Masters Ticket Prices Set New Highs

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If you are looking for evidence of the excitement building around this year's Masters then look no further than the price of a ticket for the last round. Sunday tickets are currently trading on Stubhub at amost $2,400 a pop, that's a whopping 44% up on the price at this stage last year.

Ticket prices this year had been relatively stable compared to last year, at around $1,800 each, until the last 72 hours when Masters fever seems to have kicked in.

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What happens next will depend a lot on how the leaderboard shapes up over the next few days. If we have a Woods/McIlroy showdown on Sunday afternoon then prices will surely hit new highs. If we have a less glamorous pairing heading off last, then they could drop significantly.

If you are thinking of heading to Augusta and haven't got a ticket yet then you may want to hold off on your purchase. Last year, prices fell during the week. Despite a strong leaderboard on the Sunday, tickets were available on the morning from Stubhub for around the $1,000 mark. Few people want to take the risk of being left high-and-dry without a ticket so buy them in advance. If you can hold your nerve you may get a relative bargain.

While Stubhub is one option for buying a ticket, many still like to pick theirs up from touts nearby to Augusta National. The advantages are that you don't have to queue to pick them up and return them at the Stubhub office, and you are also likely to get them a little cheaper than from the online broker.

The downside is that if your ticket is a fake or has been cancelled (as apparently is happening a little more this year) you may have to work a little harder to get your money back.

I can recommend Jimmy D who sets up next to T-Bonz, just outside of the legal exclusion zone. He’s been there for over 20 years and works many major sports events across the US. He will undercut Stubhub a little and will be there if you have any problems, which he says has only happened once or twice before.

It is a shame that mere mortals cannot easily get inside the gates at Augusta National as the tickets have largely been in the hands of the same patrons for years. For many of the good people of Augusta, scalping Masters’ tickets is a tradition unlike any other. Whether this will be a bumper year for them will depend on what happens over the next couple of days.

 

5 picks for the Masters

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It's impossible to thumb through my Twitter feed for more than a couple of seconds this week before stumbling on yet another 'top picks for the Masters' article. And the world probably doesn't need another one! However, given the amazing success of my tips for last year's Open (hopefully you are still spending the each way winnings from Kuchar at 50/1 and Leishman at 45/1) I feel it would be remiss of me not to add to your Twitter clutter. So here goes!

The Masters should be the easiest of all the Majors to pick the winner. This year there are only 87 participants and it's easy to whittle that number down quite quickly when you take away all those who qualify by virtue of their past champion status, amateurs, first time participants and winners of various global 'grow the game' initiatives.

Augusta is also not the kind of place where you can just turn up and find your game. Realistically, we are looking for players who are sharp at the moment and, since experience counts for a huge amount here, it does no harm at all to have a good knowledge of the course.

At the head of the betting this week are McIlroy (10/1) and Spieth (12/1). McIlroy was clearly dialled in at Bay Hill recently but, outside of that week, his iron play hasn't been good enough this year - he's languishing in 93rd place in the PGA Tour for strokes gained approaching the green. Of course, when he gets it going, he's one of the very best in the world, but he definitely puts the pressure on himself at Augusta and that could go either way. 10/1 isn't value.

Watching Jordan Spieth putt this year has not been for the faint-hearted - he is an amazing 185th on the PGA Tour for strokes gained putting. He found something last week at Houston for sure, but there must be demons in his head. While his course pedigree is pretty special, he simply doesn't fit the form category.

I'm sure it isn't hyperbole to say that Tiger Woods will get more attention this week than any other golfer has, at any tournament, for the last decade. What he has achieved in the last few weeks is beyond what even the most devoted fan could have hoped for. While he is capable of golf that no other player today is, I think there are too many questions about his driving and mental fortitude to say he represents value at fifth favourite. Another to avoid.

So, with that in mind, here are my 5 To Watch this week. (And just for the record, if it is a McIlroy/Spieth/Woods playoff on Sunday night, you won't find many people happier than me!)

Ian Poulter - 66/1
What a difference a week makes. Poulter's journey to this year's Masters has been better-documented than most and there has to be a concern that he has used up too much adrenaline over the last two weeks. However, Poulter is possibly the world's most streaky player. So, if he can keep the putter going this week, 66/1 may look generous. Also, he has decent form here. He's made cuts in 10 of the 11 times he's played here, including a 6th place finish in 2015. Can you imagine the joy for European golf fans if there's a Poulter chest thump on Sunday night as he takes down Patrick Reed? Dare we dream?!

Has a chest ever been thumped with such fervour as Poults'?!

Sergio Garcia - 33/1
Many years ago, in the world before the internet, a book came out every year, full of stats and betting selections, written by professional golf tipster Keith Elliott. He had all kinds of hypotheses for how to find a winner, including the nappy factor! Basically, he said that a golfer performed better than normal in the weeks after the birth of a child and were worth a punt! There was something in it for sure, but unfortunately not enough European pros were having babies at the time to allow me to give up a life of working to profit from this insight.

Sergio has had a quiet season so far as he has been getting ready for the arrival of little Azalea. But when he has teed it up, he has been steady. When it comes to strokes gained he's 11th off the tee and 1st for approaching the green.

His putting needs some attention but there is something in the view of Chris from No Laying Up, that you don't need to be an amazing putter to win around Augusta. Rather, you need to know where to put the ball on the green to give the easiest putt and have the skill to put it there. Sergio definitely has that skill and the last year has shown how much he is in love with Augusta. 33/1 definitely represents value.

Phil Mickelson - 18/1
While I think it is too early to call Woods' comeback for a bet, I have no such doubts about Phil. It seems that the stars are aligning perfectly for him to win at Augusta. Everything is screaming that this will be his week. He's on great form (a first, second and third already this season); he's hitting it beautifully (second on the PGA Tour for strokes gained); he's incredibly experienced at Augusta (no player in the field under 500/1 has played more often); and he's still left handed (the 13th is a lot easier to play as a wee cut off the tee than a soaring draw). 

Confidence is key at Augusta (it's why I'm opposing Spieth, McIlroy and Woods this week) and I suspect that no-one in the world has more than Mickelson at the moment. This place was made for him.

Bubba Watson - 18/1
Bubba may be chasing Phil hard in the confidence stakes going into this week. Two wins in the last 6 weeks is pretty incredible given the 2017 he endured with his fluorescent balls. He benefits too from his love of the course and its appeal to the left-handed golfer

 Still the best moment ever in the Butler Cabin

Still the best moment ever in the Butler Cabin

I'm not sure how many fans' or players' hearts will leap if they see Bubba's name climbing up the leaderboard over the next few days. If you are looking for evidence that he doesn't get much love from his fellow pros then exhibit A would be the anonymous survey of PGA pros where he topped the list of names (by some distance) of 'players you wouldn't help in a fight'. Exhibit B would be his failure to be selected for the 2016 Ryder Cup, despite missing out by 1 spot for automatic qualification and being 7th in the World Rankings at the time. From a European fan's point of view, a dramatic drop-off in form now he is locked in for the 2018 team would be awesome, but I suspect he will have a good showing here first.

Justin Rose - 16/1
This is the least original selection of the week. I have barely seen a preview that didn't mention him, which makes the 16/1 still available all the more notable. His global form of late is fairly formidable, his iron play as pure as ever and he will only have gained knowledge and support from his performance here last year. He's finished second in 2 of the last 3 years and never missed a cut here. Johnson and Thomas may be lower odds but, over four rounds this week, I'll take Justin. 

Top 10 tips for a visit to Augusta

I have been lucky enough to attend The Masters twice, and both times had a truly tremendous experience. I've been to Opens, Ryder Cups, the US Open and many national tournaments but, as you would probably imagine, Augusta National was something quite different. So, if you are lucky enough to be planning a trip, I have a few tips which may help you get the most out of it.

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1. Consider staying in Augusta - it's cheaper than you think.  
A lot of the tours from the UK will have you staying in places like or Columbia or Athens. These are up to a couple of hours outside of Augusta and, as such, your days will be very long and the time you have to spend on the course will be dependent on your organiser's transport schedules.

On my first visit, we rented a house 20 minutes walk from the first tee. The second time, we stayed in a motel nearby. It was a fantastic feeling to wake up knowing that we were a mere stroll from the Masters.

The Friday evening in 2014 was the most magical experience. Rory Mcilroy was one of the very last out and battling to make the cut. The course really emptied for the last hour or so and my friend and I walked around with just a handful of people - including Rory's Dad and tennis-playing girlfriend from the time. They were more than happy to chat to us as the sun set. Had we been scrabbling to get out of the car park or find our bus, we would have missed out.

Hotels can be expensive but check out Airbnb or the official rental service for some options.

2. If you go on a practice day, don't forget your camera.  
Cameras are forbidden on every day of the tournament - this is the only event that holds out against them. However, on a practice day you are allowed to snap away to your heart's content - the pictures sure make a nice screensaver! 

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3. Don't just stay in one place - walk the course.
One of the great things about the Masters is that the course is not busy. They don't say how many patrons/punters are on the course on any given day, but we never felt we couldn't see the action. Indeed, at times, it was slightly surreal just how close we could get to the action. Last year I saw every single shot that Garcia and Rose hit - until the 18th hole when I only missed their tee shots.

The other fantastic thing, which you don't really appreciate on the TV, is that only the players, caddies and a scorer are allowed inside the ropes - that means that you don't risk having a C list celebrity blocking your view.

There are stands/bleachers on several holes on the course and, again, these are really accessible. I have spent days at the Open, finding myself stuck behind a stand, hearing the cheers going up trying to work out what is going on. No such concern here. On the Sunday, with a couple of groups still to come through, we had no problem wandering down to the stand behind the 12th tee which overlooks the 11th green, before nipping over to the stand behind the 13th.

Also, there are fantastic vantage points to stand on all over the course. You have probably heard from some of the commentators that the course is more hilly than it looks on TV (!) and that really lends itself to finding a great spot to watch a few groups coming through.

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4. Get the most from the green seats
This takes a bit of getting used to. Most patrons will have a green folding seat clutched in their hand as they enter the gates. If you don't have one, you can buy one inside. It's best to put an identifier on your seat (there is a little place at the back for a business card, how quaint!). Then, you simply go and put your seat down anywhere you want on the course (we did manage to get by the 18th green on Sunday but it was an early start...) and then you are free to either sit in it or just leave it until you want to use it. It will be there, unmoved, and waiting for you to claim it when you return.

When you get back to your seat you may well find someone else sitting in it. That's the done thing. You just politely let them know that's your seat and they will move on with a smile and find the next empty seat. This is very useful information because it obviously works both ways. When you are out on the course and you fancy a sit down, you are welcome to sit in any available green seat.  

As I say, it does take a bit of getting used to, but when you get in the habit, it's great!  

5. Keep you eyes open and chat to people
Without a doubt, Augusta has a very interesting bunch of spectators and you can have some great conversations. On the very first day we were there, before even going out to the course, we were getting some breakfast and struck up conversation with the couple next to us. I explained that it was my first time and the gentleman explained he had been coming for over 50 years and his father, Claude Harmon, had won the title back in 1948.

In more recent years, if you had been following Lee Westwood, the odds were that Ant, Dec and Alan Shearer would be nearby and more than happy to have a chat. Well Ant and Dec were, Shearer was a bit miserable. 

If you are a golf dweeb then there are plenty of golf journalists to spot and most have been really happy to chat. Alan Shipnuck was particularly animated about his trip to the Scottish Links.

The members stand out because of their green jackets which they wear regardless of the temperature, and are more than happy to tell you some anecdotes about the course. No invitation was forthcoming to join them for a round which was weird.

6. Enjoy the food and hang on to your beer cup.
You will have read about how cheap the food is on the course. This is true, although when you are there for 5 days it does all become a little bit samey! We got through a few beers over the course of the week and collected a fair few of the hard plastics cups they were served in - I think I came home with a dozen. They are quite substantial cups and three years later are still pressed into daily service in my household. Nice and  showy for summer barbecues too...

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7. Check your shopping into the 'pick up' queue
The merchandise tent is everything you have heard it is and more. The selection of goods is phenomenal and the quality is excellent. It is impossible not to get the credit cards out and spend more than you had intended. However, do not make the mistake of then having to carry a plastic bag around for the whole day, you will grow to hate it. Instead, leave it at a shopping check-in and pick it up at the end of the day. The queues weren't too horrible.

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8. Enjoy being out of contact for the day
There is really no way you can get a mobile phone into the ground. There is airport style security to navigate and even if you did manage to get past that then is no way you would survive a sly check of Twitter. There are cameras in the trees...

