World’s 30 Greatest Golf Courses

(Excluding USA)

Source: GOLF DIGEST

royal county down gc1. ROYAL COUNTY DOWN G.C. (CHAMPIONSHIP)

Newcastle, Northern Ireland
7,186 yards, par 71

On a clear spring day, with Dundrum Bay to the east, the Mountains of Mourne to the south and gorse-covered dunes in golden bloom, there is no lovelier place in golf.

royal dornoch golf club2. ROYAL DORNOCH G.C. (CHAMPIONSHIP)

Scotland
6,704 yards, par 70

Herbert Warren Wind called it the most natural course in the world. Tom Watson called it the most fun he’d had playing golf. Tucked in an arc of dunes along the North Sea shoreline, Dornoch’s greens, some by Old Tom Morris, others by John Sutherland or 1920 Open champion George Duncan, sit mostly on plateaus and don’t really favour bounce-and-run golf. That’s the challenge: hitting those greens in a Dornoch wind.

royal melbourne golf club west course hole 123. ROYAL MELBOURNE G.C. (WEST)

Black Rock, Australia
6,645 yards, par 72

Alister MacKenzie’s 1926 routing fits snuggly into the contours of the rolling sand belt land. His greens are miniature versions of the surrounding topography. His crisp bunkering, with vertical edges, a foot or taller, chew into fairways and putting surfaces. Most holes are doglegs, so distance means nothing and angle into the pin is everything.

muirfield gc 13 124. MUIRFIELD

Gullane, Scotland
7,245 yards, par 71

Muirfield is universally admired as a low-key, straightforward links with fairways seemingly containing a million traffic bumps. Except for a blind tee shot on the 11th, every shot is visible and well-defined. Greens are the correct size to fit the expected iron of approach. The routing changes direction on every hole to pose different wind conditions.

old course st andrews scenic5. THE OLD COURSE AT ST. ANDREWS

Fife, Scotland
7,279 yards, par 72

The Old Course at St. Andrews is ground zero for all golf architecture. Every course designed since has either been in response to one or more of its features, or in reaction against it. Architects either favour the Old Course’s blind shots or detest them, either embrace St. Andrews’ enormous greens or consider them a waste of turf.

tara iti golf club 17 hole6. TARA ITI G.C.

Mangawhai, New Zealand
6,840 yards, par 71

Built by American designer Tom Doak from what had been a pine-covered Sahara along the eastern coast of New Zealand’s North Island, it’s far more links-like than the country’s other coastal courses, most of which are on rock. Doak and design associate Brian Slawnik spent more than two years gently resculpting the sandy soil into hummocks, punchbowls and sand dunes that look like they were formed by wind and vegetated by nature. There’s lots of sand but no bunkers. With holes inspired by Cypress Point, Royal Dornoch and Royal St. George’s, and views everywhere of the Hauraki Gulf, this may be New Zealand’s answer to Pebble Beach’s Carmel Bay. The greatest meeting of land and sea is clearly up for debate.

royal portrush dunluce course 137. ROYAL PORTRUSH G.C. (DUNLUCE)

Northern Ireland
7,317 yards, par 72

Portrush is still the only Irish course to host The Open. The Old Tom Morris design, reworked by H.S. Colt in the 1930s, was the Open site back in 1951, and will be again in 2019. In preparation, architect Martin Ebert added new sixth and seventh holes, fashioned from land on the club’s Valley Course, to replace its weak 17th and 18th. That means the notorious Calamity Hole, an uphill 210-yard par 3, will now be the 16th instead of the 14th, and the old dogleg-right par-4 16th will now be the closing hole, with a new back tee. Ebert retained Colt’s greens, considered one of the best set of putting surfaces in the world.

shanqin bay golf course 88. SHANQIN BAY G.C.

