Below we run through some of the world's most incredible golf courses, featuring clifftop courses, links courses, classic heathland courses and more. Some are super-famous whilst others may be lesser known to you. One thing they share is they are beautiful courses that possess the wow factor.
CASTLE STUART GOLF LINKS, SCOTLAND
A great deal has been said about Castle Stuart’s incredible setting and there’s no doubt the views up the Moray Firth to the Kessock Bridge and across it to the Black Isle enhance the experience. But, even if you were to relocate this course to a barren wasteland, the holes themselves would stand up and deliver pure golfing enjoyment. It's one of the best golf courses in Scotland.
With humps and swales, slopes and hollows, there are many ways to negotiate this fabulous track. There’s always an option to try and fly a shot all the way, or to run it in using the contours. The changes in elevation deliver great drama and the variety of holes, long and short, is exceptional. The fairways are generous so you won’t feel constricted from the tee, while he greens are large, sprawling and inviting.
The work of entrepreneurial golf designer Mark Parsinen and renowned course architect Gil Hanse, the layout played host to three consecutive Scottish Opens between 2011 and 2013 and then again in 2016. It's a real highland gem - a northern delight.
Pine Valley, New Jersey, USA
The course is carved out of the natural sand dunes and tall, towering pines, making it the ultimate golfing test in a beautiful setting.
Royal County Down, Northern Ireland
The Mountains of Mourne provide a glorious backdrop, and when the gorse or heather are in bloom, it’s hard to imagine a lovelier place to play. Now over 125 years old, the course has evolved thanks to the influence of some of golf’s finest architects, including Old Tom Morris and Harry Colt.
With holes constantly switching in direction, narrow fairways, domed greens, par-4s between 318 and 475 yards: Never is it unfair, but always it is intricately exacting and always, it seems, changing. The very experience of playing here that will leave an indelible imprint on your golfing memory.
Thracian Cliffs, Bulgaria
On a stunning stretch of Black Sea coastline, Gary Player designed one of the world’s most stunning and uniquely memorable golf courses, a real bucket list golf course. Thracian Cliffs opened for play in 2011 and it quickly earned a reputation for its amazing setting. In 2013, the course welcomed the Volvo World Matchplay and the players were blown away by the venue.
“This is a phenomenal golf course. It’s incredible, breathtaking,” said Brett Rumford. “On some holes it just makes your feet tingle.” There are eight holes that play along the cliff-tops above the Black Sea and, for those with an errant shot in their arsenal, it can feel a little daunting on first play. But, teeing options, fairways and greens are actually fairly generous and if you focus on enjoying the experience rather than the possible perils, you’ll have a memorable round on a pretty extreme golf course.
Pebble Beach Golf Links, California, USA
Pebble Beach on Monterrey Peninsula has to be up there on the list of real bucket list courses. Golf fans know it well from US Opens, Pebble Beach Pro-Ams and the old Tiger Woods PGA Tour games. Its signature holes include the short downhill par-3 7th, the tough par-3 17th and the famous par-5 finishing hole which doglegs left around the jagged rock face and Pacific Ocean.
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 and playing it is a true golfing experience.
Shiskine, Isle of Arran, Scotland
Many may have heard of the 12-hole jewel at Shiskine on Arran’s west coast, fewer are fully aware of the what the layout delivers in terms of exceptionally natural and rugged golf.
Playing towards Drumadoon Point with stunning views across to the Kintyre peninsula and up Arran’s coast to impressive columnar basalt cliffs, it’s an amazing setting for golf. Shiskine features one of the most memorable stretches of holes you’ll find.
The nigh-on impossible 3rd, “Crow’s Nest,” where the tee-shot must climb some 50 feet and stop on a plateau green with everything sloping towards a guaranteed lost ball on the left; then, on the 4th, you hit from an elevated tee with cliffs right and the Kilbrannan Sound and Kintyre ahead; the 5th is towards the point and, on a clear day, the Ailsa Craig, the 6th turns back homeward and hugs the edge of the beach before the 7th, “Himalayas,” plays across a formidable sand dune.
This is a unique and captivating course and one that will make your friends jealous if you get the chance to play.
