The Best Golf Experiences in the UK
We love to hear the views of regular golfers, which was the objective and motivation behind the 2019 Golfshake Course Survey, where we asked for your feedback on courses and venues that you have experienced to help us identify the best and most visitor friendly clubs across the UK & Europe.
Part of that exercise was to discover the Best Golf Experiences in the UK, with hundreds of golfers sharing their favourite experiences. We have included the most common and popular selections below. Responses were varied and provided a rich mix, from the famous Ryder Cup hosts of Celtic Manor, The Belfry and Gleneagles, to lesser recognised gems like Old Thorns and Barnham Broom, creating a helpful guide to the UK’s finest golfing days out.
A real class act, as far as golf experiences go, Celtic Manor is right from the top draw. The resort boasts three courses: the flagship 2010 course, the Montgomerie course and the Roman Road course. The jewel in the crown is the 2010 layout, named after the Ryder Cup, which it famously hosted that year. Golfshake ambassador Rob Treanor, however, cast his lot in with the less postcard-friendly Montgomerie, with “dramatic, scenic Welsh landscape to navigate across” making it his favourite of the three courses, even pipping the better known 2010 option. Although our other man, Matt Holbrook, was more mainstream, insisting that the “Ryder Cup experience is something all golfers should experience at least once”.
Like Celtic Manor, The Belfry has Ryder Cup pedigree, having hosted the event in 1985, when Europe famously broke a 30-year USA winning streak. Back then, it was considered one of the less attractive Ryder Cup venues, but now, over three decades later, the course has matured into a wonderful parkland that excels by anyone’s standards. The Belfry is helped by being in consistently “immaculate condition”, something which struck Golfshake ambassador Matt Holbrook, so that every round here is a special day out. Our highlights are the signature 10th hole, which features a small green perched over a water hazard which the big hitter can try to drive, and the 18th, where the approach shot must grapple with a similarly tough carry over a large and imposing lake.
There are very few resorts in the world, yet alone the UK, that can rival St Andrews. It’s got it all: history, quality and amazing views. And that’s just the Old Course. There are over seven courses on the complex, owned by the Links Trust, and several more if you include those such as the inland Duke's, and the Torrance and Kittocks layouts, connected with the Fairmont Hotel. It’s the Old Course, however, which is obviously the most sensational. The holes are instantly recognisable from TV, the 1st with its famously wide fairway, through to the notoriously difficult Road Hole, the drive over the Old Course Hotel and the fiendishly tricky Road Hole bunker. “THE best golfing experience possible in the UK – like nothing else,” in the words of Matt Holbrook.
Gleneagles is another top-quality resort with a range of equally luxurious options to choose from. Its excellence has frequently been recognised in the accolade of ‘Best Golf Resort in the World’ and the resort offers a trio of brilliant courses: The King’s, the Queen’s and, last but not least, the 2014 Ryder Cup layout, the PGA Centenary. All three of these courses are world-class offerings, but, as you’d expect, it’s the PGA Centenary option which stands out. Matt Holbrock calls it “simply stunning”, noting that “the views will take your breath away, the quality of the course will leave you speechless”. Combining vistas of hills scorched purple with heather and incredibly conditioned courses, Gleneagles’s coveted Highly Recommended rating on Golfshake is entirely deserved.
What it lacks in reputation, the beautiful Old Thorns more than makes up for in pure quality. Scandalously for a track of its greatness, Old Thorns is not as well-known as more high-profile resorts like Gleneagles and Celtic Manor. Don’t let this fool you, however; for nestled deep in the heart of the South Downs National Park, Old Thorns is a truly excellent course. The main appeal is undoubtedly its views. Situated in an ancient Hampshire forest, playing Old Thorns feels as though you’re cutting your way through a Celtic wood, so seamlessly do the golf holes blend in among the firs. A testament to its quality is the players who agreed to first open it: in 1982, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Isao Aoki and Bill Rogers played the inaugural round on the course to celebrate its foundation.
The home of the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, Wentworth is, in Matt Holbrook’s estimation, “one of the finest parkland courses in the world”. The course, originally designed by the legendary course designer Harry Colt in 1927, was redesigned by Ernie Els in 2014. The renovation took a bit of tweaking before it was ready, but once the changes had had time to mature, they fitted into the course like they had been there from the start. It’s now hard to imagine the West Course as anything other than it is today, one of the greatest mixtures of heathland, parkland, tight fairways and beautifully manicured greens around. Memorable holes include the par 3 second, and the back-to-back par fives 17th and 18th which cap off the course. The final hole, with its daunting carry over a lake, is a real risk and reward hole and a great matchplay-style finish to the course, guaranteed to generate plenty of drama.
