6 Great UK golf breaks
The desire to play world-class golf courses and escape day-to-day life doesn’t have to mean airports, long flights and exhausted transfers. While the UK can’t guarantee the weather of a Marrakesh, a Belek or an Abu Dhabi, it most certainly can promise a golf break you’ll never forget, which is why so many golfers travel from across the globe to play on our shores. So, before you start browsing the brochures for Europe, let us highlight six of GW’s favourite British golf adventures from the past year.
The journey to the Mull of Kintyre is far from easy, but the three top-class links on offer are like the pot of gold at the rainbow’s end.
Machrihanish Dunes, 22nd in our latest Scottish ranking, has evolved beautifully in the decade since its opening. David McLay Kidd holidayed here as a child and his ambitious work has created a proper, pure links, where the holes fit together beautifully, the awesome natural bunkering is a sight to behold, the fairways are laced with humps and hollows and the greens are enjoyably eccentric. It is golf at its unpredictable and characterful best.
The Old, Machrihanish’s original course, dates back to 1871, but it was Old Tom Morris who extended it to the course we see today. If, as we believe, Royal Aberdeen wins Scotland’s best front nine, then Machrihanish was pipped in a photo finish. The iconic opening elevated tee shot sees you hit a drive over the corner of the picturesque sandy beach – a beautiful but strategic question so early in the day. The 4th, ‘Jura’, played over a valley, aptly-named ‘Punch Bowl’ 5th, and the cunning, sporty par-4 ‘Balaclava’ 6th, all vie for the ‘best-hole’ award. While the back nine can’t live up to the front half, its strategic
par-5 12th, ‘Long Hole’, is a standout and its safely in our Top 20.
While our final stop lacks Top-100 prestige, it does not lack pedigree. Dunaverty, founded in 1889, sits on the site that saw Dunaverty Castle besieged by hundreds of Oliver Cromwell’s supporters in 1647, only to surrender and be slaughtered. While the fortress’ remains are known as Blood Rock, the course itself couldn’t be more beautiful and tranquil. This fabulous links is less than 4,800 yards and has a par of 66, but is well worthy of a place on your itinerary.
The blind, short 4th played to a slender green situated in a dell is the kind of hole that today’s architects dream of. It begins the best section of a links boasting breathtaking views.
The 6th is another fine par 3 on a course featuring seven. The beach is to the right with hollows short of a green, uncharacteristically, 245 yards away. Its length is almost as rare as the bunkering and par 5s here. We counted just two sand traps, and 13 is the sole par 5.
The views on the back nine, which rises and falls, are exquisite, while ‘The Burn’, the 412-yard penultimate hole, is the highlight. The overused ‘hidden gem’ is actually apt here.
Aberdeenshire is home to no fewer than ten of our Top 100 Courses in Scotland, the highest of which is Trump International Golf Links at No.6. The POTUS’ Balmedie course is still only seven years old, but is one of the most exhilarating experiences in Britain. Martin Hawtree’s design weaves though incredible dunes beside the North Sea (as pictured below), as fairways slope and deep bunkers punish. Each is an occasion, but none more so than the 18th, with its elevated tee looking down on a hole that is as intimidating as it is phenomenal.
As you journey north, stop at Newburgh-on-Ythan, before heading on to 10th-ranked Cruden Bay. Dating back to the 1890s, Cruden’s views are universally lauded, but its quirks and eccentricities divide golfers. We are firmly in the adoration camp.
A couple of miles north of Aberdeen you’ll find one of the UK’s best front nines. Royal Aberdeen’s scintillating experience through the Dunes is both tough and fun all at once. It’s a must-play and our No.20.
Three miles up you’ll find Murcar, which plays across similar terrain, but is tighter and more inhibited. The course enjoys excellent views and we love the plateau greens. Fraserburgh, the county’s most north-easterly town, remains a hugely underrated links. James Braid’s 1922 design has seen substantial changes over the years, but much of his original work remains. It’s only 6,300 yards, but the links are exposed to the Moray Firth and North Sea to ensure it plays tough.
Head west around the coast to Duff House Royal, the only new entry in our 2019 ranking (77th). Alister Mackenzie’s classic is renowned for its two-tier greens and condition.
Back down the coast is Peterhead’s Old course, a natural links of beautiful contours, views and spectacular dunes. It only entered our Top 100 in 2015 but is already up to 47th.
Our recent visit saw us stay-and-play at the relatively central Meldrum House. Sitting 45th in our Top 100 Resorts and 76th in our Scottish ranking, it’s a great base and must play with barely a weak hole. It’s also just 15 minutes from Dave Thomas’ Hawkshill course at Newmachar. Narrow fairways are lined by birch and pine along with Thomas’ renowned deep bunkers.
