Golf is played all over the world and one of its many strengths is that the land on which we play is very often extremely attractive. Even if we are playing poorly, we can still take solace in the setting and lose ourselves (and our golf balls) in nature. Beauty takes shape in many different forms; natural and manmade, subtle and in-your-face, physical and cerebral. While some courses are strategically strong but perhaps less obviously physically beautiful, there are many that are sensationally good looking, and these occur all over the world.
Payne’s Valley - USA
Opening in September 2020, Payne’s Valley is the first public-access course designed by the legendary Tiger Woods and just his third creation. It is one of five courses that make up the Big Cedar Lodge Resort in the south-west of Missouri, and is named after the much-missed Payne Stewart who was raised in Springfield, a few miles to the north. Rocky outcrops, mountain ridges, beautiful water features, generous fairways and fabulous far-reaching views feature heavily.
Anfi Tauro - Spain
Anfi Tauro is one of the finest golf courses in the Canary Islands, the Spanish archipelago some 60 miles off the western coast of Morocco. It is also one of the boldest and at times most dramatic courses you will find just about anywhere. During its construction, no expense was spared in carving the routing through volcanic rock to create exciting holes and panoramic views. Designed by Robert von Hagge, the result is a complete and thrilling rollercoaster of a course. One of the many highlights is the sensational par-3 6th (pictured) with a large, palm-fringed green, and with the backdrop of a rocky peak and the glittering ocean.
Kington - England
Golf is first and foremost supposed to be fun, and this is exactly what Kington is all about. Despite its hilltop setting, the walking is surprisingly easy at this wonderful and completely natural design that is situated pretty much, and very happily, in the middle of nowhere. From start to finish there are far-reaching, idyllic, pastoral views of England and Wales in every direction, and the modest green fee here represents remarkable value for a course where the vistas are priceless. Making the pilgrimage to Kington will reward anyone with an eye for natural beauty.
Kinloch Club - New Zealand
Sitting in the middle of a volcanic crater, Lake Taupo is effectively the very centre of New Zealand’s North Island. And overlooking its northern shore, the Kinloch Club is a remarkable Jack Nicklaus signature course that opened in 2007. It covers a vast, undulating acreage with 18 very individual and intriguing holes. It is also a feast for the eyes with some absolutely cracking holes including a closing quartet that’s as exciting and attractive as just about anywhere. There are cinematic views down to the lake and over the surrounding hills, and with its seriously smart on-site accommodation and excellent food and wine, this is a wonderful place to stay and play.
Fancourt (Links) - South Africa
There are not one but three fine courses at Fancourt, a superb golf hotel that is midway along the Garden Route which parallels South Africa’s lovely southern coastline. The Montagu and Outeniqua and both very good, but it is Gary Player’s Links that deservedly attracts golfers from wide and far. This is one of the most brilliant transformations you will find anywhere; a wild and rugged, modern, inland links that runs over very natural-looking marshland. You could never guess that it has been created over a plot of land that was formerly an airfield. With five par 5s, there is variety and drama all the way.
Axenstein - Switzerland
Not many golfers will know of Axenstein, which is located immediately up the road from Brunnen in the Swiss Alps. The vertiginous approach road takes you 1,000 feet up above Lake Lucerne to this ridiculously beautiful 9-holer. Here, there are a few heart-stopping changes in elevation, but sensational views back down over the lake and across to the neighbouring mountains. You won’t need a driver here as the emphasis is on straight hitting and distance control. There are just four par 4s and 5 par 3s, but the greatest threat to scoring well is the constant, 360-degree distraction of mountain and lake, above and below.
Laguna Lang Co - Vietnam
Vietnam has become a strong tourism hotspot in recent years, and on the back of this, golf is enjoying something of a boom. On the country’s beautiful eastern South China Sea coastline, this championship course was designed by 6-time Major winner, Nick Faldo. It is at the heart of an extensive development by the upmarket hotel and spa company, Banyan Tree, that includes everything the holidaymaker could want including all manner of land and water sports as well as restaurants and leisure activities. Deep bunkers, waste areas and water hazards abound, but the natural beauty of the setting will more than compensate for any wayward shots.
Bandon Dunes (Pacific Dunes) - USA
Tom Doak has designed a good number of modern, trophy courses, and it was he who created this modern links that is frequently cited as the one to which any aspiring architect should look for inspiration. It only opened in 2001, but this humpy, bumpy masterpiece looks as though it has been here forever and is exactly the way nature intended. Opinions differ between which of the courses at Bandon Dunes is the best, but all offer drama, scenery and quality golf. The Oregon coastline is a wild and beautiful place, and with a variety of accommodation on site, Bandon Dunes is a place that keen golfers struggle to leave.