As the site of this 2019 Women’s British Open, they don’t come much better than Woburn. Its championship pedigree is attested to by the competitions it has hosted over the years including the prestigious British Masters. It’s also the home-club of one Ian James Poulter, who has a special room dedicated to him on the premises. The 6.983 yard Duke's Course sports fairways lined with pine, silver birch and chestnut trees. Heather, bracken and gorse add to the charm of the course, as well as providing some of the natural hazards of the holes. Although it’s the Duke's which is the most famous, Woburn also has two other top-quality tracks, the Duchess and the Marquess, both of which, though less senior, are also premium offerings. The courses are all studded with majestic birches, heather and bracken, and are in brilliant condition year-round. Golfshake ambassador Rob Treanor adds that “the food is fantastic and the level of service in keeping with the 5* reputation. If I could only play one more game of golf in my life, Woburn would be top of my list.”
East Sussex National
East Sussex National is a magnificent hotel resort situated in the heart of East Sussex. A “top notch hotel”, visitors to the resort can expect “incredible food”, a “nice swimming pool/spa” and “probably the finest pro shop” that Golfshake reader Richard Moore had “ever seen”. At the centre of the East Sussex experience, however, are its two championship courses: the 7,154 yard West Course and the slightly shorter, but more established, 7,081 yard East Course. Both classic parkland layouts, lined with wavy brown rough and covered with gorgeous copses and trees, the West and the East are both truly stellar golfing tests. The East, in particular, “feels like a real championship course”.
Another resort with two courses this, the London Club offers a test on the fringes of England’s capital. Designed by none other than Jack Nicklaus, the Heritage course is a wonderfully conceived test – accuracy, not length is the name of the game here, and plotting your way around is key. The International is an equally stern challenge. Fast-running fairways mean that once again accuracy is at a premium and with several risk and reward tee shots over water, there’s few places more exciting to visit.
Famed for playing host to the 2006 World Golf Championship – won by Tiger Woods – The Grove more than lives up to its hype. The course is immaculately-conditioned, even by its own, lofty standards, and with its WGC history commemorated by numerous plaques and pictures around the resort, The Grove’s enviable past looms large in the mind. Lush green vistas and rolling scopes abound, and add beauty to an already luxury track. In Matt Holbrook’s opinion, “you will be hard pushed to find a better experience in the UK.”
To the general public, Goodwood is perhaps better known for its motor circuit than its golf courses. But for all its appeal to petrolheads, this resort is also a hotbed for quality golf. The Downs Course is the real showshopper here. Over 7,000 yards from the tips and splayed across acres of rolling Sussex downland (from which it gets its name), the Downs is one of the most scenic courses in Sussex and one of the toughest and trickily designed to boot. Golfers who prefer a gentler test can favour the shorter and flatter Park Course. Though this isn’t quite as panoramic as its elder, and tougher, brother, the Park is still a pretty little thing and has enough quirks to challenge the serious player, without being inaccessible to the beginner. If you keep your eyes peeled, you might even see the famous Goodwood wooden golf buggies (or ‘woodies’ as the members refer to them!)
Another hidden gem, Barnham Broom is a first-class golf resort. In what is fast becoming a theme in this article, Barnham Broom has two top-quality courses. The shorter, more forgiving par 71 Hill Course, mixes wide fairways with generous greens, but still retains enough bite to challenge the serious golfer, in contrast to the treacherous Valley Course. Studded with water hazards, the Valley is a severe test for even the best players. Both courses’s Highly Recommended ratings on Golfshake are thoroughly deserved. And the food and hospitality are second to none.
A quirky links-style heathland test, Archerfield is a temendous venue. Although it’s somewhat overshadowed by courses like Muirfield, Gullane and North Berkwick, which reside on the same length of coastland, Archerfield more than earns its spot on this list with its aesthetics – gorse lines most fairways, providing great definition, while sublime pine trees provide a beautiful background – as well as its subtle and pleasing design.
With a Golfshake rating of 4.38, Belton Woods is a stunner. Two courses are again on offer here (three if you include the ‘Red Arrows’ par 3 course), the Woodside, which, as its name suggests, is characterised by woodland, and the Lakes, which is the more senior of the two courses and bisected by water. If you can navigate the aqua then the Lakes is still scorable, but you need to bring you’re ‘A’ game to score well.
