One of the greatest things about the sport of golf is the incredible variety of the playing fields around the world upon which it’s carried out. With around 34,000 golf clubs worldwide, the game offers an inexhaustible supply of courses to suit all tastes. Whether coastal, desert, undulating, tree-lined, natural or man-made wonder, golf courses can capture the imagination and inspire people to make inter-continental journeys simply to visit and play them.
Here below we take a tour of the golfing globe, considering 15 bucket list courses you have to play. Some tracks have been chosen for the beauty of their setting, like Ile aux Cerfs in Mauritius, some for their unusual geographic position like Norway’s Lofoten Links, and Bolivia’s La Paz, some for their dramatic surrounds like Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand. Others such as Royal Melbourne and Real Valderrama were selected for the sheer quality of golfing test they present and then some, like Turnberry and Pebble Beach, were simply chosen because they deliver the complete golfing package.
ST ANDREWS OLD COURSE, SCOTLAND
This is where we must start as The Old Course St Andrews is like no other course. The sense of history and place one gets on the fairways can be experienced nowhere else in golf. Not only is it one of the most historic courses in the world, it's also one of Scotland's best golf courses and ranks very highly in our UK and Ireland Top 100 golf courses list.
The greats of the game have navigated this links and it’s an unbeatable feeling to follow in their footsteps. And the course itself is unique with its sprawling double greens, crossovers and improbable St Andrews bunkers.
There are so many memorable moments to savour over so many famous holes – Teeing off in front of the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse, crossing Shell bunker to the 7th green, firing onto the Elysian Fields and over Hell, the infamous Road Hole 17th and the iconic drive back into town on the 18th. Every lover of golf has to experience the Old Course at least once.
TRUMP TURNBERRY AILSA COURSE, SCOTLAND
The Ailsa Course at Turnberry in Ayrshire delivers one of the world’s most memorable golfing experiences over one of Great Britain and Ireland's very best courses. Golfers at Turnberry enjoy the rugged beauty of the Scottish coastline together with the exemplary course design.
With views past the famous lighthouse to the Alisa Craig and Arran, Turnberry is in a captivating setting - it's a course that will make your friends very jealous if you get the chance to play.
Host to three Open Championships and many other significant competitions over the last century, there’s great history to soak up and, owing to a fabulous recent re-design, there’s exceptional modern golf course architecture to admire.
Real Club Valderrama, Spain
Spain is home to many tremendous tracks but the one that really captures the imagination is Valderrama in Sotogrande. Home to the Volvo Masters for many years and more recently the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, the course also hosted the first Ryder Cup to be contested in continental Europe, when Seve captained the winning side in 1997.
The layout is famously difficult with narrow tree-lined fairways and firm, fast, undulating putting surfaces. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, it has a traditional feel and the emphasis is on skill from start to finish. Play well at Valderrama and you feel you’ve passed a significant golfing examination.
Lofoten Links, Norway
The course at Lofoten Links on the remote Norwegian island of Gimsøya provides one of the world’s most incredible settings for golf. At a latitude of 68 degrees north, it’s possible to play golf at Lofoten 24 hours of the day in mid-summer. Opened for play in 2015, it’s maybe a rather tricky place to reach, but once you’re there, the effort is well worth it.
Although the stunning surroundings; the mountains and white beaches, are all-consuming at first, you’ll find the quality of the course lives up to the mesmerising Arctic setting. It’s a well-designed and challenging track that deserves to be recognised as Norway’s best.
Thracian Cliffs, Bulgaria
There are some courses whose design and looks are so striking that even the silkiest of words simply cannot do them justice. Thracian Cliffs is one of that rare breed, a Gary Player masterpiece in a unique location with 18 visually sumptuous holes.
This is one of the most photogenic courses in the world, and any one of these 18 holes would be the star attraction just about anywhere else. Player has a track record of bold designs that includes the Links at Fancourt in South Africa, and Saadiyat Beach in Abu Dhabi. But the canvas he had to work with on the Black Sea shoreline of Bulgaria allowed him to create something very special indeed.
The opening eight holes run along the cliffs lining the shimmering blue sea, and include the signature 6th, the second of back-to-back par 3s. Here, you play from a very elevated tee to a green perched on a promontory bordering the ocean; next stop northern Turkey over 200 miles away! On a bucket-list course, this is a real bucket-list hole. Thracian Cliffs is one of the most breathtaking courses in Europe.
Pebble Beach Golf Links, California, USA
One of the most iconic golfing venues in world golf, playing Pebble Beach has to be one of our bucket list golf courses. Opened in 1919, the California venue has played host to six U.S. Open Championships, most recently in 2019, to mark the course’s centenary when Gary Woodland was champion.
With holes running along Stillwater Cove and then out onto a peninsula jutting into the Pacific, there are some incredible shots to be hit on the way round “Pebble.” The short par-3 7th is one of the most famous, together with the fabulous par-3 17th – scene of Tom Watson’s chip-in, on route to his victory in the U.S. Open of 1982.
