Tony Dear's Favourite Golf Courses

history golf 50 holes.jpg

It was through the power of Twitter that I became aware of Tony Dear and his work, and I can safely say my golfing knowledge has been improved as a result of making his golfing acquaintance. Tony was formerly a senior editor at Today’s Golfer magazine and has had his work published in over 40 publications across the world. I recently discovered his book ‘The History of Golf in 50 holes’ which is a fascinating look at how golf and golf course architecture has evolved. It is acutely observed and has real humour. I thoroughly recommend it!

If you aren’t already following Tony on Twitter (@tonyjdear) I would urge you to do so.

Here are his favourite courses:

It's so easy to overthink this. You feel dirty for leaving out certain courses, obligated to get a good geographical spread, and compelled to have an appropriate breakdown of types - links, heathland, parkland, etc. You think about places you believe 'deserve' a mention for whatever reason, and even those you think people expect you to include. And do you owe anyone a favour, or feel the need to be different, quirky, edgy?

Nah, screw that. These are the ten courses I enjoy(ed) playing the most and which I most want to play tomorrow.

ST ENODOC
Any course where you play a number of memorable rounds with your dad is going to be special. Combine those moments with amazing views of the Cornish coast, and ground that never fails to amuse and entertain and you have an unbeatable recipe. The sun always shines on St. Enodoc.
St Enodoc Website, Golf Empire, Golf Club Atlas

EDEN COURSE, ST ANDREWS
I’d never say I preferred the Eden over the Old, or the New for that matter, but it was the first course I played in town and my first trip round a proper links. I loved it from first to last and sincerely hope to return some day.
St Andrews Website, Graylyn Loomis

WATERVILLE
If ten golfers were asked to name their favourite hole at Waterville, you might get ten different answers. Late summer evenings here are surely a fair approximation of heaven.
Waterville Golf Links, Youtube, Planet Golf

VICTORIA (CANADA)
It’s a cold, jaded, myopic man that isn’t utterly charmed by Victoria. Just a delightful place to play golf.
Victoria Golf Club, Top100golfcourses.com,

GAMBLE SANDS
David McLay Kidd’s central Washington masterpiece is extra special for me because the name was actually my idea, and I got to play it with David, his wife Tara, and perhaps my favourite golf writer – Ron Whitten - on opening day. It’s one of those courses, like Waterville, with numerous candidates for ‘favourite hole’. I could never play Gamble too often.
Gamble Sands, Youtube, golferswest.com

WEST SUSSEX
Twenty years ago, Pulborough’s head professional gave me, my two fellow assistants, and our boss permission to play a fourball. We knew the club was strictly foursomes, but because our boss was one of the most highly-respected PGA pros in Sussex and we’d been given permission by the club’s pro, we assumed we’d be okay. We were halfway down the 1st fairway when the club secretary came thundering out of the clubhouse and, purple-faced, demanded to know what the ‘bloody hell we thought we were doing’. We swiftly picked up two balls and carried on.
I understand the club is a lot friendlier and more welcoming these days, but West Sussex would still be one of the most enjoyable rounds in the world if a fuming secretary approached you on every hole. Heathland magic.
UK Golf Guy review, West Sussex Golf Club

BANDON PRESERVE
Hard to imagine a more enjoyable course. If only every town had something like Bandon Preserve. The world would be a much happier place.
Bandon Dunes, Golf Digest, Breaking Eighty

PRESTWICK
Prestwick makes no sense. It's just a sublime stretch of golf chaos.
Golf Club Atlas feature, Planet Golf

THE MACHRIE
I played 36 or 54 holes a day here for a week with a couple of mates in about 1990, and never stopped laughing. I’ve not seen DJ Russell’s changes, but back then it was just hilarious. So many blind holes and crazy shots. I loved every second.
The Machrie Website, Financial Times, Top100golfcourses.com

ROYAL LIVERPOOL
As a member of the Liverpool University golf team in the early ‘90s, Hoylake was my home course for a while. I’d take the train out to the Wirral most days, and get back to Lime St. late. It's not the most eye-catching links in the British Isles, but it is full of sturdy, exacting holes that grow on you on after a few rounds. I always look forward to going back.
UK Golf Guy review, Planet Golf

A big thanks to Tony for sharing these. Next up, the choices of one of the very best golf journalists in the game today, Eamon Lynch.

Tom Coyne's Favourite Courses

Tom Coyne

I’m delighted that following on from my series last year on ‘favourite golf courses’ I am able to share the choices of some more of the most interesting thinkers in golf.

First up is Tom Coyne. Tom has written two of the most celebrated golf books of recent years in ‘A Course Called Ireland’ and ‘A Course Called Scotland’. These books go far beyond mere golfing travelogues and get to the heart of the part golf can play in your outlook on life. If you haven’t read them yet I would definitely encourage you to do so. Tom also writes for various golf publications - his articles in The Golfer’s Journal are a particular delight.

Many thanks to Tom for his thoughts. Scotland and Ireland dominate, but one famed American course makes its first appearance in a ‘favourite courses’ list!

You can see all of the previous ‘Favourite Courses’ selections here.

CARNE, BELMULLET, IRELAND
Some courses just hit you right in the gut, as soon as you step on the property. Carne does that for me every time. Whether it's the people, the hulking dunes, its remote setting, the genius Eddie Hackett design, it's a place I could go round and round and round. Some courses just feel like home, and Carne is like that for me.
Carne Golf Links Website, Top100golfcourses.com

ASKERNISH, SOUTH UIST, SCOTLAND
Some folks could leave Askernish wondering why they travelled so far to play such an unadorned golf course, and I get that. But Tom Morris's lost course, to me, is a genuinely spiritual experience. It's a time capsule, a trip back in history. It's for the soul-seekers, but if you happen to be one, you won't find another place like it in golf.
Askernish Website, Golf Digest Reader’s Report, The Guardian, GolfClubAtlas Interview

CRUDEN BAY, SCOTLAND
Cruden Bay is total golf joy to me. Maybe the biggest dunes in Scotland, quirky routing, great people. If you don't care for blind shots, it's probably not the course for you. But I've played a lot of links golf, and the courses can tend to look the same. Not Cruden Bay. It's wild, weird, and gorgeous.
Golf Club Atlas, Cruden Bay Website

ARDGLASS, NORTHERN IRELAND
I don't think I get a better welcome anywhere in golf than I do at Ardglass, where the members have become dear friends over the years, so the hospitality certainly has something to do with my opinion here. But the course is a blast as well, with holes hanging off the cliffs and over the ocean. And with a 14th century castle for a clubhouse, what is not to love?
Ardglass Website, Dufferinncoaching

SHISKINE GOLF AND TENNIS CLUB, SCOTLAND
Maybe the perfect golf course - not for its layout, necessarily, but for its number of holes. A dozen feels like the ideal number of holes for a round of golf, and at Shiskine they are twelve stunners played over and around inexplicable rock formations. 
Shiskine Website, Golf Empire

ENNISCRONE, IRELAND
The first course I played in Ireland, and the place where my links love affair began. So there's plenty of nostalgia in this pick, but I also add it here for having the largest dunes in Ireland - or anywhere, perhaps - that you roll through via Eddie Hackett's inspired routing. I love everything Mr. Hackett did, because he did it without moving earth, and he worked for pennies so that the local communities might prosper via golf. And Enniscrone is among his finest work for sure.
Enniscrone Golf Club Website, Top100golfcourses.com

AUGUSTA NATIONAL, USA
I've heard some call Augusta overrated in terms of its design, saying it gets too much credit because of the Masters. Maybe so, but I don't always judge a course by its design metrics; I judge it by the quality of the day I spent there.  And the day I was fortunate to spend at Augusta was an all-timer.
Masters.com, Planet Golf, GolfClubAtlas.com, Augusta Chronicle

CRUIT ISLAND, IRELAND
I love nine-holers with character, and Donegal's Cruit Island easily sets the mark for me; its sixth over cliffs and beach and crashing waves might be the best par-3 I've ever played, and the other holes hug the rocks and water as you smile your way along the quick routing. I love a course that surprises, and stumbling upon Cruit Island in yonder Donegal was the surprise of my golfing life.
Cruit Island Website, theirishgolfblog.com

NORTH BERWICK, SCOTLAND
My first time around North Berwick, all I saw was rain blended with my tears. But I have been back a few times since, and I've learned what all the fuss is about - and I can't agree more. Beyond its architectural significance, the holes at NB are just a pure blast to play. If you don't walk off with a big grin on your face, than you need to get your face fixed.
UK Golf Guy review, Scottish Golf History, Planet Golf

THE OLD COURSE, SCOTLAND
Maybe its a little flat.  Maybe some of the holes are tough to remember on your first go around. Maybe you have to know its history to understand what makes it so great. But no matter - no day in golf feels more special than a day on the Old in St. Andrews. From first tee to final putt, it’s goosebumps all the way around.
UK Golf Guy Review  

A big thanks to Tom for sharing these. Next up will be journalist, author and golf course history aficionado, Tony Dear.

Will Rolex woes hasten a World Golf Tour?

Many have called the Keith Pelley era at the helm of the European Tour a success. A recent poll of tour players saw most of those polled grade the job he’s done as 7/10 or better and Pelley points to the increase in playing opportunities for the Tour’s members as a key metric of his success.

However, it’s not all plain sailing. With characteristic candour, Rory McIlroy has said that the European Tour is just a stepping stone to the US PGA Tour and has dialled back his European outings this year. On top of that, Pelley’s jewel in the crown, The Rolex Series, appears to be floundering.

The Rolex Series was introduced with much hoopla in 2017. It was designed to create a top tier of events in Europe that would help fend off competing demands from the PGA Tour and deliver strong fields to capture the viewers’ imaginations. So, two years in – how’s it doing? Well, not brilliantly if truth be told.

Keith Pelley with Rolex Global Head of Sponsorship and Partnership, Laurent Delanney launching the Rolex Series. Photo from www.europeantour.com

Keith Pelley with Rolex Global Head of Sponsorship and Partnership, Laurent Delanney launching the Rolex Series. Photo from www.europeantour.com

This week’s Abu Dhabi Championship has the weakest field it has seen for the last 6 years. This comes, perversely, at a time when the prize money has doubled and the event is upgraded to Rolex Series status. Only 3 of the top 10 European players in the world have entered this week. Millions will no doubt have been paid to Koepka and Johnson to make the trip across the Atlantic - apparently an understandable source of McIlroy’s ire. But this propping up of the field only serves to highlight the problem.

Abu Dhabi is not alone. I have plotted a chart to illustrate the point. This shows in any given Rolex event since inception how many of the Top 10 ranked European players at that time played in it.  The trend is alarming.

rolex series participation

Last year saw only 2 players ranked in the top 10 European players at the time appearing in each of the Irish, Scottish and Turkish Opens and the Nedbank Challenge. The Italian Open was boosted to Rolex Series status as part of the deal that sees the 2022 Ryder Cup heading to Rome, but only four top 10 players made the trip.

Also, ask yourself what does the ‘Rolex Series’ actually mean? Is it Europe’s Fedex Cup? (Answer, no). Is there a separate order of merit for Rolex Series events with a bonus? (Answer, I don’t think so – not sure really). I suspect it means virtually nothing to any casual follower of European golf. Is this what Rolex were bargaining for when they signed up to their multi-year deal?

Much has been said about how the changes to the US PGA Tour schedule this year may help strengthen the European Tour. I’m not so sure.

The Desert Swing has clearly found it difficult to get many of the US based Europeans over to play. None of McIlroy, Molinari, Rahm, Rose or Casey are teeing it up in Abu Dhabi or Dubai – only the second time that has been the case since 2004.

While the event in Saudi Arabia has bought a strong field from the US (Johnson, Koepka, Reed, deChambeau et al will be pocketing ludicrous sums to turn up in this state-funded PR exercise) this will surely create such controversy that some European Tour sponsors will question the judgement of Pelley dragging the Tour through such a gratuitous act of sportswashing.

