Are you looking to make a golf pilgrimage?
If you’re searching for some new and totally unique landscapes to aim for the green, there’s no better place to do so than in the British Isles.
Golf originated on the sandy shores and springy turfs of what we now call the linksland in Scotland at St. Andrews. The courses in nearby England and Ireland have tremendous layouts and great history as well.
Not sure where to play? Your trip wouldn’t be complete without hitting some of the big ones, like The Old Course, Carnoustie, and Royal Portrush. But the British Isles are covered with hundreds of courses, some of which may not be as well known, but absolutely should be.
Check out these 12 “off the radar” courses to get a good feel for where you should be golfing in the British Isles:
1. Take a romp through the dunes at Enniscrone.
Ireland is known for its plethora of links courses, and in County Sligo on the West Coast, you’ll find one of the most scenic, albeit challenging—Enniscrone. It features The Dunes, a par 73 Champions links course. Follow the rugged dunes and elevated greens, and make sure you hold the line!
While the course began with a modest nine holes, the prolific Irish architect, Eddie Hackett, designed an additional nine holes, totaling 18 and putting Enniscrone on the map.
2018 is Enniscrone’s centenary, with a number of events being held to celebrate. It wasn’t until 1931 that the course officially opened, back then the annual dues were £1 for its 48 members!
The club has evolved dramatically over the years, by 1999 the skilled links designer Donald Steel was commissioned to reroute the golf course, which now weaves its way into the dunes. Playing these dunes gives you the opportunity to craft shots you may have never thought of before.
As the course is situated between the moody Ox Mountains and the breathtaking Scurmore beaches, you’ll have fantastic views throughout your game. And you’ll need some natural beauty as you walk the over 7,000 yards of fairways and greens.
For those looking to “get off the beaten path” (make that course!), Enniscrone is a great (and underappreciated) choice.
2. Enjoy stunning sea views with every hole at Ardglass.
Do you enjoying taking in your surroundings as you move through the course? Then consider Ardglass in Northern Ireland, which also happens to have the oldest club house in the world (built in 1405).
Ardglass is only a two hour drive from Dublin, making it easy to bookend the course on either side of your trip. And if you’re looking forward to seeing that Emerald Coast, you’ll be happy to know the ocean can be seen from all 18 tees and greens. The course is also situated near Royal County Down, a world top 100 golf course, as voted by Golf Digest.
As you reach the 18th hole of Ardglass, you’ll feel like royalty—the hole is named “Cowd’s Castle,” which references the small castle at the club’s entrance. It is one of four castles that still remain in Ardglass.
No matter your golfing experience or ability, all are welcome to enjoy this classic test of a links course.
3. Play one of the oldest and most highly ranked links golf course at the Island Golf Club.
If you’re flying into Dublin, go ahead and schedule a tee time at the Island Golf Club—it’s only 15 minutes from the airport.
Founded in 1890, the Island Golf Club is one of the oldest in Ireland. The ten founding members of the club were known as the “Syndicate,”and they only allowed members to join annually, making the course incredibly exclusive.
The “Syndicate” ended their “reign” in the 1950s, allowing membership to increase dramatically. In the past few decades, many championships and competitions have been held at the links.
4. Get a traditional links experience amid the gorse and heather at Dooks in Kerry.
Dooks Golf Club is the oldest in Kerry, a striking region on Ireland’s southwestern coast. The Royal Horse Artillery founded the club in 1889, bringing golf to the local gentry. Over the years, the name changed a few times, but simplifying to Dooks was eventually thought to be best.
In the 1960s, many were fearful Dooks would be closed due to a dispute with the land agent. A “Save Dooks” campaign raised £7,000, which did indeed save the course.
Just like Enniscrone, Dooks originally only had nine holes. The club’s proprietors resisted all efforts of modernization, so the course didn’t expand to a full 18 holes until the 1970s. And again, Eddie Hackett completed the expansion.
5. Golf at Elie, in the “Kingdom of Fife,” where the legendary James Braid cut his teeth.
At the turn of the century, James Braid won The Open, not once, not twice, but five times from 1901 to 1910. As he was born in Fife, Elie was the course he most commonly played at growing up.
If you’ll be playing at St. Andrews anyway, be sure to get a tee time at Elie, too—it’s only 12 miles away.
While you’re there, take a peek through the periscope. One of the more unusual additions to a golf course and presented to the club by member Gavin Reekie, this lookout was salvaged from the submarine, the HMS Excalibur. It gives perfect 360 degree views over the hill and of the first hole.
6. You can’t miss Scotland’s “Golf Coast” and a round at Dunbar.
While East Lothian sounds like a fantastical place in Middle Earth, it’s actually considered Scotland’s “Golf Coast” because there are so many amazing courses there. And one of those amazing courses is Dunbar Golf Club.