It is a strange, but slightly uncomfortable feeling being out of contact with the rest of the world for 12 hours. It is a very unusual position for most of us these days. In fact, the only other time I've managed it in the three years between Masters trips has been on a long haul flight. But it forces you to take stock, contemplate what is unfolding before your eyes and actually smell the roses. Or azaleas in this case.

One frustrating aspect of this policy is that there is no way to stay in touch with anything happening on the course but the group you are watching. There are lots of leaderboards which get updated to oohs and aahs from the crowd, but I think selling a radio with on course coverage, like at the Ryder Cup and The Open, would enhance the experience. It's interesting to see afterwards what was being said on social media compared with how it felt on the course at the time.  

So, hard as it might be, try to enjoy the feeling of isolation from the rest of the world. It's a bit like playing a three club challenge - interesting to do from time to time, but probably not something you'd want to do every day.

9. Book restaurants in advance
Augusta isn't blessed with that many great restaurants, but there are plenty which are perfectly serviceable. TripAdvisor is normally your friend - just make sure you book ahead as the top few do get very busy.

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10. Get to Palmetto
While your trip will probably be focussed primarliy on the Masters, I would encourage you to try to play some golf as well, if you can. We played 2 rounds - once at the slightly bizarre Sage Valley and once at Palmetto. Palmetto is an absolute delight. It's a course which Alister MacKenzie had a big hand in creating and there are definitely some hints of the genius that made Augusta here. It's a fun course which is only open to visitors to play during Masters' week every year.
 

The 10 most under-rated golf courses on the planet

Many golf courses in the world are household names and those feature high in my list of the top googled golf courses. However, what about the courses which the experts rank highly but go largely under the radar when it comes to the world's googlers?

To find out, I have taken the top 100 courses on my Ultimate Top 100 list and compared the rankings on that list with their positions in the list of Google golf course searchs for the last 12 months. That gives us this top 10 of the most under-rated (well, definitely under-searched relative to quality) golf courses out there -

10. Chicago Golf Club
Ultimate Top 100 Ranking - 26. Google Search Ranking - 58. Difference - 32.
All but 2 of the top 10 least searched courses are private golf clubs and Chicago Golf Club is a secret to many. One of the 5 founding members of the USGA, this was the first 18 hole course in the USA. It was designed by CB Macdonald originally and redesigned by the great Seth Raynor. There are only 120 members and you have to be invited by one of them for a game if you want to play. So, if you ever do meet a member, be nice!

9. Kingston Heath Golf Club
Ultimate Top 100 Ranking - 16. Google Search Ranking - 50. Difference - 34.
I was surprised to see Kingston Heath in this least searched list, but its geography is probably the reason for the appearance. Indeed its neighbour, Royal Melbourne, just misses out on the list in position 12, probably for similar reasons. Kingston Heath is one of only two courses on this list that anyone can get a game on with a bit of planning. Visitors are welcome on Mondays, Thursday and Fridays and the course receives nothing but rave reviews from all those who play it.

8. Golf de Mortontaine
Ultimate Top 100 Ranking - 39. Google Search Ranking - 74. Difference - 35.
I read this article by Geoff Shackleford about Morfontaine and was determined to find a way to get a game. It is one of the very few uber private courses in Europe and yet, where there's a will, there's a way - details on how to get a tee time are included in my review. It is a phenomenal golf course and a wonderful place but often there will be no more than a handful of people on the course on a day. I've played it twice now and there is absolutely no doubt this is both the number 1 course in mainland Europe, and mainland Europe's best kept secret.

 Morfontaine is one of the most idyllic golf courses you will find anywhere in the world.

Morfontaine is one of the most idyllic golf courses you will find anywhere in the world.

7. Cypress Point
Ultimate Top 100 Ranking - 1. Google Search Ranking - 35. Difference - 35.
That's right. The best golf course on the planet is also one of the most under-searched! I reckon if I went to my golf club on Sunday morning and asked 100  players to name the best golf course in the world, I would be lucky if more than a couple came up with Cypress Point.

It is veiled in secrecy - the course is rarely seen on television and your golf magazine won't have photo-shoots from the practice range. No, this is the very best golf course in the world which very few will ever see. Apparently the first tee time every day is available to unaccompanied guests but for the rest you need to be with a member. If you do want to get a taste of what the course holds, be sure to check out The Match by Mark Frost - my review is here. A fantastic story of a bygone age on this magnificent course.

6. Shanqin Bay Golf Club
Ultimate Top 100 Ranking - 56. Google Search Ranking - 94. Difference - 38.
We are going ridiculously private here. This Coore and Crenshaw course, overlooking the South China Sea, is said to have only 50 members and getting a game here takes a lot of ingenuity. China has a lot of awfully drab looking golf courses but this absolutely isn't one of them. It looks amazing but will likely remain a mystery for most for years to come.

5. Kawana Hotel Golf Course
Ultimate Top 100 Ranking - 54. Google Search Ranking - 93. Difference - 41.
Anyone who stays at the Kawana Hotel can get a game on the Fuji course which is Japan's second best course. However, because my results only show English language terms (I am not picking up Japanese searches) and it seems not many Westerners are planning a trip to Japan. Those who do make it out there though are rewarded by a truly unique experience. If you are thinking of going then check out these tips from John Sabino on what to expect on a Japanese golf trip!

4. Prairie Dunes
Ultimate Top 100 Ranking - 24. Google Search Ranking - 71. Difference - 47
Prairie Dunes, in the windy state of Kansas, is described as an inland links course. Its website says 'Prairie Dunes is an American original, and one of the most scenic courses anywhere. You could never mistake photographs of it for any other American course, although it has often been confused with the very best of the British Isles'. Again, it's a private course, but I get the sense it may be a little more accessible than many on this list (it even has a website with a nice walkthrough here). But is is in the middle of nowhere, with little passing traffic. TPC Sawgrass this is not!

3. Hirono Golf Club
Ultimate Top 100 Ranking - 37. Google Search Ranking - 90. Difference - 53.
Another Japanese entry, but unlike Kawana this is firmly in the territory of 'hard to get on'. Sabino compares it to Pine Valley or Morfontaine which is pretty illustrious company to keep. You probably won't have much luck just calling up the club to get a round, but it is possible to find a high-end organised trip with a bit of digging on the interweb.

2. Friar's Head
Ultimate Top 100 Ranking - 22. Google Search Ranking - 83. Difference - 61.
I absolutely adore Friar's Head. This Long Island Coore and Crenshaw course may only be 15 years old, but it is simply sensational. And yet very, very few people outside of the hardcore, golf architecture community have heard of it. The course meanders through magnificent dunes and is fun, accessible and breaktaking - you can read my review here.

It is very private for sure, and you will need an introduction from a member to get on, but if you do get the chance to play this course, then drop everything and go!

 The phenomenal Friar's Head is one of golf's best kept secrets

The phenomenal Friar's Head is one of golf's best kept secrets

1. National Golf Links of America
Ultimate Top 100 Ranking - 6. Google Search Ranking - 70. Difference - 64.
The National, or NGLA, is a near neighbour of Shinnecock Hills and ranked just one place below it, at number 6 in the world. Yet, when it comes to google searches, it pulls in only a tenth of the volume of its well known neighbour. The National is another Maconald/Raynor creation but hasn't had huge mainstream media exposure over the years. The only tournament of note it has hosted being the Walker Cup.

 The iconic windmwill at NGLA

The iconic windmwill at NGLA

And yet, those who do go will come away with huge smiles on their faces. When I played it I found the welcome tremendously warm and the course a delight. It has raced up the world rankings in recent years as its reputation has soared. However, the course simply doesn't impinge on the consciousness of the casual golf follower. For that reason, it takes the title of the most under-appreciated golf course in the world!

The World's Most Googled Golf Courses

As you read this, people all around the world are googling away, planning their dream golf trips. But which golf courses are they searching for, and which courses aren't getting the love they deserve?

Well, I thought it would be fun to find out, so I have put all the courses from my 'The Ultimate Top 100 Golf Courses' list through some fancy software that counts the actual number of google searches that have taken place over the last 12 months for each of the courses (and closely associated search terms).

The results make for interesting reading. The top 10 'most searched' have a definite bias towards courses that mere mortals can play - 7 out of the 10 are open for public play and TV exposure definitely helps get a course up the list. But there are a couple of surprises too.

So here, in reverse order, are your Top 10 Most Googled Courses In The World (with links to my reviews for the ones I've played).

10. Kingsbarns Golf Links
Kingsbarns may be one of the more recent additions to Scotland's 'must play' courses but they have absolutely nailed it when it comes to creating demand. The course is booked solid, months in advance, throughout the summer - despite the £268 green fee. You are far more likely to hear an American accent than a Scottish one around the putting green. The views are phenomenal and the course itself delivers. Playable, spectacular, fun - what more could you ask for?

However, Kingsbarns definitely punches above its weight (48 in the world rankings) by coming in as the 10th most searched-for club. St Andrews is the only course outside the USA to beat it, which is testament to the great job they have done establishing Kingsbarns as a modern Scottish classic.

9. Whistling Straits
Whistling Straits is a very rare thing - an iconic American golf course that ordinary folk can play. The Straits course has hosted the PGA championship three times this century and will host the Ryder Cup in 2020. While anyone can play at Whistling Straits, during the peak summer months you need to stay on the Lake Michigan resort to play there, which makes it an expensive tee time.

8. Shinnecock Hills Golf Club
Shinnecock Hills has long been viewed as one of the best in the world but, in recent years it has become more and more appreciated and work undertaken by Coore and Crenshaw has been very well received.

 If you do get a tee time at Shinnecock there are plenty of good spots for a post round bite to eat!

If you do get a tee time at Shinnecock there are plenty of good spots for a post round bite to eat!

This course sits on the very top of all the courses I have played and expect to see this Long Island masterpiece shoot up the most searched rankings in the next 12 months as it hosts the 2018 US Open this June. The players are going to find a course that will play firm and fast, hopefully not too tricked up by the USGA.

Getting a tee time at Shinnecock is a really tough ask for the average punter. Your best bet is to keep an eye out for charity auctions which sometimes have places available, although don't expect these to go for less than a $1000 a pop.

7. Bethpage Black
I guess it's no surprise that a public golf facility on the doorstep of America's largest city feaures so highly on this list. Bethpage State Park has 5 golf courses, including the famously tough Black course, which will host what many think will be the most raucous Ryder Cup ever when it visits in 2024.

300,000 rounds a year are played on the Bethpage property, which beats even the 230,000 rounds played on the 7 courses over the St Andrews Links.

6. Riviera Country Club
The course is ranked 41st in the world and is definitely highly regarded, but that it is the sixth most searched for course in the world this year is a bit of a surprise. However, the course has enjoyed something of a Tiger bump - Woods played here in the current incarnation of the LA Open in February, and many of the searches came around this time. Add to this that there is more than just the golf on offer at this exclusive Country Club, and its ranking starts to make some sense.

5. Bandon Dunes
When Mike Keiser set out with his Bandon dream, few would have believed that he would build a resort which could genuinely lay claim to being the best in the world. However, that is exactly what he has done and, all over the world, golfers are searching for Bandon in huge numbers. There are four courses on the property - three of which feature in the top 100 in the world with the other just outside - and the setting is simply spectacular. I haven't read a bad review from anyone who has been there.

It's not the easiest place to get to - it's a five hour drive from Portland, Oregon - although there are a few flights from Denver and San Francisco to the nearby North Bend. When you get here this is proper walking golf, with the entire resort set up to get you playing as much golf as you could possibly want.

Bandon has taken on almost mythical status amongst golfers across the US and its reputation is now growing more widely across the world. With so much on offer I suspect it's set to stay in the top 10 for many years to come.

4. The Old Course St Andrews
There will be few people in the world who have heard of golf but not St Andrews. Every golfer who has swung a club will have dreamed of, one day, setting foot on the hallowed turf. With a bit of planning, playing here is eminently possible. The course is fully open to visitors - there are no members here - and, away from the peak season, the daily ballot is a very realistic way of getting in. If that fails, then just queue up overnight and you will almost certainly get a spot the next day!

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There are other ways to get a tee time (laid out in my review) and when you do tee it up you are in for an experience like no other. Golf has been played over this land since the 16th century and when you play here you really do feel the history oozing out.

The other great thing about this course is that it is perfectly possible to score here. As long as you don't suddenly develop a horrific slice, you are likely to get around without too much of a problem. The turn for home, with the spires and sights of St Andrews drawing you in, is as close to a spiritual experience as I've had on a golf course.