(As an aside, the players seem to be falling over each other to see who can make the most ridiculous comments to justify their participation in the Saudi debacle. After Justin Rose’s bizarre  ‘I’ve heard a lot of good things about Saudi Arabia’ quote, Bryson DeChambeau may have trumped it with his ‘I don't think it's a bad decision as long as they want us there. That's what I've heard — they want us there’. Well yes, they do Bryson. They want you there to try to normalise them as a regular state rather than one of the most oppressive regimes in the world.)

Anyway, back to the European Tour schedule. What comes after Saudi? Well, it doesn’t look great. If you take out the WGC events (none of which are in Europe) and the Majors, there isn’t much to lure any of the US-based European stars to the Tour –

February
Vic Open (Victoria, Australia)
Super 6 (Perth, Australia)
Oman Open

March
Qatar Masters
Kenya Open
Maybank Championship (Malaysia)
Indian Open

April
Trophee Hassan II (Morocco)

May
China Open
British Masters
Made in Demark
Belgian Knockout

June
Golf Sixes (Portugal)
BMW International Open (Germany)
Andalucia Valderrama Masters (Spain)

There are a couple of events here that will be interesting – the Vic Open will run men’s and women’s events on the same course at the same time and Tommy Fleetwood is hosting the British Masters at Hillside. The latter is the week before the US PGA though which will impact who we see turn up on England’s Golf Coast. Beyond that these are low level events which will attract few viewers on the TV, and often, on the course.

We then have a couple of great weeks before The Open at the magnificent Royal Portrush. The Irish Open will showcase the wonderful Lahinch the week before the Scottish. Even then, I think the Tour’s decision to move the Scottish event to the relatively unknown Renaissance is a bit of a gamble.

I’ll take any excuse to post a picture of the wonderful Lahinch!

I’ll take any excuse to post a picture of the wonderful Lahinch!

Both of these are Rolex Series events, but the Irish Open really struggled to put together a good field last year and host Paul McGinley must be worried about rumours that Rory McIlroy may not make the trip to Ireland in July. McIlroy was in East Lothian at the end of last year and visited the Renaissance Course, he has already said that he will only play one of these events. While the European stars stayed away from the Scottish Open at Gullane, the event normally gets a strong list of Americans warming up pre-Open at least.

After that, the attention turns back to the US for the lucrative climax to the Fedex Cup before the European Tour packs in a strong finish to the season. It kicks off in the third week of September with the PGA at Wentworth followed by, among others, the Dunhill Links, Italian Open, Turkish Open, Nedbank and the season-ending event at Dubai.

I am sure that we will see some stronger fields in these events but my worry is that it is all a little ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’. For anyone but the hard-core European fan the interesting bit of the golf season takes place over the Majors, with the Ryder Cup extending it by a month every other year.

There is a real risk that these Autumn events will be seen as just a prolonged wheelbarrow season. Beyond the BMW the top players may just pick and choose which events to play based on the scale of the appearance fees on offer.

Justin Rose didn’t turn up to the Tour Final at Dubai in 2018, despite being third in the Race to Dubai rankings at the time, but managed to get on the plane to Indonesia a couple of weeks later. Go figure.

Rather than strengthening the European Tour, there is a real risk that these changes will diminish it further.

McIlroy’s words in Hawaii on the subject must be chilling for the European Tour. He said ‘The European Tour is a stepping stone. That is the truth. It’s so one-sided. You can talk about all these bigger events in Europe but you can go to America and play for more money and more world ranking points. Why would you play over there?’.

In the anonymous survey of European players 70% of of them said they would play the PGA Tour if they could only play one of them. One player said that 99% of players should be aiming to play there.

Keith Pelley said to The Times before Christmas that he was in talks with Jay Monahan, head of the PGA Tour, about the creation of a World Tour. That may be the inevitable place we end up.

For those who are worried that the creation of a World Tour would lead to the European Tour just being a feeder tour for the PGA Tour it’s too late, that’s happened already.

The European Tour could still exist in much the way it does today for the vast majority of players but serve as a formal feeder tour to the ‘World Tour’. Its members could have first dibs on spots at those events where World Tour members don’t want to play. Likewise, the smaller events on the PGA Tour could become a feeder with an amped up Web.com Tour in the States.

This may be some way off though as the PGA Tour have longstanding contracts with sponsors, including Fedex, through to 2027. However, where there’s a will, there’s normally a way and the PGA Tour would love to be the custodians of a World Tour. Whether Pelley will be around to see it though is debatable. There is a natural successor in place in the shape of ex-IMG man Guy Kinnings.

The way things seem to be going, Pelley may protect his legacy best by getting out before the music stops.

The Golf Monthly UK & Ireland top 100 - The Good, the Bad and the Maybe!

The more great golf courses I play, the more I realise the inherent challenge, and potential folly, in trying to rank courses. I think that the approach made famous by Tom Doak (a variation of which I use on this site) of grouping them into categories can work. However, it is only ever going to be a debate starter, not a debate ender.

In the last few weeks there have been 3 new Top 100s of note published. Golf Monthly has released its UK and Ireland Top 100 for 2019/20, National Club Golfer launched its inaugural Scottish Top 100 and Irish Golfer Magazine gave us their top Irish Courses for 2019.

I’ll kick off today with some thoughts about the Golf Monthly list and follow up with the NCG Scottish Top 100 in the next couple of days.

golf monthly uk top 100 golf courses

The biannual Golf Monthly list is made up according to raters’ scores over a range of attributes. Quality of test and design is worth 35% of the overall score, presentation and conditioning 30%, visual appeal 15%, club facilities 10% and overall visitor experience 10%. This definitely skews the list towards well presented, visitor-friendly courses rather than producing a more architecturally-based list.

The 2017/18 incarnation of the list was the first to exclude truly private courses - if you can only play it with a member then the course isn’t included. This means that the likes of Loch Lomond, Wentworth and Queenwood are all knocked out. They also appear to have overlooked Tom Doak’s Renaissance Course even though there you can take advantage of a one-off ‘experience’ and Skibo Castle which is available for very limited green fee play now. I think this undermines the list a little. It should either be re-titled ‘The UK and Ireland Top 100 courses you can play’ or they should include all the courses. Otherwise, the ranking simply doesn’t do what it says it does.

Turnberry has held on to the number 1 slot it took last time. Given the factors they take into account that probably isn’t a massive surprise. It is spectacular, immaculate and has great facilities.

turberry ailsa course

While there was plenty of love for Turnberry, when I asked the question of my Twitter followers Royal County Down was the clear favourite among the 200+ who voted. RCD is down 1 place to position 4 in the Golf Monthly list. Personally, I still think this is too high. I didn’t visit it in the best circumstances (I was young and my hangover was horrendous) but the number of blind shots and punishment for going off line was just too much for me. Maybe I need a return visit?!

There are a couple of real stand-outs on this list compared to other similar efforts. Here are some notable courses which are ranked higher by Golf Monthly than their average position in the equivalent Golf World and top100golfcourses.com list-

Royal Liverpool (Golf Monthly ranks it 14th versus an average of 37th by others)
Old Head (31 v 65)
Hankley Common (33 v 62)
Hillside (34 v 57)
Tralee (48 v 79)
Walton Heath New (51 v 87)
Gleneagles Queen’s (55 v 83)
Druids Glen (77 v NA)

If you want to see the problem that the Golf Monthly rating system can have, then look no further than the ranking of the well-conditioned, spectacularly set, US-visitor-friendly, Old Head. Personally, I struggle with it even having a place in the top 100 because of the quality of the layout.

Old Head - possibly the most over-rated course as a result of the Golf Monthly methodology

Old Head - possibly the most over-rated course as a result of the Golf Monthly methodology

So, what about the other way? Here are the courses Golf Monthly under-rates versus its peers -

North Berwick (Golf Monthly ranks it 29th versus average of 13th by others)
Lahinch (32 v 13)
Swinley Forest (39 v 31)
St Endoch (40 v 25.5)
West Sussex (52 v 30)
Cruden Bay (71 v 24)

I have played four of those courses and three of them would probably make my personal favourite top 10. Lahinch is ranked 29th in the World in my ‘Ultimate Top 10’ and yet much lower in the Golf Monthly list which is just for the UK & Ireland. The latest Irish Golf Magazine rating has it as number 3 in the country and I think that is utterly justified. The course is a sheer delight and a joy to experience. Maybe the exposure (and, no doubt, the love) it will get when the Irish Open is there later this year will give it a boost but it really shouldn’t take that.

Lovely Lahinch - surely a top 20 course in the UK & Ireland

Lovely Lahinch - surely a top 20 course in the UK & Ireland

I have a massive gap in my Scottish CV having not played Cruden Bay, but Golf Monthly seems to be way out of step with the rest of the golfing world with their ranking. It is ranked similarly in Golf Monthly (71) to its ranking in my Ultimate World Top 10 (75). I need to get there to make up my own mind.

Probably the biggest surprise for most people I have spoken to on the subject has been the inclusion of Adare Manor. This redesign of this Irish course by Tom Fazio has debuted as the 25th best golf course in the UK and Ireland. That is an amazing ranking and by that reckoning it would probably make it a world top 100 course now. Very few inland courses in the UK have achieved that status - and none that have been created in the last 100 years.

Without a doubt the press from those who have played it has been great - it is said already to be ‘Ryder Cup ready’ with conditioning second to none on these shores - but can it really justify such a lofty position? Well, the Irish Golfer magazine has just placed it in position 3 in Ireland (above Royal County Down!) so maybe there’s something in it. The marketing impact of such a ranking has definitely paid off as I’m taking Mrs UKGolfGuy to experience the hotel for our wedding anniversary next year - she can hardly wait!

However, this list also corrects some things that I think were a little out of sync in the last outing. Ballybunion has moved down 7 places to 22 (it started in 6th place in 2009) and for me it may have some way to go yet. I simply found parts of it too much of a slog to enjoy. Maybe Martin Ebert’s work, discussed in Golf Monthly, will help in that respect.

Ballybunion may be dramatic but I have no argument with its drop down the Golf Monthly list

Ballybunion may be dramatic but I have no argument with its drop down the Golf Monthly list

I’ve not heard of a golfer yet who doesn’t love Castle Stuart and it continues its ascent up the rankings, to number 19. Another consistent riser has been Royal Dornoch. When the list debuted in 2009 it came in at number 19, but 7th feels a much better position. These are all sensible moves. I still think that placing Sunningdale New above the Old is a little quirky but they both deserve to be ranked as highly as they are.

I should also say the the quality of research in Golf Monthly’s list and the accompanying comments are first class. It’s easy to throw rocks at a ranking list but in this list you can read a good summary of the course (although maybe a little more critique would be welcome in places) as well as comments on what has changed since the last edition and what changes are to come.

I think the list could still be improved significantly by including all UK and Irish courses again and giving greater weighting to the course architecture. That said, having played Turnberry this summer, I can see that it does have a good claim to be the best of the lot. I just hope they sort out the Old Head versus Lahinch issue next time!!



My golf year past and the year yet to come

I received a lovely email today from someone who had recently discovered the website and he suggested I write something about my future golf plans. As 2019 is shaping up to be a pretty exciting year in my golfing life I’m delighted to do just that. I also thought I would take the opportunity to look back at some of my 2018 highlights. So, thanks Bill for the email and here goes!

Dutch golf needs to be seen to be believed

My trip to the Netherlands back in May was a real highlight of the year. The people were lovely, the courses magnificent and the travelling time between venues made for a very easy trip. The courses were great value too. Utrecht is a world top 100 course for me.

The sight of Utrecht in the late afternoon sun will live with me for a long time.

The sight of Utrecht in the late afternoon sun will live with me for a long time.

Scotland’s top three courses are hard to beat

Turnberry has vaulted up several top 100 lists to become the number 1 in both Scotland and the UK. I played it for the first time since the changes this year and thought it was phenomenal. However, off the course it is hard to get away from the spectre of Trump and all that that brings. Rounds at St Andrews in March and Muirfield in December reminded me just how wonderful the top Scottish courses are. Neither of those may have the sheer spectacle of Turnberry but, as far as I’m concerned, they haven’t abdicated their top slots completely.

