The best golf courses in the UK

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Posted by Courtney on 14th June 2021

Putting by the coast and escaping a bunker

‘Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an even smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose.’ – Winston Churchill

With England having the 4th most golf courses in the whole world and Scotland having one golf hole for every 568 people living there, we think it’s high time you made time for tee. By which we mean, assemble the dawn patrol, choose your bag rat and take that million-dollar swing onto the carpet. Or to the less adept at golfing lingo: get your friends, decide who’s carrying the clubs (or, just carry your own) and take your game to the fairways!

10 of the best holiday cottages near golf courses

There are many types of golf course to choose from when thinking about a golfing holiday and we’ve tried to cover them all. Spanning famous greens, links courses, and short courses, as well as covering trickiest holes, fun facts, and accommodation nearby, here's our guide to the best golf courses in the UK. 

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Scotland

Many of Scotland's course have majestic mountainous backdrops

Golf has been in Scotland’s veins since the 15th century when it was developed along the east coast. During this epoch, King James II banned the game due to men and young boys preferring to play the game over training in the military. And yet the ban was repeated twice in the next 34 years, so it can be argued that it wasn’t entirely successful.

Heralded as the spiritual 'Home of Golf', Scotland laid down the rules of golf in 1744 and since then, it has been an ever-present part of the nation’s sporting landscape.

Scotland is rich in golfing regions and we’ve chosen three of them to start off our list.


St Andrews & Fife

The Old Course boasting its sunsets, and also the Swilken Bridge

The Old Course at St Andrews

Watch out for: handicap requirements - the maximum allowed are 24 for men and 36 for women

Trickiest hole: 17th, par 4, 495 yards. The Road Hole is possibly the most famous hole in golf and has a reputation as the toughest par 4 in championship golf

Did you know: An obelisk, the Martyrs’ Monument, marks the spot of the Old Course’s first tee

The oldest and possibly the most iconic golf course in the world, St Andrews Old Course is rarely ranked outside the world’s top ten. A course that’s open to the public, it’s a place that’ll you’ll need to ease yourself into and frequent often. First timers often leave disappointed, maybe due to pre-arrival hype but more often than not due to the fact that the course looks and feels different to how you would have seen it on TV. Televised competitions tend to make the terrain look very flat and therefore, upon arrival, even experienced golfers find it hard to strategise due to the features being difficult to see.

However, it should go without saying that this is one course you will definitely want to tick off your bucket list, as you’ll never forget the day you crossed the Swilken Bridge or got stuck in the Hell Bunker.

Stay nearby

Other courses:

Kingsbarns – from here you can see the North Sea from every hole

Ladybank - the Howe of Fife provides shelter for you on this course

Scotscraig – this is a hybrid course, comprising part heathland and part links


The Highlands

Views out to sea, a silhouetted golf swing and the Dornoch coastline

Royal Dornoch

Watch out for: travel time. Even if you live in Glasgow, it will take you 4 hours by car

Trickiest hole: 14th, par 4, 445 yards

Did you know: the name 'Dornoch' is derived from the Gaelic for 'pebbly place' - the greens should be stone-free though!

Often quoted as one of the must-play courses in the world, Royal Dornoch enjoys unparalleled scenery, from the white sandy beach down one flank to the sense of unyielding isolation on the exquisite playing surfaces. Once you play on it, it’s easy to see why so many make the pilgrimage to the Highlands every year to pay their green fee.

Dornoch will test you as a golfer, assessing your ball-striking, short game and tactical approach, as well as giving you a vision of beauty as you pull your clubs behind you. Just don’t lower your guard, or Dornoch will discipline you.

