I've Played Over 1,000 Courses And These Are My Favourite 10

Rob Smith selects ten of his all-time favourite golf courses from all over the world

I've Played Over 1,000 Courses And These Are My Favourite 10 - Thracian Cliffs - Aerial
The spectacular course at Thracian Cliffs on the Black Sea is an all-time favourite
(Image credit: Thracian Cliffs)

I've Played Over 1,000 Courses And These Are My Favourite 10

Having played my first round of golf while still a student, I have now enjoyed playing a very full and vibrant rainbow of courses in almost 50 countries. My tally currently stands at 1,176, but unless you are reading this very soon after publication, it will hopefully now be higher.

Being asked to select my favourite 10 is a challenging task, but after a great deal of thought, this is how it currently stands. I was keen to split the selection geographically, and happily it worked out neatly with 6 in the UK&I - hardly surprising as that is where I live - and four dotted around the world.

There is no implied ranking here, this is simply an alphabetic list. With each, I have tried to sum up why the course means so much to me.

Cape Kidnappers

Cape Kidnappers - Aerial

The cliff-top setting at Cape Kidnappers is one of the most spectacular in golf

(Image credit: Getty Images)
  • Location Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
  • Founded 2004
  • Architect Tom Doak
  • GF NZ $692.00 + GST
  • Par 71, 6,456 yards
  • Contact Cape Kidnappers Golf Club

This sensational design, remotely located on New Zealand’s North Island, is the very definition of a bucket list course. It is one of the world's most famous golf courses and I was lucky enough to spend a couple of nights here in 2018. Even without its course, you would be forgiven for thinking you had died and gone to heaven. The accommodation, food, wine and service were all exceptional, but still more than matched by the undulating Tom Doak design which opened for play in 2004.

This bucket list course is situated on a dramatic cliff-top site covering a series of ridges overlooking the beautiful waters of Hawke’s Bay. Even without this unique and very distinct setting, it’s an exceptional course in every respect, There are plenty of demanding shots, and the wind is often likely to be a factor although it was happily absent on the day I played. Every hole is memorable, the bunkering is superb both strategically and visually, but regardless, the setting is one of the most memorable in golf.

Casa de Campo - Teeth of the Dog

Casa de Campo - Teeth of the Dog - Hole 7

The par-3 seventh on the sensational Teeth of the Dog at Casa de Campo

(Image credit: Rob Smith)
  • Location La Romana, Dominican Republic
  • Founded 1971
  • Architect Pete Dye
  • GF $419 ($235 Hotel Guests)
  • Par 72, 6,429 yards
  • Contact Casa de Campo Golf Club

I remember stumbling over Teeth of the Dog in a golfing atlas getting on for 40 years ago. In those pre-internet days, situated a million miles from home on a Caribbean island, it seemed an impossible dream. The course hosted the 2019 Latin-America Amateur Championship, effectively one of the Majors of amateur golf, and I was invited to report on it. The course is now 50 years old and was designed by the fertile imagination of Pete Dye. It was given a full wash-and-brush-up in 2005, and is the equivalent of golfing in paradise.

What really sets the course apart are its very own magnificent seven - the holes that hug the shoreline - the 5th to the 8th, and then the trio from the 15th. These include three fabulous, do-or-die short holes, two with the ocean on the left, and the 16th with water on the other side, which kindly treated me to a regulation par. Having read about it a lifetime before, it was a complete thrill to play it.

Fancourt - Links - Hole 15

It's hard to believe that the Links Course at Fancourt was built over an old, disused airfield

(Image credit: Rob Smith)
  • Location George, South Africa
  • Founded 2000
  • Architect Gary Player
  • GF Hotel residents only, check with resort for details
  • Par 73, 6,256 yards
  • Contact Fancourt

It was another work trip that introduced me to the many delights of Fancourt. This was ten years ago helping the Swedish hosts with media coverage of the excellent but short-lived annual curtain-raiser to the season, the Volvo Golf Champions. I stayed at the resort for 10 days during which I also enjoyed a round on the lovely Montagu Course, but it was Gary Player’s Links which impressed me even more.

Branden Grace won the event, defeating Ernie Els and Retief Goosen in a play-off. I was lucky enough to play the course the following day, to the same pin positions, but happily NOT from the same tees! This is a brilliant course that seems so wild and rugged that you would never know it is situated on a plot of land that was formerly an airfield. The par is 73, and there is variety and drama all the way. Many people have the Links immediately behind Durban Country Club as the top two in South Africa - having played both, I would have it very much the other way round!