The work around the lighthouse at Turnberry makes for some of the most spectacular golf in the world.

The work around the lighthouse at Turnberry makes for some of the most spectacular golf in the world.

A day trip from London will bring golfing wonders! 

We did it as a few days trip but you could just hop on a train from Waterloo station and be teeing it up at Swinley Forest or Sunningdale with an hour or so. I had been looking forward to these two heathlands courses and they didn’t disappoint. What I loved about them was the sheer playability. That Geoff Ogilvy knows a thing or two...

Sunningdale is a must play if you’re in the London area.

Sunningdale is a must play if you’re in the London area.

I’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers

There have been several ways that I have been grateful to the golfing community in 2018. Following on from my Swinley experience I reached out to a few of the golfing personalities I admire to share their favourite golf courses and was amazed at how generous they were with their time and insights. I will gather them in one place soon but for now just click on their names to read the top tens from Messrs Clayton, Shackelford, Doak, Goss, Gallant, Solomon, Shipnuck, Blair, Mclay Kidd, Herman and Oliver

Many readers have written to me over the year with kind words of encouragement, offers to host me for a game and sharing thoughts for blogs and trips and I’m grateful to all of them. I’m looking forward to taking a few of you up on your offers in 2019!

And as for my golf…

I won’t pretend that my handicap has tumbled but I think I may be enjoying my golf more than ever. I have struggled off the tee for a long time and that seems to have been sorted out (for the time being). A key reason for that must be the Ping G400 Max I added to my bag a few months ago. It is definitely the most forgiving club I’ve ever used from the tee.

I’ve also decided to give up trying to use on-course technology to track my rounds for stats purposes. Arccos, Gamegolf and Shotscope have all come and gone but were proving too distracting on the golf course. Going forward I’m turning to good old paper and pen with Golfshake so hopefully that’s one less thing to think about on the course.

Courses played in 2018

It’s not been a bad year for me course-wise, although there are still plenty left to go after! This year I played - Archerfield Fidra and Dirleton (home courses), Trump Dubai, Saadiyat Golf Course, Yas Links (academy course at night), Streamsong Blue, The Old Course, North Berwick, Maison Blanche, Utrecht de Pan, Kennemer, Royal Hague, Noordwijske, PGA Catalunya, West Sussex, Swinley Forest, Sunningdale Old. Sunningdale New, Walton Heath, Muirfield.

If you’re looking for some winter golf the Saadiyat resort in Abu Dhabi combines a nice course with a great hotel and beach.

If you’re looking for some winter golf the Saadiyat resort in Abu Dhabi combines a nice course with a great hotel and beach.

And the year ahead....

I’m really looking forward to 2019 for several good reasons! I am making a trip to Melbourne with two good friends to play some of the courses I have spent years reading about. All being well we will make it to Royal Melbourne East and West, Kingston Heath, Metropolitan, St Andrew’s Beach, National, Barnbougle Dunes, Lost Farm, Cape Wickham and Ocean Dunes. The logistics of organising golf in Australia isn’t easy - online booking isn’t an innovation they have widely embraced and visiting windows are narrow - but a big thanks to everyone who has offered advice and help. I can’t wait to fight the jet lag on the first tee of Cape Wickham on March 6th!

That will be the main trip of the year but I’ve also got a German jaunt in the works (I really want to see Falkenstein but any other recommendations gratefully received) and need to fill in some other holes in my UK repertoire, including Prestwick which featured in many of the ‘Favourite courses’ lists.

I also need to post about some of the areas I have played golf in but which have yet to make it onto this site. South Africa and Spain in particular stand out like sore thumbs but life has proved too busy to get them written up so far. My New Year’s resolution is to correct that in 2019.

Finally, a big thanks to my wife, Clare. Not also does she proof-read all of my articles before I post, to help make them vaguely readable, she also lets me indulge my passion for this glorious game - I know I’m a lucky, lucky man! 

The best food in golf!

There is a risk that this blog becomes slightly fixated on ‘top 10’ lists (fear not, I do have a few other ideas up my sleeve!) but I hope you’ll enjoy this - my top 10 meals at a golf club!

As someone who spent most of his youth playing at municipal courses around the Edinburgh area, ‘great food at golf courses’ isn’t a subject I was introduced to until much later in life. At Carricknowe we’d go through the fence at the back of the third to buy a Wham bar and Irn Bru, and still get change from 30p. But over the last few years I’ve been lucky enough to play golf in some wonderful places, and I’ve found that I have been able to combine two of my real passions - great food and great golf - in one visit.

I have no doubt that there are many more great meals to be had on the golf courses of the world, but here are some notable ones from my journey of discovery so far. (Note, this doesn’t cover halfway houses. They have another article all of their own to come!)

If you’re interested in more than just the food, click on the course name to read my course review.

10. Royal Troon
Troon probably wins the award for the restaurant with the closest proximity to the 18th green and has floor to ceiling windows overlooking the putting surface. However, it was the haggis panini that elevated this Open rota course to one of the greats for me. Everything a haggis-based breaded snack should be.

The Haggis Panini at Royal Troon - served with a light salad, coleslaw and crisps. A triumph!

The Haggis Panini at Royal Troon - served with a light salad, coleslaw and crisps. A triumph!

9. Sage Valley I have written before about what an odd, ritualistic place Sage Valley is. Just a few miles from Augusta, it was built by a billionaire whose application at Augusta National was turned down. Not to be put off he decided to give them a run for their money. They play bagpipes across the estate every evening, the members all wear green jackets - it’s odd in many ways. The food, however, is fantastic. The fried pickles were a great way to start and the grouper sandwich, a triumph. For a little peak into the Sage Valley experience have a look at the membership brochure here.

8. Swinley ForestI hadn’t even been sure if, as a green fee payer, I would get to see the dining room. Opulent it is not. Think shabby chic, going light on the chic. But the breakfast muffin with crab, avacodo and a poached egg, eaten overlooking an empty and inviting course, was heavenly. A real hidden gem.

Note the 1st hole stretching behind the salmon, poached egg, avocado and crab breakfast at Swinley Forest.

Note the 1st hole stretching behind the salmon, poached egg, avocado and crab breakfast at Swinley Forest.

7. Muirfield
What can I say about the lunch at Muirfield that hasn’t already been said? Not a lot. You sit with strangers, on long tables as if dining at a British public school. Alcohol flows fast and, on the one occasion I didn’t partake of the red wine, I thought I was going to be asked to leave. But the carvery of roast meat from the local butchers (Anderson’s of North Berwick) means it is like Sunday every day here. Half a mark off for using frozen Yorkshire Puddings though.

6. Monte Rei
Jack Nicklaus’s long holes that move from left to right, with penalising rough, defeated me - so much so that after 9 holes we stopped for a proper lunch which was, without doubt, the highlight of my visit. The jamon and other tapas was some of the best I have had and the selection of Rioja was worthy of any top restaurant. I have no memories of the back 9.

5. Yas Links
Yas is one of the modern wonders of the golfing world and Hickory’s restaurant is a fitting place to dine at such a venue. The menu may be the most extensive I have ever seen in any golf club, but everything is cooked beautifully. I was going through a low carb phase on one visit, and the range of options was phenomenal. Oh, and they serve cold beer which in Abu Dhabi isn’t always to be taken for granted. If only the views from the restaurant were better, this would be vying for a top 3 place.

More poached eggs - Yas Links style here

More poached eggs - Yas Links style here

4. Trump International - Doonbeg
Oh dear, just including a Trump property in this list is risking opprobrium. But such is the quality of the food at Doonbeg I just can’t ignore it. The bar is a place you want to linger in. It’s not overly brash but very welcoming with a great atmosphere. And the food was fantastic. Locally sourced oysters, steak, cheese were all presented beautifully. And say what you like about the Donald, he makes a great burger.

Local oysters on offer at Doonbeg

Local oysters on offer at Doonbeg

3. Sebonack
This golf course is rumoured to cost $1,000,000 to join and, for that, members get one of the most spectacular views from a clubhouse anywhere in the world - and not just because you can see NGLA. We watched the sun set, with a bottle of savignon blanc and a Kobe Beef hotdog. Or was it Wagyu? I forget. Either way, the food tasted great and the views will live with me forever.

2. Morfontaine
The first time I played at Morfontaine we walked off 18 drenched within an inch of our lives. After a welcome shower we were ushered into the virtually deserted restaurant and revived with one of the very best meals I’ve ever experienced on a golf course. In usual French fashion, the choices were limited, on this occasion the English was non-existent but the quality was immense and the wine historic. On our second trip, the weather was wonderful, so we sat on a busy terrace but the standard of the food was undiminshed. If you get the chance to visit Morfontaine don’t leave without playing the 9 hole Valieres course and having lunch. It would be criminal.

Steak tartate, frites and vin blanc on the terrace at Morfontaine

Steak tartate, frites and vin blanc on the terrace at Morfontaine

1. National Golf Links of America
Anywhere that serves you a whole lobster an amuse bouche is going to be hard to beat. Strike that, impossible. The lunch at NGLA is unsurpassed for me. Following the lobster, the standard remained high with a wonderful cottage pie and truffled mac and cheese, followed by pancakes, and all washed down with a very well priced bottle of Cloudy Bay. All this in a clubhouse full of history, with a staff who wanted to make sure you had a great time. I’m looking forward to finding out if the sherry in the soup at Pine Valley beats it one day....!

David McLay Kidd's Top 10 Courses You've Never Heard Of!

david mclay kidd

Following on from the recent ‘Top 10 Favourite Courses’ series of articles, I am delighted to say that renowned architect David McLay Kidd has given me his list with a twist - the top 10 courses you might not have heard of! David has established himself as one of the top golf designers in the world, with courses such as Bandon Dunes, Mammoth Dunes and Macrahanish Dunes to his name. This is a man who doesn’t mind a dune! Over to David:

Of all the questions we golf course designers are asked by enthusiastic golfers I’m betting the “What’s your Top 10 courses” is the most frequent. I’m guessing the list every golf architect gives added together wouldn’t span more than 30 courses and every one would include Cypress Point, Pine Valley and Royal County Down.

I thought maybe I could put a twist on the usual list and see if I could find a Top 10 your readers might not have heard of... yet!

Shiskine, Arran, Scotland (click title for link)
12 holes on the Isle of Arran, between Turnberry and Machrihanish to locate it in golf geography. Quirky, beautiful, unexpected, great features for any golf course.

Picture - www.shiskinegolf.co.uk

Picture - www.shiskinegolf.co.uk

Dunaverty, Argyll, Scotland
18 holes but very short. The imagination of the layout is fantastic, it breaks many of the written rules of golf architecture - blind doglegs, drives over the crest of a hill, square small greens. Once played, never forgotten.

Picture - www.dunavertygolfclub.com

Picture - www.dunavertygolfclub.com

Aldeburgh, Suffolk
The heathland courses of Surrey, like Sunningdale and Swinley Forest, are not the only heathland courses in the South of England. Aldeburgh Golf Course lies along the Alde River in Suffolk. It is raw, natural, strikingly beautiful and a challenge in the sea breeze.

Picture - www.aldeburghgolfclub.co.uk

Picture - www.aldeburghgolfclub.co.uk

Rustic Canyon, California
The name says it all. Lying in a tight canyon in Southern Canyon this relatively modern course was created on a low budget but high imagination. Superb strategy on every hole, proving that creativity beats budget almost every time.

Picture - www.rusticcanyongolfcourse.com

Picture - www.rusticcanyongolfcourse.com

Queens Course, Gleneagles, Scotland
The less well-known sibling of the Kings and Centenary Courses at the famed resort in Perthshire. I played most of my golf on this course as a kid when my father was the Golf Course and Estate Manager. This course more than any other taught me that position and distance control are more important than distance alone. 