Stay nearby

Other courses:

Castle Stuart - enjoy Highland landmarks such as Kessock Bridge, Chanonry Lighthouse, Fort George and Castle Stuart itself as you play

Fortrose - twice voted Scotland’s best golfing experience (value for money)

Brora - recognised as being one of James Braid’s finest pieces of work


Western Scotland

A staggering view of Turnberry Lighthouse with a mountain range in the distance

Turnberry

Watch out for: the snaking par 5 10th hole – if the wind is strong, you might have to aim your drive out to sea

Trickiest hole: 9th, par 3, 248 yards

Did you know: Turnberry was seized during both World Wars and used as an airbase, with many holes being flattened and converted into concrete runways

There are so many scenic courses in this list and in general. The surroundings were surely a contributing factor when the great architects of the game got to work. Turnberry is no exception, with its craggy headland overlooking the island of Ailsa Craig and enjoying magnificent views to the Mull of Kintyre.

Turnberry has essentially an out-and-back layout, with the wind at your back for the outward nine. You can stop in one of golf’s best halfway houses for a well-deserved drink after the 9th. This break will partially split a world-class string of three holes (9th-11th) which will test any golfer. The back nine doesn’t let up either, with the last four holes being as gruelling as you’re likely to find anywhere. Overall, this is a course you won’t regret playing, especially since the recent upgrades - where every single hole received some pampering - elevated an already prestigious course to even greater heights.

Stay nearby

Other courses:

Royal Troon - home to the infamous ‘Postage Stamp’ 8th hole

Prestwick - the first 12 Opens were held here, dating back to 1860

Western Gailes – this course gets pretty close to pure links heaven

‘To find a man’s true character, play golf with him.’ – PG Wodehouse


South West England

A golf course peninsula

It was never in doubt that golf would make its way down to England after James VI of Scotland moved court to London following the passing of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, and the South West is one of many parts of the country to boast myriad top courses. This region of the UK has always been popular with tourists: maybe it’s because of the fantastic links courses you’ll find here or perhaps just because the UK public can’t resist a cream tea. Whatever the reason, if you’re heading into the depths of Devon or the coast of Cornwall, be sure to check out these greens.



Watch out for sheep in the bunkers at Westward Ho!. Also, Graham makes a put.Photos courtesy of Tom Ford (top right and bottom)

 

Royal North Devon

Watch out for: sheep in the bunkers

Trickiest hole: 7th, par 5, 440 yards

Did you know: if your ball ends up in a horse’s hoof mark, you may drop it without being penalised

Opening in 1864 in Westward Ho!, Royal North Devon is the oldest course in England still using its original fairways. It is also home to the second oldest ladies’ golf club in the world, which opened a mere four years later. This is one of the least sheltered courses on our list, sporting no trees or hedges, but be aware of the reeds and rushes waiting to gobble up wayward balls. And being right next to a 2-mile stretch of beach, you know the wind is going to play a deciding factor in your game.

This is raw golf. Avoiding sheep and horses is a must, as well as the many tourist and locals’ cars that drive along the road to the beach. Pick your moment on the par 5 17th as you play over this road towards the green. You may be slightly underwhelmed as you begin this course, feeling the layout is quite basic. But as play continues, the landscape starts to reveal its nuances and charisma and you’ll realise why J. H. Taylor made such a fuss about it.

Lastly, there are not many courses in our list with better views from the clubhouse, so pop your scorecard in your pocket and enjoy a well-earned cream tea (cream first; you’re in Devon!).

Stay nearby

Other courses:

Saunton East - more challenging than her sister course to the west

Saunton West - more varied and fun than the Saunton East course

East Devon - a rolling coastal course with openness in abundance and fantastic sea views


Cornwall

A stunning sky at St Enodoc

St Enodoc - Church

Watch out for: potentially the biggest bunker in Europe

Trickiest hole: 10th, par 4, 457 yards

Did you know: this course takes its name from the small 13th-century place of worship by the side of the 10th green

Located in the coastal town of Rock and overlooking the Padstow harbour, St Enodoc (Church) provided a marvellous setting for golf course architect James Braid to lay down one of his most intriguing course designs. Exhibiting a landscape that some would argue unrealistic and impractical due to its undulating links, towering sand dunes and wild grasses, this is a course at its most natural: its organic topography ensures the holes are varied and that you are challenged every step of the way.

One of these challenges must be the Himalaya bunker on the 6th. The dune itself stands at over 75 feet and obscures the green. You should sail straight over this hazard but if your club selection is shoddy and you end up putting a clunker in the bunker, good luck getting out of that one.

