Whether you live in the UK or you are travelling to play golf here, you are truly spoilt for choice with the golf courses at your disposal.
Making a list for the top 10 courses throughout the entirety of the UK is nigh-on impossible without missing out a few or causing some controversy.
The point of this article is to give a selection of courses with variation in terms of style, difficulty, location, and price level. By doing this I hope that I can offer a few interesting choices for any reader to go and explore.
This is not a ranking list so I haven’t ordered my ten courses here, but they are all courses which I have played on and feel like I can give a genuine description of the course and why I found it to be so enjoyable.
1. Walton Heath (Old Course)
I could have picked either course at Walton Heath to be honest but I went for the Old because I think the finish is a little bit stronger. You may have watched the British Masters a few years back when Eddie Pepperell won, if you did you are probably already interested even if you haven’t had the chance to play the course yet.
The clue being in the name, this is a heathland course. That means that the rough is generally replaced by “heather” or “bracken”. It’s nasty stuff but it creates an awesome aesthetic for the course, lining the brilliantly mown fairways like a sort of runway.
There are definitely similarities to links style courses with the out-and-in hole routing. You play out for the first eight holes and then make your way back in from the ninth onwards. The similarities don’t stop there, with firm fairways and well positioned fairway bunkers to keep you on your toes.
Having said that, it is certainly worth noting that I have played in far softer and wetter conditions and the course continued to play brilliantly despite the change in distances and firmness. On most days you will find that the front nine is the more difficult test, particularly if you find it on a day when those holes are into the wind.
Once you reach the thirteenth you will be licking your lips as you see three par-5s in a four hole stretch. It’s a really fun stretch of holes where you will absolutely get your just rewards for good shots, but you can’t overpower this course, so you still need to use your strategic mind to get the best out of it.
My favorite holes on the course are the third and seventeenth. Respectively, a sneaky little driveable par 4 and a beautiful downhill par 3. Both holes provide harsh consequences if you miss your targets and come at pivotal times in your round.
The third, at least by distance, is your respite during the tough opening stretch, whereas the seventeenth can be a brilliant match play hole late on where the player going first can completely change the outlook of their opponent depending on their approach.
As I mentioned, I could have picked either course here, the New course is equally as fantastic, but I went with the Old course for the enjoyment factor of that back nine. It would certainly make for a good couple of days if you could play both courses however!
Green fees: £225
2. Saunton (East Course)
Here comes another golf club with two brilliant courses to choose from! You’ll find Saunton on the South West coast of England and it comes with a great feel around the whole area. I really enjoyed my times playing this course, but also going to the local town and getting a chippy, or just enjoying the British summer at it’s best in a great setting like they have in this area. It’s one of the more affordable options on this list as well, at £130 for a normal green fee.
The East course is the longer of the two and probably fair to say more challenging. You don’t actually see the water from the course as it is more of a dune style links course, but that doesn’t detract from the layout at all. The very first hole is a brutally long par 4 and it may be a rude awakening for many guests, but overall this course provides far more entertainment than despair!
Favorite holes would be the 4th where you play between two mounds on your approach and it shapes the hole without there being any directional change to the layout. I also love the 9th, a short par 4 with a green hidden behind dunes from the tee.
My absolute favorite would be the par five 15th with a stream running up the left hand side of the fairway and cutting across the fairway also. I always enjoy a par 5 which tells you that you can hit your driver if you want and here is the trouble, so let’s see if you can pull it off?
Green fees: £130 (£90 twilight, after 2:30pm)
3. Royal Lytham & St Anne’s
There was no chance of me leaving Royal Lytham out of this article. Ever since I played it for the first time at the Lytham Trophy in 2016 I have just been in awe of how brilliant this golf course is. It is by no means the prettiest of links courses, with it being next to a train track rather than the ocean, but I think that might help it to go under the radar a little bit.
This contributes to the idea that it might not pop out on the screen when it hosts The British Open, but my goodness is it a serious test of golf. It is one of those courses that is an absolute brute, but you just don’t mind because it is a pleasure to experience and feel the rewards when you play a round, or even just one hole, particularly well.
The fairway bunkers are what stand out to me the most about this course as they so greatly impact the visual test that you get presented with. This is never more apparent than on the final hole as you look up and genuinely consider whether there is more sand than grass for your ball to find.
This might sound too much, but the positioning of the bunkers will always give you an option, plus it is enjoyable to play a course where you are so clearly being told where not to go. So if you do hit it there, well…you were warned.