Picture - www.skysports.com

Picture - www.skysports.com

Wine Valley, Walla Walla, Washington.
A modern course, framed by the Wine Region of Eastern Washington, it is a challenge to get to (most of my list is) but it’s worth it. Scene of my first hole-in-one, the fastest greens I think I’ve ever played. I’d say this is the first on my list that’s better suited to a lower handicapper, it plays long and demands precision to score.

Picture - www.winevalleygolfclub.com

Picture - www.winevalleygolfclub.com

Huntsman Springs, Driggs, Idaho
I can’t make a Top 10 list without including one of my own. Not widely known, but critically acclaimed, this course wends its way through over 50 acres of wetlands, creeks and shallows formed by meltwaters coming off the Teton Mountains in Idaho.

Picture - www.huntsmansprings.com

Picture - www.huntsmansprings.com

Victoria, Melbourne, Australia
Every bit as visually striking as Royal Melbourne and, I thought, a better walking course. Victoria lies within the sand belt outside Melbourne and plays firm and fast. Unlike some other classics nearby, the trees have been kept at bay.

Picture - www.victoriagolf.com.au

Picture - www.victoriagolf.com.au

Carne, Ireland
The biggest dunes I’ve seen on a golf course. A single greenkeeper keeps the greens in great condition and mother nature does the rest. If you want wild terrain, wild weather and a wild time, this is the place.  

Picture - www.carnegolflinks.com

Picture - www.carnegolflinks.com

Comporta Dunes, Portugal
My business is fraught with projects that might have been. In 2012 we got this course half finished before the developer went to prison on fraud charges. Set in virgin dunes that go on for miles and miles south of Setubal this course would be a contender if it could ever find someone willing to finish it.

Picture - conorjwalshgolf.com

Picture - conorjwalshgolf.com

Gaining Permission!

A special guest blog from Tim Gallant.

Tim manages to get more golf trips in than pretty much anyone I know. Here he gives some tips on how he manages to negotiate so much time away from his beloved wife. Read and learn!!

Golf trips can bring such joy. But careful planning is required!

Golf trips can bring such joy. But careful planning is required!

You’re sitting around with your friends after a round at your local course, and soon the discussion turns to golf trips. Before you know it, you’ve hatched a plan for a week-long golf break full of sunshine, banter and maybe even a bucket-list course or two.

You select a date, and vow to get down to planning as soon as you’re back home. But at that moment, you suddenly remember one very important barrier: getting permission from your partner!

And it’s at this hurdle that many well-laid plans have died like roses without a drink of water in the Sahara; slowly withering away into a feeble non-existence.

Lucky for you, we’ve been in this situation more times than we can count, and have a few pieces of advice when trying to get a free pass from your nearest and dearest.

Be Johnny Appleseed
The key to getting the green light for any golf trip is to start planting the seeds early and getting approval so far in advance that there’s plenty of time for everyone to get on-board. Starting 12 months or more in advance can really help the sell-in process. Start with something like -

‘Dave and I were just talking about how much fun it would be for the two of us to head to California for a friend’s golf trip sometime in the future.’

Leave the date TBC at the moment (even if you’ve already circled the dates, checked flight prices and searched the local courses). When your partner quite rightly fires back that it is a crazy idea, just say things like ‘Oh, it’s not going to happen tomorrow. We were thinking in a year or two’.

This will go a LONG way into getting that trip off the ground, and is step-1 in the process.

Use points up QUICKLY
My friend Coleman likes to say ‘Points expire fast!’. What we mean is the points you build up for being Mother of the Year or Husband of the Month. When you are in the good books, that is the time to circle back to that idea you planted a few months prior.

 ‘You know, I was thinking about that California golf trip again. Dave says the flight deals are incredible right now.’

This is when you start the conversation about the nitty-gritty. How long you’ll be away from home, how much it will cost and who’s going. When this situation arises, it’s best to act like the hero.

Be the hero of the group
Any good sales person will tell you that you never start with what you actually want. No, you need to start high and work down. When your partner asks how long you want to go for, this is when you need to be the responsible hero. Exhibit A:

‘Well, Dave wanted to go for 10 days, but I said that’s crazy. I think we could probably do it in eight days. Maybe seven at a stretch, but I really don’t want to be away from home for more than a week’.

You might have had one week in your head all along, but psychologically making your partner think that you have whittled it down will go a long way into getting the thumbs-up. 

Don’t overextend
I’ve seen it a thousand times (and done it a few) where you over-reach and end up with nadda. Make sure you are realistic with your ask. If you’re planning a holiday with your family in Melbourne and want to golf - be realistic. You may want to play ten courses in the Sand Belt area, but realistically ask if you can do one or two morning rounds before the kids are awake. This is a bit of YOU time that is well deserved. Just don’t expect 5 x 36 hole days while the family think ‘Why are we even on family holiday together?’. That can get you put in the dog house real quick.

Throwing in a bucket list course on a golf trip will definitely help put a smile on your face

Throwing in a bucket list course on a golf trip will definitely help put a smile on your face

Think 4 shots ahead
Remember, the first trip will lay the foundation for all others. If your budget balloons and you play so much golf that you come back home a zombie, then your partner is less likely to sign-off on the next trip. You want everything to be effortless and for it to seem like you weren’t even gone!

To this point, be considerate in the lead-up and aftermath of a golf trip. Remember, you are LUCKY to be having a weekend/week/day golfing, so be sure to help with the things you might not normally do to let your partner know how much you appreciate them.

The above should keep most golfers in good steer and remember, batting .500 in this game is great. You may get a few trips knocked back, and that’s ok. Over the course of the years, you’ll still end up seeing some pretty great places.

There is one EXPERT move, which I have held for dire situations. This should only be reserved for those most solid of partnerships, where you know that, no matter what, forgiveness is on the horizon. I call this:

The Double-down
So let’s say your Johnny Appleseed didn’t go according to plan and your partner has effectively nixed your ideas for a golf weekend with your friends. You are still desperate to go, but know only a Hail Mary will likely save your chances of making this a ‘go’ operation. That’s when you reach for The Double-down.

For this move, you have to wait until your partner is on the verge of picking a fight with you. Just as things hang on a knife edge, you bring up the golf trip (the worst possible moment, thus doubling down on the amount of heat you’re about to get!), sending your partner into full fight mode. But you stay calm and don’t lose your cool! After things have blown over, your partner will (hopefully) realise that they overreacted to the mention of the golf trip, when they were really upset about something else. This is where you need to play the victim! Start by saying how you and Dave hadn’t seen each other much the last few years and you thought it might be a nice bonding trip, but apologise for even bringing it up. Don’t even mention the golf. And then, in your partner’s guilt, they will be forced to relent in order to save face.  

Try not to gloat though - play it cool and wait a bit before booking the trip (like 15 minutes).

I hope the above helps in securing that golf trip you’ve always dreamed of taking. While things like cost, time and logistics can prove challenging to overcome, in my experience, the gatekeeper for most of my trips comes in the form of a feisty Italian who would rather stab herself with a pencil than hear about any of my golfing trip plans :)

One final pearl of wisdom
If your partner says ‘Do whatever you want’, then my friend, accept defeat and pick up another battle down the line. Going on a golf trip when your partner has uttered these words is a death sentence. The next fight you have, you will be blown over by a tornado of accusations that will leave you floored like Ricky Hatton after a fight with Money Mayweather. Trust me, I’ve been there.

Good luck and let us know how you get on!!

 

 

Thousand Greens - a peer network for private golf

Retiring and spending your time playing some of the best courses in the world sounds like a great idea doesn’t it? Certainly Manish Goel thought so when he decided it was time to end the 9-5 rat-race and spend more time on the golf course.

But he found there was one problem with this plan – in the US it’s pretty hard to get access to many of the greatest courses. Manish explains, ‘I immediately went to the "lists", and to my dismay, realized that most of the courses were private and my personal network didn't extend to them. As I dug into the path of playing these clubs I felt that all the options were either unattractive, expensive, or required inordinate effort’.

Thousand Greens creator Manish Goel

Thousand Greens creator Manish Goel

For those of us in the rest of the world this is a problem we rarely face. Of the 43 world's top-100 courses that are in the US, 33 are not open to visitor play. Of the 60 courses in the rest of the world, only 7 are impossible to play without a member. 

Manish wasn’t to be deterred though, and Thousand Greens was born. The idea is disarmingly simple – create a community of golfers who are members at private clubs and willing to invite others to play with them, offering a way in to clubs that may otherwise be impossible to access.

The kernel of the idea came from Manish’s own experience. He says, ‘As a member at Monterey Peninsula Country Club I had occasionally hosted referrals through friends or colleagues and had never had a bad experience. Golfers who belong to similar style clubs, and are willing to travel and play with other people, tend to share a certain easy-going nature, and a pleasant personality’.

The last few years have shown that people are willing to let strangers into their homes through AirBnB or jump into a strangers' cars with Uber, but would they be willing to have someone join them for a round of golf at their club?!

The answer is an emphatic yes. Manish has been delighted with the uptake, ‘I initially harassed all my golfing buddies to join. The idea has continued to spread through word of mouth, and we just crossed the 1,000 member milestone. We have 1070 members from 750 clubs from 15 countries around the world in the network, and are adding 1-2 new members a day.’

When you register on the site, your club is tiered according to its ranking. You are given three credits when you join and you earn a credit when you host someone and spend one when you are a guest.

Ranking the courses is probably the most difficult part of the experience to manage, but it is important. Manish explains, ‘There is the inherent asymmetry of desirability and demand. We needed to ensure that the members from the highly desirable clubs did not get inundated and get scared off'. In order to manage that, the rules state that you can only ask for a game at a course of the same or lower ranking to your own, unless the host has opened invites to all.

Manish is also keen to point out that this needs to work for the clubs as well and not be perceived by them as a threat. ‘The model needed to fit within the country club culture and ethos, and hence was designed strictly as an introduction mechanism without any commercial benefit to me, the host or the guest - just two golfers from similarly attractive clubs getting introduced to each other and agreeing to play together.’

It seems to be working. About 1 in 3 requests are being matched and 1 or 2 games are taking place every day with new connections being made all the time. 

The standard of courses on the site is very high, with many of the world’s top 100 courses represented. Remember those 33 courses in the USA you couldn't play unless you were with a member? Well 19 of them have members on the Thousand Greens network. 

However, it is not just for the uber-high end. Even if you don’t have access, through your status, to one of the very top courses, it's a great way to meet new people when you are travelling anywhere in the world and fancy a game. Even if the course you want to play is one you could play as a visitor, playing with a member brings a new perspective to a course, and normally a cheaper green fee too! 

I have been a member of Thousand Greens for a few months and have hosted 3 people at my club now. One of the great side benefits is that I now have connections at three great courses - Mid-Ocean, Walton Heath and Woodhall Spa - and look forward to visiting them for a return match at some time. It’s a great way to make new friends and build new golfing relationships.

Manish is quite rightly delighted with the progress to date, ‘This has exceeded my wildest expectations. It started as a crazy idea over a glass of wine, and now we have a 1000+ strong community of like-minded golfers who are all exchanging rounds and building friendships.The spirit of camaraderie that exists in this community is such a special vibe. In a zen like way, it makes my world a happier place. I feel fortunate’.

It really is a great initiative and I would encourage you to consider signing up at www.thousandgreens.com.  Manish may not have got the quiet retirement he was looking for, but the service he is providing to the golfers of the world through Thousand Greens is very welcome!

Golf in Surrey and the surrounding heathlands

The 18th Green, with stands going up, at Walton Heath

The 18th Green, with stands going up, at Walton Heath

The British Masters has been a great boon for British (well, English) golf – returning to old favourites and helping us discover new courses. This week, the event goes to Walton Heath. Hopefully this will inspire more people to discover the great courses in this region. So often we Brits organise trips to foreign parts, forgetting we have some of the very best courses in the world on our doorstop. I finally put that right last month when I visited Surrey for a few days. The area makes for a great trip.

THE COURSES

The good news is that you can get access to most of the courses you would want to play on a trip to the Surrey/London area. Wentworth, Queenwood and The Wisley are notable exceptions but, if truth be told, these are not the strongest courses anyway.

