There are a lot of golf course rankings out there. The global top 100 is attempted by many and the U.K. top 100 is well covered too. However, the ranking of the best Continental European courses has always been harder to get a handle on. New courses are springing up all the time and some once-greats have been left to wither on the vine.
I lived in Switzerland for a while and for some years I relied on the sadly discontinued Peugeot Golf Guide to help me plan trips. I still refer to it at times and top100golfcourses is a great site too. I have previously commended the Today's Golfer/Golf World Continental Europe top 100 and, from what I have seen, the latest update of this biannual list is even better.
In this world of digital media it is rare to find a pure print publication but Golf World is just that. As a result, the listing itself isn't available online, although hopefully it will end up on the site of its sister publication, Today's Golfer, before long. They are happy for me to print the list below but I would encourage you to go and pick up a copy of the November edition of Golf World if you are in the U.K. They have done a nice job with the 60-page supplement which gives a really good flavour of the courses and an insight into the rankings.
The quality of the list is really strong and very well researched. I'm normally not a fan of rankings which rely on scoring individual criteria but, on this occasion, it seems to have worked well. The panel is made up of players who have all seen many of the courses and, from the results, would appear to prefer a more classical look and feel over modern resort-type efforts. That chimes well with the current vogue in golf course architecture appreciation and results in playable courses finding their way high up the list.
Anyway, here are some thoughts on the Golf World Too 100 Golf Courses in Continental Europe 2017/18 list.
Morfontaine's domination continues unabated
There should be no surprise that Morfontaine retains position 1. There are only 2 Continental European courses in the Ultimate Top 100 world ranking list and Morfontaine comes in at number 33, the only other being Valderrama at number 80. Morfontaine is a country mile better than anything else but it remains a secret to many. It is famously hard to get a tee time there but there are some ways in. I have been lucky enough to visit it twice and can confirm it is simply phenomenal. You can read my review here and there are some photos of my trip to Morfontaine and Les Bordes earlier in the year in the YouTube video (with obligatory cheesy music) below.
The Olympics is coming to Paris in 2024. Of course, there is no chance of this happening but if the IOC were to shun the logistical allure of Le Golf National and head to Morfontaine, without a care for the winning score, it would be a joy for the world to behold.
Holland is Europe's most unheralded destination
The Netherlands has 7 courses in this top 100 and they are all ranked in the top 30. Only France equals that and it knocks the socks off of the more familiar venues of Spain and Portugal. OK, the weather may be a bit less reliable but the quality sounds just amazing. I have never been but that's changing next year. On the back of this list I've persuaded my mates to head to Amsterdam for next year's annual trip. It will take a bit of planning as these are private courses with limited play, but I am excited about seeing Utrecht (2), Royal Hague (5), Kennemer (8) and Noordwijkse (12) - all within an hour's drive of Amsterdam where I am told we will be able to find plenty to do in the evenings as well.
This is a list not scared to make bold calls
When I played Le Golf National it really left me cold. This was supposedly one of the very best in Europe and yet it felt soulless. I felt it was a course trading off its reputation rather than its reality. So I was happy to see it fall to 32 in this ranking, and I suspect it has further to go. It must be hard for a golf course ranker to make a call like that, so well done to them for having the cojones to do it. Others making notable downward moves are Thracian Cliffs in Bulgaria which made a stunning debut on the European Tour a few years back but the review implies it is more about the views than the quality of the golf and Domaine Imperial, supposedly Switzerland's best, which has dropped 18 places to 69. That was another course that disappointed me when I played it recently. They have the most amazing setting on Lake Geneva which they have completely ignored when building a fairly average golf course.
Modern courses struggle to break into the top echelons of the European list
If you look at any UK top 100 you will find new courses which have managed to break through into what is a hard list to crack. Castle Stuart, Kingsbarns, Trump International have all been built in the last dozen years and are talked about in the same breath as some of the real greats of the game. They're all ranked above Royal Troon! In Europe however, this seems hard to do.
There are some good new courses built around hotels - I've played at Terreblanche, Monte Rei and Son Gual but none of them quite hit the heights of the more established courses. They are all 16s or 17s in my rankings, not even threatening an 18 which is a shame. There is no obvious contender for a course knocking on the door of the World Top 100. Maybe what we need is a Mike Keiser figure to discover a remote part of Portugal, untouched by human hand but full of wonderful dunes and persuade modern-day geniuses such as Coore and Crenshaw, Tom Doak, Gill Hanse or Kyle Philips to come over and build something special. Apparently European planning laws make such things hard to achieve, but if they could manage it it would be nice.
The European Tour is failing to play the best
This isn't a problem unique to the European Tour. The PGA would tell the same story, but in the last 5 years, the European Tour has only visited 6 of the top 30 courses. At a time when Keith Pelley is trying to find new ways to invigorate the European Tour, wouldn't it be great if we showcased some of these amazing courses to the world? I know some will say these courses can't take the logistics or that the players will overpower them but surely we could manage to accommodate a couple of them a year?
A couple of quibbles....
It would be surprising not to have some issues with any golf course ranking list, so here goes! I've only played about a quarter of these courses but some thoughts spring to mind: Valderrama seems too high. I've played it a few times and the pleasure I am getting is diminishing. There are too many weirdly positioned trees and it's rather stupidly tight in places, Fontainebleau could quite happily move up to take its place. Monte Rei was too formulaic for me and is too high at 13. While it may be a good example of Jack Nicklaus's work, that doesn't impress me too much. The restaurant was great though!
I haven't seen it since the renovations but Sotogrande seems to be languishing a little low in position 36. I really enjoy it there and would say it is a more enjoyable course than Valderrama for the average golfer. Son Gual is probably the best of the modern resort/big scale courses I've seen and I think it is worth a top 30 shout.
And now, a few stats
There are 20 different countries represented in the Top 100 with France (16), Spain (16) and Portugal (14) leading the way. However, when you look at it as courses per square kilometre, the list changes dramatically with Belgium (6), The Netherlands (7), Portugal (14) and Denmark (5) taking the top spots!
Do pick up a copy of the magazine if you are thinking about a trip, there's a lot in there to inspire. I've still got a bunch of European courses to write up for this site but, as I do, I'll write some blogs about some of the trips worth considering. Plenty to enjoy!