Kingsbarns - Hole 15

The final par 3 at Kingsbarns, the fifteenth, is a real nail-biter along the water’s edge

(Image credit: Getty Images)
  • Location St Andrews
  • Founded 2000
  • Architect Kyle Phillips
  • GF Round £374
  • Par 72, 6,388 yards
  • Contact Kingsbarns Golf Links

Kingsbarns was designed by one of today’s leading architects, Kyle Phillips, and it shot to worldwide fame in just its second year when it became one of the co-hosts of the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship along with the Old Course and Carnoustie. Also host of the 2017 Women’s Open, it is a thoroughly modern links with three sections to the course; the main body which has the majority of the holes, the clubhouse and extensive practice facilities, and two wings which are home to holes two to five and twelve to fifteen.

Packed with lovely holes, two of the real standouts are the 12th, a sweeping par 5 that hugs the shoreline as it works round to a fabulous green site, and the thrilling and theatrical short 15th played out over a rocky inlet. The welcome is warm and genuine, and I can’t wait to return.

Read full Kingsbarns Golf Links course review

Old Head Golf Links - Aerial

Old Head is blessed with the most spectacular site of any golf course in the UK&I

(Image credit: Old Head Golf Links)
  • Location Kinsale, County Cork
  • Founded 1997
  • Architect Ron Kirby, Joe Carr
  • GF Round €395
  • Par 72, 6,588 yards
  • Contact Old Head Golf Links

Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, Old Head Golf Links is blessed with what I genuinely believe to be the most stunning location for a golf course anywhere in the UK & Ireland. On a clear day, the views from the edge of the towering cliffs are unbeatable, and if the wind has a day off, it’s even possible to score well! With five par 5s and five short holes, substantial changes have included the building of a new par-3 13th on the other side of the access road closer to the cliffs, and the addition of some terrific accommodation which take away the need to ever leave this idyllic location.

While some people are unflattering in their description of the holes that aren’t right along the clifftops, I think this is unfair as 18 completely wow-factor holes could lead to golfing indigestion. I have played here in the most brilliant sunshine as well as in a 4-club mini-monsoon, and I just love the place! In my view, it is hands down one of the best golf courses in Ireland.

Read full Old Head Golf Links course review

Royal County Down - Championship

Royal County Down - Hole 3

Looking back down the third hole at Royal County Down, overlooked by the magnificent Mountains of Mourne

(Image credit: Getty Images)
  • Location Newcastle, County Down
  • Founded 1889
  • Architect Old Tom Morris, Harry Colt
  • GF Round £290
  • Par 72, 6,641 yards
  • Contact Royal County Down Golf Club

Having been entranced by photographs in Golf Monthly when I was a subscriber many years before writing for the magazine, I made my first trip to Royal County Down a quarter of a century ago. Its combination of sea, dunes and mountains made it a compelling draw, and I absolutely loved it despite playing in a temperature that would appeal far more to a polar bear.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and my most recent return with a more informed understanding of golf courses allowed me to appreciate its majesty even more. This is a course for which the adjective ‘magnificent’ was invented. Equally matched in the strategy and visual departments, it rightly attracts keen golfers from all over the world. Never having been outside the top 4, the Championship Course at Royal County Down currently sits proudly at the summit of the Golf Monthly Top 100 of the UK&I.

Read full Royal County Down - Championship Course review

Royal Porthcawl

Royal Porthcawl - Hole 1

The opening hole at Royal Porthcawl, the first of three par 4s skirting the shore

(Image credit: Geoff Ellis, golfworking.co.uk)
  • Location Porthcawl
  • Founded 1891
  • Architect Harry Colt, FG Hawtree & JH Taylor, Tom Simpson
  • GF Round £195 (2023)
  • Par 72, 6,580 yards
  • Contact Royal Porthcawl Golf Club

For some reason, I have somehow managed to play at and write about Royal Porthcawl more than just about any other leading course. To my mind, and this is reflected in the Golf Monthly Top 100 rankings, it is by some way the finest course in Wales. I first played here getting on for 30 years ago and remember sitting in its wonderful, time-capsule of a clubhouse surreptitiously earwigging a planning meeting for the 1995 Walker Cup. That event was to feature a 19 year-old Tiger Woods.

