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Links courses may be the backbone of golf, but there is enormous variety to be found away from the coast. Rob Smith looks at some of the best inland golf courses in the UK&I
The Best Inland Golf Courses in the UK&I
Although golf evolved on the coast, it soon headed inland to a more varied topography. Here, playing conditions are generally a little more golfer-friendly. There is more protection from the elements, and our everchanging landscape creates many different palettes for design.
Taking the Golf Monthly Top 100 as our reference, the leading two inland courses are both to be found at Sunningdale on the Surrey/Berkshire borders. This is an area packed with top-quality heathland golf, and the Old and New make for the ultimate 36-hole golfing day. It is very difficult to say which is the more enjoyable; each is a classic. And each is as visually compelling as it is a perfect and varied test of golf. It would be very hard to think of a better 2-course venue anywhere.
In rural Lincolnshire lies our next most highly rated inlander, Woodhall Spa. The home of England Golf, its Hotchkin Course is a championship test that attracts golfers from near and far. Over recent years it has benefited from a substantial upgrade, largely to the bunkering. Overseen by Richard Latham with expert architectural input from Tom Doak, the course looks far more striking. The result is a genuine championship test that now pleases as much visually as it does strategically.
Back in the Surrey stockbroker belt, St. George’s Hill is a Harry Colt classic that offers quintessential heathland golf. Look around while you play and you can almost see PG Wodehouse in his plus-fours. It perfectly captures the look from golf’s golden age with a modern attention to detail and conditioning that make it a favourite of all who visit.
Future Ryder Cup Venue
The best inland golf courses in the UK&I include an absolute beauty in the west of Ireland. Adare Manor took the bold and indeed expensive approach of closing the course and hotel for a complete, no-holds-barred refurb. The result of Tom Fazio’s work is probably the finest conditioned course in Europe, one which will host the 2027 Ryder Cup. It will make for a perfect venue with dramatic water features, plenty of risk and reward, and a pristine and beautiful parkland setting.
Next up comes Herbert Fowler’s supreme test of shot-making, the Old Course at Walton Heath in Surrey. This is one of two first-class designs at this very traditional club which has hosted many important tournaments, professional and amateur. Cavernous bunkers, superglue heather and purple tees that would challenge Bryson DeChambeau combine to offer a strategic examination that will tease and delight.
An aerial view of holes on both the Old and New courses at Walton Heath (Photo: Getty Images)
Covering a vast acreage of heathland, Hankley Common is a wonderful course in a beautifully rural location that is also a strong but completely fair test of golf. The meandering design reflects the architectural genius of both James Braid and Harry Colt, and the many highlights include the fabulous par-3 7th as well as the recently refined super-tough closing hole.
If Hankley Common is expansive, this is even more the case at Notts, aka Hollinwell. The undulating course covers a vast acreage of absolutely lovely heathland, and to an extent, woodland. It offers the very best of both worlds, and the gentle slopes on the northern side lead to some lovely views at the same time as strategic challenges for the golfer. This glorious course is a genuine must-play.
These eight elite courses sit justifiably high in the Golf Monthly Top 100. They are effectively the best inland golf courses in the UK&I. Elsewhere, there are hundreds of extremely enjoyable and varied inland courses dotted throughout the UK and Ireland. Catering for all tastes and abilities, there is boundless heathland, moorland, parkland and downland golf just waiting to be explored.
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Rob Smith has been playing golf for more than 40 years and been a contributing editor for Golf Monthly for over ten years, specialising in course reviews and travel. He has now played more than 1,170 different courses in almost 50 countries. Despite lockdowns and travel restrictions in 2021, he still managed to play 80 different courses during the year, 43 of them for the first time. This included 21 in 13 days on a trip to East Lothian in October. 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 nine. During the 2021-22 review period, Rob has played 34 of the Golf Monthly Top 200. He is a member of Tandridge Golf Club in Surrey where his handicap hovers around 16. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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