What exactly is a links golf course? For the Americans in the room, and if we’re being strict here, it’s not just any old golf course.
According to The Links Association, there are only 246 “true links” courses on the planet and you probably won’t be surprised to hear that 210 of them are located in the UK & Ireland. The newest addition being Dumbarnie Links in Scotland…but where can golfers find the remaining 36?
Continental Europe boasts 14 while Australia and New Zealand have 16 combined. North America might only have five, but they’re all pretty epic and finally; there’s even one in Africa!
We won’t go into too much detail – we do golf holidays not history after all. The word links evolved from the Old English word ‘hlinc‘ which described hilly land in the coastal regions of the UK. Rugged looking with sandy soil, links courses feature dramatic undulations and are often totally exposed to the elements. Trees are a rarity and the courses largely take their shape from the natural lay of the land. They are also usually draped in tall, thick native grasses.
Links golf might be tough, especially if the weather isn’t being kind, but it’s the purest form of the game. It’s something that for most golfers, is a rare and very special treat.
Many of the world’s links courses boast centuries of history and remain largely unchanged since opening for play. What about the new kids on the block though? Thankfully, links courses continue to be opened for golfers to enjoy. Most recently, Dumbarnie in Scotland and that got us thinking…
How do these “newbs” stack up against the age-old classics?
Fear not…we’re not going to do a case study on all 246 of them! We thought we’d take a quick peek at some of the best links courses to arrive on the scene over recent years. How do they compare to a select few courses which have been around for donkey’s years? How might you be able to package them up for an epic golf tour? What’s best – Old? Or New?
Here’s a clue to that riddle…they’re both pretty bloody good!
DUMBARNIE – FIFE – SCOTLAND:
Considering the theme and timing of this blog, it only makes sense to kick things off with a quick look at the newest of the new, Dumbarnie Links. We have a member of staff here at YGT who has just come back from a Scotland Golf Tour which included a round on this epic new course, we thought we’d let him have the floor with this one…
“Dumbarnie Links has been on my wish list since I saw pictures of it being built on social media in 2018. The landscape the course is built on is perfect. The rolling terrain offers views of the Firth of Forth on almost every hole. The big blast out bunkers frame holes majestically. It is one of the prettiest links courses I have played.
A par 72 with big wide fairways and generous greens, the course itself is very playable for all abilities, but be sure to pick the right tee for your ability as the course can stretch back to a whopping 7600 yards! There are too many great holes to pick a signature hole, however, the stretch of holes from the 3rd – 9th are outstanding.
Dumbarnie Links follows the likes of Kingsbarns and Castle Stuart as a great modern links course. If you are looking to do a tour of St Andrews or Edinburgh be sure to put this on your itinerary.”
YGT Golf Travel Team Manager
CASTLE STUART – INVERNESS – SCOTLAND:
Rewind the clock a little over a decade ago, and the same buzz that is surrounding Dumbarnie was being stirred up by the arrival of Castle Stuart on the golf scene. Overlooking the Moray Firth, Castle Stuart is undoubtedly one of Scotland’s finest courses. It has hosted The Scottish Open on The European Tour on numerous occasions. A number of YGT staff have been lucky enough to play it along with the likes of Royal Dornoch and Nairn. This trio makes for a pretty epic tour and the reports back have been glowing…
“What do I love about Castle Stuart? It’s a modern day links course, which encompasses wide fairways that make it playable for nearly all levels of golfers. It was great when playing with my friends of a mixed ability.
One thing that strikes you playing it is the fantastic views from nearly all the holes. A large percentage of the holes are being played next to the water.
The hole that stands out for me is the 2nd, a great par 5 running along the water, with a challenging green set back on the edge of the water. And to warm up from the Scottish weather after a round, the homemade chilli in the clubhouse has to be tasted. Follow this with a beer in the clubhouse or on the terrace looking out over the water. This course goes straight into my top 10!“
Business Development Director
KINGSBARNS – FIFE – SCOTLAND:
Golf has been played at Kingsbarns since 1793, but the current layout opened for play in the summer of 2000. As golf has been played for hundreds of years, it’s not out of the question to refer to Kingsbarns as “new”.
It’s been a regular feature on The European Tour as part of the three-course rotation that host the Alfred Dunhill Links Championships. It is within easy reach of a tonne of classic Scottish courses such as Carnoustie. At YGT we pride ourselves on having firsthand knowledge of as many of the course we sell as possible. So guess what? Another personal account of just how epic golf at Kingsbarns is coming atcha…
“I’ve been fortunate to play Kingsbarns Golf Links in the rain and the sun and have always had a great day on the course. The layout is incredibly fair with plenty of opportunities to make a birdie if you can navigate the pot bunkers. Stand out holes are the par-5 12th and par-3 15th. I still love the questions asked off the tee on the 5th and the 6th as well as the “simple” par-3 13th.
It is a course I love to play each year and can see why so many put it within the Top 10 Golf Course in the UK & Ireland. Simply a must-visit, I don’t know anyone who hasn’t said the same.“
CABOT LINKS – NOVA SCOTIA – CANADA:
Unfortunately, we’ve not made it out to Canada to check out Cabot Links in person as of yet. Buttt it is certainly near the top of our to-do list because…well…the place looks unreal! There are two 18 hole championship courses on-site at the resort. Cabot Cliffs is the top-ranked course in all of Canada. Seeing as this article is all about links golf though, we’re going to take a closer look at Cabot Links which was laid down by Rod Whitman.