Dunbar is regularly voted “amongst the best” in all of Scotland. Many of the greats have crossed the course’s scenic holes including legends James Braid and Old Tom Morris, and recent legends, Vijay Singh and Sergio Garcia.
Golf has been played at Dunbar for over 400 years. In 1617, after breaking the Sabbath Law to play golf, “gouffers” were reprimanded by The Kirk. But it wasn’t until 1794, the first organization at Dunbar was recorded. The Dunbar Golfing Society created its rules and added 27 members. And the rest, as they say, is history.
7. Play Dundonald Links, the course where Rafa Cabrera-Bello won his spectacular victory at the Scottish Open.
Although the Dundonald Links are relatively new, the course’s name actually references a fort found nearby, dating back between 500 and 200 BC. “Dundonald” means Fort Donald.
While the name is neat, the course is even more interesting with its impressive ability to host two championships within 10 days of each other. In 2017, the course hosted the Scottish Open, with the likes of Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, and Matt Kuchar competing. Then, less than two weeks later, Dundonald hosted the Ladies’ Scottish Open, featuring Minjee Lee, Michelle Wie, and Lydia Ko.
Spanish pro-golfer, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, holds a “special place” in his heart for Dundonald after winning the Scottish Open. His win was especially sweet as it was won in a playoff.
8. Prestwick St. Nicholas holds a lot of history.
The prestigious Prestwick St. Nicholas Golf Club is the 26th oldest golf club in the world. Four-time Open winner, Old Tom Morris, was a founding member of the club, which is a traditional Scottish links course on the shores of the Firth of Clyde tucked between big names like Royal Troon and Prestwick.
The course’s setting stuns with its natural beauty and historical sights. Just off the first green lies the “Salt Pan” buildings, which date back to 1790 and were used to extract salt from boiling sea water.
The deep bunkers, running fairways, undulating greens, and strands of gorse test the skills of all players, no matter their age or ability.
9. You definitely want to play Hillside—double Open champ Greg Norman calls it the “best back nine in Britain.”
Hillside is known for being the best links course in the United Kingdom that’s never hosted The Open. Need some convincing? Not only has Greg Norman highly complimented the course, but so has the all time best golfer in world history—Jack Nicklaus.
“Within the second nine are some of my favorite holes,” said Nicklaus. He also referred to the course as a “wild looking links.”
If you’re interested in having a “wild” time on the course, you’ll certainly be joining a fantastic group of golfers who played there before you. Situated a mere 300 yards from the site of the 2018 Open Championship, Royal Birkdale Hillside provides is a must play when visiting England’s Golf Coast.
10. Red or blue? Don’t choose—play them both at the Berkshire in Ascot.
Like Scotland and Ireland, England holds many illustrious courses, some of which are right outside of London.
The Berkshire in Ascot is only 20 miles from London’s city-center. And if you’re looking to play a lot of good golf, be sure to play both the blue and the red courses, which are each on the list of top golf courses in Britain.
Herbert Fowler, of Walton Heath fame, designed both of the colorful courses in 1928. The Berkshire is home to many prestigious amateur tournaments including the Berkshire trophy which has been won by the likes of Nick Faldo and Sandy Lyle.
11. Undulating fairways, rippling seagrass, and the massive “Himalayas” dune—you have to play St. Enodoc.
Imagine how many golf courses there are in the world. Quite a number, don’t you think? Now imagine if you could play at any of the Top 100 in the entire world? Wouldn’t that be something?
Well, you absolutely can at St. Enodoc, located in the Atlantic Links region of England on the Cornish Coast. The course repeatedly ranks as one of the top courses in the world, let alone in the British Isles. It rises in the rankings year after year, with it making the 2014 list in Golf Digest. Not too shabby!
Considered to be one of James Braid’s finest works, St Enodoc has remained relatively the same since his last visit to the club in 1937.
With a second, shorter course complimenting the championship (Church) Course, St Enodoc is a must play when visiting the southwest coast of England, otherwise known as the Atlantic Links.
12. Can you beat the beast? Challenge yourself at Royal Cinque Ports.
On England’s other coast, breathtaking courses paint the region of Kent, including Royal Cinque Ports.
Over 120 years in the making, this coastal links course has hosted The Open twice and provides a stiff challenge for both professionals and amateurs alike.
The last seven holes are said to be some of the toughest in all of golf. The course sustained substantial damage during WWII and was restored by Sir Guy Campbell and Henry Cotton to the championship standard golfers see today.
In 2002, a 17 year old South African and future Masters winner, Charl Schwartzel competed with over 250 others and managed to shoot a record 6 under with only 3 players being under par for whole the tournament.
For those with a sense of adventure, tackling this course should be on your golfing bucket list.
Ready to hit the links and hold the green?
If you can see yourself teeing off on the Emerald Isle or sampling Scotch after a round in Scotland, we’d love to have you join us for the golf adventure of your life. Answer a few questions here to get started on curating your own bespoke golf vacation in the British Isles.
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