If you are looking to focus on the highest ranked courses in the world then your picks should be Sunningdale Old (30th in the world), Sunningdale New (46), Swinley Forest (49), St George’s Hill (57), West Sussex (83) and Walton Heath Old (94). However, if you want to venture beyond that list, then you could add Berkshire, Woking, Worplesdon, New Zealand without really dropping the quality much.

I have written reviews of the courses I have played in the area, including some things to consider when planning your trip. If you want the full review, click on the link to reveal all.

Walton Heath
Walton Heath is a name inextricably linked with heathland golf. It was a perfectly pleasant course and, as the round went on, got better and better. But I would struggle to rank it in quite the same league as some of the others we played on the trip.

The first few holes didn’t do much for me. The par 3 1st hole may be the least inspiring opener of any top course I have played. Four of the next five were fairly long, tight holes as we headed towards the ever-louder M25. But, from the reachable par 5 8th, it really picked up with some lovely holes coming in.

And then it blossomed, bloomed and didn’t fade. The holes got more interesting - a few doglegs, well placed bunkers, more imaginative placing of heather. There was a lovely mix of short par 5s (from the members’ tees at least), strong par 3s and clever par 4s. The course had come into its own and became a real delight to play.

I would recommend playing this at the beginning of your trip. We played it last, and while a really good track it didn’t quite hit the (ridiculously high) heights of some of the others we saw.

You can play the course all year around, 7 days a week (although understandably there are some times reserved for members). Unlike the other courses, I could only book a tee-time a couple of months out which provided a logistical challenge when planning the trip.

Walton Heath has some great bunkering, and a great back 9

Walton Heath has some great bunkering, and a great back 9

West Sussex
West Sussex is about an hour away from the other courses, but well worth the trip. This is real old school. They didn’t particularly want visitors, (you wont be able to tee it up as a fourball) and I have never seen as many naked octagenerians in one room as I did here (and I’ve seen a few)! However, the welcome was warm and the course was lovely.

Of the courses we played I would say that this was the tightest, the heather was more in play here than anywhere else on our trip and my score would definitely benefit from a repeat playing. But this is a course you will remember fondly.

Tim, the pro of over 30 years, told us that he describes the course as a ‘long short course’ and that made a lot of a sense after we played it. It is a par 68 but even from the yellow tees, at 5,961 yards, it is a real challenge with only 1 par 5 and and some long par 4s. The run of three par 3s in 4 holes on the front 9 is both a novelty and a delight!

There is plenty to keep you entertained on the way round - superb bunkering with gorgeous sand to hit out from, and challenging greens with everything from punchbowls to false fronts to take on.

So I would really encourage you to make a visit to West Sussex if you’re in the area. Is it really a world top 100 golf course? For some it will be, for some not. But it would be hard for anyone not to enjoy it.

Green fees, from £80, are available for 2 or 3 balls, seven days a week throughout the year.

West Sussex is wonderfully bunkered all the way round

West Sussex is wonderfully bunkered all the way round

Sunningdale – Old and NewWith 2 courses in the world’s top 50 it has been said that Sunningdale has the best 36 holes of golf on one property you will find anywhere. I am delighted to say that those rankings are completely justified.

The New Course is the tougher challenge – I would recommend playing it first to give you an easier walk in the afternoon on the Old Course. The New plays through more open moorland than the Old, with some sweeping vistas.

Although the course is tough, it is playable from the tee as long as you choose an appropriate set for your ability. There are some carries required, but, from the yellow tees, if you can get the ball out 200 yards, you should be OK. And while there is plenty of heather to gobble up errant shots, it doesn’t come into play on every fairway and sometimes is a good distance back from the fairway line. 

The front 9 on the New Course is particularly wonderful - the 4th, 5th and 6th a real highlight. The 5th is a great Colt par 3, with carry over heather and a vast bunker to a two-tier green with trouble all around. 

There is plenty to think about from the tees at Sunningdale New

There is plenty to think about from the tees at Sunningdale New

Some rank the New Course higher than that Old but, for me, the Old Course took things up another notch. The course winds its ways through the trees and we barely saw another soul all the way round - it became an almost spiritual experience. Swinley Forest and Morfontaine would be the only two to give this course a run for its money as my favourite inland course.

This is a course you can score on. There are short par 4s and 5s and often there’s no need to take a driver off the tee - finding the fairways with something shorter will probably help you score.

The course looked fantastic when we played. The heather eyebrows on the bunkers and the cross-bunkering on several holes were real highlights. The colours of the trees contrasting with the fairway and heather offer a visual feast. There is quite a lot of elevation change, with tees and fairways swooping down towards greens. All round, it’s just a magical place.

The green fees here are steep for sure. It’s £350 for 36 holes in the summer and access is only on selected weekdays, but you will never forget playing here. From the breakfast in the Critchley room to the sausage roll at the halfway house, the memories keep coming!

The 18th at the Old Course plays to the famous clubhouse

The 18th at the Old Course plays to the famous clubhouse

Swinley ForestI have saved the best for last. Mike Clayton put it very well when he said recently when picking his favourite courses, ‘It’s beautiful, masterfully built by Colt and one of the game’s great treats. And it’s the ultimate proof there is no need to make golf difficult to make it great.’

Until recently, a tee time at Swinley Forest was a thing of myth and legend, but a new Secretary has meant that it is now possible for a visitor to get a tee time. An email is all that is needed and, like everywhere else we visited, the welcome was warm. There are certainly a few foibles - we weren’t allowed to see the hallowed toilets inside the main property for example! – but they can be easily forgiven.

This is a par 69 course - 5,900 yards from the white tees - but it doesn’t feel a short course to play, or a long short course like West Sussex. It is just right!

As Clayton says, it is really. The magnificent pines are almost always in view but they sit well back from the holes and act more as a backdrop than hazard. There is plenty of heather but, again, from the tee, it doesn’t impinge too much. There are few carries to worry the average golfer. Sunningdale New this is not. 

The par 3s here are wonderful, often cited as the best set in the UK, but the course has far more than that to love about it. If you can play only one inland course in the whole of Europe - make it this one!

Swinley Forest is a must-play in the area

Swinley Forest is a must-play in the area

 WHERE TO STAY

If you are looking to minimize travel then Bagshot would be a good place to base yourself. There is a perfectly serviceable Premier Inn there or the more glamorous PennyHill Park nearby. You are close to Swinley Forest and Sunningdale, with Walton Heath and St George’s Hill within 45 minutes drive.

If you are looking for a little more nightlife, then Woking or Guildford may be a better bet, but you will be doing a little more travelling to the courses. 

WHEN TO GO

Trying to second guess the English weather isn’t an easy challenge. We went in September and had pretty good weather. If I were pick the ‘safest’ time, I would go for June or July. These are usually the warmest and driest months, though nothing is ever certain. The courses had all suffered through the drought this year which meant that we probably didn’t see them at their best, but that is a relatively rare problem! 

However, if you are willing to take a bit more of a risk with the weather you will be rewarded with cheaper green fees. The trip we did cost £850 for the five green fees, the same trip in November would have been closer to £550.

I’m definitely going to be making a return trip before too long. St George’s Hill and Woking were two big misses on our trip and there are plenty of others to add in. And I couldn’t drive past Swinley Forest without teeing it up there again!

Chris Solomon's Favourite Golf Courses

no laying up.jpg

Golf media has undergone a revolution in the last few years. While newspapers have shed golf correspondents and magazine circulations dwindled, new channels have emerged for engaging an audience. Nothing epitomizes this more than the rise of No Laying Up. What started as a Twitter account and a blog has now become one of the most influential voices in golf. Players are happy to spend hours talking to them on podcasts, tournament organisers woo them to cover their events and the biggest corporates want them to promote their products.

They have achieved this success, not just with good quality ‘banter’ (shudder) but by having an intelligent, articulate and thoughtful outlook on the game, presented in an entertaining way. At the start, some of the traditional media treated them with some cynicism, but there is now a real respect for what they have achieved.

Their coverage of golf course architecture and golf holidays has been a real highlight in the last couple of years. Whether you like the YouTube series on their Australian trip, the write-ups of a trip to the north of England or the regular check-ins with the world’s best architects, there is plenty to get stuck into.

Anyway, enough love. I am delighted to say that one of the founders, Soly, has shared his ten favourite courses for this series. Soly is a 1 handicap golfer who in recent years has played many of the world’s best courses – sometimes alongside some of the world’s best players. Thanks a lot Chris for taking the time to do this and the fantastic work with No Laying Up!

ST ANDREWS - THE OLD COURSE
It's the most fun you can have on a course for so many reasons. Ignoring all of the history (somehow), it's the most enjoyable strategic exercise I've ever experienced in golf.
UK Golf Guy Review

TARA ITI
Golf's ultimate paradise. The sum of its parts equals the best overall golf experience I've ever had. It's probably Doak's best work, and it's idyllic setting makes it feel like you're playing golf on the Truman Show.
No Laying Up Article, Planet Golf, Golf Club Atlas

ROYAL DORNOCH
As close to a perfect golf course as you can get. The course feels pretty remote, and once you get away from the clubhouse, you're shut off from the rest of the world. Pure turf, tremendous shot values, and everything you could want in a golf experience.
UK Golf Guy Review, top100golfcourses.com, telegraph.co.uk, Graylyn Loomis,

NORTH BERWICK
The back nine is as enjoyable as any nine holes of golf anywhere on the planet. 12-18 are near perfection, and it's a place you could play every single day and never get bored.
UK Golf Guy review, Scottish Golf History, Planet Golf  

SHOREACRES
The best firm and fast experience I've had in the US. It may be viewed as Chicago Golf Club's little brother, but it's more fun, and it changed the way I view golf courses. Golf is so much more fun when the ball rolls, and besides links courses, I've never seen the ball roll like it did at Shoreacres.
Golf Club Atlas, Fried Egg

ROYAL COUNTY DOWN
So pure. So challenging. It breaks a ton of "rules" but that's what makes it special. Not only will you need every club in your bag, you might use them all before you make the turn.
UK Golf Guy Review, Golf Digest Feature

ROYAL MELBOURNE
A masterpiece. The scale is tremendous, the run up areas are specially maintained to be firm to promote run-up approach shots. The bunkers are cut straight into the greens, and the course is brilliantly routed around one enormous ridge.
No Laying Up Tourist Sauce, Shackelford Golf Channel Analysis

PINEHURST NO 2
Probably my favorite course to play in the States. It's such a great test off the tee, yet it's not the end of the world when you miss fairways. Everything here comes down to your ability to hit the ball in the middle of the green, and the approach shots are as fun as you can get.
Golf Digest, YouTube Flyover

WEST LANCASHIRE
This is the course that probably belongs on this list the least, but it's my list and I don't give a damn. I've played it twice and I've walked off so curious as to why it doesn't rank higher. It's not too special of a design, but it's such a simple links, and impossible not to enjoy. 
West Lancs, Youtube guide

BANDON DUNES
Not the most heralded of the Bandon bunch, but it's always been my favorite. I can't seem to master it, and every time I try to pin my ears back and attack it, I get bitten. The reveal on the 4th hole and seeing it for the first time with my Dad is a golf memory that won't ever be washed away with time. 
Graylyn Loomis, Plugged-in Golf, Golf Advisor

BONUS - WHISTLING ROCK
Not the most amazing golf course in the world, but the most insane golf experience I think I've had. $40 million dollar clubhouse, serene setting in the mountains in Korea, not a blade of grass out of place, and a really fun layout that uses the landscape brilliantly. 
Whistling Rock, TGJ Podcast

Jim Herman's Favourite Golf Courses

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Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been really delighted with the response to my posts about people’s favourite golf courses. In that time, a few notable figures in the world of golf have reached out to me to share their lists. Many thanks to Jim Herman for sending me his.

Jim is Cincinnati born and bred and reached the PGA Tour via an assistant pro role at Trump National Bedminster and the web.com tour. His career highlight, so far, has been his 2016 win at the Shell Houston Open.