Stay nearby

Other courses:

Perranporth - enjoy coastal views on this widely underrated course

Trevose - a stern course when the wind is up

St Mellion - Jack Nicklaus’ first European course design


Dorset

Putting, driving and a rainbow over ParkstonePhotos courtesy of @leetimms1

Parkstone

Watch out for: spectacular vistas on the downhill par 3s

Trickiest hole: 17th, par 5, 532 yards

Did you know: Natural England declared the course is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) with a requirement to return the course to open heathland

Not the longest course you’ll ever find, Parkstone is slightly inhibited by its natural surroundings when it comes to modifications and updates. Positively, because of that, this course boasts unusual and unique virtues. Being a seaside heathland course, in that it is not very far inland nor a traditional links, Parkstone displays true beauty on its pine and heather-lined fairways and with its views across Poole Bay. Added to this, when the rhododendrons are in full bloom in the springtime, it is indeed a sight to see.

The holes aren’t just eye-catching though, they’re thought-provoking too, utilising water hazards and elevations to fill you with doubt.

Stay nearby

Other courses:

Broadstone - take in the views as you amble through noticeably more elevation changes than other courses in the area

Remedy Oak - take your time and soak up the magnificent 2nd and 15th holes, which are both excellent par 5s

Ferndown - with pine trees, heathers and firs lining many of the holes, it’s an inherently attractive course

‘Golf is so popular simply because it is the best game in the world at which to be bad.’ – AA Milne


North West England

Golf buggies taking a break at Hillside golf clubPhoto courtesy of @joe_smith1

Known as England’s 'Golf Coast', the North West is home to 12 of the best golf courses in Britain. Golf course rankings are constantly fluctuating, naturally, but this coast easily sports seven or eight in the top 100 courses in the UK and Ireland year on year. The three Open Championship venues found in the area, Royal Birkdale, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham & St. Annes, have hosted the tournament a remarkable 33 times between them since 1897, and it is these three courses that we are going to focus on.


A golfer urges his put to go in

Royal Birkdale

Watch out for: the prevailing wind, which causes you to strategise over every tee

Trickiest hole: 6th, par 4, 499 yards

Did you know: Birkdale witnessed what is considered to be golf’s greatest single sporting gesture, known as ‘The Concession’

Royal Birkdale is a remarkable course and arguably the best that England has to offer. Having hosted its first Open Championship in 1954 (three years after being granted royal status), it has gone on to host the event ten times. The idea of playing through the dunes, rather than over them, has served the course well, providing an extra difficulty level for the golfers whilst simultaneously giving spectators a platform from which they can watch the beauty unfold.

Birkdale is a Jekyll and Hyde course of sorts. It’s agreeable if you hit the fairways, as the ball will rarely be thrown off course. However, when the wind coming off the Irish Sea is up, the conditions can be too much for the average golfer. Add to this the difficult-to-read greens and Birkdale becomes quite a tough nut to crack.

This shouldn’t by any means put anyone off, though. Above all, this is a playable and enjoyable course and is truly the jewel in the crown of England’s Golf Coast.

Stay nearby


A beautiful rainbow over Royal Liverpool Golf ClubPhoto courtesy of @fishwick.craig


Royal Liverpool (Hoylake)

Watch out for: the upcoming Open Championship in 2023

Trickiest hole: 6th, par 3, 202 yards

Did you know: the course hosted the first international contest between England and Scotland in 1902

Built on the Liverpool Hunt Club racecourse, Hoylake is the second oldest English seaside links course, after the South West’s Royal North Devon at Westward Ho!. However, unlike its southern comrade, Royal Liverpool is an unusually flat course, but the contours it does have are wonderfully natural. The greens and fairways are always maintained to an immaculate level, making for a great golfing experience. But you mustn’t let your guard down too much or the cleverly thought out bunkering and subtle run-offs will punish you.

A course you will allow you to ease in, whilst still asking questions of you, you’ll find you’ll need high levels of concentration throughout the back nine if you are to leave with a half-decent scorecard intact.