For me, the real joy of Royal Porthcawl is that rather than one or two standout holes, there are eighteen new and different challenges. There are frequent changes in direction and elevation, the latter rewarding the golfer with excellent sea views throughout. Protected by the wind and its very impressive bunkering, it is a delight from start to finish with far greater variety than most other seaside courses. Over the years, I have returned regularly, very much enjoying the dormy house, and I hope that will continue.

Read full Royal Porthcawl course review

Sunningdale - Old

Sunningdale - Old Course - Hole 5

The par-4 fifth on the Old Course at Sunningdale is a perfect par 4, strategically and visually

(Image credit: Rob Smith)
  • Location Sunningdale
  • Founded 1900
  • Architect Willie Park Junior, Harry Colt
  • GF Round £325 (2023)
  • Par 70, 6,318 yards
  • Contact Sunningdale Golf Club

My involvement with Golf Monthly, and particularly with the course rankings, has meant that on my travels there is inevitably one question I am asked more than any other - what is your favourite course? The genuine answer is that I do not have one - it would be impossible - as would choosing 10! But the answer I DO give, is that if I was to contemplate my favourite day out in golf, it would be one that involved playing both the courses at Sunningdale. They are simply as close to perfect as I have experienced or would want. And as the New is the tougher of the two, I will bow to my advancing years and nominate the Old for this article.

From the birdie opportunity at the par-5 opening hole to the brilliantly-bunkered 18th, it’s a timeless classic that is packed with charm, warmth, heather, gentle undulations, subtle challenge, and most of all fun. At number 9, it heads the list of the best inland courses in the UK and is also in the top 10 of the Golf Monthly Top 100. It’s even higher than that in the Rob Smith Top 100.

Read full Sunningdale Golf Club - Old Course review


Tandridge Golf Club - Hole 18

The final green at Tandridge with the characterful clubhouse beyond

(Image credit: Kevin Murray)
  • Location Oxted
  • Founded 1924
  • Architect Harry Colt, Frank Pont, Tim Lobb
  • GF Round £100-£120
  • Par 71, 6,509 yards
  • Contact Tandridge Golf Club

This may seem self-indulgent, or nepotistic, but I make absolutely no apology for including the course that has been my home since 1994. And while it is natural to be biased - who wouldn’t love their own! - it also means that I have seen it in all its manifestations over those years, warts and all. Happily, even though I joined the club principally because I already loved the course, subsequent upgrading and in particular the conditioning mean that the course is better now than it has ever been.

There is variety in abundance in Harry Colt’s genius design with the flatter front nine juxtaposed against the rollercoaster homeward holes. More recent upgrades first by Frank Pont and now by Tim Lobb have restored the flair and strategy that had begun to fade, and I never tire of its 18 excellent holes… not to mention the one that follows! While the club is a very important part of my life, the course is one that I would recommend to any keen golfer.

Read full Tandridge Golf Club course review

Thracian Cliffs

Thracian Cliffs - Hole 12

The twelfth green at Thracian Cliffs, a thrilling rollercoaster ride along the edge of the Black Sea

(Image credit: Rob Smith)
  • Location Kavarna, Bulgaria
  • Founded 2011
  • Architect Gary Player
  • GF Round €109 (€79 hotel residents)
  • Par 72, 6,207 yards
  • Contact Thracian Cliffs Golf Club

And now for something completely different! You will have spotted my penchant for spectacle and drama, and those two words sum up Thracian Cliffs in a nutshell. If this course wasn’t so tricky to visit, or was in a country better-known for tourism or even golf, it would be world-famous. As it is, you have to fly to Varna - easier said than done - and then drive for an hour round the coast where there are actually three courses in close proximity. 

But it’s worth it! It is a course packed with sensory overload, simply brilliant for matchplay with risk and reward on just about every shot. I was lucky enough to play it in the Pro-Am for the Volvo World Matchplay in 2013 with the very friendly Brett Rumford. The Australian was on a hat-trick having won the previous two European Tour events in South Korea and China. My influence clearly rubbed off as he only made the last 16 - sorry Brett! This amazing course has stayed in my memory ever since.

While this article features my ten favourite courses, I think it is only fair to climb back on the fence and say that they are really ten OF my favourite courses. Perhaps half of those featured will always be in my top ten, but others, particularly the four from my overseas travels and which I don’t know so well, would likely change. Regardless, they are all absolutely wonderful and I would happily leap at the chance to play any one of them again.

Rob Smith
Contributing Editor

Rob Smith has been playing golf for over 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 2021, 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 has been a member of Tandridge in Surrey for 30 years where his handicap hovers around 16. You can contact him at r.smith896@btinternet.com.