Ayla - Jordan
Partly because it is not so well known or therefore so frequently played, there are few courses presented in better condition than the very enjoyable Championship Course at Ayla. With wow-factor mountain views on either side and the Red Sea glimmering just to the south, it is as suited to holiday golf as it is to a serious tournament and should satisfy every type of golfer. The round finishes with a terrific par 4, 465 yards from the back tee requiring a big drive, with eye-catching bunkering and water on the right all the way. At sunrise, and particularly approaching sunset, the light on the surrounding hills is mesmerising.
Le Touquet (La Mer) - France
Le Touquet was a popular holiday town in Northern France way before it was decided to create the first course here, La Forêt. Edward VIII, then Prince of Wales, was a frequent golfer, and as demand grew, Harry Colt was engaged to design La Mer. It is surprisingly different from La Forêt with trees rarely coming into play but instead serving as a backdrop or to separate the holes. The landscape is rumpled, and so easy walking, but with sufficient changes in elevation both to test club selection and create even better views. There’s an exciting finish with the last par 3 at 16 (pictured), a tough uphill par 5, and finally an appropriately strong par 4 from an elevated tee with yet more excellent views.
Canouan Estate - St Vincent & The Grenadines
One hundred miles to the west of Barbados lie the St. Vincent and Grenadine Islands, the best-known of which is probably Mustique, playground of royalty. To its south-west, Canouan Island is equally beautiful and home to a glorious Jim Fazio design. While the front nine holes provide lovely, tropical golf, it is the vertiginous back nine which climb up through and onto the top of the island’s peaks that are truly among the most spectacular holes in the world. From here you enjoy stunning views of the island and its neighbours.
Shiskine - Scotland
There aren’t too many 12-hole golf courses in the world, but one very notable exception is the extremely pretty course at Blackwaterfoot, on the western coast of the Isle of Arran. It is one of seven courses on this beautiful island situated in the Firth of Clyde, and what it may lack in length is more than made up for in scenery and fun. Originally laid out as a 9-holer by Open Champion Willie Fernie, the course was later completely redesigned by Willie Park Junior of Sunningdale Old fame. What remains is a very unspoilt and extremely scenic course that comprises two short par 4s, two medium-length par 4s, seven short holes ranging from 128 to 243 yards, and a solitary par 5. There is probably more charm here than you will find on a dozen championship courses, and its wealth of natural beauty and panoramic views make this exceptional course a compelling attraction.
Cypress Point - USA
Alister MacKenzie, designer of Augusta National and, let’s be fair, also of Reddish Vale near Manchester, was the architect at this greatly revered course on the Monterey Peninsula. It is a sublime, clifftop course with the par-3 16th over the inlet instantly recognisable. The hole immediately before it (pictured), is about 100 yards shorter, but still requires nerves to carry your ball over the Pacific Ocean. In just about any bucket list of the world’s aspirational courses that any golfer would want to play given the chance, Cypress Point is going to be there. Sadly, it is members and their guests only, and this would seem unlikely to change anytime soon!
Barnbougle Dunes - Australia
Tasmania is an island state situated some 150 miles off the south-eastern coast of the Australian mainland. It is home to many fine courses and the site of the eagerly-anticipated Seven Mile Beach development, but its greatest current draw are the two fabulous links at Barnbougle on the north coast. The Dunes was designed by Tom Doak and Mike Clayton and opened for play in 2004. It can perhaps best be described as a contemporary take on traditional links, and it is blessed with a stunning setting in the dunes that enabled the creation of a dramatic, exciting and fulfilling test of golf. It is already widely considered to be one of the finest courses in the world, and the two loops of nine run either side of the clubhouse with many holes running parallel to the beach or the river. The rumpled land is perfect for golf, and the sea winds will add to what is already a strong challenge.
Mazagan - Morocco
Morocco boasts an ever-expanding array of top-quality golf and one of its very finest developments is Mazagan, an hour by car to the south of exotic Casablanca. Here, using his vast worldwide experience of playing and winning on seaside courses, Gary Player has designed a first-class links on a wild stretch of unspoilt land that runs through the dunes. His design focus was on respecting this untouched environment, and conserving its natural character and the wonderful sea views. And to that end, this is an unqualified success!
Finca Cortesin - Spain
Host to the 2023 Solheim Cup, the course at Finca Cortesin gazes out imperiously over the Mediterranean and is just minutes away from the porcelain-white beaches of Marbella and Sotogrande. The development is described by its designers as a place where nature gently vanishes into the deep blue sea. While it may also turn out to be a place where your golf ball vanishes into a deep blue water hazard, it is really the bunkering that defines this oasis. It has been designed with golfers of all capabilities in mind and there are many fine views of the ocean, particularly from the fifteenth green. A wide array of flora have been imported from all over the world to create an ecological haven.
