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Golfers Officially LOVE to Play Challenging Courses

By: | Mon 19 Dec 2022

WHAT makes a good golf course? What makes you want to return? What lives long in the mind and makes you want to tell everybody you know?

It may surprise you to learn that, according to Golfshake subscribers, the thing we all want is a proper challenge.

When I reflect on my favourite courses they all have several things in common - great greens, properly manicured fairways, wonderful scenery and the fact that I played each and every one of them at the top of my form.

One of my favourite golf courses on the entire planet is Kingsbarns, on the outskirts of St Andrews. I have played it twice, both times at the height of summer with the sun shining. And both times I played there I scored really well. It is a glorious golf course, offering some spectacular views and a whole series of breathtaking holes and I have no hesitation in naming it as one of my favourite three golf courses.

But would it feature so high on my list if the rain had been tipping down, the wind was blowing and I couldn’t find a fairway to save my life? Probably not.


(The Brilliant Kingsbarns, Derek's Favourite)

You could be forgiven for believing that most people visiting golf courses would enjoy those trips most if the course was fairly easy. Not true. You tell us that you enjoy a challenge, that you like to stand on a tee and consider the options.

We especially enjoy courses that are challenging but fair, that reward good golf shots. It's also clear What Stops Golfers Wanting to Play a Golf Course Again.

It also stands to reason that if we have forked out to play a course then first impressions are important. We expect a warm welcome when we enter the pro’s shop. We expect well-prepared tees, well-kept fairways, bunkers with proper sand and greens that run true and fast.

We hope that if we turn up to play during the winter that we won’t have to contend with winter greens, muddy fairways and bunkers that are full of water. 

We asked you - How difficult did you find the course? **

Below is the average rating and it clearly highlights that the more challenging course, the higher you rated it.

  • Very Easy - 3.01 (average overall rating) **
  • Fairly Easy - 3.25
  • About Right - 3.82
  • Challenging - 4.19
  • Very Challenging - 4.23

** Average overall rating of a course taking into the five difficulty rankings provided on Golfshake

It is fascinating to learn that among those who described a course as being ‘very easy’ or ‘fairly easy’, 23% of you told us that you wouldn’t be going back.

However, among those saying that a course was ‘challenging’ or 'very challenging', only 4% said they wouldn't be going back.  

We conducted a survey in 2021 in which we asked you about the importance you put on a course being challenging. A total of 1,100 of you responded, identifying the following key areas:


This comes as no surprise. Most of us judge the quality of a golf course by the standard of its greens. And the better the greens, the better the course tends to be. You could create the best course in the world but if it had poor greens nobody would enjoy playing it. From personal experience I can tell you that my personal bugbear is poor putting surfaces.

Course Maintenance

This is about more than greens. If you bowl up at a golf course and head to the driving range to warm up you will get a fairly good idea of what’s to come. Step on to a first tee and if it is full of divots you can be pretty certain that you are going to be in for a pretty disappointing time. You want fairways that are well prepared, where divots have been replaced. And you want rough that is defined. We don’t mind finding bunkers that contain soft sand and are regularly raked. 

Royal Porthcawl

(The Fabulous Royal Porthcawl)


Golf courses don’t have be located in the countryside or by the seaside to offer good layout and design. Yes, the natural terrain is going to play a part, but we want courses that are well designed. The Postage Stamp at Royal Troon measures barely 120 yards but is one of the best par threes in our sport because it rewards good shots and punishes poor ones. And you tell us that you don’t mind paying the price if you do hit a bad shot.


It’s all about getting the balance right. Everybody enjoys a challenge, something that will take us out of our comfort zone. But the key is in providing a challenge that is fair.  The best courses are the ones that provide a fair challenge to golfers of all abilities, and that can come down to things like the placement of tees. Increasing numbers of courses offer choices of tees - don’t feel that you have to play from the back tees.

Survey Data

Other things that matter to you are pace of play, hospitality and food and drink.

In our 2021 survey, 40.3% of you told us that pace of play was very important to your enjoyment, while 49.1% of you highlighted the welcome you received as being very important - that tells us that, no matter how good the course is, if you are not made to feel welcome then the chances are that you will not return.

Interestingly, just 26.85% of you said that the food offered in the clubhouse was a very important part of your visit.

As you know, course reviews are a crucial part of what we do here at Golfshake. Your reviews help our subscribers to decide where to play and when.

Here are just a few five-star reviews from courses that you rated as being 'Very Challenging’:

JCB Golf & Country Club

"It must be one of the best UK layouts. Every hole continues to unfold more exciting challenges over a well contoured course. Magnificent fairways and gently rolling greens created to entice you to put that ball where it should go. I would love to play it again."

Woodhall Spa

Woodhall Spa

(The Challenging Woodhall Spa)

"Course was an absolute delight, challenging bunkers and quick, hard greens. Every hole was a different challenge. Easily the best course I have played."

"Woodhall Spa is the home of the English Golf Union, so it should come as no surprise to anybody that it is well kept. I have played it several times and it is a tough challenge but, crucially, it does reward good shots."

Stoneham Golf Club

"From the welcome in the pro shop and the clubhouse, to coming off the 18th green it is probably all you could want from a classic heathland golf course. But if you are wayward from the tee or stray off line then you are punished severely. The bunkers are fair but tough. The greens feature hollows, subtle borrows and a speed that tests your putting skill. One of the best courses I have played."

South Herefordshire Golf Club

"A really good course with a variety of challenges, some long and some with slopes and bunkers guarding the route into the green. Greens immaculate, the best we have played for a long time, fairways and bunkers also in good condition. Nice views. Best all-day breakfast we ever get and staff very friendly." 

Sherwood Forest Golf Club

Sherwood Forest

(The Immaculate Sherwood Forest)

"Superb, fast greens. Firm fairways framed with gorse, heather and trees. Challenging par threes and tough stretch of par fours on the back nine will really test your game on this classic heathland layout."

Royal Porthcawl Golf Club

"Royal Porthcawl is a South Wales gem. Challenging course that has some excellent variety and difficulty of holes. It probably features the best set of par threes I have played anywhere in the UK. The conditions can make it more difficult, we had a really bad day for rain but the course held up so well. Excellent greens."

Pyrford Lakes Golf Club

"Loved this course, 13 acres of water to challenge the best of golfers. The condition was brilliant and the greens were true, can't recommend playing this course enough if you're given the chance! What a challenge and with hospitality to match."

You will notice that our reviewers all highlight good bunkers - proof that we don’t mind finding traps if they contain proper sand. 

The message is a simple one - if clubs look after their courses and make visitors feel welcome they will return. And they will spread the word.

What do you think? post your thoughts and feedback on the Golfshake Forum: https://forum.golfshake.com/

Tags: Survey industry insider golfshake GOLFERS Golf daily picks

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