Old Head Golf Links, Ireland
Old Head Golf Links on a peninsula off the south coast of Ireland is without doubt the UK&I's most spectacular setting, in fact it may well be the world's.
Golf loving brothers John and Patrick O’Connor acquired the 220 acres of farmland in 1989 with the specific intent of creating “one of the top ten international courses and ultimately the world’s premier golf club.” And boy they did.
Over half of the holes play alongside the huge cliff faces where at points you are two miles from the mainland. The standout holes are 2, 3, 4, 7, 12 and 13 - all of them carry the 'wow' factor. Old Head really has to be experienced.
Legend Golf Course, South Africa
The Legend Golf Course, in Entebeni, South Africa, was designed by 18 different golfers, each one doing an entire hole, but it is famous for its 631m long par-3 extreme 19th hole.
The holes were designed by players including Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia, Bernard Langer, Colin Montgomerie, Justin Rose and Vijay Singh. Harrington was the first player to par the extreme 19th.
The tee shot is played at the top of Hanglip mountain down to the green which is in the shape of Africa. You need a helicopter ride to get up and down! The 18 hole championship course plays over 7,700 metres off the back tees, making it one of the longest and most extreme golf courses in the world.
The Old Course at Lahinch on the County Clare coast is one of the finest examples of the architectural skills of Dr Alister MacKenzie. With its raised greens and natural slopes, this rugged test of golf is one of our top 100 golf courses in the UK and Ireland.
In a round at Lahinch, you’ll need every club in the bag and a range of shots at your disposal. Some holes ask for pure power, others for more touch and finesse. Fairways run through and over the dunes with bunkers placed perfectly. It’s one of the finest links and one of the very best golf courses in Ireland.
Ile aux Cerfs, 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.
Pinnacle Point, South Africa
Pinnacle Point is South Africa's version of Pebble Beach, playing alongside the Mossel Bay overlooking the Indian Ocean. The course was designed by Darren Clarke and Peter Matkovich and is among the very best golf courses in South Africa.
Seven holes play alongside the Indian Ocean whilst four play over the Ocean and cliffs.
Barnbougle Dunes, Tasmania, Australia
Barnbougle Dunes is not only one of the best golf courses in Australia, but it’s also a real bucket list course you have to play. Designed by Tom Doak and Michael Clayton, the layout delivers dramatic and exciting golf.
Laid out in impressive dune land on Tasmania’s northeast coast, the course has a true links feel and, on a windy day (there are plenty of them), it can pose a real test. There’s a great feeling of escapism to be found on this most incredible golf course.
Cape Kidnappers, New Zealand
It is hard to believe that the Tom Doak design at Cape Kidnappers opened in just 2004. It appears like it has been there forever, as the holes play alongside the thin jagged edges of the cliff 'fingers'.
Players can walk right up to the edges, 140 metres above sea level in what really is an incredible golfing experience. It is one of the world's most photographed courses and will be on most golfers' bucket lists.
Loch Lomond, Scotland
The former Scottish Open venue Loch Lomond is one of the world's most beautiful courses. It's also one of the UK's most exclusive golf clubs.
Situated right on the edge of the stunning Loch Lomond, the championship golf course, always kept in perfect condition, has phenomenal views of the loch and mountains. It is a very exclusive club so unfortunately most golfers won't get the chance to play there.
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 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 Presidents 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.
Set on the exclusive island of Sentosa, Sentosa Resort features two championship golf courses, both with stunning views of the Singapore Straits.
The Serapong and the New Tanjong have hosted some elite tournaments like the Asia Pacific Amateur, HSBC Women's Champions and Singapore Open. The Serapong Course is regarded as one of Asia's best whilst the New Tanjong is well worth playing too.
Cypress Point, California, USA
Cypress Point's 16th hole (pictured above) is surely one of the world's greatest and most famous golf holes. It opened in 1928, designed by Alister MacKenzie, the man behind Augusta, as well as Robert Hunter.
Just like neighbouring Pebble Beach, it plays along the jagged coastline of the Pacific Ocean.
Royal Melbourne, Australia
Royal Melbourne's West Course is regarded as one of the world's greatest courses, and just like Augusta National and Cypress Point, it was designed by Yorkshireman Dr Alister MacKenzie.