The course does have the typical “nine-out, nine-in” layout, but there are a few holes deviating across the course which keeps things interesting with regards to windy days. The selection of par-3s (beginning with the very first hole) are a particular strong point, with the ninth hole being a work of art.
My favourite holes would be the ninth, thirteenth and eighteenth. The ninth is a brilliant par 3, the thirteenth a devilishly tricky short par 4, and the eighteenth is just a brilliant finishing hole, with the red brick clubhouse in the background just adding to the whole feel.
Green fees: £245
4. Woodhall Spa (Hotchkin Course)
The Hotchkin course at Woodhall Spa is another brilliant heathland style course. I would say that it is a little tighter than Walton Heath as you come across a lot more trees, but they are of a similar ilk. This is certainly on the tougher end of the difficulty spectrum with some huge greens, devastatingly deep bunkers, and gnarly heather to keep you on your toes throughout, but it is an undeniably fantastic layout.
Every time that I have played here, including in the depths of winter, the condition of the course has been supreme. In fact I might even recommend playing in the winter as the course has less teeth in those conditions!
I might be making it sound a bit too difficult thus far, but in reality it is a great combination of a challenging course which provides obstacles as well as opportunities given that it is not too long. It is a par 73, so the overall length of the course may indicate otherwise, but you can give yourself plenty of chances on some shorter holes if you hit good shots. It certainly isn’t a brutal slog where you will be pulling off head covers all day.
In my mind I cannot look further than the par 3s for my favorite holes on the course. There are only three, but they are all wonderful examples of mid-length par 3s being the most fun. The 5th and 12th are two of my favorite par 3s in the UK. The 5th is only 142 yards from the back tees but it has an inviting bowl shape to the green, which allows for potential excitement, while being devilishly difficult if you miss up on the left or to the bunkers on the right.
The 12th plays a little longer at 170 yards (although only 142 from the yellow tees) and it has one of the deepest green side bunkers that you are likely to find on the left hand side of the green. I always find these to be some of the most fascinating shots in golf, where the task is pretty straightforward, but you have to deal with the knowledge of the punishment being severe.
Green fees: £180 (£160 for weekdays)
Worplesdon would be one of the lesser known courses on this list, but it was one of the first names that came to mind when I was gathering my thoughts on which courses to include. It is, in my mind at least, a classic Surrey-style course, surrounded by tall trees and some serious real estate.
If you weren’t a golfer, you probably couldn’t guess that there is a golf course in this area as you just pull off the road and suddenly you have this beautiful golf course at your fingertips.
Worplesdon came to mind because it truly fits my idea of an enjoyable golf course. Plenty of birdie opportunities given the relatively short par 4s and 5s, stunningly attractive shots lined by those classic tall trees and beautifully manicured grass.
Standout holes would be the 10th, a par 3 played over water (which provides the obvious backdrop for a golf photo), and the 15th which is a short par 5 with a stream meandering down the left hand side of the fairway and out of bounds to the right as you try to navigate this blind tee shot and give yourself a chance to go for glory.
Green fees: £160
6. Royal Porthcawl
Royal Porthcawl is the elite championship golf course in Wales, from my experience. As far as links courses go, it provides such a magnificent test of every part of your game. It’s very fair and the challenges are laid out in front of you, but when the wind gets up it can be a brutal day at the office!
It would be one of the more beautiful courses on this list thanks to the everlasting views of the beach and sea to keep you smiling even on the worst of golfing days.
The first few holes are played alongside the romantically simple wooden fence lining the boundary of the golf course, and as you play the back nine you find yourself further up on the land, contributing to a wonderful vista of golf course and ocean.
My favourite holes would be the 1st, which I think is a great opening hole as you open up with a downhill tee shot to a classic looking links par 4 with pot bunkers dotted around to try and avoid, and the brilliant short par-3 7th with a green as quirky as they come.
Green fees: £175 (including breakfast or lunch on weekdays)
7. St Andrews Old Course
I know, I know, Captain Obvious. I thought about leaving St Andrews out just because no one really needs to be told to go and play there, but this place had such an impact on me the first time that I visited that I could not bring myself to leave it out.
I was taken aback by how special the town felt and playing those holes (1-2,17-18) around that area felt like no experience I had ever had on a golf course before. It’s not the easiest to explain, but I suppose it comes from the knowledge that so many of golf’s most important figures have spent time in this one small little seaside town on the eastern coast of Scotland.
I would encourage every golfer to go and spend a few days in St Andrews. There are plenty of other courses to play, the New and Jubilee are particularly good, so you don’t have to spend all of your time on the Old.
