Despite the belief of many American golfers, not all great courses are found in North America. There are numerous courses all around the world which play spectacularly and offer amazing challenges. Landscapers and designers have worked on some of these courses for centuries, so go looking for a history lesson as well.
Royal County Down – Newcastle, County Down, Northern Ireland
Located in Newcastle in Northern Ireland, Royal County Down Golf Club opened in 1889. It has two 18-hole links, a Championship Course and Annesley Links. Initially, it was designed by Old Tom Morris in conjunction with the railroad depot to bring added visitors to the area. By 1908, the club received royal patronage from King Edward VII, making it one of the most popular in Europe.
Both the Championship Course and the Annesley Links have been constructed with the landscape in mind. Set in the Murlough Nature Reserve, the Championship Course is situated on the shores of Dundrum Bay making for a very scenic game. The Annesley Links is a smaller, but challenging course. It still features the majestic views of the mountains, sea, and dunes.
Old Course at St. Andrews – St Andrews, Scotland
Considered the “home of golf” by many golfers, the game was played here as long ago as the 15th century. Banned in 1457 by James II of Scotland, it wasn’t until 1502 that golf was permitted again under King James. The Old Course at St. Andrews is particularly famous for giving us the game as it is played today. In 1764, the club members decided to combine eight of the holes into four holes, giving the modern course of 18 holes. It’s also responsible for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, the governing body of golf throughout most of the world.
Gameplay at St. Andrews is a unique experience. With so much history behind the course, each of the 112 bunkers has its own story, most notably the 14th hole’s 10 foot deep “Hell Bunker.” The Road Hole, the par-4 17th, is one of the most famous holes in the world. One tees off without being able to see where the shot lands due to railway sheds being in the way. It features the “Road Bunker,” a significant hazard in front of the green. Other hazards include a tarmac road and a stone wall. The final hole is an interesting experience in that golfers need to cross a 700-year old bridge to play.
Muirfield – Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland
Located in Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland, the Muirfield Links overlooks the Firth of Forth, a famous estuary. It also operates as the home to The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, the oldest known golf club established in 1744.
While the majority of links courses are set up for two sets of nine holes each running in one direction and then opposite for the second set, Muirfield is not set up this way. This course is set up as two loops, each nine holes. One goes clockwise and the other counterclockwise.
Royal Portrush Golf Club – Portrush, County Antrim, Northern Ireland
Established in 1888, the Royal Portrush Golf Club gained its patronage within a decade from the Duke of York and the Prince of Wales. This course is located on the North Antrim Causeway Coast and has views of sand hills, islands to the north and is overlooked by the remains of the Dunluce Castle from the 13th century.
The Dunluce course is known for a number of interesting holes. On the fourth hole, the green is situated between two small sand hazards. The fifth hole’s green is situated on the edge of a large drop to the beach. Outside of the threat of having the ball go over the cliff, there is a spectacular view of the White Rocks beach.
Turnberry – South Ayrshire, Scotland
Commissioned in 1902, this course grew with the opening of a hotel in 1906. During both world wars, it served as an air training base for new pilots and the hotel was converted to a hospital. This heavily damaged the course and facilities in general. During this time, an airstrip was constructed which still stands today. There is also a monument to the 200 airmen and others who died at the base during those years. It wasn’t until 1951 that the course was properly rebuilt. After changing hands for decades, Donald Trump bought the course in 2014.
The course has gone through many changes through the years. Most recently, the Trump organization has modified many of the holes to make it a new experience. In addition, it has converted eight holes starting with the fourth to be a coastal run.
While the United States can lay claim to possessing some of the best golf courses in the world, other countries have also developed great courses, many predating those in America. These courses offer both traditional and unique golf experiences and are worth playing.