Bandon Dunes (Pacific Dunes), Oregon, USA
Bandon Dunes is rugged and windswept, set on a dramatic stretch of Pacific coastline amidst a line of striking sandhills. Designed by Tom Doak and opened for play in 2001, the course begins amongst the beautiful pine trees before striking out into the dune-land.
It’s an extremely natural feeling course, one that seems to sit harmoniously within the land it occupies rather than having been thrust upon it. Bandon Dunes is home to three further excellent courses and the general consensus is that Pacific Dunes is the best of the bunch.
Casa de Campo (Teeth of the Dog), Dominican Republic
The number one layout at the wonderful Casa de Campo resort on the south coast of the Dominican Republic is a Pete Dye design called, “Teeth of the Dog.” Carved, by sledgehammer and pickaxe through the rocky coastline. It’s an 18-hole masterpiece, with seven stunning holes that hug the coastline standing out.
With the azure waters of the Caribbean Sea lapping the edge of the layout on one side and palatial villas overlooking the other, this is a luxurious place to play golf and knocking shots around a course of such exceptional quality is really rather special – true millionaire’s golf.
La Paz, Bolivia
The course at La Paz Golf Club in Bolivia makes it into our round-up of bucket list golf courses, largely because of its geography. At up to 10,650 feet above sea level, this is the highest golf course on the planet and one of the world's most extreme golf courses. It's also one of the best courses in South America.
The club in La Paz was founded in 1912 and the course established at the current site in the 1940s. Luther Kuntz, an American associate of the great Dr Alister MacKenzie was responsible for the design and it’s a pretty memorable one. The terrain is quite incredible with canyons and cliffs to negotiate. The island tee on the 12
Fancourt Links, South Africa
On South Africa’s south coast, midway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, Fancourt is at the heart of South Africa’s famed “garden route.” It's one of the best golf courses in South Africa. It’s a supremely beautiful stretch of coastline with a moderate climate and incredible array of flora and fauna.
Fancourt has three courses, all designed by nine-time Major champion Gary Player. The premier track is “the Links,” venue for the 2003 President’s Cup and the 2012 Volvo Golf Champions event won by Branden Grace. It’s an incredible design inspired by the great links tracks of Scotland and Ireland and is generally regarded as one of the very best courses in South Africa.
Ile aux Cerfs, Mauritius
Previously known as Le Touessrok, this incredible course is situated on Mauritius’ east coast. It's one of the best golf courses in Mauritius. Set on a private island in the Indian Ocean, there are few more secluded tracks to be found than that at Ile aux Cerfs.
Designed by Bernhard Langer, the layout’s pristine fairways carve through the trees offering glimpses of mountains and ocean. A true golfing paradise, a round at Ile aux Cerfs is a uniquely enjoyable experience. With nine lakes across the course and the sea itself a threat on many holes, water is a key feature here and, overall, the layout is challenging but fair.
Yas Links, Abu Dhabi
Designed by Kyle Phillips, the architect responsible for the majestic layout at Kingsbarns on the Fife coast, Yas Links on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi takes influence from those British and Irish seaside courses.
With rolling fairways, pock-marked with clever bunkering, stunning views of the sea, an ever-present breeze and challenging green complexes, the course captures the rugged essence of links golf and delivers a blend of tradition and modernity. It's one of the very best courses in the Middle East.
The course offers something a little different from most tracks in the Gulf and with teeing options from 7,450 yards right down to 5,800, it’s a course that all can enjoy.
Royal Melbourne (West), Australia
The West course at Royal Melbourne is rated as the best golf course in Australia and one of the very best in the world. Set on what has become known as Melbourne’s Sandbelt, the course is one of the very finest examples of the work of Dr Alister MacKenzie.
With firm fairways and tremendous green complexes, Royal Melbourne’s West course delivers a pure and near-perfect golfing test. Royal Melbourne has played host to the Australian Open on multiple occasions and the Presidents Cup on three occasions – most recently in 2019 when Tiger Woods led the U.S. to victory.
Cape Kidnappers, New Zealand
Designed by renowned course architect Tom Doak, Cape Kidnappers was completed in 2004 and has earned a reputation as one of the most spectacular venues in world golf. The front nine is largely inland and perhaps not overly exciting but the interest levels seriously ramp up after the turn.
With fairways set some 400 feet above the sea with sheer cliff drops off many of their edges, it’s an extremely dramatic stretch of golf. Combine this with the secluded feel one has on the course and the level of hospitality on offer, Cape Kidnappers is definitely one of those bucket list golf courses.
Barnbougle Dunes, Tasmania
A Tom Doak and Michael Clayton design, Barnbougle Dunes has become known as one of the very best courses in Australia and one of the most highly layouts anywhere in the world.
Set on Tasmania’s striking north east coast, the track has been laid out across the stunning, rolling coastal terrain, between the impressive sandhills. This is a great golfing venue delivering wild and dramatic golf. It may be some 11,000 miles away from where we started this list at St Andrews, but Barnbougle delivers golf akin to that played on the coasts of the UK and Ireland.
From links to links via mountains, deserts and tropical islands… It’s a perfect way to close the circle of the 15 bucket list golf courses you have to play.
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Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly.
Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?
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