But if you do get a tee time there, I would recommend entering the round with an attitude of enjoying the entertainment rather than worrying too much about score. The course itself is not that striking to look at, but the quaint intricacies of the layout are actually fantastically challenging and allow the course to play completely differently from day-to-day.
You would need many rounds to figure out exactly how to play the course and that is part of the reason why I don’t think it is too wise to expect too much of yourself the first time that you play it. Try and enjoy the ride and the first time that you will ever get to hit that first tee shot, or the seventeenth and eighteenth tee shots for that matter as well.
Beyond that, spend a bit of time wandering around the town and enjoying the old pubs and general golfing heaven.
Green fees: £270 (£135 in low season from 1st Nov-31st Mar)
If you’re doing a Scottish golf trip and you find yourself miles up north then there are a few courses you should definitely play. There are only two which I have personally played; Moray (Old), which deserves an honourable mention, and Nairn.
I found Nairn to be an extremely entertaining course to play from start to finish. You play many holes on the front nine right up against the sea, with any shots heading right getting alarmingly close to the beach.
The back nine moves away from the beach but up into some more undulating land and some fascinating green complexes. Combining that with a driveable par four (15th) and par 5 to finish, I had a thoroughly enjoyable time every time that I played this course.
Some of the greens were so undulating that it does feel like a modern-style links course at times, but then you also have a wonderful semi-blind par three (4th) which screams of a classic quirky links hole. It’s certainly a very playable course and there is a bail out on almost every shot, so you won’t feel too battered and bruised after playing here (assuming the weather isn’t too, well…Scottish).
The clubhouse had a great atmosphere when I was there with good food, and with the town being so close to the course it can make for a brilliant day all-round!
Green fees: £190
9. Berkshire (Red course)
The Red course at The Berkshire is a brilliant example of what I want from an enjoyable golf course. There are six par 3s, six par 4s, and six par 5s on this course, so this provides an incredible amount of variability and opportunities for birdies, bogeys, eagles, doubles…all sorts!
I think that this is a course which you would really struggle to get bored of as there are so many strategic options available on the par 5s alone. You have the 1st hole which forces you to hit to a spot at the end of the fairway before it runs out, but then you have the 13th hole where you are faced with a blind drive that could go bounding down the fairway forever if you get the right line, but it’s safe and wide if you wanted to lay up with a shorter club.
My favourite holes would be the 12th, 15th and 17th. The 12th is a well designed short-ish par 4 which rewards smart positioning of your ball from the tee and a fairway lie as you hit up to a raised green which has a couple of fun pin positions on it.
The 15th, and the 17th for that matter, are risk-reward par 5s from the tee shots. On the 15th it gets very tight if you hit a driver with bunkers and winding streams encroaching on the fairway, but you can leave yourself with a short iron into the green if you find the fairway.
The 17th is a sweeping left-to-right dogleg which, with a favorable wind, can allow you to cut the corner somewhat and leave yourself a mightily inviting approach shot into a green facing you.
Green fees: £255 (£190 on weekdays) – Also an option to play both the Red and Blue courses in one day for £255 on weekdays (not available on weekends)
10. Royal St. David’s Golf club
You’ll probably have to travel a bit to get to this one, but if you wanted to do a bit of a Welsh tour, then this would be the first to book Royal St. David’s Golf Course! A rare par-69 course and an absolute pleasure to play. From start to finish this course is fantastic, but especially holes 14, 15 and 16 are true gems where you will find yourself playing through, over and around the dunes with a mixture of challenge and opportunity.
This is another links course with sand dunes blocking the view of the sea, but those same dunes provide so much for the course that you don’t mind that all too much! It is a very unassuming club with a welcoming atmosphere and no interest in being stuffy or uptight.
Holes 14 to 16 are without a doubt the signature holes on the golf course, the entire back nine is a pleasure for that matter, but I always enjoyed the 2nd and 6th holes as well which are shorter par 4s which provided an option to be aggressive but your success depended greatly on your ability to work the angles for your approach shot.
Green fees: £105 (£65 after 3pm)
So there we have it, my list of 10 golf courses that you should play around the UK. As I mentioned earlier, this list is about enjoyment level and you may have noticed that there are quite a few links and heathland golf courses in here.
I suppose that is because the most fascinating and engaging style of golf includes using the undulations and watching the ball roll along the ground.
There are so many different courses and styles of courses that you could play and have a fantastic time on, but if I learned anything while writing this article, it is that I would always encourage players to go and find links courses if they are playing in the UK.
It is the best place in the world to play links golf and if you haven’t played much of it so far, then I can promise it will provide you with a different experience and one that is sure to get you intrigued and searching for more!