Lincolnshire country.
If you’re thinking of making a day of it, then why not warm up in the morning with its younger (and more forgiving) brother, the Bracken Course, before moving onto the Hotchkins course in the afternoon (after a beer and some grub in the clubhouse, of course)?
10. Carnoustie (Championship Course) - Angus, Scotland
On the western shore of Scotland, half an hour’s drive from Dundee, lies Carnoustie Golf Links’ Championship Course, which is often touted as the UK’s most challenging by amateurs and professionals alike.
But although it’s no easy feat for the average golfer, this eight-time Open Championship host is definitely a must-play for anyone who’s serious about the sport.
Nicknamed ‘Carnasty’ for its difficult nature, Carnoustie’s Championship Course has many highlights, including the incorporation of the Barry Burn river as a deadly water feature, and its final three holes, which many claim to be one of the most tricky (but rewarding) final stretches around.
11. Royal Portrush (Dunluce Links) - County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Located just a stone’s throw along the coast from the Giant’s Causeway, Dunluce Links at Royal Portrush Golf Club offers stunning views and world-class golfing.
As the host of the 148th Open Championship in 2019, Royal Portrush Golf Club has received a lot of attention in recent years, but it’s been on many golfer’s bucket lists for some time now.
One of the biggest attractions of the Dunluce Links (the harder of the two courses at the club) is the world-famous 16th hole, better known as ‘Calamity Corner’. It’s a challenging 236-yard par-three that requires golfers to clear a gaping chasm and tease their ball onto the distant green on the other side.
This course, which is named after the medieval Dunluce Castle nearby, is certainly not for the faint of heart and the average golfer might struggle on these awe-inspiring holes. But fear not; if you want to enjoy the epic scenery and rolling Irish landscape, then the Valley Links course offers a slightly less daunting challenge.
12. Royal Birkdale - Merseyside, England
Lauded by many as the best golf course in all of England, Royal Birkdale has hosted The Open Championship ten times and the Ryder Cup twice.
It’s been the site of some of the most famous moments in golfing history, as well as possibly the greatest act of sportsmanship ever witnessed: Jack NiIcklaus’ concession of a two-foot putt that resulted in the first tie in Ryder Cup history in 1969.
Perhaps most famous for its beautiful terrain – which consists of endless undulating dunes through which the fairways thread like rivers in a valley – Royal Birkdale is a treat for the eye as well as a thrilling course to play.
Though Royal Birkdale isn’t just available to professionals and legends, it’s considered to be a difficult course (especially on a windy day) – so it’s not recommended for those below intermediate level if you want to make the most out of your experience.
13. St Andrews (The Old Course) - Fife, Scotland
Probably the most famous golf course in the world, the links land where the Old Course at St Andrews sits is where the game was first played all the way back in the 1400s. And since then, it‘s been home to countless of the most famous moments in golfing history.
It was at the Old Course at St Andrews where Tiger Woods won his first-ever Open Championship by the largest winning margin in nearly a century at the age of 24. By doing so, he became one of the only five players ever to win all four of golf’s modern major tournaments.
Often referred to as the ‘Grand Old Lady’, many assume that this beautiful and historic links course is private. But it’s open to the public and getting a tee time is easier than you might expect (as long as you have a handicap of 36 or under).
Unfortunately, due to the large number of tee times being carried over from the pandemic, there isn’t an opportunity to apply for Old Course tee times during the 2022 high season (April-September).
However, if you’re looking to go in the off-season, you might have more luck.
With over 2,000 golf courses in the UK, there are plenty that offer a thrilling challenge, spectacular views, and interesting history. And if you’re a golfing enthusiast who’s looking to add some venues to your bucket list, we hope this article has given you some inspiration.
Keep in mind that the courses listed here are some of the best in the world, so the demand to play them is very high. With this in mind, it’s worth doing some research on how best to bag yourself a slot.
Also, for some of these courses, you’ll need to have a certain handicap or below to play. You can find this information and more on the relevant club’s website.
Finally, keep in mind that many of these courses are part of larger clubs and complexes with multiple courses on site. So if you fancy making the trip to any of these venues, but don’t want to play on these courses, it’s worth having a look at the clubs’ websites to see what else is on offer.