Cut across the panoramic cliff tops on the Lelyn Peninsula in Wales, Nefyn is one of the most beautiful courses on this list. It’s also got the unusual benefit of sporting 27 holes, rather than the more typical 18, made up of three nine hole stretches which can be combined into several courses. The most scenic combo takes the golfer skirting the cliff edges, battling to keep control of their shots in fierce coastal winds. A real Welsh diamond.
Prince's Golf Club
From the coast of Wales to the coast of Kent, Prince's is another top-quality links offering. Highlights include the par 3 ‘Bloody Point’ which scenically backs into the sea, and the 608 yard par 5 6th, a long slog over marshland which will challenge even usually swaggering long hitters. Prince’s quality has been specially recognised by Golfshake subscribers, who have given the club a rare 100% recommended rating. Matt Holbrook praises a “stunning links layout with equally as well put together accommodation”.
Turnberry has long been one of the most beloved courses on the Open rota, but reached new heights after renowned course architect Martin Ebert redesigned it to critical acclaim in 2016. The course has recently been upgraded again – also under Ebert’s guiding hand – and is a stunning credit to the beautiful Ayrshire coastline onto which it is set.
The Ashbury and Manor House Hotel offers great quality golf on an even better budget. A weekend at the resort gets you free (yes, free!) golf on all 99 of the resort’s golf holes, spread out over seven full courses which mix features of parkland and heathland and downland, along with unlimited balls on the resort’s practice range. The jewel in the crown here is the par 72, 6,528 yard Kigbeare course, but the others, including the Pines, Beeches and the Oakwood are all equally lovely. The 27 hole par 3 Willows course is one of the trickiest par 3s in the land and a great place to hone your short game before a round.
Spanning across rolling Berkshire countryside, Donnington is a beautiful parkland course. At only 6,296 yards, this isn’t the longest of tests, but with slick greens and tight, tree-lined fairways, it has plenty of sting in its tail. Watch out for the 15th, 16th and 17th holes – covered with water, they will wreck many a promising round!
Forest of Arden
Designed by Donald Steel, the Forest of Arden’s Arden Course is a real gem, the quality of which is reflected in its having hosted seven English Opens and five British Masters. The younger Aylseford Course offers a shorter alternative to the Championship Arden – just perfect for players who fancy an easier ride! The hotel is “stunning”, offering copious buffet-style meals as well as a swimming pool, jacuzzi, steam room and sauna. Golfshake ambassador Mel Davies was particularly entranced by its beautiful grounds, with “deer, geese and stunning views to walk round”.
Surrey’s leading golf club and resort, Foxhills offers two premium courses which showcase the best that county golf has to offer. The club’s two championship courses, the Longcross and the Bernard Hunt, combine immaculately conditioned fairways and greens with panoramic backdrops of beautiful pines.
Kingsbarns was only opened in 2000 but is already a championship-level course. The layout, which is host to the Dunhill Links Championship every year, is only seven miles from perhaps the most famous golf course of them all, St Andrews. Meandering across the Fife coastline, however, is a top-class links test in its own right which has more than got clear of its rival’s shadow. The signature holes are the par 5 12th, which requires the big hitter to play out over the sea if they desire to hit the green in two, and the par 3 15th, the green of which juts out into the same waters like a pier. Anything short or right will find the waves. To cap it off, the clubhouse is “spectacular”, and the food is “in a different class”.
Royal St. George’s
The host of the 2020 Open, Royal St. George’s oozes its pedigree from every stem of grass. Memories of Darren Clarke’s emotional win in the 2011 Open Championship will be thick in the air when the competition returns. Visit the course to add your own.
Situated on the edge of Loch Lomond, the Carrick is a beautiful course. At over 7,000 yards, with a slim par of 71, it’s also a really serious test. Look out for the club’s famous ‘Highland Laddie’ halfway house and a view of the highlands and the famous Loch.
One of the finest courses in Essex, Toot Hill is a rolling parkland track which is up there with the best of them. The highlight is the par 3 12th – an island green, this hole tests accuracy and nerve, encapsulating the wider challenges of Toot Hill in one hole. Rob Treanor also found it “very accommodating to visiting golfers”, noting a particularly “warm welcome on arrival”. For Matt Holbrook, Toot Hill is “always worth a visit if you’re in the area”.
Another neat parkland course, Ufford Park combines an undulating landscape with excellent condition. The course also benefits from fantastic natural draining, making it playable all year round. Finally, the resort displays a “superb hotel” which is justly popular with stay and play golfers, while Matt Holbrook was impressed by its “excellent facilities on site”.
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