St. Enodoc

Cornwall

Factfile

Cost:
£75 in the summer; £45 in the winter

Par:
69

Total yardage:
6557 yards

If the course at St. Enodoc isn't one of the most highly-rated in the UK (38th), it is at least one of the most picturesque. It lies above the harbour of Padstow in Cornwall and features an actual 13th-century church and graveyard at the 10th green, with an entirely natural terrain full of sand dunes and wild grasses that make it a relatively challenging course to play. It was former Poet Laureate John Betjemen’s favourite course – he is buried in the aforementioned graveyard and wrote an ode to the course with his poem “Seaside Golf”.

In terms of playability, the course is full of little surprises, with a truly unique 6th hole that involves a blind drive and a blind mid-iron second shot that has to clear a sand dune known as “Himalayas” to get onto the green. Its coastal location can mean that strong winds play a part in the direction of the ball, though, so players should take care to see how flight is affected in the first few shots. Contact the course in advance and be prepared to present a handicap certificate upon arrival.

Conwy

Clwyd

Factfile

Cost:
£28/£33 in winter; £38/£44 in spring; £21-£68 in winter

Par:
72

Total yardage:
6900 yards

Conwy is ranked as the seventh best course in Wales, though it was almost completely lost due to accumulated damage during the two world wars. The Conwy course has undergone significant changes and now is almost entirely flat, but there are still enough undulations in the land for it to avoid having charges of monotony levelled at it. Additionally, its coastal location makes for tricky wind conditions, with the 16th and 17th holes in particular cited as difficult propositions by players.

The course has hosted various competitions over the years, including the Ryder Cup Wales Seniors Open and the S4C Ladies Championship of Europe. Tee times can be booked in advance (prices vary depending on the season and the day of the week), and in keeping with the traditions of most golf courses and clubhouses, only smart golfing attire is permitted. 

St. Andrews

Fife

Factfile

Cost:
Variable across the year but £170 in high season and £80-£85 in low season

Par:
72

Total yardage:
6721 yards

There isn’t much to say about St. Andrews that hasn’t already been said – it is considered by many to be the spiritual home of golf (though it’s only ranked 4th in the world), with evidence showing that the game has been played there since the 12th century. The Old Course has hosted 29 Open Championships to date, with everyone from Jack Nicklaus to Tiger Woods coming out victorious on the famous putting greens.

Golfers may find St. Andrews slightly underwhelming the first time they play it given how often they’ve probably seen it on TV, but there is no doubting the weight of history that is present as you step onto the course for the first time, and it is generally agreed that the more you play it, the more you grow to love it. The size of the putting greens also takes a little getting used to because of their large sizes. Players should book well in advance and be prepared to pay a decent sum for the privilege of reserving a tee time. 

Old Head

Cork, Ireland

Factfile

Cost:
€230 in high season; €160 in low season

Par:
72

Total yardage:
6868 yards

As far as drama on a golf course is concerned, you don’t have to look any further than the Old Head Golf Links in County Cork, Ireland. Opened relatively recently in 1997, the course is built on a narrow strip of headland that juts two miles out into the Atlantic Ocean. This tends to leave relatively little room for error, with precision the name of the game for players here. Some of the tees are three hundred feet up a cliff, and the 17th hole is particularly memorable. It’s called “Lighthouse”, and involves an essential second shot to the right-hand side of the fairway – anything to the left-hand side will result in a blind approach to the green.

The course is in high demand, though it isn’t ranked highly, so pre-booking a tee time is highly recommended. Visually intimidating, extremely rewarding and one of the most spectacular rounds of golf you’re ever likely to play, Old Head is a must-visit on any Irish golfing excursion. 

Kirkistown Castle

Down

Factfile

Cost:
£49 in summer; £35 in winter

Par:
69

Total yardage:
6167 yards

The Kirkistown Castle golf course is the most easterly course in Ireland, as well as one of the oldest – it’s now in its 113th year and boasts a membership of about 800. It’s a relatively straightforward but attractive course to play, with the most challenging hole probably the par four 10th – it features a pulpit green thirty feet above the fairway which is difficult to hold with a long approach shot. In addition, the 1st and 3rd holes both feature a couple of large depressions where sand was excavated during World War II to be used in the construction of the nearby Kirkistown and Ballyhalbert airfields.

While Kirkistown Castle isn’t a must-play venue, it makes a fantastic second or third venue when you’re in the area to play the Royal County DownDown or Ardglass courses. The unexpected challenges on several of the holes and pleasant playing atmosphere ensure that this is a course well worth taking the time to visit if you happen to be nearby.

Royal Dornoch

Sutherland

Factfile

Cost:
£120 in high season; £60 in low season

Par:
70

Total yardage:
6600

The course at Royal Dornoch is not an easy one to get to – from Glasgow, the drive takes about four hours, so this is very much a round that you have to plan for. It’s the world’s third-oldest golf course and, though it looks relatively straightforward, it can be a tricky one to play at the best of times thanks to the work of Donald Ross.

Ross was one of the greatest golf course architects of all time – born and raised in Dornoch, he introduced raised and domed greens to the golf course, which seriously hinder approach play regardless of the conditions. His innovations here make it the 12th highest ranked course in the world, with some simple holes suddenly becoming a bit more complicated due to the terrain. The 14th, for instance, looks like a relatively simple par four long hole, but features one of those domed greens which can be difficult to negotiate. Advance booking should be taken advantage of (although, as previously noted, this is unlikely to be a course you would turn up to on a whim, anyway).