Hainan Island, China
6,894 yards, par 71

It has wide corridors flanked by jungle gunch, big intricate greens and eye-catching ragged-edge bunkering, yet Shanqin Bay is perhaps the most controversial design the highly regarded firm of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw has ever built. Partly because it was created on a site far more rugged than the duo normally tackle—land that housed a World War II Army barracks, complete with stone tunnels. All its quirks are worth it, for its proximity along the South China Sea is outstanding.

cabot cliffs9. CABOT CLIFFS

Inverness, Nova Scotia, Canada
6,765 yards, par 72

Another sensational Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design, Cabot Cliffs overflows with variety with its southernmost holes in Lahinch-like sand dunes, its northernmost atop Pebble Beach-type ocean cliffs and bits of pine-lined Scottish Highlands in between. The cliff-edged par-3 16th is quickly becoming one of the game’s most photographed holes.

trump turnberry ailsa 11th hole10. TRUMP TURNBERRY (AILSA)

Scotland
7,489 yards, par 71

A legendary links ravaged by WWII, architect Philip Mackenzie Ross re-established it to its present quality, tearing away concrete landing strips to create a dramatic back nine and building a set of varied greens, some receptive, other not so much. After Donald Trump purchased the course, Martin Ebert of the firm of Mackenzie & Ebert made notable changes. To complete the new look, Ebert replaced riveted bunkers with ragged-edged ones.

11. BARNBOUGLE DUNES

Bridport, Australia
6,724 yards, par 71

A 2004 collaboration of American superstar designer Tom Doak and Australian tour-pro-turned-architect Michael Clayton, Barnbougle Dunes is a tremendous 18 in a fantastic stretch of sand dunes along Bass Strait, the sea that separates Tasmania from Melbourne. What’s most fascinating is that the back nine is completely reversed from how Doak originally routed it.

12. SUNNINGDALE G.C. (OLD)

England
6,627 yards, par 70

A Willie Park Jr. design that dates from 1901, it’s perhaps the most advanced of its day. Chopped from a pine forest but routed like a links, with the ninth at the far end of the property, it plays like a links, too, for there’s a sand base beneath the turf. The Old has big greens, as Park put a premium on approach putting, and artful bunkers, with both angled cross-bunkers and necklaces of sand hampering direct routes to some greens. The look of Sunningdale brings to mind Pine Valley or Pinehurst.

13. KINGSTON HEATH G.C.

Heatherton, Australia
7,102 yards, par 72

Considered an Alister MacKenzie design, but in fact Australian golf professional Des Soutar designed the course in 1925. MacKenzie made a brief visit the following year and suggested the bunkering, which was constructed by greenkeeper Mick Morcom before he built Royal Melbourne’s two courses. The bunkers are long, sinewy, shaggy, gnarly, windswept and, of course, strategically placed.

14. MORFONTAINE G.C.

France
6,584 yards, par 70

A timeless 1927 design north of Paris by British architect Tom Simpson, Morfontaine looks suspiciously like a heathland course around London, with windswept Scotch pines and clumps of heather atop a base of sand. But it’s tighter than Sunningdale or St. George’s Hill, and the forest surrounding holes is far denser. Thirteen years ago, American architect Kyle Phillips updated the layout, adding a new 12th green to extend the par 5 by 60 yards. It fits in perfectly.

15. ROYAL BIRKDALE G.C.

Southport, England
7,156 yards, par 70

Site of Jordan Spieth’s remarkable Open victory in 2017, Royal Birkdale has also been the venue for past Women’s British Opens, Ryder Cups, Walker and Curtis Cups. Three generations of the Hawtree design firm, oldest in the world, are responsible for Royal Birkdale. Patriarch Frederic G. did the present design, with its surprisingly flat fairways and docile greens between towering dunes, in 1931. Thirty years later, son Fred W. remodelled it, adding the now-classic par-3 12th. Forty years after that, grandson Martin revised the course for its ninth Open Championship.

16. BALLYBUNION G.C. (OLD)

Ireland
6,802 yards, par 71

Ballybunion has always been great, but it wasn’t until they relocated the clubhouse in 1971 to the southern end that it became thrilling. The move turned the old finish of anticlimactic back-to-back par 5s, into the fourth and fifth holes, and shifted the new closing holes to ones in spectacular dunes just north of the intersection of the Shannon River and the Atlantic Ocean.