3. TPC Sawgrass
Sawgrass takes the title of 'most overachieving course' by some way. It is not a course that the golf course ranking experts adore - it is ranked at 74 in the world - but is the third most searched for course in the world. The iconic 17th hole is likely to be what drives many of those searches - I challenge you to find an article that leads on anything apart from that island green.

This is another course open to the public - it is attached to a Marriott hotel and residents can get a tee time when they book their accommodation. If you aren't staying then you can get a tee time if there's availability 2 weeks before you want to play.

For many, this course is on their bucket list and it will all be about the 17th and 18th holes. However, stories abound about tortuously long rounds. So my advice would be to try and get the first time of the day if you're wanting to get round in a reasonable time. Or buckle in for a long ride!

2. Augusta National Golf Club
It should come as no surprise that this course ranks so highly given the exposure it gets every year. If anything, the media coverage seems to get more cloying as the years go by. The course is waning though with the critics - it is currently ranked outside of the top 10 in the Ultimate Rankings - and there has been no significant course work in recent years apart from the Tiger-proofing work a decade ago. That blunt approach is part of the reason for its slippage.

However, for the casual TV viewer, the course will always hold something magical. Hopefully not too many of those searching are looking for tips on how to get a tee time - they will end up disappointed!

1. Pebble Beach Golf Links
Pebble Beach comes out at the top of many people's 'must play' bucket lists and the spectacular scenery along the Monterey peninsula leads to a google search boost whenever the course is on the TV.

Unlike many of the top courses in the world, this one is accessible to anyone - for a price. It's a hell of a price too, at peak times you need to stay for 2 nights in the $950 a night hotel as well as pay the $525 green fee. For many though that will be worth it for the photos and memories of playing this iconic course on the West coast.

Others may be a bit 'meh' about it. Pebble Beach's reputation has dropped in recent years and it seems in desparate need of a renovation. When I played there, the course was in very mediocre condition, and the holes away from the water disappointed a bit.

However, the fact remains that it is the highest ranked course on American soil that any member of the public can rock up and play and, for that reason at least, expect to see it stay on this list for a few years to come too.

 Pebble Beach Golf Links is the most searched golf course on the planet!

Pebble Beach Golf Links is the most searched golf course on the planet!

So there you are, the most googled courses in world. However, just as interesting may be those top ranked courses which people aren't searching for.

How often did people search for the number one ranked course in the Ultimate Top 100, Cypress Point? And which are the most 'unloved' top courses out there? I'm churning the numbers now and all will be revealed in the next couple of days.

Looking for the Ultimate Open Experience? Look no further!

 The 18th at Carnoustie. Photo from visitscotland.com

The 18th at Carnoustie. Photo from visitscotland.com

Monetising The Open is something that the R&A have become increasingly adept at over the last years. Anyone who has witnessed the sharp rise in entrance prices and the costs of a portion of fish and chips will bear testimony to that. But this year they have come up with another wheeze that may just put the other majors' attempts into the shade - 'The Open Experience' is a week of golf and wining and dining unlike any other, with a very happy finish.

The itinerary is pretty attractive. You rock up on the Thursday morning and your on-course hospitality for the week is all based in the Hogan Suite n the famous hotel overlooking the 1st tee and 18th green. It also has the benefit of a balcony never before opened to members of the public during Open week. It's all yours. All food and drink is included, as well as VIP transport from your accommodation in the Malmaison Dundee.

OK, that's all pretty vanilla so far, although the Hogan Suite and balcony is a nice touch.

Here's where it gets a bit special. On the Thursday and Sunday you can take part in a 'behind the scenes at Carnoustie' tour. You get to go inside the giant yellow scoreboard at 18, tour the media centre and stand behind the players as they warm up on the practice range.

Then on Friday you nip down to St Andrews to play the Jubilee Course. You will also enjoy a gourmet lunch inside the R&A with a tour from a member. Remember your tie. 

Saturday night brings the party. There will be more champagne (you will be sick of it by now) and you can 'Join golf ’s elite competitors, commentators, and personalities in The R&A Trophy Room to unwind, mix and mingle, at The Open Experiences’ Official Party'. Padraig Harrington will pop in to do a Q&A. More champagne will be required to get through some of his answers I suspect.

Sounds good? Arguably the best is yet to come. On Monday afternoon you will get to tee it up at Carnoustie. Same pin positions, grandstands up, the works.

That really does elevate this to something quite special. The Masters have upped the ante over recent years with Berckman's Place and all it brings. Let's just pause there for a second, can you imagine what a week's hospitality of this class and a round at Augusta on the Monday would go for?!

Carnoustie isn't my favourite Open golf course. In fact, it is possibly my least favourite - you can read my review here. The course has beaten me up badly both times I played it but I would be willing to go back to have another go as part of this deal if they are looking for enthusiastic bloggers.

I think that sort of invitation is the only way I'm going to get there as it's just over £10,000 for the whole thing - if you share a room - add on a few grand to that if you want the privacy of your own room. Clearly you need to quaff a lot of champagne and oysters to maximise the value of this experience, but if you have that kind of money burning a hole in your pocket then this could be quite a trip to take!

 

Discover the fast-track way to a Muirfield tee time

Scotland is blessed with many of the world’s best links golf courses. From the historic majesty of St Andrews to the more recent, and very worthy, additions of Castle Stuart and Kingsbarns you are spoilt for choice. All of Scotland’s best courses are accessible, but at a price, and often a lot of planning is required.

Muirfield is one course that usually requires advance planning. However, there is a way of playing this great course, in the peak season, at less than a week’s notice.

Muirfield is consistently ranked as the second best golf course in Scotland, just tucked behind St Andrews. Indeed, in the Ultimate Top 100 rankings it is ranked at 15th in the world.

The course is fantastic and I have it in the rare ‘19’ category of courses I have played. The conditioning is always amongst the very best in the country and it presents a strong challenge. This is a golf course which doesn’t go out of its way to trip you up. There are very few blind shots and, for want of a better expression, it’s ‘all in front of you’.

It is very easy to book a tee-time at Muirfield. At the end of March, they release tee times for every Tuesday and Thursday morning for the following year. The 1st and 10th tee is available between 8:30 and 10am. You can play in a fourball (the only time in the week such a format is tolerated) and if you would like to play in the afternoon you can do so as a foursome - only 2 balls are allowed in play.

It’s £235 a round in the summer months and you will have an experience that will give you a lifetime of memories. The only problem is, these tee-times are incredibly popular. At time of writing (mid February) there are no times available at all between the end of April and mid October this year. So it takes a lot of planning to make this work, but, if you are organised, hats off to Muirfield for the ease of booking. You can get all the details and have a look at availability here.

So, let’s pretend it’s the beginning of July and you really fancy a trip up to East Lothian that week for a game. Forget calling up the the club and throwing yourself at their mercy. That won't work. But fear not, there is a way! 

The key is Greywalls Hotel. Greywalls is a lovely hotel which overlooks the 9th and 18th holes at Muirfield. This is no Marriott-style golf hotel, rather a quaint, quirky, traditional Scottish hotel with a rich heritage and history. There is a fantastic Albert Roux restaurant and while this hotel is definitely pricey, if you can afford, it it will certainly enrich your stay in the area.

On a selection of Mondays and Fridays, between the beginning of May and mid September, Greywalls has access to the 1st and 10th tees for its guests. You will not be able to use the Muirfield clubhouse, but Greywalls is actually closer to the 10th tee and practice range than the clubhouse anyway.

Very helpfully, Muirfield post the take-up of these tee times on their notice board! Last year the slots were full on only 4 of the 19 slots allocated, so there is a very good chance you will get a tee time at short notice through this route. 

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You do have to stay 2 nights at Greywalls to qualify for a tee time booking so this will be an expensive trip (rooms in peak summer will set you back around £300 a night) but you will be spoilt for choice for great golf around and about Scotland's Golf Coast. All the details of the offer and how to book are on the Greywalls website here.

If that sounds all sounds a bit too expensive, do consider trying out Muirfield out of season. It’s £110 for a round between mid-November and mid-March and there’s always tons of availability. The condition of the course is great all year round and winters here are amongst the driest in the UK. In fact there’s a tee time on Tuesday morning at 8:30 going spare if anyone fancies it.....!

My search for the perfect golf iron has ended!

Let me start by being very clear about something. I am not a very good golfer, and will probably never be. My handicap is 14 and I have never been lower than 13. I think that if I played more, practised at all and had more than one lesson every three years I could maybe get down to 11. Anything beyond that is pure fantasy really.

Like many golfers my issue has been consistency. I actually have a pretty good short game by and large but I am capable of hoiking balls to the left and the right without any warning and fat and thin shots could enter my game at any time.

I always used to change my irons every year or so in the pursuit of something better. I am fully aware that the advice to 'save your money and just take a lesson' is probably very wise, and believe me I have tried it, but I am a sucker for marketing and am quite happy to buy into the hype behind the latest clubs in the hope they are a bit better than the last lot.

Just over two years ago the PXG noise was beginning to grow. The philosophy was one that made sense - rather than try and design clubs to hit a retail price-point they were trying to create the best club they could. The billionaire founder, Bob Parsons, was fairly strident in his view that these clubs were the best money could buy and some of the reviews seemed to back that up. The good folk at MyGolfSpy seemed in love and there were many reports on social media eulogising this game-changing equipment. If you want to hear from the man himself this gives you a good idea of how big his thinking is!

This was more than enough for me to decide to give them a go, so on a snowy afternoon in January 2016 I found myself hitting balls into a screen with Scott Gourlay in the south of Edinburgh while his trackman measured my efforts.

Now I should say I have been known to freeze when faced with a trackman and professional swing expert. My body tenses and suddenly all bets are off. Fortunately on this occasion there were no such concerns with Scott. He was quick to put me at ease, let me hit plenty of balls to get loosened up and just had a really nice way about him.

As soon as you hit a PXG iron you know there's something different about it. For the very first time I had an idea what people meant when they talked about the 'butter feel' of a purely struck iron shot. I was immediately convinced this wasn't just marketing talk but something else. After hitting several combinations of shafts we ended on the Accra 80i. Between that and the PXG head we had added eight yards to my 6 iron but more importantly a far more consistent dispersion.

 My PXG 0311 irons aren't going to be leaving my bag in a hurry

So, two years on what's the verdict? I can say, hand on heart, that I haven't read another iron club review over that time - there's no point as I simply can't imagine how anything could be better. The consistency of the PXGs is the biggest difference to every club I've hit before. The fat and thin shots are virtually eliminated and I've been significantly straightened out. My scoring is now more often than not in the 80s and the pleasure I am getting from the game is a step up from where I was before. 

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I have added the driving iron that came out last summer to my bag and another wedge. Both clubs have definitely improved those areas of my game. I play a lot of links golf and the PXG driving iron is perfect for getting the ball moving straight and low off the tee and the (questionably named) Sugar Daddy gap wedge is a thing of beauty which gets the ball stopping on the green like I have never seen before.

I don't know anyone who has been for a PXG fitting and hasn't ended up with them in their bags. It really is love at first shot.

Of course, There is absolutely no doubt that these clubs are expensive. For the original 4-PW, GW, SW set I paid over £2,000 - £240 a club - which is clearly a huge amount of money. However, if I had gone for any other make I imagine that I would have already changed my irons by now in the search for something better and that would have no end in sight. 

The other companies are trying to get the PXG technology into their clubs but Mr Parsons isn't making it easy for them. Come back to me in another 4 or 5 years and I imagine I will still be hitting the PXG irons. I just need to find a driver now......

No money has exchanged between PXG and UkGolfGuy.com for the writing of this article!

 The PXGs look particularly good in a Mackenzie bag!

The PXGs look particularly good in a Mackenzie bag!

Abu Dhabi HSBC notes

 The best golf viewing in the world?

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I’ve been to quite a few golf events around the world and nowhere else is there the opportunity to get close to some of the world’s greatest players as in these Middle East events. There are enough fans on the course to make for a good atmosphere but you can very easily stroll around and see every shot played - no need for periscopes or stepladders here.

Also, the tented village and food provisions etc is great. HSBC are clearly very involved in the product and it really pays off. Having seen the Dubai Desert Classic as well, the HSBC wins hands down for off course entertainment and activities. The party on the clubhouse terrace every night is great fun and it’s a lovely atmosphere. If you do happen to be passing with your family in tow there’s plenty to keep everyone entertained all day and entry is free to tourists. 

If you are into in-play betting then be warned - others have an unfair edge.

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In-play gambling is a huge business in all sports now and there is a lot of money to be made. Betfair allows you to trade ‘in running’ so you can both back and oppose players. Prices can move the instant putts are holed or balls go ob.