Jim really loves the game and has an interest in playing the world’s greatest courses, not just those that the pros play week-in and week-out. You can hear his love for great courses come through on these podcasts from The Fried Egg and the Scottish Golf Podcast and you can follow him on twitter @gohermie. Over to Jim:

These are the courses that I enjoy playing the most, not the ones I necessarily think are “the best”. I don’t consider myself an expert, but more of a consumer of golf courses. If I read about a course that looks interesting, or see a picture of something that catches my eye, I try to go see it. It could be anything from a Palm Beach par 3 with my wife, to the latest Coore and Crenshaw.

I’m very fortunate to have played lots of Midwest courses when I grew up, then all the great New York and New Jersey courses while I was a club pro, and now I’ve had 13 years of touring golf all over the world. If I’m in the UK it’s normally sweater weather, and I’ll be walking with a push cart down the fairway with my friends and, the chances are, I’m loving it!

I just love everything about golf. I always have, and I guess I always will. So far I’ve probably played about half of the world’s special courses, and I hope to eventually get to every last one.

MERION GOLF CLUB
Merion has the best mix of holes on such an intimate property. Great history, and most important the membership bends over backwards to make you feel comfortable.
NY Times, Philly.com

CARNOUSTIE GOLF LINKS
My favorite courses are much much harder than a typical amateur’s favorites. But I believe there is ‘good hard’ and ‘bad hard’, and Carnoustie is my first choice for good hard!
UK Golf Guy Review, Scottish Golf History, Planet Golf

PEBBLE BEACH GOLF LINKS
My favorite stop on tour. I laugh when people say it’s an average course if you take away 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 14, 16, 17 & 18.
UK Golf Guy Review, Monterey Herald History, Youtube - Tiger Wood 2000

CAMARGO CLUB
My first exposure to what a great golf course was. The best value in golf is the 36 hole Am qualifier at Camargo. Every high school golfer in Cincinnati should be caddying there.
Top 100 Golf Courses, Top 100 Blogspot

OMAHA COUNTRY CLUB
This is my hidden gem, or at least I don’t hear it talked about. I’ve played it a few times and think it deserves more praise.
Omaha Country Club, Golf Course Gurus

FORMBY GOLF CLUB
A little of Merion to it. Course unfolds in parts. But it’s all good. I wish I could’ve seen the holes down by the water.
Formby Golf Course, National Club Golfer

BETHPAGE (BLACK)
Another example of ‘good hard’. It’s not perfectly presented right now, but for the rounds of play it gets, and being open to all, its a heck of a deal.
Top 100 Golf Courses, Golf World Youtube Video

TRUMP NATIONAL (OLD COURSE) - BEDMINSTER
I know, I know, I used to be on the payroll. Ignore the politics, ignore everything. What’s on the ground today is a legit good golf course.
Trump National Bedminster, Phil Sokol

VICTORIA GOLF CLUB
I haven’t played Royal Melbourne yet, so I’ll go with this as my favorite Sandbelt. Hard to go wrong in that neighborhood. (Hoping to see more of Oz next year if anybody wants to host!).
Victoria Golf Club, Geoff Shackelford

PRESTWICK AND ROYAL TROON
I’ll call it a tie between Prestwick and Troon. They are the best 36 hole day in golf. Some will say Shinny and National, and those are great as well. But I’d be happy all day, everyday trying to plot my way around Ayrshire
Golf Club Atlas feature, Planet Golf Prestwick, Planet Golf Troon, UK Golf Guy Troon Review

Tom Doak's Favourite Golf Courses

Confidential Guide.png

Next up in my Favourite Courses series is Tom Doak. Tom is considered one of the true greats of modern golf course architecture. Five of the top fifty courses in the World have been designed by Tom - Pacific Dunes (18), Tara Iti (28), Barnbougle Dunes (36), Cape Kidnappers (43) and Ballyneal (45) - and he has many other great courses to his name.

Tom is not scared to state an opinion and his Confidential Guide is often said to be the ultimate guide to the world’s golf courses. The 5th edition of the series is about to be published, covering Asia, Australia and New Zealand - essential reading for anyone planning a trip to those parts.

When I asked Tom to give me his Top 10 Favourite courses he made a good point. He said that is was kind of silly to try to pick 10 from the 1,500+ courses he has seen. But the good news is he did it anyway! Here they are:

ST ANDREWS - THE OLD COURSE
Duh.
UK Golf Guy Review

NORTH BERWICK - WEST LINKS
Left off many lists of great courses because it's not challenging enough for great players. Not a problem for me!
UK Golf Guy review, Scottish Golf History, Planet Golf

PRESTWICK
The original home of The Open fell off the rota in 1925 because it is too short and too cramped for large galleries, but the thrilling nature of the golf holes has never been in question.
Golf Club Atlas feature, Planet Golf

ST ENODOC GOLF CLUB
Lesser known links in the west of England, features stone walls as hazards, beautiful views of Daymer Bay, an ancient stone church inside the course, and the biggest bunker I've ever seen.
St Enodoc Website, Golf Empire, Golf Club Atlas

NATIONAL GOLF LINKS OF AMERICA
The first great course in America, built by C.B. Macdonald as a homage to the great Links of the UK.
UK Golf Guy Review, NGLA website, 1968 Sports Illustrated Article

CYPRESS POINT
The most beautiful piece of land devoted to golf.
Graylyn Loomis, Golf Digest, Playing the Top 100

HIMALAYAN GC, POKHARA, NEPAL
Set in a deep river canyon at the base of the Himalayas, with the 27,000 foot peak of Annapurna looming on the horizon.
Himalayan Golf Course Website, Skratch Video

ROYAL MELBOURNE
The ideal golf course that Augusta claims to be - perfect, tight playing surfaces, plenty of room for the member to get around, zero water hazards, yet a course that makes great players grind.
No Laying Up Tourist Sauce, Shackleford Golf Channel Analysis

BARNBOUGLE DUNES
A true Links, roamed by wallabies and wombats, with some of the best short par-4 holes in the world.
Top 100 golf courses, Golf Club Atlas Review, Planet Golf Review

ROCK CREEK CATTLE COMPANY, DEER LODGE, MONTANA
Laid out over a 40,000 acre Montana ranch, the long loop of holes features mountain vistas, a rushing trout stream, elk, buffalo, and great golf.
Rock Creek Website, The Walking Golfer

A big thanks to Tom for taking the time to do this. I’ve got Barnbougle Dunes on my hitlist for early next year and I can’t wait to see it for myself! Next up is PGA Tour player and golf course architecture fan, Jim Herman.

Bernard Gallacher's Favourite Golf Courses

bernard gallacher

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s Ryder Cup week and, to celebrate, I’m delighted to introduce Bernard Gallacher’s ten favourite golf courses.

Bernard will be forever associated with the Ryder Cup. He played in eight and captained the European team on three occasions - culminating in 1995 with what was only the second victory for a European Team on American soil.

Bernard also had a long and successful playing career on the European Tour and was the professional at Wentworth for 25 years. He is a frequent golf broadcaster and commentator and is a much respected voice in the game.

Here are his choices:

I’ve been lucky enough to play at some iconic golf courses in my life and choosing the top 10 is no easy task. Some of these hold incredibly sentimental value to me and have helped shape my career. They offer a great mix of stunning scenery, great design and challenging holes. Here are my top 10 golf courses…

 1. ST ANDREWS - OLD COURSE
The whole town of St Andrews eats, lives and breathes golf. When you play the course, you have a surreal feeling that time has stood still and you are playing the same course Old Tom Morris created all those years ago.
UK Golf Guy Review

2. MUIRFIELD
Muirfield is universally acknowledged as one of the finest seaside courses in the world and rightly so. I have a particular affection for this course, as it was where I won the inaugural Scottish Stroke Play Championships in 1967, aged just 17.
UK Golf Guy Review, Graylyn Loomis

3. ROYAL BIRKDALE
This is a tough, quintessential links course situated on the golden links of the North West coast. I played my first Ryder Cup here in 1969 when I witnessed one of the sport’s finest and most enduring gestures. Jack Nicklaus conceded a short par putt to Tony Jacklin on the last green of the final match, which meant the match was drawn for the first time in the history of the competition. It was an iconic moment which summed up what a gentleman Jack is.
UK Golf Guy Review, Fine Golf

4. ROYAL CINQUE PORTS - DEAL
This is a course I play regularly to this day. On a breezy day, the bumpy fairways and fast greens offer a tough challenge for even the most accomplished golfer.
UK Golf Guy Review, Top 100

5. ROYAL PORTRUSH
Royal Portrush has been neglected as an Open venue since Max Faulkner, my former teacher and mentor, won The Open there in 1951. This Harry Colt-designed course will host next year’s Open and is already a sell-out, such is its popularity.
UK Golf Guy Review, Royal Portrush Website

6. WENTWORTH WEST
Wentworth will always hold a special place in my heart, as I was head professional there for a quarter of a century. The extensive modernising changes to the course in recent years means it is one of the finest inland courses in the world. Every hole offers a difficult challenge and Wentworth West is a worthy home for the BMW PGA Championship, the flagship tournament of the European Tour.
UK Golf Guy Review, Course Flyover

7. CARNOUSTIE
In my opinion, Carnoustie is the toughest course on the Open rota. It’s the only Open Championship course which finishes with water, and where there’s water involved, this becomes a mental barrier for players, as we saw with Jean van de Velde in 1999.
UK Golf Guy Review, van de Velde at Carnoustie

8. SUNNINGDALE - OLD COURSE
Sunningdale is a course I am privileged to play often, as I live nearby. A true heathland course which is comprised of ball-catching heather, pine trees and fast greens, Sunningdale is the perfect golfing venue. Playing there is one of the most pleasant experiences you can have as a golfer.
UK Golf Guy Review, Golf Club Atlas

9. ROYAL LYTHAM AND ST ANNES
Paradoxically, this a seaside course, but you can't actually see the sea! Royal Lytham and St Anne’s is a difficult, heavily bunkered course that has hosted many Opens, top amateur events and women’s major championships. I played there in the 1977 Ryder Cup and memorably (for me anyway!) I defeated Jack Nicklaus in the singles. I got off to a flying start – I was four up after four holes and then I just hung on! It was nervy to say the least.
UK Golf Guy Review, Golf Empire

10. WEST LANCASHIRE
West Lancashire is a hidden gem. I played an Open qualifier there in the 80's and thought it was one of the best seaside courses I have ever played. No architect takes credit for this wonderful layout because it has naturally evolved over time, but it stands out for me. The members are also very friendly, which is another reason to play there.
West Lancs, Youtube guide,

 

Bernard Gallacher represents Golf Care, a specialist golf insurance provider which covers golfers against common incidents such as injury, equipment theft and property damage. A big thanks to Bernard for taking the time to share his insights.

Zac Blair's Favourite Golf Courses

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I’m delighted to introduce Zac Blair’s 10 favourite courses. Zac is one of the go-to players on the PGA Tour for anyone who wants to discuss golf course architecture. He has a real curiosity about what makes a great golf course and spends a lot of time experiencing courses not on the Tour. Zac can often be found on Twitter asking for advice on other great courses to see during the week of a tournament. He will also give his honest opinion of a course - a refreshing change in a world when media training and corporate blandness is so often the norm.

However, Zac is not content with just playing the best courses in the world, he wants to design one too. He has a bold vision to create a homage to the golden age of golf architecture at his planned Buck Club in Utah.