17. CAPE KIDNAPPERS

Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
7,143 yards, par 71

Not a links, more like a stratospheric Pebble Beach, high atop a windswept plateau some 500 feet above the sea. The 2004 design truly demonstrates the lay-of-the-land philosophy of American architect Tom Doak, who ran holes out and back along a series of ridges perpendicular with the coastline, most framed by deep canyons. The fairways are wide, but Doak rewards bold tee shots that flirt with ravines and sets strategies using some of the deepest bunkers he has ever built. Cape Kidnappers was also the International winner of a 2012 Environmental Leaders in Golf Award, co-sponsored by Golf Digest.

18. NEW SOUTH WALES G.C.

Le Perouse, Australia
6,829 yards, par 72

On the dramatic rugged seacoast of Botany Bay near Sydney, on the spot where Captain Cook first stepped onto Australia in 1770, La Perouse is renowned for its ocean views and high winds. On his brief but productive 1926 trip, Alister MacKenzie prepared a routing for the course, but it was radically altered during a 1936 remodelling by Eric Apperly and by neglect during WWII. A succession of post-war architects has slowly re-established the integrity of the design, most recently Greg Norman.

19. ROYAL MELBOURNE G.C. (EAST)

Black Rock, Australia
6,579 yards, par 71

Former Australian Open champion Alex Russell and greenkeeper Mick Morcom built the West Course to plans of Alister MacKenzie, then added the East in 1931, on somewhat less inspiring land, flatter and more wooded. But the bunkering and green contours are very similar to the West. (Mackenzie had routed a nine-hole East Course that was never built. Russell incorporated a few of those holes.) A slight flaw may be that all four par 3s play in the same northerly direction.

20. ST. GEORGE’S G. AND C.C.

Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada
7,014 yards, par 71

An outstanding Stanley Thompson design, it’s routed through forest-covered glacial land, with meandering fairways that diagonally traverse valleys to greens perched on domes. The putting surfaces are tightly bunkered and full of hidden undulations. These are considered some of Thompson’s best bunkering, thanks in part to American architect Tom Doak and Canadian architect Ian Andrew, who recently collaborated to restore the bunkering, highlighting their sweeping lines and graceful movements.

21. CARNOUSTIE G. LINKS (CHAMPIONSHIP)

Scotland
7,421 yards, par 71

Perhaps the homeliest, certainly the longest and toughest of Open venues, Carnoustie is a no-holds-barred layout intended to test the best. James Braid is usually credited with the present design, but it was green chairman James Wright who in 1931 created the stirring last three holes, with 17 and 18 harassed by twisting, turning Barry Burn. In the 1968 Open, Jack Nicklaus complained that a knob in the middle of the ninth fairway kicked his drives into the rough. When he returned for the 1975 Open, he found it had been converted to a pot bunker.

22. ROYAL ST. GEORGE’S G.C.

Sandwich, England
7,204 yards, par 70

Royal St. George’s, in dunes along the English Channel, is what writer Adam Lawrence calls the ideal mix of championship golf and gentle quirks. Its quirks include a duo of massive bunkers that howl at tee shots on the par-5 fourth. Once as tall as a six-story building, they’ve eroded over the years, and have been stabilized the past 20 years by the addition of 93 railroad ties along their top edges. A long-time member of the Open rota, Royal St. George’s was the site of Darren Clarke’s surprise victory in 2011.

23. THE CLUB AT NINE BRIDGES

Jeju Island, South Korea
7,196 yards, par 72

Our Korean affiliates call The Club at Nine Bridges the Taj Mahal of Golf. After all, architects Ronald Fream and David Dale spent an estimated $40 million in the early 2000s creating it. (The entire project, including land, clubhouse, condos and spa, cost $100 million.) The site was volcanic rock, capped with 150,000 cubic yards of sand as a base for bent-grass fairways and greens. The site had natural streams edged with massive Japanese Maples and 20-foot-tall Korean Azaleas, but they also transplanted 300 mature evergreens like Kryptomeria and cedars for additional colour.