Amongst the fans strolling around the course was a young guy, looking for all the world like he was on his iPhone chatting to his mates. In fact he was giving live play-by-play commentary, at the other end was someone placing bets and taking money from others. He or she would be getting the information faster than the average punter watching the television at home and potentially making a killing.

I’ve seen this at many events before and it wouldn’t be beyond the wit of the European Tour to do something about it, although I was slightly jealous of the guy being flown around the world to give commentary to an audience of one!

The caddie’s role can’t be underestimated

More so than ever before I was able to appreciate the role of the caddie today. Being able to get so close to the players meant you could hear a lot of the conversations between player and caddie. There’s a lot involved in being a good caddie and a lot of information needs to be processed in a really short period of time. I spent most of today following McIlroy and Fitzpatrick and the contrast was amazing. Fitzpatrick was getting a lot of information from his man whereas Rory didn’t seem to be using his bagman, Harry, for anything more than a guy to carry his bags. No pacing off yardage’s or reading putts - I guess that’s not what Rory is looking for at the moment but it’s hard to imagine it couldn’t help a bit having a real expert on his trade on the bag.

The difference in length between the Uber long and normal is stunning

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McIlroy versus Fitzpatrick was a good example of the difference in length between some players. On average McIlroy was 40 yards past Fitzpatrick but on one hole where he really let rip he was over 80 yards longer. In some ways though the really impressive thing is how well a shorter player like Fitzpatrick can compete. His play is tested through the bag in a way that he long players aren’t, and the all-round strengths required to compete at the top are really impressive.

No surprises, but Rory moves the needle like no-one else

There were probably a thousand people following Rory and Matt Fitzpatrick around today. You could see easily but there was a real buzz. On the back 9, when it became clear that Rory was probably not going to make the move needed, we nipped in front to catch up with Tommy Fleetwood who was making a charge. Fleetwood oozes charisma, was rolling in the birdies and the defending champion. When we caught him up as he rolled in a birdie on 15 there were around 60 people watching. In the third last group out. It was all about Rory. 

Rory never really got going today. Yesterday he was bouncing along the fairways and seemed to be really enjoying himself, today it definitely seemed a bit of a grind. The wind was up and he backed away from a lot of putts. We got chatting to his Dad, Gerry, on the course who said that a top 10 was what he was looking for this week but he would go close next week as he loves the Emirates course so much. You heard it here first! 

So well done to Tommy Fleetwood. To come back in 30 in those conditions today was pretty special. As you can tell I’m a big fan of this event, the golf nearby is very strong too if you are looking for a game while here. Yas Links is wonderful and Saadiyat Beach good fun so there’s plenty to keep you entertained. We rounded off our trip with a little night golf at Yas Links which is well worth a visit too. You really are spoilt for choice around here!

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Goodbye and good riddance to the Golf Digest World Top 100 List

golf digest top 100

As regular readers of this blog will know, I take quite a keen interest in golf course ranking lists. Not because I am necessarily trying to tick them all off, but the discussion about what makes a good golf course and how views differ is something that interests me. OK, and I'm trying to tick a few off too...

The Golf Digest World Top 100 list was last published in January 2016 and attracted widespread derision. Ballybunion was nowhere to be seen (a top 20 course in all other rankings) and random Asian courses popped up left, right and centre. I happened to be in the Middle East a couple of weeks after the list was published and saw that local editions of Golf Digest magazine already had adverts in them for new entries to the list from the region.

As such, most hardcore enthusiasts derided and ultimately discounted the Golf Digest ranking. 

Well, the 2018 edition is out and despite the title 'World's 100 Greatest Golf Courses' they have stopped bothering to rank golf courses from all over the world. Instead they have made this a list of their top 100 golf courses outside of the USA. And thoroughly disingenuously, they have shown the previous positions of the golf courses in the rankings - despite the comparator including courses from the USA.

This allows many courses to claim they have moved up places in the world rankings. The tweet below from Bluffs Ho Tram in Vietnam is a prime example.

The methodology for selecting the list is fairly awful. The Golf Digest team ask 'international panelists organized by our affiliate magazines around the world'. Oh dear, that would be the affiliate magazines who rely on the course's advertising to pay their bills, the associate magazines whose staff get wined and dined by the latest new courses wanting to make a splash.

There are some courses inexplicably not included. The excellent Golf World Continental Europe Top 100 Courses ranking recently had Utrecht in position 2 and Les Bordes in position 3. Surely they would appear somewhere on this list? How about any of the phenomenal courses in Holland? No such luck. Olgiata in Italy makes it in as the 68th best golf course in the world though.

There are numerous courses from across the world in this list that you will never have heard of before, and I suspect never will again. Still, Golf Digest will make a few dollars out of them by selling their logo and a few golfers will be disappointed.

I think the oddest thing is that they are calling this list 'World's 100 Greatest Golf Courses' and the logo promoting says the same. But it's not, its the 'World outside of USA's 100 Greatest Golf Courses'.

This means that I have retired Golf Digest from my poll of polls which determines the Ultimate World Top 100 List. This is no bad thing at all, there were too many random things going on in that list. Instead I am now using three very strong and credible rankings - Planet Golf, top100golfcourses and Golf.com. These guys do it properly and the combined list produced is a great one. Royal Hague has entered the Ultimate Top 100 for the first time and there are big rises for Ballybunion and Lahinch amongst others.

So farewell Golf Digest Top 100, and may the advertising dollars serve you well.

Is this the best Top 100 rankings list yet?

 Shinnecock Hills hits the heights of second in the latest ranking for top100golfcourses.com

Shinnecock Hills hits the heights of second in the latest ranking for top100golfcourses.com

The latest top 100 world golf ranking list has hit the doorsteps. Well, the screens actually. This one comes from the top100golfcourse.com website. This site has built significantly over recent years and is now the number 1 authority on worldwide golf courses. I have used it when planning golf trips to everywhere from Ethiopia to Ireland and it rarely disappoints. What sets it apart from others is both the breadth of countries covered and the depth and number of courses reviewed and ranked in each geography.

Every two years they come up with a new global ranking, with national and regional varieties sprinkled in between. Some of the lists out there are somewhat suspect because of commercial ties or have inclusions designed to drive controversy. Not so this one. They appear to have no agenda beyond trying to identify the very best courses in the world.

You can read the site’s view on some of the changes and the thinking behind them, as well as seeing the full list, here. Here are 3 takeaways from me from the new list –

The highest new entries are in the remotest places
It’s not going to be easy to get to all the best new golf courses being built. Tara Iti (New Zealand, 36), Cabot Cliffs (Canada, 46) and Cape Wickham (an Island off mainland Australia, 52) have made spectacular entries but none of these are easy to get to if you are based in Europe, and not much easier from the US. They have a few other things in common too. Firstly, they are all in spectacular settings with the ocean making for some great photos. Second, they have sandy bases and play firm and fast. And thirdly they have employed architects who embrace the idea of giving golfers options off the tee and making them playable (see ‘fun’ below).

The good news though is that Cabot Cliffs and Cape Wickham are both open to all for a reasonable green fee. The air far may be the problem though........

Renovate to accelerate
You can’t stand still as a golf course these days or you will go back down the list. However, even some of the classic courses which have been worked on have been rewarded. The work from Bill Coore at Shinnecock Hills means it has overtaken Pine Valley to position 2, LA Country Club has been similarly rewarded with a rise of 8 to 31. But those courses which are seen as lagging behind, such as Pebble Beach (down 3 to 17) and Augusta National (down 7  to 13) are being clipped. The West course at Winged Foot has similarly suffered (down 7 to 32) but they will be hoping that the work going on from Gil Hanse will have a similar effect to that on the East which has entered the list at 95.

 Will the renovation work at Winged Foot pay off?

Will the renovation work at Winged Foot pay off?

The vogue for ‘fun’ keeps on going
Courses aren’t rewarded on this list for being the toughest in the world, but rather for the joy they bring to players of varying skills. The ascension of NGLA (up 4 to 7), Friar’s Head (up 8 to 22) and Swinley Forest (up 9 to 62) are all evidence of that. All of these courses leave you with a smile on your face and wanting to go around again rather than beaten up and in awe of the challenge

 The spectacular Friar's Head is up to position 22 in the new list

The spectacular Friar's Head is up to position 22 in the new list

So there you have it. A really strong list which has none of the randoms so often seen (wherefore art thou Adoyha Links) and rewards courses that golfers of all abilities will enjoy. There are some notable courses dropping out however. It’s farewell to Royal Troon (a little harshly I think given some of those left above it) as well as Bandon Dunes and Oak Hill.

That also means that there has been a shake-up in my Ultimate Top 100 Golf Courses list. In fact, I have taken this update as an opportunity to give it a bit of a refresh. I have trimmed my ‘poll of polls’ to include just four lists now – the top100golfcourses.com, Planet Golf.com, Golf.com and Golfdigest.com. I have reluctantly taken out the Golf Course Architecture list as it isn’t being updated and therefore skewing things a little too much.

Cypress Point is the undisputed number one course in the world now, and has extended its lead over Pine Valley. We lose Royal Troon from the list – it is only now listed in the top 100 in the Planet Golf list so no longer qualifies for entry. Elsewhere, Valderrama is clinging on in position 100 but I fear that it will be soon time to say adios to the Andalucian course. The competition is just too fierce and those pesky cork trees too numerous……

 Royal Troon drops out of the top 100 in the world for the first time

Royal Troon drops out of the top 100 in the world for the first time

The top 100 gravy train keeps going, and we should have the new Golf Digest list in January. This has traditionally been the weakest of the top 100 lists with too many nods to international courses where some fear that the advertising $ may be leading to their inclusion. Let's see if they do a better job this time and add something meaningful to the debate which never ends!

New Balls Please! Why we should all care about the great ball debate

For years there have been a number of well-respected folks in the world of golf architecture talking about the damage being done by the relentless technological improvements in the game of golf.

You could argue that is has always been an aim for golf club and ball manufacturers to find ways to propel the ball straighter and further. And all credit to them, they have succeeded. While Benjamin Disraeli has a point when he said ‘there are lies, damned lies and statistics’ even he would find it hard not to agree with the stark facts, were he with us and inclined to look today.

I could devote this entire article to the evidence to support the fact that players are hitting it further than ever and it seems that people have given up arguing that's not the case. The golf ball birther movement has died. If you need any convincing of the increases that have happened then have a look here and here.

The impact this has on the game of golf today is phenomenal. Firstly, hundreds of golf courses which have been venerated for decades are no longer able to host professional golf tournaments. The reason is that on most of the pars 4s and par 5s players would need to hit no more than a wedge for their approach shot to the green. 90% of the challenge and features on a golf course have been simply taken out of play.

Let me use North Berwick links as an example. North Berwick hosted many of the great matches in the early days of golf. It plays 6,500 yards and the ground runs firm and fast. Let’s assume there is no wind and a tour pro could hit their driver on every tee shot 320 yards - I suspect that is on the low side. There is only one par 4 where a top pro would be hitting any more than a wedge in for their approach and every par 5 is reachable with a drive and an iron.

 Courses like North Berwick could be lost to the modern professional

Courses like North Berwick could be lost to the modern professional

Many courses are just no longer able to offer a challenge to the professional golfer. Some try, with horrible results.

Do you remember the 2015 Open at St Andrews? The course was lengthened to 7,200 yards by putting in tees as far back as they possibly could but that still wasn’t enough so they tricked the course up. The iconic 17th hole didn’t just need a new tee built outside of the golf course but it needed rough grown down the left hand side of the hole to stop players hitting it towards the 2nd fairway.

They made the greens play as fast as they possibly could to stop the players tearing up the course, to try to bring some more difficulty to the event. The problem was that meant the greens were too fast to hold the ball. On the Saturday, all along the Fife coastline amateur golfers did battle in the wind but play was abandoned at the Open as St Andrews could not cope, they had simply mown the greens too short. Tens of thousands of fans were subsequently robbed of a Sunday finish. Why did they do this? Because the course was too short for the distances players were capable of hitting it.

There are numerous examples of where courses are desperately trying things to stay relevant but at a high cost. I played Shinnecock Hills last year and it was a sublime experience. Coore and Crenshaw have done some amazing work on the course with greens extended, fairways widened and trees cut down. It was a fun place to play golf and while we were there they were injecting sand into the ground to make it run firm and fast ahead of the 2018 US Open. They have put in 17 new tees, some back a long way from those which mere mortals ever play but the USGA have decided that’s simply not enough.

They took a look at it in the summer and decided it just wasn’t going to be enough of a challenge for the best in the world. So they’ve run roughshod over the work of the two greatest architects in the game today and installed an extra 7 acres of rough on the course to make sure scores are protected. A par 70 7,500 yard course just wasn’t going to cut the mustard otherwise.