Oitavos Dunes - Portugal
Just to the west of lovely Lisbon lies one of the finest courses in the country, the challenging and dramatic links at Oitavos Dunes. The course has hosted the Portuguese Open a number of times and runs through a combination of mature forest featuring beautiful umbrella pines, and inspiring and undulating dunesland offering panoramic views of the Atlantic as well as the nearby mountains. It was designed with ecology as a primary concern; the protection of endangered plant species as well as the maintenance of its wildlife habitat and their migration routes, nesting sites and food sources. As a result, it became the first course in Europe to be recognised as an Audubon Gold Signature Sanctuary course. The course has a remarkably natural and unspoiled feel and is a delight to play.
Old Head Golf Links - Ireland
Opened for play in 1997, Old Head Golf Links is blessed with probably the most stunning location for a golf course anywhere in the UK & Ireland. An aerial view reveals that the course and its amenities fit just perfectly onto every available piece of navigable land on this spectacular peninsular in County Cork. The course is as pretty as not just one, but several galleries of pictures, and on a clear day, the views from the edge of the towering cliffs are simply unbeatable. If the wind has a rare day off, it’s even possible to score well! Big-driving thrill-seekers should take a walk to the very back tee on the closing hole, one of the most memorable in golf!
Shadow Creek - USA
If you are looking for an example of incredible man-made golfing beauty, then Shadow Creek in Las Vegas has it all. It was designed by Tom Fazio who sculpted it from completely flat, featureless desert in 1989 for Steve Wynn, the casino-owner. Apparently Wynn asked Fazio, “What makes a golf course great ?” to which the architect replied, “Steve, that land you have out there is boring and flat. There’s not a twig, there is no environment, there is nothing on that property that is redeeming. In my opinion, you need some kind of environment.” Wynn’s response, supported by an outrageous budget, was “Why don’t we build an environment and put a golf course in it?” This is what they did, and the course received criticism at first from many purists who hadn’t seen it, but it’s now on many lists of the best courses in the world!
Casa de Campo (Teeth of the Dog) - Dominican Republic
Simply the name here begs attention, and it is derived from the jagged coral which lines the shore immediately adjacent to seven of the holes on this spectacular ocean-side design. The resort covers a massive 7,000 acres and is home to 90 holes of golf as well as a hotel, a marina, beaches, restaurants and bars, and many other sporting and recreational pursuits. Enhanced even further by a comprehensive upgrade in 2005, this is a quite breathtaking golf course that is so attractive it becomes all too easy to forget about your game.
Banff Springs - Canada
Canada is an extraordinarily scenic country and is packed with a huge amount of tremendous golf. Much of it is relatively young, but the stunningly-situated Banff Springs actually dates back well over a century. The course was built either side of WWI, but then re-designed by Stanley Thompson 1927/8 for a then record one million dollars. It has a quite sensational setting alongside the Bow River, and is overlooked by the snow-capped Rockies. Truly and utterly spectacular.
Ile aux Cerfs - Mauritius
One of the most photogenic courses in the world, this Bernhard Langer design perfectly fills this small parcel of land in the Indian Ocean, Island of the Deer. Laid out over volcanic rock that can only be reached by a 10-minute boat ride from the main resort, the course is kept in superb condition. It is a thrill to play with the regular heady requirement to hit the ball over water; either a mangrove swamp or an inlet from the sea. This is the ultimate fantasy island golf course, with plenty of views out to sea and back to the mountains on the mainland.
Gleneagles (Queens) - Scotland
Gleneagles is simply the finest, the most complete, and the most beautiful golf resort in the UK & Ireland. It has three lovely and very different courses, with The Queen’s the shortest but prettiest of them all. A sand-wedge under 6,000 yards from the white tees, it was designed by the great James Braid and opened for play in 1917. It is a regular fixture in all discerning course rankings, and is unquestionably one of the most attractive, engaging and interesting inland courses not just in Scotland, but anywhere.
Whistling Straits (Straits) - USA
Nudging up alongside the western shores of Lake Michigan, this sensational course is another that belies its dramatic and seemingly age-old topography. In the late 1990s, Pete Dye moved heaven and earth, not to mention an old airfield, to create this modern masterpiece which can create sensory overload for any golfer suffering from nerves. There are allegedly just over 1,000 bunkers here, and while this may be literally frightful for anyone playing the course, for the spectator, it’s a sumptuous feast of design. In the USPGA and the Ryder Cup, it takes equal billing to the star names competing, and is guaranteed to keep spectators coming back for more.
