The question I am asked most on my travels by golf enthusiasts is: “What is your favourite course in Britain?” It’s one I have always struggled to answer easily. The only way is to ask myself the question in a different way: if I had only one game of golf left to play in Britain, where would it be?
Loch Lomond often springs to mind with its beautiful backdrops and superb design, but I cannot quite put it at the top of my list. Scotland has so many great courses and of course there’s nowhere more enjoyable than St Andrews. Its unorthodox design has stood the test of time quite brilliantly, but if I had only one last game, its openness to the elements would dissuade me from having it there.
For a more traditional challenge, Carnoustie is the place to play in this area, and it is perhaps the hardest of all the Open venues. Off the back tees it can be fierce to say the least. Always in good condition, it only fails to take the top spot due to it not being the prettiest of courses – the sea is never really in view, which is such a shame with it being so close by.
Most of the courses that pop into my head are the classic links, with Royal Birkdale being one of them. But its nearest neighbour, Hillside, is just as enjoyable, if not more so, for the average golfer.
Much as I would like to, I’m afraid I cannot put a links course at the top of my list because my golfing heart was stolen at a young age by one of the Surrey heathland courses when I was just a 15-year-old boy.
Top 100 Courses: 2010 Course Rankings
My last day’s golf would start at the 1st – a short par 5 or tough par 4 depending on how strict you wish to be – and I’d think of the shot I saw Greg Norman hit many years ago from the trees on the right that border the road and the beautiful houses of the privileged few. It was a 4-iron into the middle of the green to seal victory in a play-off and it was the first time I had seen a golfing superstar.
The 2nd is another tough par 4, a dogleg left, and I would think about a 2-iron I witnessed José Maria Olazábal hit once to two feet. As straight as an arrow, it would help him win the hole against me, but it was probably worth the loss just to see it.
The 6th is a straight-away four on which I would reminisce about the time Monty had a little word with Sergio about him moving around when he was trying to play. And on the 9th I would recall the 40-foot birdie putt Monty holed in the same match to keep us at one-down and stop him from blowing a gasket.
The 10th hole would bring me a sausage sandwich and hopefully a par on another tough par 4 and 11 would leave me scratching my head wondering how on earth I once four-putted that green having driven it in one shot. As for the 12th, this is one of the prettiest par 4s you’re ever likely to play.
The 14th would send a chill down my spine when I recall the time I tried to tap in first during a fourball game to put the pressure on Seve, only to miss it and feel like a fool for ‘thinking’ that it was possible to put pressure on Seve.
The 17th, a brilliant downhill par-4 dogleg, always sends me on my way thinking about the time I saw Bernhard Langer hit a superb approach to eight feet, only for his yips to take over and send him on his way with a bogey and a face like thunder. And then there’s 18.
The 18th is a splendid par 4 up the hill to a green perched underneath the biggest oak tree you have ever seen, with the beautiful clubhouse partially visable through the limbs of the tree. The sun would be setting, casting a shadow over the green and it is this scene that would take me back to the day I played there as a 15-year-old schoolboy. That was the day I fell in love with Sunningdale Old.