 So much work has been done at Shinnecock in recent years but the USGA are worried it will play too easy

So much work has been done at Shinnecock in recent years but the USGA are worried it will play too easy

Courses are just getting longer and longer in an effort to host tournament golf. Erin Hills measured over 7,800 yards last year for the US Open, Gary Player has just opened a course that measures an incredible 8,300 yards - just think of how much water it takes to keep that in the pristine green so many golfers demand today.

Amateur golfers no longer play the courses that professionals see. The tees are hundreds of yards further back and they are set-up in an incredibly punishing manner in an attempt to hold back the tide of the enormous distances pros hit. Playing Royal Troon earlier this year it was mind boggling to see where they had put some of the tees in recent years for The Open.

The team at the Fried Egg had a great tweet recently based on a simple idea. How many of the great courses in America would come back into play with a shorter ball? Their premise was that for many tour pros a 500 yard par 4 is reachable with a driver of 300 in the air, 320 yards with roll leaving a 180 yard 8 iron in. If the ball was controlled to go 10% less distance then the driver flies 270, 290 yards with roll, leaving 210 into green, maybe a 4 iron.

Suddenly the golf course doesn’t need to be lengthened and tricked up to be a test again and we will see players having to show prowess with all the clubs in the bag to win.

They posited that this would mean great courses such as Cypress Point, NGLA and Fisher’s Island could be played by the very best again. Courses under 7,000 yards an no longer seen as mickey mouse.

The impact would be just as profound on this side of the pond. Sunningdale, Swinley Forest, Walton Heath, Woodhall Spa, St George’s Hill, North Berwick, Cruden Bay would all be resurrected and able to test the best. Royal Troon and St Andrews could be restored to their original glory. Greens could be kept at a reasonable pace and we would get the final round of The Open on a Sunday when the wind blows.

The amateur doesn’t need to suffer to protect these courses and tame the pros. We can continue hitting our Pro v1s as they are today, the professional would simply have a reduced distance ball to hit. This is what the geeks call bifurcation. We’ll call it ‘different balls’.

Geoff Ogilvy delivered a fantastic take of why this wasn’t a bad thing at last week’s Australian Open. He pointed out that in the US professional baseball players use wooden bats while the amateurs use aluminium without a murmur. Check out this YouTube video from 16:20 for a masterclass on the subject.

That would mean that we could experience the same course as they do. It would be mean that great golf courses don’t become relics abandoned to history by the professional ranks. It would mean that we could see golf courses played as their architects intended.

A few years ago this may have seemed like a pipe dream. The golf magazines who controlled much of our media intake were taking big bucks from the ball manufacturers so were hardly going to ruffle feathers and take them on and it was hard for the idea to get the attention of those who run the game.

That has changed and, ironically, technology has caused the advance of the debate. You can read a plethora of articles online on the subject by those who don’t need to rely on the manufacturers dollars to survive, podcasts can discuss it to audiences across the world and financial security means that more and more players are willing to talk about it reaching a large audience directly.

There are some compelling voices who need to be listened to on this subject but probably no greater than the State of the Game podcast team of Rod Morri, Geoff Shackleford and Mike Clayton. The discussions they have had over several years on the subject are both reasoned and persuasive. They risked at times sounding like grumpy old men in their pursuit of change, but if the ball is rolled back then people like this really will be modern day heroes of the game. The golfing Crazy Ones.

It’s not just limited to commentators. The greatest past and current players are joining in too. When Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Tiger Woods, Rory Mcilroy and world number 1 Dustin Johnson are all saying the same thing then surely it’s time to listen?

And it seems that the golf authorities are. Mike Davis from the USGA has called the advances in distance ‘horrible’ and surely the R&A have been stung by criticism of what they have had to do to protect The Open over recent years. Many have speculated that Augusta may be the first to act on this given their ‘unique’ position in the game but they have indicated they are unlikely to go out on a limb. Let us hope the $27m they have spent on land to extend the 13th tee will be money wasted!

I genuinely believe we all have a part to play in this. Don’t think that the authorities won’t listen to the fans. You can now take your mobile phone on the course and snap away to you heart’s content, new formats are being developed to engage the audience. All of this is to improve the ‘product’, to encourage fans to pay their cable subscriptions and buy the latest equipment. Rolling back the ball will make the game more entertaining both to play and watch in new and exciting ways. We just need to give them a push.

Planning your own Race to Dubai

As the year-ending Race to Dubai hurtles to its climax, the golfing world will be turning its eyes to the Middle East and all that golf has to offer in that part of the world. Dubai is easy to get to and makes for some great winter sun, so if you are thinking of heading that way for some golf then here are some tips and things to take into account.

 The 18th at the Earth Course - a high point!

The 18th at the Earth Course - a high point!

First things first, what’s the golf like?

You'll find courses which are really well conditioned, with very good service and expensive tee times but no more than you would pay for similar quality in many parts of Europe. There is probably only one real world class course here at the moment but I have ranked those that I’ve played. Click on the course name for full reviews -

Yas Links (Abu Dhabi).
This has to be seen to be believed. Kyle Philips has created a modern wonder, a course that plays like a Scottish links with many jaw dropping holes. Wide fairways make it playable but you will need to be on your game to score well

 The Yas Links, with Ferrariworld in the background!

The Yas Links, with Ferrariworld in the background!

Emirates course (Dubai).
This is probably the most established of the top tier courses and has hosted the Desert Classic since 2006. Some great holes in there and the iconic 8th tee shot will get your cameras clicking.

Abu Dhabi Golf Club
The one with the big falcon clubhouse. A very playable course but the lasting memory will probably be of the 9th and 18th holes dominated by that big bird behind.

 Saadiyat Beach - good resort golf

Saadiyat Beach - good resort golf

Earth Course (Dubai)
Another course which only has a couple of standout holes, and they come at the end. However, the holes before that are perfectly serviceable and the course has matured well.

Saadiyat Beach (Abu Dhabi)
The most ‘resorty’ of them all and you will find a course which is set up for people to have fun and get around. Gary Player has a few too many questionable fairway bunkers for my liking, but no-one's perfect. Even Gary Player (although don’t tell him I said so).

The first 4 of these courses are generally ranked as the top 4 on the region. The newly opened Trump Dubai hasn’t had much play yet but I have heard from a couple of people who have seen it, that it is the best in Dubai already. I’ll be playing there in January and expect it to be biggly good.

Is the golf pricey?

I would say for the quality – great condition and service – it’s not too bad. Green fees at the above courses are between £130 and £200 at peak time on the weekend (which is Friday and Saturday here) but they all have good offers for off-peak play too so while it’s not cheap you will get more bang for your buck than at many UK courses where you may pay the same.

When’s the best time to go?

A better question may be when not to go. Unless you are a real masochist you should avoid the summer months. You can have a look at the climate data here and draw your on conclusions. Basically, it is too hot for most mere mortals to play between May and September but November – March are pretty perfect. You also have the advantage of being away when northern Europe is shivering which always cheers up everyone’s Facebook timelines!

Another good thing about this trip is there is only a four hour time difference from the UK, so jetlag’s not too much of a feature compared to some other long haul destinations.

Can I easily combine Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the same trip?

Absolutely. It is only just over an hour between the two and transport is cheap – a taxi from one to the other will set you back around £50. If you are seeking out the very best golf in the area then the trip between the two is well worth the effort.

Any tips for food, drink and shelter?

Some things in Dubai are quite expensive for sure, but with a bit of planning you don’t have to break the bank. A really good 4 star hotel on Yas Island, like the Radisson Blue, will only cost around £70 for a twin room for the night if you book in advance. And many will be delighted to hear that the good old Premier Inn has made it to these parts too – enjoy the good night guarantee!

Alcohol is generally only served in hotels and they definitely are trying to put you off consuming too much with the prices. Expect to pay around £10 for a pint of beer. Food isn’t marked up as much generally but you won’t be far away from London prices.

You needn’t worry about not being able to get a drink, if that’s important to you, and the hotels have gone out of their way to make sure there are bars with a good range of different themes so you should be able to find what you are looking for. Just note the point below about not being arrested.

Is there anything else worth doing when here?

It all depends what you are into really. If you like shopping in huge, vulgar malls then yes. If you like going for long walks in the countryside away from it all then, er, no. This whole place is basically just one shopping, food and entertainment sprawl. Personally, that doesn’t float my boat so I stick to the golf, but it may be worth spending a half day having a little tour just to get a feel for the place. You probably don’t need much more than that.

 The famous 18th at Abu Dhabi

The famous 18th at Abu Dhabi

What’s the best way to organise a trip?

You can book online at all of the courses listed here and they are absolutely set up for tourists obviously, that’s why they exist really. Many of the staff you come across will be from the UK and it’s all very straightforward. Having said that, I have seen prices for packages on the likes of yourgolftravel.com and golfbreaks.com and they do often offer a discount over booking yourself, so it may be worth speaking to them to see if they can take some of the hassle out of organising it and save you a little cash.

What about human rights?

The media get incredibly worked up about the Open being held at all-male clubs in the UK but not a murmur is heard when it comes to hosting events in the Middle East – totally bizarre. There is a massive gulf between the rich (lots of whom play golf) and the workers who toil to serve them and some may find that uncomfortable. And this is far from a democracy. At the very least it’s worth reading up on the country you are visiting and going into it with your eyes open. There are a couple of articles here and here which may help you do that.

But I can still have fun surely?
Well, yes you can. And often you will feel that you are in a pub or club that could be in the south of Spain, but I would suggest you make sure you never forget where you are - keep your arms by your side when you’re out and about, for well documented reasons, and act civilly at all times. Magaluf this is not.

Any other tips?

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Both times I have visited, it has coincided with big golf events – the Dubai Desert Classic and the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship. I would thoroughly recommend doing the same if you can. Entry is pretty much free to visitors and you get really up close to the players in a way you never will in the UK. The Emirates dig deep for appearance fees to assemble fantastic fields, so you are almost guaranteed some big names up there at the finish. The HSBC was particularly good and had lots of ancillary entertainment around the golf which made for a great day out.

The other tip would be to try and fit in some night golf. Both Dubai and Abu Dhabi have several options and it’s well worth experiencing.

So there you have it. Dubai is definitely a viable option for a winter golf break as long as you can tolerate the lack of culture, expensive beer and totalitarian regime. The greens should be rolling well though.......

How to land a tee time at one of the most exclusive courses in the US

 Getting a tee time at Merion is far from an easy task!

Getting a tee time at Merion is far from an easy task!

For the British golf enthusiast it is hard to understand just how difficult it is to get a tee time on the best golf courses in the USA. Over here, anyone can tee it up at pretty much any course with a bit of planning and cash. The story is very different across the Atlantic.

At most top American golf courses you can only play if a member has introduced you. The understanding is that you should be personally known to the member. However, one degree of separation will sometimes do the job. If you do ever find yourself chatting to a member of Shinnecock Hills or Seminole then be sure to make a good impression and to swap email addresses... Cypress Point reserves the first tee time every morning for unaccompanied guests, as long as they have been personally introduced by a member of good standing.

It's often even harder than this. There are some really, really inaccessible courses where you must only be introduced by a member, but also play your round with them. Merion, Pine Valley and Augusta all fit into that category (though, at Augusta, it is enough for the member just to be on the property. So that should make it easier...!).

However, there are a couple of other ways to get on to some of these courses too - the charity golf outing and the charity golf auction. Many top courses will host a charity golf day once or twice a year - some have it built into their constitution as it gives them certain tax benefits. Tee times are far from cheap and aimed more at corporates than individuals, the best time to look for these is late spring when most charities start to promote them. 

You can also find tee times auctioned for many different charities throughout the year and it's worth keeping your eye out, or setting up a Google alert, if there is a particular tee time you are after. Once or twice a year the Charitybuzz site does a big golf auction which often has some 'money can't buy' experiences.

A couple of years ago I was very tempted to go for a round with Justin Thomas at Seminole when he was just known as a friend of Jordan Spieth. Amusingly, in this case it was advertised for 24 hours as 'play with Justin Thomas at Seminole' before they had to change it to 'a famous Florida club' as Seminole wasn't delighted with the publicity!

Anyway, Charitybuzz have an auction going on at the moment and it has a few true 'money can't buy' experiences in there. The auction is support of an American Organisation called The First Tee which 'helps shape the lives of young people from all walks of life by reinforcing values like integrity, respect and perseverance through the game of golf'. So at least you can explain to your loved ones left at home that the huge amount of money you are spending on a tee time is doing a little good. Honest.

