Want to play the best courses in the UK and Ireland? Options are endless

The opening hole at Machrihanish in Scotland.

The opening hole at Machrihanish in Scotland.

Eric Hepworth

There are a lot of course rankings out there. What’s the point? For starters, to educate golfers on all that this game can do to challenge your skill and — more importantly — your spirit. That’s exactly what makes GOLF’s inaugural rank of the Top 100 Courses in the UK and Ireland our most thrilling yet, spotlighting the obvious (i.e., the courses that have played host to the 149 previous Opens ahead of this July’s sesquicentennial), those that routinely pepper our World Top 100 and a few surprises. Golf here is, well, as bloody good as it gets.


In the end, what fun are rankings if you can’t forge an opinion on them yourself? Whatever tickles your fancy, there’s a trip abroad to be had — one of the best investments you’ll ever make in your game. Want to play “common ground” courses, where sheep and cattle enjoy the right-of-way and the greens have wire around them to prevent hoof damage? Tour the west side of England. Prefer a luxe trip with grand accommodations? Check out Ardfin, Turnberry (No. 6) or Gleneagles (No. 44) in Scotland. Crave the experience of taking on giant dunes? Hug Ireland’s west coast. How about a train through Wales? It worked for Bernard Darwin. Do you enjoy island-hopping? Start at Machrihanish (No. 28) and bounce to Machrie (No. 87) on Islay to Ardfin on Jura, then Askernish (No. 36) on South Uist.

The Top 100 Courses in the UK and Ireland map.
A map of GOLF’s Top 100 Courses in the UK and Ireland. Derik Hobbs

Or, dare you, forge your own path, visiting the gems that missed out in the rank, like the 4,600-yard Iona on (you guessed it) Iona to Whalsay in the Shetland Isles, the northernmost course in the British Isles. You can organize such trips through travel agents or email the club secretary directly.

Fact: If you consider yourself a true architecture geek, you’ll find no greater benefit to your passion than a trip to the British Isles. The first call is invariably to experience the rollicking links most aficionados can reel off by name, but nearly as meaningful is to study the seminal designs from roughly 120 years ago around London. These include Woking (No. 46), Walton Heath Old (No. 32) and Sunningdale Old (No. 7). And don’t forget Huntercombe (No. 67), closer to Oxford University, built by Willie Park Jr., the same man who designed Maidstone on Long Island. Cumulatively, these four courses shed light on how inspired architecture helped the game move inland (and closer to where people live).

The 4th hole at Huntercombe Golf Club in England.
The 4th hole at Huntercombe Golf Club in England. Jason Ivy

Figuring out what not to see is as hard as figuring out where to go. Heck, we give you 100 surefire hits with this rank! Still, plenty of personal favorites didn’t make it, including Little Aston, Goswick, Dunbar and Minchinhampton Old, not to mention the nine-holer Isle of Harris. Additionally, the four courses I’m most keen to see for a first time — Kington, Cavendish, Painswick and Perranporth — also are absent. Talk about deep: Our panel took special pride in curating a list this chock full of delightful playing experiences. Two courses (JCB, in Rocester, England, and Iona) didn’t receive the minimal votes for inclusion, but that will change when we update the list in 2024.

Beyond the golf, you’re sure to be swept away by relentlessly warm welcomes. As long as you’re courteous, the UK and Ireland are there for the taking. These places want your business (much of the local economy around the courses in the British Isles hinges on tourism). You may even be inspired to join any of these clubs as an international member. Variety and inspiration await. I hope to see you there.

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