West Sussex - England
West Sussex, also known as Pulborough, is one of the most beautiful and enjoyable inland courses in England. This heathland classic twists and turns constantly as it runs over gently undulating and very springy turf sitting on a free-draining subsoil. Opening with its solitary par 5, it is subsequently blessed with five fabulous short holes and an array of testing and varied par 4s that will delight and challenge in equal measure. Its main defences are heather, its excellent and very attractive bunkering, and the subtle greens that demand your full attention at all times. Look out for the 6th - a dogleg par 3!
Thracian Cliffs - Bulgaria
Any effort made to get to this less accessible course on the Black Sea, will be more than rewarded by playing this outrageous and thrilling Gary Player design. The opening holes run along the cliffs that line the shimmering sea. These include the signature par-3 6th where you play from a very elevated tee to a green perched on a promontory bordering the ocean; next stop northern Turkey more than 200 miles away. If there are bucket-list courses, then this is a bucket-list hole. The wow-factor then continues as the next is played from an island tee built out into the sea. Even when you turn for home, there is no let-up in excitement with all of the remaining holes offering panoramic views. Were it on a more regular tourism route, this course would be world-famous.
Pebble Beach - USA
Pebble Beach is a stretch of golfing paradise situated on the scenic 17 Mile Drive on California’s western seaboard between San Francisco and Los Angeles. If you are lucky, you will see black cormorants, brown pelicans, sea otters, seals and sea lions in their natural habitat. The course itself is nothing short of spectacular with hole after hole of prime American real estate hugging the undulating shoreline. You know that you are somewhere exceptional when the likes of Jack Nicklaus say “If I had only one more round to play, I would choose to play at Pebble Beach. It’s possibly the best in the world.”
The Golf Course at Adare Manor - Ireland
Over in the delightful countryside of south-west Ireland, Adare Manor took the bold and no doubt scarily expensive approach of closing the course and hotel for a complete, no-holds-barred refurbishment. The result of Tom Fazio’s work on the 2027 Ryder Cup host course is arguably the finest conditioned layout in Europe. It now has some of the prettiest golf holes anywhere in Ireland, with many dramatic water features, plenty of risk and reward, and a pristine and exceptionally beautiful parkland setting.
Trump Turnberry Resort (Ailsa) - Scotland
The Ailsa Course at Trump Turnberry was the beneficiary of a comprehensive and widely acclaimed upgrade by Martin Ebert in 2015. The most dramatic changes were those around the turn with the ninth now a spectacular par 3 along the clifftops. The lighthouse was also transformed into an iconic halfway house, and the back nine begins with an excellent par 5 following the cliffs and another breathtaking short hole. What was already a great course has become even more wonderful. And while it may command the most expensive green fee in the UK and Ireland, many of the best things in life come at a price!
Cape Kidnappers - New Zealand
When keen golfers talk about a bucket list course, they generally mean one that is outstanding and aspirational, perhaps not so accessible, perhaps pricey, but one that absolutely warrants that once-in-a-lifetime indulgence. Cape Kidnappers on the North Island of New Zealand ticks all of these boxes and more. Yes, it’s a long way for most of us, and yes, you really need to stay here and enjoy the full, wonderful experience. But for a location and design that is so sublime, so different and so uplifting, this Tom Doak design is deserving of its place on any such list. While the bunkering is superb, strategically and visually, it is ultimately the natural topography that makes this place so very special.
Lofoten - Norway
This is a supremely dramatic and remote course set in the Lofoten Islands in northern Norway. And while it will certainly involve a bit of an expedition for most of us, the reward is to stand here and feast your eyes on a golf course completely unlike any other, and in the most unlikely of settings. Lush green fairways and greens weave through moody rocks and lakes set between the Arctic Ocean and the ruggedly spectacular mountains You can’t help but be filled with admiration for the imagination and vision that has paved the way to such a unique golf experience in this most beautiful, yet at times hostile, of landscapes.
Royal County Down (Championship) - Northern Ireland
For many years, this has been an irresistible magnet to golfers from all over the world. It sits near or on the pinnacle of various world lists, and it’s easy to see why. Surrounded by the Mountains of Mourne and looking out over the Irish Sea, this is a stunning location. Every hole on the Championship course is stylish and distinct, and to describe them in detail would fill a book… or a website! Quite simply, each is a wonderful and memorable design that is pretty much guaranteed to keep the broadest smile on your face in this very beautiful setting.
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Rob Smith has been playing golf for 45 years and been a contributing editor for Golf Monthly since 2012. He specialises in course reviews and travel, and has played more than 1,200 courses in almost 50 countries. In 2022, he played all 21 courses in East Lothian in 13 days. Last year, his tally was 81, 32 of them for the first time. One of Rob's primary roles is helping to prepare the Top 100 and Next 100 Courses of the UK&I, of which he has played all but seven and a half... i.e. not the new 9 at Carne! Of those missing, some are already booked for 2024. He is a member of Tandridge in Surrey where his handicap hovers around 16. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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