The First Tee.png

The auction includes some lots which you could buy off the shelf, or build the component parts of yourself, for less than the current bid or reserve. So unless you are bidding for philanthropic reasons it's best to leave them to one side. The lots that capture my interest are those which allow you to play at a top course it would normally be impossible to get access to.

Exhibit one would be 18 holes at Merion for you and two friends playing with a member. Lunch, drinks,  caddies and gratuities are all included. Merion is currently ranked the 14th best course to play in the world and you are only allowed to play it with a member. The current offer is $3,100 with a guide price of $5,000. Merion does come up fairly frequently on charity auctions (the members must be a generous bunch) and often go for around the $3,500 mark.

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Firstly, let there be no doubt that c.$1,200 for a single round of golf is a huge amount of money. However, let's compare it with Pebble Beach. Pebble Beach is one of the few top courses in the US which you can play by just rocking up. Well, that's not quite true as you need to book a minimum of 2 nights stay (3 in peak season) in the massively overpriced hotel. But, let's put that stipulation to one side. Golf and a caddy at Pebble will set you back around $700. Let's call lunch with drinks and a nice stop at the halfway house about $200 and suddenly you are at $900. And at Pebble Beach you absolutely feel like you are on a money-making conveyor belt. I suspect a day with a member at Merion will have quite a different feel!

Another lot of interest is a trip for 4 to Southern Hills (85th in the world) and Prairie Dunes (31st). Oklahoma isn't the most accessible place in the world, but both courses normally require an introduction from a member. Bidding is currently at $4,250, though getting there may require more than a weekend! If you would just like to play Southern Hills then you can do so in the company of PGA Tour player Morgan Hoffmann by bidding here.

If you spread your net wider then you will find the internet has plenty of opportunities to get a tee time at some of these bucket list courses - a threesome at Oakmont closed here yesterday at $800 a head and if it's Winged Foot you're after than Charitybuzz has another auction on the go here

Of course, if you are at member at an exclusive course and you would really like to have my company for 18 holes then please do just drop me a line. In the meantime though I'll keep the Google alerts on!

A new Continental Europe Top 100 Ranking is out - and it's a good one!

Golf World Europe top 100 front.jpg

There are a lot of golf course rankings out there. The global top 100 is attempted by many and the U.K. top 100 is well covered too. However, the ranking of the best Continental European courses has always been harder to get a handle on. New courses are springing up all the time and some once-greats have been left to wither on the vine.

I lived in Switzerland for a while and for some years I relied on the sadly discontinued Peugeot Golf Guide to help me plan trips. I still refer to it at times and top100golfcourses is a great site too. I have previously commended the Today's Golfer/Golf World Continental Europe top 100 and, from what I have seen, the latest update of this biannual list is even better.

In this world of digital media it is rare to find a pure print publication but Golf World is just that. As a result, the listing itself isn't available online, although hopefully it will end up on the site of its sister publication, Today's Golfer, before long. They are happy for me to print the list below but I would encourage you to go and pick up a copy of the November edition of Golf World if you are in the U.K. They have done a nice job with the 60-page supplement which gives a really good flavour of the courses and an insight into the rankings.

The quality of the list is really strong and very well researched. I'm normally not a fan of rankings which rely on scoring individual criteria but, on this occasion, it seems to have worked well. The panel is made up of players who have all seen many of the courses and, from the results, would appear to prefer a more classical look and feel over modern resort-type efforts. That chimes well with the current vogue in golf course architecture appreciation and results in playable courses finding their way high up the list.

Anyway, here are some thoughts on the Golf World Too 100 Golf Courses in Continental Europe 2017/18 list.

Morfontaine's domination continues unabated

There should be no surprise that Morfontaine retains position 1. There are only 2 Continental European courses in the Ultimate Top 100 world ranking list and Morfontaine comes in at number 33, the only other being Valderrama at number 80. Morfontaine is a country mile better than anything else but it remains a secret to many. It is famously hard to get a tee time there but there are some ways in. I have been lucky enough to visit it twice and can confirm it is simply phenomenal. You can read my review here and there are some photos of my trip to Morfontaine and Les Bordes earlier in the year in the YouTube video (with obligatory cheesy music) below.


The Olympics is coming to Paris in 2024. Of course, there is no chance of this happening but if the IOC were to shun the logistical allure of Le Golf National and head to Morfontaine, without a care for the winning score, it would be a joy for the world to behold.

Holland is Europe's most unheralded destination

The Netherlands has 7 courses in this top 100 and they are all ranked in the top 30. Only France equals that and it knocks the socks off of the more familiar venues of Spain and Portugal. OK, the weather may be a bit less reliable but the quality sounds just amazing. I have never been but that's changing next year. On the back of this list I've persuaded my mates to head to Amsterdam for next year's annual trip. It will take a bit of planning as these are private courses with limited play, but I am excited about seeing Utrecht (2), Royal Hague (5), Kennemer (8) and Noordwijkse (12) - all within an hour's drive of Amsterdam where I am told we will be able to find plenty to do in the evenings as well.

 Domain Imperial is just one of several courses to see a big fall in the 2017/18 rankings

Domain Imperial is just one of several courses to see a big fall in the 2017/18 rankings

This is a list not scared to make bold calls

When I played Le Golf National it really left me cold. This was supposedly one of the very best in Europe and yet it felt soulless. I felt it was a course trading off its reputation rather than its reality. So I was happy to see it fall to 32 in this ranking, and I suspect it has further to go. It must be hard for a golf course ranker to make a call like that, so well done to them for having the cojones to do it. Others making notable downward moves are Thracian Cliffs in Bulgaria which made a stunning debut on the European Tour a few years back but the review implies it is more about the views than the quality of the golf and Domaine Imperial, supposedly Switzerland's best, which has dropped 18 places to 69. That was another course that disappointed me when I played it recently. They have the most amazing setting on Lake Geneva which they have completely ignored when building a fairly average golf course. 

Modern courses struggle to break into the top echelons of the European list 

 Terreblanche is a lovely course but some way off the World Top 100

Terreblanche is a lovely course but some way off the World Top 100


If you look at any UK top 100 you will find new courses which have managed to break through into what is a hard list to crack. Castle Stuart, Kingsbarns, Trump International have all been built in the last dozen years and are talked about in the same breath as some of the real greats of the game. They're all ranked above Royal Troon! In Europe however, this seems hard to do.

There are some good new courses built around hotels - I've played at Terreblanche, Monte Rei and Son Gual but none of them quite hit the heights of the more established courses. They are all 16s or 17s in my rankings, not even threatening an 18 which is a shame. There is no obvious contender for a course knocking on the door of the World Top 100. Maybe what we need is a Mike Keiser figure to discover a remote part of Portugal, untouched by human hand but full of wonderful dunes and persuade modern-day geniuses such as Coore and Crenshaw, Tom Doak, Gill Hanse or Kyle Philips to come over and build something special. Apparently European planning laws make such things hard to achieve, but if they could manage it it would be nice.

The European Tour is failing to play the best

This isn't a problem unique to the European Tour. The PGA would tell the same story, but in the last 5 years, the European Tour has only visited 6 of the top 30 courses. At a time when Keith Pelley is trying to find new ways to invigorate the European Tour, wouldn't it be great if we showcased some of these amazing courses to the world? I know some will say these courses can't take the logistics or that the players will overpower them but surely we could manage to accommodate a couple of them a year?

A couple of quibbles....

 Valderrama continues high in this ranking but that may be a little flattering

Valderrama continues high in this ranking but that may be a little flattering

It would be surprising not to have some issues with any golf course ranking list, so here goes! I've only played about a quarter of these courses but some thoughts spring to mind: Valderrama seems too high. I've played it a few times and the pleasure I am getting is diminishing. There are too many weirdly positioned trees and it's rather stupidly tight in places, Fontainebleau could quite happily move up to take its place. Monte Rei was too formulaic for me and is too high at 13. While it may be a good example of Jack Nicklaus's work, that doesn't impress me too much. The restaurant was great though!

I haven't seen it since the renovations but Sotogrande seems to be languishing a little low in position 36. I really enjoy it there and would say it is a more enjoyable course than Valderrama for the average golfer. Son Gual is probably the best of the modern resort/big scale courses I've seen and I think it is worth a top 30 shout.

And now, a few stats

There are 20 different countries represented in the Top 100 with France (16), Spain (16) and Portugal (14) leading the way. However, when you look at it as courses per square kilometre, the list changes dramatically with Belgium (6), The Netherlands (7), Portugal (14) and Denmark (5) taking the top spots!

Do pick up a copy of the magazine if you are thinking about a trip, there's a lot in there to inspire. I've still got a bunch of European courses to write up for this site but, as I do, I'll write some blogs about some of the trips worth considering. Plenty to enjoy!

 The Golf World Top 100 Courses in Continental Europe

The Golf World Top 100 Courses in Continental Europe

A brand new Ultimate Top 100 Golf Course list!

The world of Golf Course rankings had flurry of excitement with the publication on GOLF’s biannual World Top 100 list. This is a list of which I thoroughly approve (unlike the hideous Golf Digest version). It is hard to argue with any of the inclusions and has rewarded really great golf courses.

 The fantastic Yas Links has deservedly entered the Ultimate top 100 for the first time.

The fantastic Yas Links has deservedly entered the Ultimate top 100 for the first time.

If you are a real golf dweeb then I would recommend the Golf.com podcast which this week hosts Joe Passov, the gentleman who puts the rankings together. He explains that rather than break every course down to component parts which other lists often do, he just asks the panel of raters for one overall rating for each course. The analogy he uses is reviewing films - you don’t break a film into its constituent parts (say acting, cinematography, special effects) and penalise a film because it doesn’t rank highly in every section, whether relevant or not. You rate the thing as a whole.

Anyway, it comes up with a strong list. I also noticed that the planetgolf.com list has had a few tweaks, so I have loaded both of these top 100s into my spreadsheet to come up with a new Ultimate Top 100. To get to my Top 100, I take the 5 most reputable 'top 100' lists and average the positions for all courses nominated at least twice. If a course is too new to have been rated by all five I will reduce the denominator. Simple? Well, kind of. You can see the full list here.

So what has changed this time? Well, nothing at the top. Cypress Point still beats
Pine Valley by a whisker but the two are very close. Their average position is 2 and 2.2 respectively with the next contender, Royal County Down, 1.4 points behind them. These two really are out on their own when it comes to the challenge to be the best course in the world.

The highest new entrant, by a long way, is New Zealand’s Tara Iti which has now been open long
enough to be reviewed by two of the publications. As a result of it being 29th in the Golf ranking and 38th in Planet Golf, it actually comes in at 27 in the Ultimate list. That’s quite an entrance. The course itself is located some 45 minutes outside of Auckland and Tom Doak was said to have been inspired by holes at Cypress Point, Royal Dornoch and Royal St Georges when he designed it, all of which are perfectly acceptable!  It’s a private members club so this one may be quite hard to play but, if you can, it gives just another reason for those of us in the northern hemisphere to head south. This write-up from Planet Golf certainly makes for enticing reading.

One new course from the Antipodes still settling down is Cape Wickham. In the last update the
course off the southern Australian coast had come in at 16 but it has now received another rating, 72 from GOLF, which means it has settled a little lower at 32. The top100golfcourses.com new world rankings are to come out soon and so far they have given this course only 8th in Australia, so it may have a little lower to go yet.

 Castle Stuart continues to rise in the world rankings, that's totally deserved!

Castle Stuart continues to rise in the world rankings, that's totally deserved!

I am particularly happy to see the two highest risers this time round - Castle Stuart is up 7 places at 58 and Yas Links in Abu Dhabi is a new entrant, up 7 places to 94. When I played Yas the first time it struck me that there were real similarities between the two. Neither course was designed to trick you and both are playable for golfers of all handicaps. But they both will reward the player taking the braver line off the tee over the more conservative approach. They make phenomenal use of their terrain, have a very natural feel to them (which in the case of Yas Links is just incredible given the surroundings!) and are definitely sculpted in the ‘natural’ style which is finding such favour with modern architects. I really hope Yas Links is here to stay now in the Top 100 and I wouldn’t be amazed if Castle Stuart makes it past Kingsbarns on the list yet.

One of the challenges of compiling a top 100 list is getting around courses which have been
remodelled or ‘enhanced’. The reports coming out of Turnberry since the recent extensive
renovations are quite something and it is interesting to see that GOLF have bumped it up to position 16 from 23. The UK’s Golf Monthly recently had it at number 1 in the UK so expect to see it rise up the list as more people are exposed to it. I have purposely held off from publishing my review on this site as I haven’t been back since the changes, but my expectations are pretty high for when that visit comes.