With large parts of this fine county running along the North Sea, you’d be surprised if there wasn’t exceptional golf aplenty. Open qualifying venue Goswick, holding firm in 66th in our Top 100 Courses in England, is one of Team GW’s favourites. Its slightly isolated location means it’s perhaps not as lauded as it should be but it combines rugged dunes, perfect turf and exceptional green complexes with sea views (and plenty of sea breeze) to create some truly memorable holes. Our last visit saw us combine a round at Goswick with 18 holes at Bamburgh Castle, a relatively short layout at little more than 5,600-yards and one that has remained largely unchanged since its 1904 opening. The clifftop layout offers 360-degree views and, unusually, begins with two par 3s followed by two par 5s.
Make a weekend of it and include a round at nearby Seahouses. It is incredible value (from £15) with the back-nine’s clifftop holes tempting you to reach for the camera and wonder how it’s so cheap. And within
20 minutes you’ll find the National Trust-owned Dunstanburgh Castle, dating back to 1900 and another great linksy option.
The county has plenty of good parkland options too, pick of the bunch being Lee Westwood’s Colt Course at Close House, to the west of Newcastle. The Colt played host to the British Masters in 2017, with the Filly, its shorter and more forgiving sister, a fine No.2. It’s a good stay-and-play option and, along with nearby Slaley Hall, ranks among our Top 30 GB&I resorts. Like Close House, Slaley has 36 holes and has hosted The European Tour. Dave Thomas’ Hunting course is worth playing for the bunkering alone, while the more exposed Priestman offers fine views of the county’s countryside.
King’s Lynn is always our first port of call here. This Dave Thomas and Peter Alliss design weaves and dog-legs its way through heavy woodland, conjuring up comparisons with Wentworth and Woburn. Beware the 18th – its green sits closer to the clubhouse than almost any we’ve experienced.
Next we head to Hunstanton, a Top-100 championship links that plays 6,750 yards from the tips. With the wind blowing off the sea, it can be a brute, but on a calm day from the 6,368-yard yellows you’ll enjoy a day of bliss. Seven miles around the coast you’ll find another incredible Top-100 links in the shape of Royal West Norfolk. Mistime your arrival and you’ll be cut off by the sea, but time it so you’re playing at high-tide and you’ll experience it at it’s very best. Tranquil and testing, RWN is a predictably brilliant out and back links.
Another short coastal journey brings you to the Top-100 clifftop delight that is Sheringham, which should be followed by Royal Cromer. Designed by Old Tom Morris and since touched by JH Taylor, James Braid, Frank Pennink and Donald Steel, the 14th is worth the visit alone. Our final stretch takes us within a racecourse to play Great Yarmouth and Caister, Norfolk’s oldest course, and on to Royal Norwich. Take in the Braid design soon as it moves to its new Ross McMurray-designed home this year.
At last count Dorset boasted five of our Top 100 GB&I courses. The best, Ferndown Old, is a classic heathland scene, all purple heather, huge pines, white-sand bunkers and velvet greens, enhanced by exceptional conditioning. While its 6,500 yards won’t beat you up, it will punish poor position.
Just seven miles and two Top 100 England spots separate Ferndown from Parkstone (38th). A heather-framed opener promises a special experience, which its blind shots, elevated drives, driveable par 4s, downhill par 3s, heather, pine trees, clever greenside swales and proper bunkers live up to.
Broadstone’s expansive heathland, now 37th in our England ranking, lacks little when compared to its Surrey or Berkshire cousins. Harry Colt redesigned Tom Dunn’s original 1898 design before Frank Pont, an expert in restoring inland classics, made some superb recent tweaks. There is tremendous variety with blind drives over heather, elevated tee shots, point-to-point par 3s, ravines to carry and gorgeous downhill short holes.
Isle of Purbeck is best described as a ‘moorland set on cliffs’. Dating back to 1892, it’s only 6,300 yards but its challenge comes, in part, from the stunning, 360-degree panoramas that constantly test your concentration, especially on the 5th tee.
The Dorset Golf and Country Club, near Bere Regis, is a great play-and-stay base with 27 holes of Martin Hawtree-designed golf played through mature woodland and heathland and surrounded by wildlife living in a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
You’ll find more woodland at the modern Remedy Oak. Some of its shorter par 4s aren’t to everyone’s taste, but this is otherwise a tremendous addition to Britain’s inland portfolio. Our highlight is the 15th, which conjures thoughts of Augusta’s 13th.
Any golf trip to Cornwall should start with a round on St Enodoc’s Church, by far the county’s (and West Country’s) best course. This sublime James Braid-designed course among high dunes – along with very possibly the biggest bunker in Europe – on the north Cornwall coast is a fabulous assault on the senses. Sixth in our new Top 100 England, it plays across eccentric and exaggerated linksland, while recent renovations have seen tees expanded, scrubland removed and a stream widened to improve aesthetics.
Pair it with nearby Bude & North Cornwall and take in Tom Mackenzie’s tweaks at Colt classic Trevose, 83rd in our England ranking.
Mullion, Britain’s most southerly layout on the brilliantly-named Lizard peninsula, is a splendid adventure on a severely undulating, clifftop landscape. And finally, head for (and stay at) St Mellion. Both the testing Nicklaus’ American-style course, which saw a rise to 53rd in England, and the Kernow, make for a great golf break in their own right. υ