NATIONAL GOLF LINKS OF AMERICA
It’s just the funnest course in the world that I’ve ever played. Anyone can go out and have a great time, you could play with a 15 handicap, 8 handicap, scratch player and professional and everyone’s going to have a good time.
UK Golf Guy Review, NGLA website, 1968 Sports Illustrated Article

ST ANDREWS - THE OLD COURSE
...because of the transition from hole to hole and the strategy involved.
UK Golf Guy Review

KAHUKU
It’s basically the roots of the game. It’s not in amazing shape but it is literally just pure golf.
Golf.com article, Kahuku website

PINE VALLEY
...
because it’s the best collection of holes on 1 actual course (non composite).
Golf Digest Flyover, Golf Club Atlas

CHICAGO GOLF CLUB
In my opinion Chicago has the best set of greens of anywhere I have ever played. It also has some great template holes.
Fried Egg, Chicagology

FISHERS ISLAND
Fishers has some of the best par 4s (3, 4, 7, 9, 10, 12) in the world in a beautiful setting that’s remained pretty intact. Is has amazing use of the land, and it’s also pretty amazing that there are only 1 or 2 fairway bunkers on the course. Raynor let the wind be a factor.

LA COUNTRY CLUB
LACC was my first real look at what a real golf course was with great topography, and awesome routing and great variety.
LA Country Club, Golf World Walker Cup Preview

SOMERSET HILLS
A place that is just extremely fun. Not the most difficult by any means but you could play it every day and be just fine!
Links Magazine, Geekedongolf

ROYAL MELBOURNE
The composite could probably rival Pine Valley for the best collection of holes. It has everything from scale, width, great variety to awesome one shot holes and still plays the way it was meant to play.
No Laying Up Tourist Sauce, Shackleford Golf Channel Analysis

SAN FRANCISCO GOLF CLUB
A great every day course. The green complexes are some of the best I’ve played - proper width, tons of options and you immediately want to go back to the first tee. I would love to see it firm and fast. That stretch from 10 - 15 is all world (I’m shocked when I hear people say the course is just OK). I really think San Francisco is in the conversation of places I’d want to play if I could only choose one course forever.
Fried Egg, Links Magazine

These were Zac’s Top 10 but he really wanted to add something about the one that just missed out!

10a - CYPRESS POINT
It’s an extremely sporty course that gives you a ton of holes to to score on - if you do the right things and stay in position. As soon as you’re out of position though the course becomes quite difficult. 15 - 17 get most of the spotlight but the other holes are as every bit as good... yes even 18!
Graylyn Loomis, Golf Digest, Playing the Top 100

Thanks a lot to Zac for sharing his list. I suspect there are not many PGA Tour players who would respond to an unsolicited Twitter DM within a minute and put the thought and time into doing this. Hugely appreciated and good luck with the Buck Club!

I have some more Favourite Courses lists coming up this week including another PGA Tour player, one of the world’s very top course designers and an ex Ryder Cup Captain!


Tim Gallant's Favourite Golf Courses

Tim Gallant.jpg

An American living in Scotland, Tim Gallant seems to play more of the world’s very best courses than pretty much anyone else I know!

At North Berwick, he is a gracious host to visitors from around the world and he is a great guy to play with - his natural interest in golf course architecture and all things golf shines through! Tim is a great follow on Twitter (@tdgallant) and is a regular contributor on the Golf Club Atlas website. He is a 10 handicap golfer and brings a really interesting perspective to my Favourite Courses series.

NATIONAL GOLF LINKS OF AMERICA
I love the course for its architecture, the scenery for its tranquility and the clubhouse for its history. A winning combination!
UK Golf Guy Review, NGLA website, 1968 Sports Illustrated Article

PINE VALLEY
Every hole is a joy to discover. Not only tee to green, but the putting surfaces themselves are sublime. It is like no other course I have ever seen and it has one of the best sets of 3 par and 4 par holes that I have played.
Golf Digest Flyover, Golf Club Atlas

MUIRFIELD
Simply put, Muirfield is flawless. And think about this: whether you start on the front or back, the challenge is almost identical: Tough 4, short 4, tricky 4, par 3, half par hole, tough 4, par 3, half par hole, great closer.
UK Golf Guy Review, Graylyn Loomis

LA COUNTRY CLUB
There are a ton of half-par holes, chances for glory and chances for recovery. And more than any other course, LA gets it right with conditioning.
LA Country Club, Golf World Walker Cup Preview

ROYAL COUNTY DOWN
Strategic golf is great golf, but sometimes I prefer heroic golf. One that asks the player to hit the do or die shot and doesn’t apologise for insisting. That’s why I love Newcastle.
UK Golf Guy Review, Golf Digest Feature

NORTH BERWICK (WEST LINKS)
A home pick and one I am proud to make. 
UK Golf Guy review, Scottish Golf History, Planet Golf

OAKMONT COUNTRY CLUB
It may be the toughest course in the world, but that’s not why I love it. Oakmont is great to me because it has a variety that few will give it credit for, and has internal contours on the greens that are the best I’ve ever seen.
Oakmont, Graylyn Loomis

MERION
The routing is fantastic. Every hole is unique and I can’t think of a better end to a course than the challenge of 16 - 18. Stylistically, the course suits my eye, and I love the hairy bunker edges.
NY Times, Philly.com

MYOPIA HUNT
If I absolutely had to pick one course to play for the rest of my life, this one may be it. As a ten handicap, it is perfectly suited to my game. Chances for birdies and chances for a no return!
Top 100 Golf blog, Geekedongolf, Planet Golf

SOMERSET HILLS
My favourite Tillinghast design that I have played, and maybe my favourite course around the golf rich New York City.
Links Magazine, Geekedongolf

Choosing only 10 is hard and I’d like to give honorable mentions to those courses which just missed out, next for me are Sunningdale (Old), Prestwick and Crystal Downs.

Thanks Tim for putting this list together. Your membership at North Berwick will make you the envy of many who read this, and your comments about Muirfield’s front and back 9 really got me thinking.

Next up we will have PGA Tour professional and budding golf course architect, Zac Blair.




Geoff Shackelford's Favourite Golf Courses

Geoff Shackelford is a prolific golf commentator and one of the most important voices in the game today. He has many strings to his bow - website host, architecture buff, podcast presenter, TV talking head, golf course architect, author extraordinaire.

geoff shackleford

What I have love about Shackelford is that he comes from a place of absolute authenticity and communicates passionately what he believes is best for the game. He cares about the state of the game, and protecting its future, and that shines through in his work. However he does this with a lightness of touch and a sense of humour that means he never comes across as pious.

Enough fawning? Over to Geoff!

My three principles for a favorite golf course are: can I remember every hole after playing it, do I want to play the course every day, and is it a great place to take a dog for a walk? Those three principles speak to many elements: routing, walkability, atmosphere, intimate scale, beauty, attitude and design ingeniousness. Ultimately, it’s all about fun factor and here are the places I could never grow tired of walking, playing, studying and savoring -

ST ANDREWS - THE OLD COURSE
The contours, the magical turf, the setting, the strategy, the history: it’s a marvel every time I’ve been blessed to see it or play the Old Course at St. Andrews. While the iconic holes provide the Instagram moments, it’s the shots you play elsewhere that provide the most thrills. Some gorse removal and return of more battered and broken down bunkers would be nice. As would seeing good players once again playing the Road as it was at its best.   UK Golf Guy Review

PRESTWICK
If a course could be as cinematic as the Old Course, this is the one in different ways. If the Old Course is The Godfather, this is Citizen Kane. Kind of crazy and funny and surreal, but still brilliant fun to play and study. It’s the perfect size and acreage for a golf course with no dull moments, despite the claims of many that the “new” portions don’t come close to measuring up to the old parts. Over the course of 18 holes you need a bit of everything and Prestwick provides all of the joys imaginable. And such a welcoming staff and membership at such a historic club never hurts.
Golf Club Atlas feature, Planet Golf

NORTH BERWICK (WEST LINKS)
The best collection of holes and the perfect place to play every day. The transformation of this from “too quirky” to “so amazing” over the last 20 years may be the best thing that’s happened in golf architecture. The course I’d most want to play every day. I still haven’t a clue how the Redan spawned what it has, but I suspect like many longer Redan offshoots it was a better hole when the ball went a lot shorter and the hole played almost like a par-3 1/2.   UK Golf Guy review, Scottish Golf History, Planet Golf

ROYAL DORNOCH
Possibly the most accessible links because of the views afforded of scenery and the opportunity to reflect on holes you’ve played or will play. Something about getting above the course after the sixth gives many a better understanding that they might not grasp on more traditional out-and-back links. The holes themselves are all so fun to play. Late evening golf here, playing firm, is as satisfying as the sport can get.
top100golfcourses.com, telegraph.co.uk, Graylyn Loomis, UK Golf Guy Review

CRUDEN BAY
You set out on a voyage of discovery and find nothing but pleasurable golf holes, scenery and intrigue. There is no possible way anyone could tire of playing here. I’m so happy more and more people are making the trip here and are consistently blown away. Recent improvements to the 9th hole have also shut up critics pointing to the lone uninspired hole.  Golf Club Atlas, Cruden Bay Website

SOMERSET HILLS
Perfect scale, unusual setting and you’d never grow tired of this one, either. This is A.W. Tillinghast at his zaniest and the club has always taken care of what they have. Also, the late Frank Hannigan would kill me if this wasn’t on my list.
Playing the Top 100 blog, Frank Hannigan Portrait 

CYPRESS POINT
Design perfection - the 18th is still a strange ending even with MacKenzie and Hunter’s fairway bunkers recently restored. Every hole has character even without the surrounds. The experience has always been perfect, from the staff appreciating how lucky they are to be there, to the simple clubhouse, pro shop and locker room, to the maintenance. Believe it or not, I don’t think the architects get enough credit for how they managed the design creation and execution here. It was trickier than most would think, yet when you play it, the entire thing seems so effortlessly created.     Graylyn Loomis, Golf Digest, Playing the Top 100 

SHOREACRES
My favorite Raynor and one of my favorite places in the game. Another fine example that golf on mostly dead-flat ground with a few dramatic moments thrown in, can give you all the excitement you need. The greens here are so wonderfully bizarre and like with Raynor’s Westhampton, another recently restored masterpiece, you could just hit chip shots for fun all day around most of the greens and find yourself inspired. Superintendent Brian Palmer’s attention to the playing details adds to the prestige and enchanting vibe here.
Golf Club Atlas, Fried Egg

MORFONTAINE (VALLIERE)
Even with a couple of changes needing to be fixed, as close to a perfect nine for fun, architectural intrigue and beauty. If the game had more of these, it would be a lot more popular. Short, quirky, natural and downright dreamy. And you can do it all in a leisurely 80 minutes. 
Geoffshackleford.com, Planet Golf

MUSSELBURGH LINKS, THE OLD COURSE
This combines my affinity for golf, golf history, horse racing and 9-hole fun. I’m always happy playing golf here. The lack of concern for this place over the years by the Honourable Company is confounding. The place that gave them their start, has been under siege many times and just needs a little love. Musselburgh should be a living museum to the early days of the game. It still very much is, but this should be a shrine every golfer insists on visiting to say hello to the ghosts of early golf, early club making and to see what a perfect 9-hole community course could look like. 
Musselburgh Old Links

A huge thanks to Geoff for taking the time to put his list together with so much thought - the observations here are really spot on. Next up, golf course architecture enthusiast Tim Gallant will be sharing his 10 favourite courses.

Pat Goss's Favourite Golf Courses

pat goss

Pat Goss is the Director of Golf and Player Development at Northwestern University and coach to, among others, ex-world number 1 Luke Donald.

I met Pat a few years ago, when he and Luke collaborated with the writers of Freakonomics to look at applying behavioural psychology to help the average golfer score better. I was delighted to be one of those average golfers, although my handicap is up 1.2 since the experiment! Pat has a contagious enthusiasm for the game which shines through. Over to him:

For me to do this list is a bit of an embarrassment. To grow up playing municipal facilities around Crystal Lake, IL and end up doing a list of favorite golf courses you’ve played while leaving off Pine Valley, Seminole and Augusta seems unbelievable. The game has been incredibly good to me! There are plenty of great courses I haven’t played and look forward to seeing, but based on what I’ve been fortunate enough to play here goes...