It’s fascinating to see how different courses wax and wane over time. Pebble Beach seems to be on a fairly consistent downward path. GOLF had it in third place at the turn of the millennium but it is down to 9 this year and it only makes number 11 now in my Ultimate list. It just makes it into the top 15 of the courses I have played so I suspect it has further to fall. Conversely NGLA was 20th with GOLF magazine in 2003 and is now all the way up at number 7 for them, number 9 in the Ultimate list.

Without a doubt the GOLF rankings have helped the courses with a more traditional look and feel rise up the list. They haven't gone for the big brutes but have rewarded an old-school look and those courses which have been constructed (or reconstructed) with more of the traditions of the game at their heart. Long may that continue!

The next big event likely to change things is the top100golfcourses.com new world ranking which I am expecting in November. That website is growing in authority all the time and they could play a crucial role in seeing who ends up with the top spot in the world as we head into 2018.

Is the USPGA broadcasting omnishambles a sign of things to come?

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Sometimes a Twitter storm comes out of nowhere. An idle comment which causes offence and boom, everyone's timeline is lit up. And then sometimes they are utterly predictable. The outcry around the BBC coverage of the PGA championship this week is definitely in the latter camp.

The complaints around the BBC's coverage are many and varied - the commentators don't know who half of the players are, they don't know the golf course, they are merely commentating on what is on the screen and adding no flavour, there are no 'extras' at all, it's not even on the telly but hiding behind the red button in standard definition. This is all evidence that the BBC can't ever show a golf tournament again; it is an insult to every golf fan out there. And so it goes on, you get the idea.

The problem here is that it is just impossible to put on a show with no time and no budget, especially when it's not one of your core competencies any more. Televising a golf event isn't something out of a Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney MGM musical ('let's put on a show right here') - it takes months of planning and preparation and a whole army of staff to get right. The BBC secured the rights for the USPGA just three weeks before it was curtains up. You would be hard pushed to put on a school show in that time.

The PGA of America, advised by IMG, must have thought they had a pretty strong hand in their negotiations with Sky, the undisputed home of TV golf in the UK. They have mopped up coverage of the Open and The Masters in recent years and have deep pockets. Surely Sky would pay double the previous amount to ensure the launch of Sky Sports Golf went off without embarrassment?

However, they appear to have overplayed their hand and, when the Sky negotiations broke down, the PGA of America made great play of the wonderful new era of sports viewing they were ushering in and the importance of making this great event free to view for all. They added a social partner as well in 'Give me Sport' who could stream on Facebook and bang, they thought, the PGA of America is a visionary organisation leading the way in the future of sports broadcasting.

Suspicions are that this is complete tosh. Sky walked away at the last moment and the PGA of America were left to try to cobble together some kind of a deal. So IMG went a-calling to good old Auntie.

The BBC saw an opportunity. The opportunity to stage a major golf event for next to nothing is one that doesn't come along every day. There were a few logistical hurdles for sure but where there is a will there is often a way.

Firstly, the event would clash with the much anticipated World Athletics Championships. The BBC has been planning this event for over a year (of course - that's what you do with events of this stature!) and it would be virtually impossible to find time in the schedules at such short notice.

Secondly, there was no time to get a production crew in place and do anything meaningful on the ground in the States.

And thirdly, they didn't have a top drawer specialist golf team in place any more - either on-air talent or off-air production. The BBC have really given up on golf now and the top talent has gone elsewhere.

None of these were enough to put the BBC off though, the offer was too good to turn down. While hindsight is easy, surely they could have foretold the reputational issues that would come their way?

Well, they thought they could get around the scheduling problems by putting the coverage online and on the red button. In fact, this would show how hip and with the digital age they are. Alas, the reality is that golf has a pretty hard core viewing audience who are used to high production standards and are vocal when things go wrong.

Most used the red button for coverage and the picture quality on a modern HD TV was quite terrible. It was like watching two heroes of yesteryear in an episode of Shell's Wonderful World of Golf.

Presenters were frantically tweeting out tips for how to get a better picture and Peter Alliss went on the offensive but frankly the damage was done. The image was of a BBC who didn't want to give fans more than an hours 'proper' coverage a day.

Then there was the lack of any notable production on the ground. No problem - the host broadcaster would provide a stream of pictures and the trusty BBC commentators would do the voiceover.

The problem here is that the international feed isn't great. The BBC producers are at the mercy of someone else deciding which pictures to show and there is no option to vary it at all. They can't create a narrative, they don't know what is coming up on the screen next, they can't even decide what to show again.

Sky don't just rely on host broadcaster cameras these days. For WGC events and Majors they will have their own crews on the course following the players of interest to a European audience; they will have their own extensive production unit as well as a bespoke on-site studio and the Sky cart.

Sky would have their first production meeting months before showing an event like this. They will be discussing interesting angles to cover, map the course and show it in a whole host of imaginative ways, they would interview the players months in advance.

The BBC didn't have the time or resources to do any of this. Instead they sat a few old hands in a studio somewhere in the UK with the same pictures you and I saw and told them to get on with it.

This would have been a tall order for the most experienced and current of commentators. The Sky team commentate on many of these players week in and week out but still they need to do extensive research for an event like this. The lack of familiarity that Alliss and co have with some of those in the field led to some real howlers.

And, the fact is that the team hastily assembled by the BBC isn't the best in the industry. If they were they would have regular broadcasting gigs, either with Sky or the European Tour broadcasting unit. Alliss has been a disaster for anyone with more than a passing acquaintance with the game for many years, to say that Mark James is soporific would be polite and Maureen Madill appears to be something of a polarising figure.

Ken Brown is best employed out on the course, as his twitter handle would imply, and the only commentator I think who would get a place in the Sky booth (Andrew Cotter) was wisely otherwise engaged.

They did have a man on the ground, Rishi Persad, and while I imagine he had more than the latest iPhone to record his interviews it didn't always appear so.

Having no-one on the course to tell us what was going on was a massive miss. On more than one occasion Peter Alliss was heard to say that he'd 'love to know' what a player's lie was like or whether he had a line. Wouldn't we all, Peter....

So it's not surprise that the coverage has come in for huge criticism. It came across as amateurish and the BBC should probably have just passed rather than lose what was left of their reputation as part of an IMG/Sky power-play.

However, I suspect this isn't just a one off and this incident has highlighted some of the real challenges sports coverage has in the world we are moving towards. New media platforms are springing up left, right and centre. Twitter, Netflix, Facebook, Amazon, BT, Sky, Eurosport, ESPN - the list is only getting bigger as every year goes by.

They all need eyeballs to make their business models work and they are prepared to pay for that. If you are looking for evidence of that then the recent acquisition of ATP tennis by Amazon Prime in the U.K. is a pointer for the future.

It should be noted that golf coverage is actually relatively inexpensive compared to some other sports. Sky pay £11m on average for every Premiership match that they show - think of that next time you find yourself watching Burnley play West Brom on a Monday night. Sky are reported to be paying the R&A £15m a year for the rights to the Open.

Golf still attracts a good demographic, consumers who are willing to pay subscriptions and who advertisers want to reach. That is why IMG are confident of getting a better deal for their client, why BT Sport are said to be trying to secure coverage of the Masters and Twitter have been experimenting with coverage of the PGA Tour.

It is only the fans who will lose out if the crown jewels are sold off piecemeal to the highest bidders. Imagine a world where BT Sport has the Masters, Amazon has the US PGA and Sky has the others. A real fan would need a subscription, or one-off payment, to every individual rights holder and the quality could be greatly diminished.

Sky have honed the art of presenting a golf tournament. They are simply exceptional at showing the right shots at the right time, keeping the presenters largely out of the picture but ensuring they add value and minimising the impact of the adverts which are necessary to make the numbers work. They employ the best commentators and the best production crew in the business. Only someone who has endured trying to watch a big event on US TV will truly understand that. Other broadcasters who show just one or two events a year simply won't have that skill and experience and we will be left with more of the dogs' dinner that we are experiencing this week.

Maybe we will see a world where there is one really high quality production team who employ the talent and then merely rent it out every week to different broadcasters? However, given Sky's commitment to the other 48 weeks a year, at the moment that seems some way off.

And finally, there is the perennial old chestnut of growing the game, and the role of TV in that. There was a very good interview with Martin Slumbers, the Chief Exec of the R&A, on Radio 5 Live on the Friday of the Open. Conor Macnamara was asking him whether he thought participation in the game would be diminished as a result of selling the rights to Sky.

Viewing figures for the Open on Sky are a quarter of what they were on the BBC and surely this must have an impact. Slumbers had been highly critical of the BBC's coverage and was eulogising over the move. He basically said that growing the game was more about reaching young people via social media than television viewing figures. He sounded disingenuous and overly defensive.

I suspect that's because he knows that, at its heart, that isn't really true. More people will watch golf on a free-to-air channel than a subscription one, but the economics of life mean that, in reality, that just isn't going to happen again. For all the posturing of the PGA of America about a bold new media model, this week's shambles has been about money and money will continue to dominate.

Going forward I think we need to find a hybrid model, otherwise the next generation won't have an interest in the game. Keith Pelley should be commended for trying new formats and the players seem happy to do their bit - the European Tour social media feed is testament to that.

But when it comes to the actual coverage, the tour need to find ways to get more of the action out from behind the paywall and onto the screens of the nation. And while social media can clearly play a part in that, good old fashioned television is an important facet too.

Maybe the various different golf rights holders can agree a model whereby there are certain common principles in place including a certain number of hours on free-to-view and the role of social media?

The Masters model is pretty good for that in the UK. If you are a real hardcore fan you will pay for the extra coverage and quality of broadcast on Sky, but the BBC will pick up for the masses who just want to dip in. They can be criticised for much, but maybe when it comes to putting on the best show the powers that be in Magnolia Lane know what they're doing after all....

The Ultimate Open Venue Ranking

The players are all raving about Royal Birkdale this week. There's nothing tricked-up about it and it's definitely proving a test when the wind's up. But 'fair' is the word being used to describe it time and time again (somewhat to the irritation of the hardcore golf course architecture community).

But where does Birkdale rank alongside the other courses on the Open rota? Well, to answer that I've turned to my 'Ultimate Top 100' list - a 'poll of polls' of the top ranking sites - and come up with the Open hit list. Here is what that tells us:

10 Royal Liverpool (90th in the World)

Royal Liverpool

I really loved Royal Liverpool (known as Hoylake). It was a regular host of The Open until 1967 and returned in style in 2006 when Tiger Woods went around a very dusty links only hitting his driver once. McIlroy finally found an Open course to his liking in 2014 when the Open was next there.

I have this course as an '18' on my scoring system and prefer it to both Lytham and Carnoustie which the experts have ranked higher. It is a very playable course, you don't need to hit the ball 280 yards and straight to score well and while it doesn't have the dramatic setting of some of those above it, the golf is a real treat.

One other thing I should say is the clubhouse is a real treasure-chest of golfing memorabilia and the welcome a very warm one. What more can you ask for!?

My Review Here

9 Royal Lytham (67th in the World)

royal lytham open

So, colours to the mast, this is my least favourite Open course. I've only played it once, it was a fairly miserable day and my level of play was poor, so that didn't help! But the course doesn't have that much going for it really. There are no views, apart from of the nearby houses, the rough was incredibly punishing and it was over-bunkered. 

It has hosted some memorable Opens for sure. Seve won here twice and Ernie enjoyed a great week here in 2012.

One day I'll be back I'm sure,  and maybe that will cause me to re-assess, but for now it's at the bottom of my list.

My Review Here

8 Royal Troon (65th in the World)

 Tom Watson winning at Troon (From www,royaltroon.co.uk)

Tom Watson winning at Troon (From www,royaltroon.co.uk)

Every decade since the 1950s, Royal Troon has hosted an Open Championship. I was there in 1989 when Mark Calcavecchia pipped Wayne Grady and Greg Norman - it was a fantastic week to attend in the blistering west coast sun.

While few will remember the details of Todd Hamilton's win in 2004 the Stenson/Mickelson battle of last year will live in the memory of those who saw it forever. The star on that occasion though was definitely the quality of play  rather than the course and it would be fair to say the course has never been called an architectural masterpiece. The postage stamp is one of the most famous par 3s on these isles but, beyond that, there isn't much that will stick in the casual observer's mind.

This is the one course I've not been able to play yet but all that is changing in a few weeks! I will let you know then how it ranks for me. 

7 Royal Birkdale (38th in the World)

royal birkdale open

Birkdale is probably the first course on this countdown which can be described as one of the greats. I loved Birkdale and gave it a 19. The course is sculpted by magnificent dunes but the fairways are pretty flat and you won't get many bad bounces around here. If you get the chance to play here then jump at it. It really is that good.