Stay nearby


A serene green in front of Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf clubhousePhoto courtesy of @top100golftours

Royal Lytham and St Annes

Watch out for: a cavalier wind from the Irish Sea

Trickiest hole: 6th, par 3, 202 yards

Did you know: there are 205 bunkers on the course, with the stronghold 17th hole guarded by 20

Considered to be one of the toughest courses on the English circuit, Royal Lytham and St Annes is the most northern of all the English championship links courses. Not as pretty as some of the other courses in our list, what with the railway line and suburban housing in full view, this is a links course set more inland than traditional links courses are usually. But with Blackpool Tower visible in the distance, you know you’re not far from the sea.

Why is it considered one of the toughest, you ask? Well, largely due to the hundreds of bunkers that the enthusiastic architects have raised, prompting Bernard Darwin, a leading golf writer from the 1930s, to describe it as 'a beast of a course, but a just beast'. The words still ring true.

Stay nearby

Other courses:

Formby - a links courses bordered on three sides by pine trees

Hillside - touted as England’s golfing Mecca and the best of the non-royal commoners

Southport & Ainsdale - hosted the USA’s first Ryder Cup victory in 1937, which began their dominance of the cup lasting the next 20 years

‘Don’t play too much golf. Two rounds a day are plenty.’ – Harry Vardon


South East England

A windy green, polished clubs and a successful chip out of a bunker

With the South East being the most densely populated of England’s nine geographical regions, it’s little wonder that there are approximately 475 golf clubs offering their services. With the area being predominantly heathland, there is no lack of heathery courses for you to sample. Arguably the strongest golfing region in the country (although, we’re sure the North West would have something to say about that!), we’ve chosen three of the best to help you choose your favourite.

Kent

A blustery yet beautiful day at Royal St George's Golf ClubPhoto courtesy of @panhead_lucie

Royal St George’s

Watch out for: the 4th hole dune, described as the UK’s deepest bunker

Trickiest hole: 8th, par 4, 450 yards

Did you know: in 1894, Royal St George’s became the first venue outside of Scotland to host The Open

An unconventional course, Royal St George’s has a loose figure-of-eight layout, whilst maintaining a completely natural feel, with dune grasses and wildflowers bursting into life wherever you look. Each and every hole is different to the last and lives long in the memory. You’ll pass some decidedly English indications, namely flags with St George’s red cross and thatched-roof shelters – fitting for a course named after England’s patron saint.

This is, without doubt, a challenging course, with most holes featuring blind spots or being obscured by one hazard or another. This has historically divided opinion between visiting golfers but ultimately this just provides you with another test, another strategy to formulate. It tests every shot you have in your back catalogue, forcing you to change your style to adapt to a course that will not change for you. That is the sign of a great golfer and a great golf course, and what cannot be disputed is that this is a great golf course.

Stay nearby

Other courses:

Royal Cinque Ports - commonly known as ‘Deal’, this links course is a beast when the south-westerly wind gets going

Prince’s: Shore and Dunes - made up of three loops of 9 holes, the Shores and Dunes loops make the best 18-hole combination

Littlestone - a hidden gem, this is quite the remote links course


Surrey

Sunningdale Golf Club greens and clubhousePhoto courtesy of @biglad555

Sunningdale Old

Watch out for: being duped into thinking this course is a breeze by the straightforward 1st hole

Trickiest hole: 2nd, par 4, 470 yards

Did you know: the sausage sandwiches at the halfway house are out of this world (apparently)

Bobby Jones got to the heart of the matter when he said of Sunningdale, “I wish I could take it home with me.” Many would agree with Bobby’s assessment of this aesthetically pleasing inland course, with commentators in some quarters describing it as the perfect golfing venue. Indeed, taken with its sister course, Sunningdale New, you’d do well to find a better 36 holes together anywhere in the world.