1. CYPRESS POINT
Everything about this experience is incredible. 17-mile drive, the Pacific Ocean, and Monterey are all sense heightening. When I first played Cypress Point I expected the whole day would be playing a great course, but you’d basically be waiting to get to 15 through 17.  However, that wasn’t the case. I’ve never played a course that played out in multiple different scenes and built anticipation like Cypress. Playing down 1 you see the ocean and the anticipation begins, and then you play an incredible set of holes through pines that makes you feel like you’re in North Carolina or at a Heathland Course. Then, on 7 you turn the corner to play an amazing set of holes through dunes that gives you a lot of options and risk/reward. Then, you play some really strong golf holes, 11-14, that head you out to the beckoning ocean. You finally arrive and finish the most spectacular scene in golf as you play 15-17. Truly an incredible experience and great day.
Graylyn Loomis, Golf Digest, Playing the Top 100

2. NORTH BERWICK GOLF CLUB
Absolute pure enjoyment to play. The quirkiness is fun and includes multiple stone walls, and as someone who loves the history of architecture, to play what’s credited as the original Redan hole is really cool.  It was also enjoyable and interesting to play a completely different version of the Biarritz than we see in the US.  I knew the North Berwick version of the Biarritz was a good challenge when my caddy, who is a good player himself, told me from a wedge distance that my only chance to hit it on the green was to run a 6-iron. I love that stuff. I’m also a sucker for any place that has a kids course and a charming town.
UK Golf Guy review, Scottish Golf History, Planet Golf

3. LAHINCH GOLF CLUB
I loved everything about the experience and couldn’t have been more excited to play two original Old Tom Morris designed holes. Who doesn’t love a partially blind par-3! Again, fun, quirky and charming - a hospitable place.
UK Golf Guy Review, Graylyn Loomis

4. ROYAL DORNOCH GOLF CLUB
After a long day of coaching at Castle Stuart, I drove up and arrived after 6 pm, teeing off at 6:30 with one of the professionals from the shop.  We had the course to ourselves and finished just before dark.  Playing until 10 pm on a beautiful Scottish summer evening was part of the charm.
top100golfcourses.com, telegraph.co.uk, Graylyn Loomis. UK Golf Guy Review

5. SHINNECOCK HILLS
One trend you’ll catch on my list is that hard isn’t necessarily fun, in my book.  However, Shinnecock is the exception to that, which probably further shows what an amazing place it is.  First, to sit on the porch at the clubhouse with the expanse of the course below you, seeing nearly every hole, really gets you excited for the day. It may be the best and strongest test of golf I’ve played.
UK Golf Guy Review, Golf Monthly History

6. SWINLEY FOREST GOLF CLUB
I had always been excited to play the Heathland courses around London, especially knowing their history and influence on the Golden Age of Architecture. Swinley was my first course on a recent Heathland trips, and it blew me away. It was a beautiful walk with incredible bunkers, strong ground movement around the greens, interesting features and the purple of the heather. An amazing day.
UK Golf Guy Review, Swinley Forest Website, Graylyn Loomis

7. CHICAGO GOLF CLUB
The oldest 18-hole course in America with wonderful template holes and the history of CB MacDonald and Seth Raynor as the architects is another great experience. Incredible vistas throughout the course, beautiful blowing fescue (which they’ve worked diligently to keep playable), strong green complexes and great bunkering make for a good test and truly enjoyable walk. The understated aspect of the club is also part of the experience and speaks to the club’s commitment to being a great golf club of historical significance.
Fried Egg, Chicagology

8. MAIDSTONE CLUB
Since the work Coore & Crenshaw did this really jumped my list. Maybe the best dunes in America, sandy and fast ground, and the location right on the ocean make for a great day.  Part of what makes Maidstone fun is the whole experience.  Walking by the pool with the cabanas, lunch at the beach club (perhaps with a Southsider), the ocean access, as well as a great logo add to the atmosphere.
Maidstone Club, Graylyn Loomis

9. THE CLUBS OF THE NORTH SHORE OF CHICAGO
From Evanston GC on the south to Shoreacres on the north. Just load in Evanston on your google maps, put it on satellite imagery, and start dragging north up Lake Michigan to Lake Bluff, and you’ll be blown away by the sheer amount of golf courses. This is one of the strongest concentrations of great private clubs in the US. All in incredible condition with a great history of designers including Donald Ross, Harry Colt, Seth Raynor, and Charles Alison. There are too many great courses to single out one!
Fried Egg,

10. TWIN PONDS GC AND CRYSTAL WOODS GC
Twin Ponds was a 9-hole, par-28 with a range, putting green and small chipping area that is now a Home Depot. Crystal Woods is a family owned public facility in Woodstock, IL. Without the junior accessibility provided by these two facilities, and without the support of John Swenson at Twin Ponds and John and Jay Craig at Crystal Woods, I wouldn’t have been exposed to golf. I had many great days of golf at both courses and couldn’t be more indebted for the opportunity these courses provided me. These two courses are why I’m so passionate about municipal and accessible golf.  Golf needs more of these.
Crystal Woods Golf Club

Many thanks Pat for your selections. Tomorrow we will hear from the brilliant Geoff Shackleford.

Alan Shipnuck's Favourite Golf Courses

Next up in our ‘favourite courses’ series is Alan Shipnuck.

Shipnuck is the leading long-form writer in the game today. He was a twenty year old intern when he wrote his first cover story for Sports Illustrated and has twice been the recipient of an award from the Golf Writers Association of America. He breaks more exclusives than anyone in the world of golf and is not one to shy away from controversy. His golf.com podcasts, especially his Major wraps with Michael Bamberger, are among the very best in the business. He is currently taking on the whole of European Twitter in the build-up to the Ryder Cup.

If you are looking to explore his work further, may I direct you to this article on Masters winner Patrick Reed, this masterpiece on Pat Perez and this tour de force on the tragic death of Wayne Westner - all penned in the last couple of years. Nobody does it better.

On the range at Muirfield with the great Alan Shipnuck

On the range at Muirfield with the great Alan Shipnuck

Shipnuck has seen many of the world’s best golf courses. His Scottish road trip, chronicled in this article, is a must read for those planning a similar adventure. I met Alan on the range at Muirfield during that trip and battled the 30mph wind in the group behind him. Safe to say his elegance with the pen wasn’t matched with his irons on that occasion!

So here are Alan Shipnuck’s favourite 10 courses with some links if you want to delve a little deeper with these courses. You will see there is a nautical theme!

1. CRUDEN BAY
A nonstop thrill ride of fun, quirky holes up, down, and across wild terrain.
Golf Club Atlas, Cruden Bay Website

2. PEBBLE BEACH GOLF LINKS
Demands more heroic shots than any other course and offers the most majestic view in golf.
UK Golf Guy Review, Monterey Herald History, Youtube - Tiger Wood 2000

3. NORTH BERWICK (WEST LINKS)
The quintessence of Scottish golf, with so many unexpected twists and turns and some truly iconic holes.
UK Golf Guy review, Scottish Golf History, Planet Golf

4. CYPRESS POINT
The first ten holes are peak MacKenzie in terms of bunkering and green complexes, while 11-17 is quite simply the best golf on the planet.
Graylyn Loomis, Golf Digest, Playing the Top 100

5. ST ANDREWS - THE OLD COURSE
The most fascinating and charming course we have, and there’s nothing like those greens.
UK Golf Guy Review

6. MACRIHANISH GOLF CLUB
It begins with the best opening hole in the world and then just keeps on coming, with one great hole after another through heaving dunes.
Macrihanish Golf Club, Golf Empire

7. NATIONAL GOLF LINKS OF AMERICA
The template of C.B. Macdonald’s and Seth Raynor’s skill, weaved into the ideal terrain.
UK Golf Guy Review, NGLA website, 1968 Sports Illustrated Article

8. LAHINCH GOLF CLUB
It has the kind of unforgettable holes that compels a man to cross an ocean.
UK Golf Guy Review, Graylyn Loomis

9. MONTEREY PENINSULA COUNTRY CLUB (THE SHORE)
As elegant and beautiful as a painting, loaded with risk-reward shots that stir the soul.
MPCC site, Golf Course Gurus,

10. CASTLE STUART GOLF LINKS
A stunning new design that feels like it’s been there forever.
UK Golf Guy Review, Top100GolfCourses.com

A big thanks to Alan for taking the time to put this list together. I love his selection - dramatic courses by the sea which don’t go for spectacle at the expense of quality.

Tomorrow’s favourite courses come from Pat Goss, Director of Golf & Player Development at Northwestern University, coach to Luke Donald, and another man who has played many of the world’s great courses.



Darius Oliver's Favourite Golf Courses

The second of our series on ‘Favourite Golf Courses’ brings us Darius Oliver’s selection

planet golf darius oliver

Oliver is the author of the famous ‘Planet’ series of books which can be found in the country’s finest golf clubhouses and on the most discerning golfers’ bookshelves. He has visited over 1,500 golf courses and his Planet Golf website is the internet’s go-to resource for top end golf course reviews and historical course rankings. He is also a co-author of the authoritative Confidential series of books.

Not content with just visiting and writing about golf courses, Oliver is also a golf course designer. His much-acclaimed creation at Cape Wickham sits at number 40 in the Ultimate Top 100 course ranking.

Here is Darius’ list of his favourite courses, with some reasons for his selections. I’ve added some links to help you explore the courses a little more.

NORTH BERWICK GOLF CLUB
The first course I played in the UK, and the one I don’t think I could ever play too often. Impossible to experience without a smile. 
UK Golf Guy review, Scottish Golf History, Planet Golf

CAPE WICKHAM
Personal bias perhaps, but I think it has the most exciting, most spectacular collection of holes on any modern course. And it still has improvement in it. 
Australian Golf Digest, Youtube

ROYAL COUNTY DOWN
Hole for hole my favourite course anywhere outside of Cape Wickham. 
UK Golf Guy Review, Golf Digest Feature

ST ANDREWS OLD COURSE
With a links pass and without the crowds, this would probably be my #1.
UK Golf Guy Review 

ROYAL ADELAIDE
Charming, quirky, beautiful old golf club with one of my all-time favourite holes (the 3rd). 
Golf Club Atlas Photo Tour, Planet Golf

PRESTWICK GOLF CLUB
Like North Berwick, I adore Prestwick and am almost depressed walking off 18 that the fun has to end.
Golf Club Atlas feature, Planet Golf

THE HILLS (FARM COURSE)
Opens in December and is about the most gorgeous par three course anywhere in the world. Can be played quickly, at various lengths and with only a handful of clubs if necessary. 
Planet Golf, Mountain Scene

GOLF DE MORFONTAINE
Lovely club all around, but I’m particularly obsessed by their short course. I wish it were in Australia. 
UK Golf Guy review, Top100golf blog, Geoff Shackleford Article

CYPRESS POINT
No explanation needed, surely? 
Graylyn Loomis, Golf Digest, Playing the Top 100

WOKING GOLF CLUB
I love Heathland golf outside the winter months and could happily play out my golfing days here.
Woking Website, Golf Club Atlas

Darius added: ‘There are differences between what I regard as the best courses, and those that are my favourite. For example, I’m involved in a new par three project at the Hills in Queenstown, New Zealand which makes my Top 10 as it’s one of those rare courses I could happily play every day for the rest of my life.

The others on my list would fit that same criteria, being courses that would never bore me and that I could enjoy even as I got older and my game (hopefully not) deteriorated. Most are in the UK and Australia, just because of the nature of the clubs, the grasses and the fact that the game is much more interesting when the ball bounces and rolls.

In terms of the list, I regard Royal Melbourne (West) as the premier golf course in Australia. I’m not a big fan of Legend couch fairways, however, so it doesn’t make my list as I find it less enjoyable off the tee now than in the past. Royal Adelaide makes the list as the private club in Australia I would join if they were all equal distance from my home.

The courses most unlucky to miss out are Royal Dornoch, Royal Melbourne (West), Somerset Hills, Sand Hills, Sunningdale, Bandon Trails, Friar’s Head and Kingston Heath.’

Many thanks to Darius for putting his list together. Few humans have seen more golf courses than Darius so he brings a really interesting perspective.

Next time we have the top 10 choices from probably the world’s leading golf writer, Alan Shipnuck.