Come with us on a tantalising tour of what we consider to be the 10 best links courses in the UK, from long-heralded classics to a highly acclaimed newcomer
With links courses dominating the upper echelons of Golf Monthly’s latest UK & Ireland Top 100 course rankings, it’s no surprise that the 10 best links courses in the UK & Ireland are almost an exact replica of the top ten in the rankings.
Inland golf lovers may raise an eyebrow, but the seaside was where the great game evolved within these shores and our links courses are a national treasure for which we should be extremely grateful and extremely proud.
So join us on a whistlestop tour around our 10 best links courses…
Trump Turnberry Resort (Ailsa)
Our new No.1 was already a highly acclaimed and gloriously photogenic links even before Donald Trump got his hands on it and transformed it into something truly special with the assistance of acclaimed course architect, Martin Ebert. Holes considered less strong have been seriously improved, while those already considered the highlights of the round – like the 9th, 10th and 11th – have been transformed into something not far off mind-blowing. The next question is, will The Open be hosted by a serving President of America in the coming years?
The links deposed from our No.1 spot has done nothing wrong in terms of the quality of both conditioning and test – it’s just that the Ailsa has upped its game considerably. For many, Muirfield remains golf’s ultimate links test, where what you see is what you get on pretty much every hole, including a hard-to-beat quartet of excellent par 3s.
Royal County Down (Championship)
If any top-ranked course matches Turnberry for the sheer majesty of its surroundings then this fabulous old links in Newcastle, County Down is that course. Rolling terrain, beautiful rough-edged bunkering and gorse aplenty mix with the odd blind hole and a glorious backdrop of the Mountains of Mourne to serve up a golfing experience that is simply hard to beat.
St Andrews (Old)
The Old Course at the Home of Golf is quite simply where it’s at for scores of visitors from all over the world who cram every available tee time from dawn to dusk pretty much all year round. History and heritage combine to deliver an experience like no other as you head out from, and return to, the Auld Grey Toon over the famous opening and closing holes. Some say the course is too easy for the modern game; others simply revel in a goosebumps moment unrivalled in world golf.
Stern, uncompromising and blessed with no great beauty beyond its perimeters, Carnoustie has earned a thoroughly deserved reputation for being one of The Open Championship’s most demanding examinations of all. There is, of course, great beauty within, and golfers the world over respect this fabulous links for the strategic challenge it poses – especially the fairway bunkers – and what must ranking as the hardest closing trio of holes anywhere.
England’s highest-ranked course in our latest Top 100 rankings presents a real test from the off, especially if the wind is against and off the left on the 1st. You’ll play to all four points of the compass over the early holes, enjoy another wonderful Open rota cast of par 3s – especially the 12th – and savour a magnificent series of holes that weave their way almost entirely between impressive dune ridges rather than up and over them.
Royal Dornoch (Championship)
The game has been played for 400 years in this famous Highland golfing town, and no course in the land attracts golfing pilgrims on the same scale as this wonderfully natural, and often challenging, links. A gentle opener eases you in, but should you miss the green either side of the par-3 2nd, you could be there for some time as you negotiate some truly testing chips. After a couple of holes on more elevated terrain, the links flanks the shore for a stretch before twisting its way home, with the 17th a classic test of strategy and skill. Do you leave it on the top plateau off the tee for a longer but perhaps easier approach, or try and get it down there as far as possible. Only you can decide!
Trump International Golf Links, Scotland
Mr Trump has two entries in our latest Top 10, and few who have visited this quite extraordinary modern links just north of Aberdeen have anything but praise for the golfing experience it delivers. It really is non-stop drama from start to finish, set amid the kind of towering dunes rarely seen this side of the Irish Sea. Every bit as good as the photos would lead you to believe.
Royal St George’s
The first course outside Scotland to host The Open way back in 1894 is another unique experience playing over the most rumpled fairways on the rota – not always to the pleasure of Open participants! No two holes are remotely the same on this wonderful links that plays around the tallest of the dunes on the golf-rich Kent coast. Among the standout holes are The Maiden – the par-3 6th where Tom Watson conjured up a hole in one last time round in 2011 – and the par-5 14th, which flanks neighbouring Prince’s, with its green set perilously close to Out of Bounds.
Royal Lytham & St Annes
There are bunkers aplenty at this fine old links with the distinctive red-brick clubhouse on England’s north-west coast, many of them extremely well-positioned, as Adam Scott, among others, can testify. In many ways, it is England’s equivalent of Carnoustie, for beyond the course’s boundaries, the adjacent railway and houses serve up no great visual treat. But this may be for the best, for if you are to fare well round Lytham you will need to concentrate fully on the task in hand.