High praise, you might think. But justified praise, what with the varied holes on the front nine providing enough challenge to make you want to stop and take in the splendid scenery just for a moment after the turn. Then to the back nine, where precision and thought are required in equal measure. Be careful not to try to hit big on every hole along here; make use of the clubs in your bag and choose positioning over distance. It’s just a shame The Open can only be played on links courses, otherwise Sunningdale Old would be a shoe in.

Stay nearby

Other courses:

Sunningdale New - better natural inland golfing terrain is hard to come by

St George's Hill: Red & Blue - considered to be Harry Colt’s greatest work

Wentworth West - Get yourself on TV at the most televised course in Britain


Sussex

Sunset through the trees at West Sussex Golf ClubPhoto courtesy of @daveysheps

West Sussex

Watch out for: the large pond, the whole of which is out of bounds

Trickiest hole: 6th, par 3, 226 yards

Did you know: Bernard Darwin described it as ‘a little sandy jewel set in the Sussex clay’

Situated on the northern edge of the beautiful South Downs, this is one of the finest inland courses you can play on. Drawing golfers from near and far, this course occupies tempting undulating heathland that is a joy to play upon. A relatively short course and inland, West Sussex isn’t a Championship pick, but without a doubt it’s a course worthy of your time, especially later in the year when the silver birch, pine and oak trees glisten with autumnal colours.

Short holes will test your positional play rather than your striking length, and clever bunkering and an abundance of heather defence will ensure your concentration levels are on point. With little sign of civilisation around you, and affording you a welcoming sense of isolation, this course is as pretty as it gets.

Stay nearby

Other courses:

Rye Old - arguably harder to secure a tee time than at St Andrew’s

Royal Ashdown Forest Old - play golf next to Winnie the Pooh’s and Christopher Robin’s old haunt

Piltdown - no bunkers – yay!

“Golf can best be defined as an endless series of tragedies obscured by the occasional miracle.” – Anonymous


Northern Ireland

Luscious greenery and even a rainbow present in Northern Ireland

The least populous of the four countries in the UK, Northern Ireland still has approximately 100 golf clubs serving two million inhabitants. Amongst many hidden gems lie two world-class courses and when you factor in the incredible players it has produced, such as Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke, it’s easy to see why Northern Ireland is an ever-popular destination for golfing holidays. Here we take a closer look at Northern Ireland’s and indeed perhaps the UK’s best course.

A shot towards a mountainous backdrop at Royal County DownPhoto courtesy of @roamingthedunes

Royal County Down (Championship)


Watch out for: blind drives and bunkers bordered with thick grass

Trickiest hole: 13th, par 4, 446 yards

Did you know: keeping with tradition, Royal County Down’s Hat Man still mixes the pairings for Saturday’s matches

One of the finest front nines in golf, it is a mystery, nay a travesty, that Royal County Down has never hosted an Open Championship. It’s a beast of a course, measuring 7,200 yards from the back tees, and the ever-changing wind and the blind elements of several holes, make this one of the most challenging and best courses in existence.

Considered the most photographed course in the world, it’s easy to see why, with the 4th studded with gorse bushes and sporting mountain peaks in the background, and the elevated 9th looking straight at the Slieve Donard peak over the fairway below.

There is much discussion over whether Royal Portrush deserves County Down’s mantle, and those arguments do not lack validity. Yet the mere number of standout holes, the epic scenery and the sheer quality and attention to detail throughout the course and the club means that this is the leading Northern Irish course for us.

Other courses:

Royal Portrush Dunluce - argued by many to be the best course in the whole of Ireland

Rosapenna Sandy Hills - carved through the dunes, this course is young at only 20 years old

Ballyliffin Glashedy - choose from two courses: one old and one new<


Map of the best golf courses in the UK


Golf holidays in the UK

Hopefully we’ve given you plenty to ponder. Perhaps there’s a course right on your doorstep that you’ve not got around to playing yet (check out the map above). Or maybe we’ve inspired you to pack your golf cart, polish your balls and go on a golfing getaway.

If this is the case, then checking out our blog below is a must:

10 of the best holiday cottages near golf courses

And remember, if you hit a hole in one, you have to buy everyone at the 19th hole a drink…so maybe keep that little achievement to yourself!





Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.