If you’re a golfer, you’re spoilt for choice right here at home without the need to travel far afield. Who needs the Algarve when some of the most renowned and storied golf courses in the world are right here in the UK? Scotland is, of course, the home of golf with any number of links courses vying for your attention. Green fees may be on the high side in our top ten, but these are once-in-a-lifetime rounds of golf, after all. Adding to the attraction is the setting of these historic golf courses, often with adjacent five-star hotels. We’ll leave it to your discretion whether you patronise or avoid the establishment owned by a certain golf-mad former US president. Check out our pick of the best golf courses in the UK...
Best golf courses in the UK 2023
Woodhall Spa Golf Club
History buffs travel to Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire to see the remains of the 12th century abbey. Golfers are more concerned with the famously deep bunkers on the Hotchkin course at the Woodhall Spa Golf Club, where fairways run through picturesque heathlands. An accurate tee shot is required to avoid the bunkers, find those fairways and at least approach a low score. Woodhall Spa is headquarters of the English Golf Union, which is a serious stamp of approval.
Royal Birkdale Golf Club
Fairways wind their way beneath tall dunes, the sea is a careless drive away: Royal Birkdale has beauty as well as sheer golfing class. This links course just outside Southport on Merseyside, part of what those in the know call England’s “Golf Coast”, has hosted all the big names in the 10 Open Championships it's hosted. Dating from 1889, tour professionals are said to love Royal Birkdale, and it’s a must for any avid golfer.
Royal Portrush Golf Club
Rory McIlroy remembers watching his father play the Dunluce course - there are two - at Portrush before he was given his own opportunity there aged 10. Club member Darren Clarke, who’s won championships here, rates Dunluce as his favourite anywhere in the world. Royal Portrush is in the far north of Northern Ireland, with spectacular views towards the Hebrides and overlooked by the haunting ruins of Dunluce Castle.
Royal St George’s Golf Club
You’re going to be challenged by the undulating fairways and greens of Royal St George’s. The setting invites the worst of the weather - and the winds off the sea - into the dunes that surround this venerable links course, which hosted its first Open Championship in 1894. Royal St George’s is in the town of Sandwich on the Kent coast, and there’s no shortage of natural charm about the surroundings. You’re in the right place for an eponymous lunch, too.
On the rugged east coast of Scotland, overlooking the Firth of Forth, Muirfield is an aristocrat among links courses, having hosted The Open Championship 16 times. Storied veteran golfer Jack Nicklaus rates Muirfield as one of his favourite courses in the world, so much so that he named his own Ohio championship course Muirfield Village. Experts say the layout and the weather conditions mean the wind is different on just about every hole.
Royal Liverpool Golf Club
Play the links course where Tiger Woods won a famous Open victory in 2006 and drink in the history while your golf clubs relish the challenge. The world’s best return in 2023 for the 13th Open Championship and with good reason. Real challenge on this links course comes near the Dee estuary, with all of the jeopardy that weather and dramatic setting can provide. It's the small town of Hoylake on the Wirral peninsula, royal status earned because a younger son of Queen Victoria helped design it.
Sunningdale Golf Club
The professionals are referring to the Old Course here - the adjacent New Course being a mere 100 years old - when they rate Sunningdale as the finest in England. Founded in 1900, Sunningdale's fairways wind their way between towering pines and through indigenous heathlands. This Berkshire course has hosted its fair share of major championships, and in the words of one reviewer is “serene and joyous”. That’s enough for us.
Drive five hours north of Glasgow and, in the heart of the Scottish highlands, you’re at the course rated as an essential pilgrimage for any serious golfer. There’s serious history here, since records show that Dornoch was a favourite of young aristocrats as far back as 1616, with royal status conferred by King Edward VII in 1906. Try the renowned Old Course for the biggest challenge. Also: make sure to stop and admire the scenery of this special place.
Turnberry Golf Club is a true great, with three courses to choose from. The Ailsa Course, named after the Marquess of Ailsa whose idea it was in the late 19th century, is regarded as one of the top ten in the world. Stunning coastal setting just adds to the appeal of this rugged links course, where three of the most difficult holes are arranged around a lighthouse. Stay in the five-star Trump Turnberry hotel and you may even meet a former US president, an opportunity you may want to relish or avoid.
St Andrews Links
In the town renowned globally as the home of golf, the Old Course at St Andrews has hosted The Open Championship more frequently than any other golf course. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews is one of the oldest in the world and long held authority for governing the world game. Beyond the history - and even the most experienced players find that hard to put aside - there’s a real challenge on this coastal links course. Quite simply a must.