24. CAPE WICKHAM LINKS

King Island, Australia
6,725 yards, par 72

American Mike DeVries and Australian golf writer Darius Oliver collaborated on a breath-taking site along Bass Strait, a notorious stretch of Australian seacoast that once shipwrecked many voyages. The routing on this glorious collection of holes is heart-pounding, starting along rocks and crashing surf, moving inland but not out of the wind, returning to ocean edge at the downhill 10th, pitch-shot 11th and drivable par-4 12th. It then wanders into dunes before a crescendo closing hole curving along Victoria Cove beach, which is in play at low tides.

25. NORTH BERWICK G.C.

East Lothian, Scotland
6,458 yards, par 71

North Berwick must be played with good humour. To do otherwise is to not properly appreciate its outrageous topography (some terrain is like an elephant cemetery) and outlandish holes, like the sunken 13th green beyond a stone wall, the renownedRedan par-3 15th, blind from the tee, and the long, narrow 16th green with a gulch separating front and back plateaus, surely the model for the infamous Biarritz green, although purists say otherwise.

26. BARNBOUGLE LOST FARM

Bridport, Australia
6,849 yards, par 72

On a site just across the river from sister Barnbougle Dunes (No. 11), with taller dunes but fewer of them, Lost Farm has not 18, but 20 holes, counting its two-short pitch-shot holes. The design is dramatic and unusual, particularly the par-4 fifth, a dogleg right along the river, whose blind tee shot brings to mind the 17th at St. Andrews. Instead of old black sheds, a high dune blocks view of the fairway from the tee.

27. CASA DE CAMPO (TEETH OF THE DOG)

La Romana, Dominican Republic
7,471 yards, par 72

The Dominican Republic is now a major golf destination. Teeth of the Dog started it all back in 1971. Pete Dye has been periodically rebuilt and updated his earliest international masterpiece following repeated hurricane damage. The routing is stunning, a clockwise front nine, counter clockwise back nine, with seven holes hunkered down on the ocean, no more than 20 feet above the surf. The sea is on the left on holes five through eight, on the right on holes 15 through 17. Every hole is unique and scenic.

28. JACK NICKLAUS G.C. KOREA

Incheon City, South Korea
7,470 yards, par 72

Lying in the shadow of skyscrapers in the Songdo International Business District, this is an impressive Nicklaus design, one that transformed a flat, dull site into a surprisingly rolling, pine-dotted layout with water on 11 holes, equitably distributed with six hazards to the left and five to the right. Despite the site being inland, artificial rocks edging most of the lakes leave the impression of a jagged coastline. Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea hosted the 2015 Presidents Cup, won by the U.S. team captained by Jay Haas over the International side headed by Nick Price. It was the first Presidents Cup contested in Asia.

29. HAESLEY NINE BRIDGES

Yeoju County, South Korea
7,256 yards, par 72

Don’t confuse this course with No. 23 Club at Nine Bridges, designed by Ronald Fream and then-partner David Dale. Both have the same owner, but this one Dale alone designed. Nine Bridges is on Jeju Island; Haesley is close to Seoul. Nine Bridges has riveted bunkers; Haesley has big, bold flashed-sand ones. Nine Bridges has an island green on 18; Haesley has a par 4 with an island fairway and an island green, and a mountainside waterfall on another hole that would make Donald Trump jealous. Haesley Nine Bridges opened in 2009 and has held the CJ Invitational on the Korean Golf Tour in 2011 through 2013.

30. KINGSBARNS G. LINKS

St. Andrews, Scotland
7,224 yards, par 72

Just down the coastline from the links at St. Andrews, Kingsbarns looks absolutely natural in its links setting. It’s a tribute to owner Mark Parsinen and architect Kyle Phillips (both Californians), who collaborated on transforming a lifeless farm field into a course that fools even the most discerning eye. The routing is ingenious, crescent-shaped along the Fife coast, with holes on three separate levels (130 feet of elevation change in all) to provide ocean views from every fairway. Six holes play right on the shoreline, and every hole offer genuine alternate angles of attack.