The list of winners on this course is an impressive one, including Watson, Trevino and Palmer. The pros love playing here and it is a course that is really able to identify the best ball strikers and scorers out there.

My Review Here

6 Royal St Georges (26th in the World)

 Royal St Georges is England's best course

St Georges is the highest ranked English course on this list, and indeed in the world. On reflection, I think that is probably justified and it deserves just to pip Birkdale to the claim. 

This is a more quirky course than Birkdale. There are some blind shots (although not too many), some tilting fairways and some devilish bunkers. But it is simply great fun. The course will keep you entertained all the way round and won't beat you up. As soon as you come off the 18th you will want to walk straight over to the 1st and do it all again.

This is a great part of the world to visit. Royal Cinque Ports next door is a sensational links and it would be criminal to come here and not play a round there too. The bordering Princes course has a great reputation too.

My Review Here

5 Carnoustie (22nd in the World)

 Image from www.carnoustiegolflinks.co.uk

Image from www.carnoustiegolflinks.co.uk

You've probably heard all kind of stuff about 'Carnasty' and how this golf course has the most brutal finish in golf. You may have wondered whether that is all true. Believe me when I say it is even worse! This course is incredibly tough. It is unrelenting in its challenge and I would say for the average golfer, like me, it's just too hard.

The enjoyment you get from playing here is more from the satisfaction of having survived rather than anything else. There isn't much in the way of natural beauty to take in along the way and you don't get to see the sea.

22nd in the world feels like a very inflated position. I have it ranked below some courses not even threatening the top 100 like Gullane No 1. We'll get a good opportunity to compare next year when the Scottish Open at Gullane is followed by the Open at Carnoustie. I suspect the players will feel more beaten up on the latter!

My Review Here

4 Turnberry (20th in the World)

turnberry

I don't have a review up on the site at the moment for Turnberry.  I haven't played the course since the redesign last year which has apparently elevated the course into one of the very best in the world. Indeed, the latest Golf Monthly ranking has put Turnberry on the top of the pile in the UK. The reviews have been uniformly great and I expect this will be increasing over the next few years as more people get to experience it first hand

Previously, some in the golf course architecture world had been a little condescending to Turnberry. They felt it had a little bit of 'fur coat and nae knickers'. Personally, I found that complete tosh. The setting is tremendous and the holes were magnificently framed. I simply can't wait to get over there again to see it.

For some, there may be an issue with the course ownership. The presence of Donald Trump as owner may put off The Open from returning while he is running the Western world (and my wife isn't very happy at the thought of me going to see it either...).

3 Royal Portrush (15th in the World)

portrush open

Portrush has only hosted the Open once before but it is back on the rota and will be hosting again in 2019. There is no question that this course will be one of the very best the players will play on the Open rota. Previously, the criticism had been that the 17th and 18th were weak holes but they will be used for corporate hospitality while two new holes have been created for the 7th and 8th and look great additions.

There is much chat about which is better, Royal County Down or Portrush. While the rankings would say County Down, I would champion Portrush. It's far more playable, more fun and has a better setting. It will be a great venue in 2019.

My Review Here

2 Muirfield (13th in the World)

Muirfield 2 (2).jpg

For many, Muirfield is the best course in Britain. The players are almost universally full of praise when the Open comes here and it is seen as a course which demands a mix of strategy, skill and patience. The course has one big circle for the front nine with another circle inside for the back. As as a result, no two holes play with the wind in the same direction so you need to keep thinking all the way around, and, if you are playing into the wind, it won't last for too long.

I live just a drive and a thinned 9 iron away from the first tee so have managed to play on the course a few times. Forget what you may have heard - the welcome has always been a warm one and the staff nothing but pleasant. The course has grown on me the more I have played it. It is without a doubt a tough track and the rough and bunkers are amongst the hardest you will ever find. However, this is a course you can get around. Visitors can play on Tuesdays and Thursdays and make sure you stay for the lunch and a foursome game in the afternoon

My Review Here

1 St Andrews (4th in the World)

St Andrews view to town.jpg

It will be no surprise to hear that the Old Course at St Andrews is ranked the best of all the courses to host the Open. It is a course unlike any other. Straight out and back, starting and finishing in the heart of the ancient town, this is a course which you will find accessible from the off. 

You will have seen the Old Course many times on the TV, the Open visits here every 5 years now and the Dunhill Links every October. There are still some things that will surprise you though. Firstly, how playable it is - if you favour the left hand side you will stay out of trouble. Secondly, the vastness of the greens - you will have never hit longer putts than on these huge double greens.

And finally, when you make the turn, you will find you just can't help but be mesmerised on your way in at the growing skyline of the Auld Grey Toon. Playing up 17 and 18 is an almost spiritual experience - you will feel the history all around you. What other game allows you to walk in the steps of legends? And what better place to do it than St Andrews?

My Review Here

Open Preview - 4 to Watch

royal birkdale

So, here we are. Open week. Without a doubt this is one of my favourite golfing weeks of the year. The Masters and Ryder Cup are the only other two worthy of entering the debate and The Open probably pips them to the post when it comes to sheer anticipation and excitement. The early morning starts and the late evening finishes, the bright yellow leaderboards, the random Asian player who has a good first day – all of these are traditions which add to the joy of the oldest major of the lot.

The venue this year is Royal Birkdale. For me, this is one of the very best courses on the rota. I've only played it once but loved it – my review is here. I went along when Ian Baker-Finch won in 1991 and remember it being a fantastic course to view as a spectator.

The course is framed by magnificent dunes, has great views and a classic clubhouse. The players profess to liking the course because there are few irregular bounces on the flat fairways. Having said that, don't think that this is an easy course. When Harrington won last time he was over par and the weather forecast tells us to expect some wind this week which will definitely make things tricky. It is a par 70, so expect the halfway cut to be well over par this week.

In coming up with a list of players to consider this week there are a few factors to take into account. Firstly, the Open is a tournament which definitely requires patience. If the wind does blow hard, then keeping your head and not being discouraged if a double bogey comes will be key. Therefore, when it comes to selections, I am staying away from streaky players, or players who tend to get down on themselves when things don't go their way. I'm sure Jon Rahm will go on to some major victories for example but it's hard to pick him this week given his temperament can be a little dubious at times.

The other factor I am taking into account is that this isn't a course which is going to necessarily reward length off the tee. We will see a lot of irons in play this week as often the trouble lies further up the hole and the risks taken won't always be rewarded.

Thirdly, I think it is far from a coincidence that, in the last 6 years, the winner has come from those who have played in the Scottish Open the week before. Players who embrace the links game will feel more comfortable in this environment. Extend that to the Irish Open as well and there is a good pool of players who have had some links golf in recent weeks.

Lastly, the pedigree of the Open winners has been pretty good over the last few years. It's been a while since we had a 'no-name' winner (think Ben Curtis and Todd Hamilton) and the Birkdale roll-call is a really impressive one with Harrington, O'Meara, IBF, Watson, Miller, Trevino, Thomson and Palmer - a pretty good line-up.

So, here are a few suggestions of who you might like to think about if you are considering a wager this week. You can check out http://sports.williamhill.com/bet/en-gb/betting/y/6/Golf.html for more markets and prices

Rickie Fowler 16/1
It is no secret that Rickie Fowler is a lover of links golf. He won the Scottish Open in my home town of Gullane a couple of years ago and he has posted a T2 and T5 before. This season he is playing well and is 6th in the FedEx Cup. His scoring average is the lowest of everyone on the PGA tour this season and he is 6th in strokes gained on approaches to green. 16/1 isn't particularly generous, but for me he is the clear favourite this week

Marc Leishman – 45/1
The Australian has finished in the top 5 twice in the last three Opens, missing out in the playoff to Zach Johnson a couple of years ago. He is having a good year with a win at the Arnold Palmer in the spring and finished 5th last time out. I would rather he had played in the last couple of weeks but he is too good to ignore at 45/1

Matt Kuchar – 50/1
Big, smiley, goofy Kooch is the kind of player who has a game that fits with the Birkdale Open narrative. He is a quality ball striker with a great reputation around the greens and has the demeanour to shrug off some of the challenges that will undoubtedly come his way this week. He's not one of the longest hitters (162nd on the PGA Tour this year) but that won't count against him too much this week. Importantly he loves links golf. While his Open record isn't much to write home about he embraces the format which makes him good odds at 50/1.

Padraig Harrington – 66/1
If you're looking for horses for courses then Harrington is your man. He was the winner here in 2008 and it would, without a doubt, be one of the most fantastic stories if he was able to pull it off this week. Harrington showed well at the Scottish Open last week, with the exception of a poor third round, and there is no doubt this guy is a grinder. He will be inspired to do something special out there and you can be sure he will have the fans behind him. Come on Padraig ,one more time......!

OK, maybe THIS is the best value trip in golf!

 Image from Castlerock Golf Course

I have written before about how you can access some amazing courses at great prices, but I think this one may beat the lot.

With a little bit of planning, you can play 2 of the top 20 courses in the WORLD, plus a European Tour course, plus an amazing hidden gem, for only £245 all in.

Accommodation in the area is cheap too and it's within an hour's flight of most places in the UK. Tempted? Then read on!

Northern Ireland is the venue. It is home of some of the very best links courses in the world and famed for wonderful hospitality. As with the Highland trip and East Lothian adventure I have previously written about, the secret to getting the best value is to travel a little out of season. I have based the prices here on a trip in March.

March is one of the drier months of the year and the courses should be beginning to show a bit of growth. The good thing about these courses is that the land drains well all year round, so even if it is wet, the turf will be in great condition. 

 Image from Royal County Down website

Image from Royal County Down website

Thursday 
Early flight to Belfast City Airport. Pick up a hire car and drive (c. 1 hour) to Royal County Down. 

This is currently ranked the 3rd best golf course in the world - higher than St Andrews! In the peak of summer, on a weekend afternoon, this would cost you £220, but we are getting this round for £90. It is probably going to be the hardest course on the trip so it's worth playing it early, while you are still fresh and not too much Guinness has been consumed.

After the round, drive north to Portrush - our base for the next three nights. Portrush is your typical seaside town with plenty of bars, restaurants and seaside activities to be had!

When it comes to accommodation there are plenty of guest houses and B&Bs around but do have a look at Airbnb. You can get a great looking 4 bedroom house in the heart of town for £80 a night so, if there are 4 of you, that would work out at just £60 each for three nights' accommodation.

You'll probably be a little tired after your early start and drive, so maybe just a quick fish and chips and a pint before retiring to prepare for the next three rounds within a very short distance.

Friday
The European Tour came to Portstewart in summer 2017 and the players raved about the course. The front 9 was heralded as one of the best runs of links holes anywhere in the world. It seems destined to be on more visitors wish-lists than ever before as a result of the great reviews but, for now, you can play in March for a mere £60.

Friday night in town is likely to be pretty busy, even at this time of year, so it's worth booking ahead if you are looking for a meal. There are plenty of places to eat with new ones coming and going all the time, but the Bushmills Inn is a good option.

Saturday
A short drive away is Castlerock Golf Club. The top100 golf site has this as the 5th best course in the land. What is truly amazing is that we are getting 18 holes here for £35! In fact, on a weekday, it is only £25. That is truly phenomenal!

As for Saturday night entertainment, make sure you don't leave town without taking in a few pints at the Harbour Bar while you watch the sun go down It also has a good restaurant if you find it hard to move too far...

royal portrush golf club

Sunday
For me, we have saved the best to last. Royal Portrush is an absolute delight of a golf course to play. It isn't so punishing that you will feel destroyed out there, but you will know you are playing something very special. A huge amount of work has been done in the lead up to the 2019 Open Championship, with 2 new holes opening which promise to elevate this course even further in the rankings.

Access to the course is limited but plan ahead and you can play on a Sunday between 10:30 and 11:50 for £60. Leave it a month and, in April, the same round will cost £190! 

It will take you just over an hour to get to George Best International Airport for a flight back home. You might be a tired, but I'm prepared to bet, also smiling at the amazing golf you'll have enjoyed.

So there you have it - four great rounds of golf for the price of just 1 a few months later. Sure, you are taking a little risk with the weather but the courses should be in good condition and you will be welcomed with open arms.

Cost-wise the golf and accommodation would come to around £300. Flights from London (including clubs if you book wisely and book well in advance) will add another £100. Finally, budget for another £100 for car hire and food and drink which means you could do this for £500 all in.

If you are on an even tighter budget consider doing 36 holes on one of the days and you will save a few more quid on one day's less accommodation, food and car hire.

I will continue to look for the best value golf trip in golf but if playing high-quality courses is high up on your list of requirements, I challenge anyone to beat this trip!