The club has two courses, the West and the East, playing out over the famous "Sandbelt" that so many golfers dream of playing on - it's a definite bucket list golf course. 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.
Banff Springs, Canada
Set amidst the Candian Rockies and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Banff National Park, Banff Springs is a truly beautiful golf course unlike any other. It's one of the best golf courses in Canada.
Featuring tall trees, huge mountains and along the Bow River, the course is a feast for the eyes with the 4th hole, the Devil’s Cauldron (pictured above) being the pick of the bunch in what is a truly beautiful golf course.
ST ANDREWS OLD COURSE, SCOTLAND
From the daunting first tee shot in front of the Royal and Ancient Clubhouse to the final putt, it feels like the eyes of golfing legends are upon you as you play the Old Course - one of the best golf courses in Scotland and a true bucket list golf course.
The course is unique having evolved rather than being specifically designed and the double greens, crossovers and improbable bunkers may appear strange to the eye of those playing for the first time.
But the course is full of subtlety and the nuances, plus changeable weathers mean you’ll never have two rounds the same on golf’s “Grand Old Lady.” Largely out and back, you forge towards the Eden Estuary from the 2nd and play across swales and hollows past bunkers and march stones. On the run for home you must avoid Hell bunker, the railway sheds and road on the iconic 17th then the Valley of Sin on the memorable 18th.
Wolf Creek, Nevada, USA
Located in Mesquite, just an hour’s drive from Las Vegas, Wolf Creek is a course that must be seen to be believed, although many may recognise it from the numerous computer games it has featured in. The nature of the spectacular scenery means it's perfect for that format.
It's a pay and play facility where you'll be constantly taking sharp intakes of breath as you make your way round 18 holes. The holes are carved into the gaping desert canyons, and huge changes in elevation and sprawling water hazards make this one of the most spectacular tracks you’ll find anywhere on the planet and a great course to make your friends jealous.
The Old Course at Ballybunion is a rugged and natural links of the highest quality. The fairways are narrow between impressive dunes with contours and undulations that must be given full consideration,
Approach shots must be precise to find the small targets and if you make it to the green in regulation your work is far from over as the borrows and swales on the putting surfaces are significant. Clinging to the Atlantic coast the wind is, of course, a factor. On a blustery day the challenge can be severe.
The 11th hole deserves a special mention, as it must be considered as one of the best par 4s in the world. From the tee the waves of the Atlantic crash onto the shore to your right while huge sand hills lurk on the left. The fairway descends in tiers until it reaches a plateau green overlooking the water. It’s a simply stunning example epitomising the quality of test waiting at Ballybunion.
Augusta National, Georgia, USA
Ask anyone what course they'd like to play anywhere in the entire world and Augusta would likely come top. The home of The Masters, designed by Alister MacKenzie and opened in 1933, it's arguably the world's most iconic course, although traditionalists would probably argue for The Old at St Andrews.
Set amid stunning woodland with beautiful flora including its famous azaleas, it's a truly beautiful layout. Golf fans know the course like the back of their hands having seen it on TV year after year, with the famous Amen Corner, and par-5 15th, par-3 16th and par-4 18th amongst the most memorable holes.
Lofoten Links, Norway
This is another real bucket list golf course and one of the very best golf courses in Scandinavia. Located on the remote Norwegian island of Gimsøya, it’s quite a tricky golf course to get to – but it’s well worth it if you do make the effort.
The stunning surroundings are captivating with snow peaked mountains and sprawling white beeches. But the course itself is pretty special too. A brilliant design, it delivers a firm but fair challenge. At a latitude of 68 degrees north, visit in midsummer and you’ll be able to play golf at Lofoten 24 hours a day.
Sunningdale New, England
Designed by Colt and Morrison, the New at Sunningdale is not only one of the very best heathland courses you’ll find, but it’s also one of the best courses in the UK and Ireland. It delivers a full examination of your game, from tee to green. Off the tee, fairways are generous but trouble waits off line with heather waiting.
The greens are receptive and true but can be lightning fast with any shot struck slightly offline liable to fall away and off the putting surface. One of the best courses in England, it’s really one of Harry Colt’s greatest works and this is demonstrated, perhaps, most clearly by the New’s five par-3s.
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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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