Britain is a haven for golfers – Golf Today, Europe’s premier online golf magazine, lists more than 3,000 golf courses in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in its comprehensive directory. Among that number are many of the world’s best golf courses.
Several regions have a range of phenomenal courses in close proximity, enabling serious golfers to come and face the challenge of more than one championship course. Various specialist tour operators offer tailor-made golf packages – for example, Golf Tourism England lists a range of packages offered in Britain, each built around golf courses in almost every corner of England, from Northumberland and Yorkshire in the north, to Devon and Cornwall in the south-west, to Kent in the south-east. Whether you want a package deal, or prefer to be an independent traveller and golfer, here are eight of the best golfing destinations in Britain.
Scotland’s west coast
The rugged west coast of Scotland is a place of golfing history and is considered the birthplace of The Open, golf’s oldest championship – the inaugural competition was held at Prestwick in 1860. Another golf club steeped in history is Trump Turnberry, whose elegant Edwardian hotel first opened in 1906, making it the world’s first golf resort. With its breathtaking coastal vistas, the picturesque Ailsa Course at Turnberry has hosted The Open on four occasions. The Old Course at nearby Royal Troon Golf Club is another Open Championship course that skirts along the rugged coastline of western Scotland. These and other excellent courses are all around an hour’s drive south-west of the city of Glasgow.
Around Belfast, Northern Ireland
The countryside around the city of Belfast has more of Northern Ireland’s world-class golf courses. Just 20 minutes north-east of the city by car is Royal Belfast Golf Club – founded in 1881, it’s the oldest golf club in Northern Ireland. An hour’s drive south of Belfast is another club with a royal pedigree, the Royal County Down. Set amid a stunning nature reserve, the course is considered one of the best in Britain and has hosted many prestigious tournaments. Another stunningly situated coastal course, nearby Ardglass Golf Club, combines links holes with more windswept and challenging cliff-top holes. On the outskirts of Belfast itself is the Malone Golf Club, set in parkland with a lake and a handsome Tudor Revival style clubhouse built in 1843, and the Belvoir Park Golf Club, which meanders through 136 acres of mature woodland and is another classic course designed by Harry Colt in the 1920s.
Kent, south-east England
The coast of Kent in south-east England is home to three renowned golf clubs – and all three are among just 14 venues to have hosted the prestigious Open Championship since it was founded in 1860. Two even share the same lovely stretch of coastline near the medieval town of Sandwich. Considered one of the world’s best links golf courses, in 1894 Royal St George’s became the first course outside Scotland to host The Open, and the championship is set to return here for the 15th time in 2020. Adjacent to this is Prince’s Golf Club, a classic seaside links course that was redesigned and rebuilt in 1950 after being damaged during World War II. A few miles along the coast is Royal Cinque Ports, a traditional links course with undulating fairways and large sand dunes. Sandwich and other nearby historic towns including Deal and Broadstairs make excellent bases, and London is just 90 minutes away by train.
Scotland’s east coast around Edinburgh
The area around Edinburgh is another of Scotland’s premier golfing destinations. To the east of Edinburgh, on what’s known as Scotland’s golf coast, is Muirfield Golf Course. Founded in 1744, it’s recognised as being the oldest in the world, and has hosted many championships including The Open on 16 occasions. Muirfield made headlines in March 2017 when the club voted to admit women as members for the first time in its history. Positioned along the edge of a peninsula with breathtaking views, the West Links course of the North Berwick Golf Club is another magnificent golfing destination. Heading north of Edinburgh are more illustrious golf courses including the world famous Old Course at St Andrews, the contemporary Kingsbarns Golf Links designed in 2000, and Carnoustie, whose challenging Championship course was voted Best Course in Scotland 2016 by the Scottish public, and is set to welcome The Open for the eighth time in 2018.
England’s golf coast
The coastline that stretches north of the city of Liverpool is often referred to as England’s golf coast. This north-west corner of England features many outstanding championship links courses, including three with a royal pedigree. Royal Liverpool Golf Club is a striking championship course that was granted royal designation in 1871. Although it didn’t earn its royal title until 1951, many consider Royal Birkdale to be the best in England. This iconic course will host The Open for the 10th time in 2017. Three renowned course architects, Harry Colt, Herbert Fowler and Tom Simpson together developed Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club, resulting in a prestigious and challenging links course. True courses for champions, altogether these three royal clubs have hosted The Open Championship 32 times.
Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast
The north coast of Northern Ireland is blessed with an abundance of natural beauty, including the famous Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site. It also boasts some excellent golfing. Royal Portrush Golf Club is home to renowned links course the Dunluce. Designed by famed course architect Harry Colt, it’s the only golf course in Northern Ireland to have hosted The Open, and the championship is set to return here for a second time in 2019. Other excellent and challenging links courses in the region include Castlerock Golf Club with its undulating fairways, and Portstewart Golf Club, whose well-regarded Strand Course is set amid towering sand dunes with views of the Atlantic Ocean. These and the regions other courses are just over an hour’s drive north of Belfast.
The spectacular coastal region of south Wales has some of the best golfing in the country. World-renowned Royal Porthcawl is the highest-ranked course in Wales – the Senior Open Championship was hosted here in 2014, the first time a major championship had been staged in Wales. The coastline is dotted with excellent links golf courses such as Ashburnham and Pennard. Further inland is the impressive Celtic Manor Resort, with luxury five-star hotel and lodge accommodation, gym, spa, indoor swimming pool, golf driving range and practice putting greens, as well as three championship golf courses. These include the world-renowned Twenty Ten course built to stage the 2010 Ryder Cup – the first course to be built specifically for golf’s greatest team tournament. These and other courses are easily reached from the Welsh capital, Cardiff, with its numerous hotels, restaurants and attractions.
England’s golf heartland
The best-known golf course in England’s West Midlands region, The Belfry, near the town of Sutton Coldfield, is one of the biggest courses in the world. Its three golf courses include the PGA National Course and the Brabazon Course, the latter having hosted the Ryder Cup four times – more than any other course in the world. The 500-acre site also boasts a luxury resort hotel with spa and health club. Other lesser-known but recommended courses in the region include lovely heathland courses at South Staffordshire Golf Club, Beau Desert Golf Club, and Little Aston Golf Club, set in the mature grounds of a former country estate. All are located less than 30 minutes by car from the city of Birmingham, and close to other major cities including Coventry.