The origins of golf came from Scotland. So it’s ironic that one of the best new links courses in the world is located near a place called Inverness! Just not the one in Scotland but rather some 2500 miles away in Nova Scotia!
If mind-blowing scenery and all the quintessential links ingredients float your boat then Cabot Links is the perfect fit for you. It’s even got a classic short par 3 that is reminiscent of the famous 7th at Pebble Beach. Play from an elevated tee to an infinity green overlooking the Gulf of St Lawrence. This thrilling 102-yard beauty encapsulates the beauty and golfing challenge on offer at this incredible resort.
Opened for play in 2012, Cabot Links is definitely a must-play links course for anyone looking to really spread their golfing wings.
BANDON DUNES (PACIFIC DUNES COURSE) – OREGON – USA:
As previously stated, the USA is home to just a small handful of true links courses. 3 out of 5 of them can be found at Bandon Dunes in Oregon. The Bandon Dunes Course was first on the scene, opening for play in 1999.
Pacific Dunes followed just two years later. A 3rd links was added to the Bandon portfolio in the form of the Old Macdonald Course, which is regarded by many as the best of the bunch at this epic resort.
Designed by Tom Doak who has previous form when it comes to designing epic golf courses (Cape Kidnappers, Pasatiempo and Streaming Blue). Pacific Dunes measures under 6700 yards from the tips. This means it’s aimed more at the club golfer, rather than conforming to the “championship golf” mould seen at most other modern golf developments.
6700 yards is still plenty long though, so even the best golfers can head to Bandon and expect a thorough test. The resort is however very much aimed at allowing us mere mortals the chance to enjoy the chance of scoring well. All while soaking up some of the most inspiring coastal scenery in the world. Have your camera at the ready because you’ll likely be taking as many shots on that as you will with your golf clubs!
ST ANDREWS (OLD COURSE) – ST ANDREWS – SCOTLAND:
Musselburgh Golf Club was once recognised by Guinness World Records as the oldest golf course in the world. More recently the honour has been reassigned to The Old Course at St Andrews.
It’s generally accepted that there are better courses out there these days, but let’s be real here…can you really call yourself a golfer if you haven’t made the pilgrimage to the Auld Grey Toun to take on The Old Course?
The shared fairway of the 1st and 18th might be over 100 yards wide, but the giddy excitement of teeing off in front of The R&A Clubhouse means missing it is certainly a possibility.
“Let’s face it, the Old Course is a bucket list for all golfers. When the chance came to play it on an educational trip with some of my colleagues at YGT; it’s fair to say that was officially a “dream come true” moment.
It was amazing to play such an iconic course. Despite the 1st & 18th shared fairway being the biggest space you’ll ever aim a golf ball into, I’ve never been more nervous than when teeing off in front of the R&A Clubhouse!
Of course, it would’ve been almost rude not to get the obligatory snap on the Swilken Bridge on the way up the 18th. For anyone looking for a post-round pint; The Jigger Inn is an absolute must!“
UK & Ireland Travel Team Manager
ROYAL NORTH DEVON – WESTWARD-HO! – ENGLAND:
Considering we’re talking about the best oldest links courses, it’d be rude not to mention England’s oldest golf course.
Now…there’s no beating around the bush. Royal North Devon is quirky as hell and may not be everyone’s cup of tea. For anyone who enjoys links golf, this Westward Ho! layout guarantees a fun day out. You’ll be sharing the course with roaming sheep and horses and the clubhouse is like a small golf museum. While you’ll have seemingly the whole planet to aim into off the 9th tee, you’ll get to the 10th tee and spend a few minutes trying to work out of there is any fairway at all. A great swathe of giant sea rushes sprawl out in front of you. This as “natural” as a links course gets.
It’s within easy drive of a number of Devon’s finest courses too, such as Saunton Golf Club which boasts two world-class courses. They are just half an hour’s drive away, so including on a South West golf tour is very much on the cards.
“Royal North Devon is a wonderfully quirky course – if you haven’t played it before, get a course planner or you might get a little confused which tee points to which green and where you’re meant to be heading. The course really camouflages into its surroundings. You’re playing on the original fairways from when the course was first created and you just soak up the history and charm.“
Digital Content Creator
ROYAL DUBLIN – BULL ISLAND – IRELAND:
There are plenty of age-old links courses on the Emerald Isle that are worth checking out. Some of the oldest include Ballybunion, Lahinch and Waterville on the famous South West coast. We’re giving the oldest course near Ireland’s famous capital a shout out. Ladies and gents…may we introduce Royal Dublin!
Located on Bull Island, the world’s only UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in a capital city, Royal Dublin is a traditional “out and back” links loved by many.
The likes of Seve Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer have won Irish Opens here. In the mid-2000s, Dr Martn Hawtree was commissioned to rework the course and as a consequence, it’s better than ever.
Pair this place up with the likes of The Island, Portmarnock or even some of neighbouring County Wicklow’s gems like The European Club and an inland beauty like Druids Glen, with a night or two out and about in Dublin City itself of course, and you have the ingredients for an all-time classic golf tour.
“It’s unusual to find a ‘out and back’ style links course in Ireland, this layout is generally typical of Scottish courses. The drive in here is spectacular and the golf is just as good! It has recently had a few welcomed changes including an increase in undulation and course length. Being so close to the city makes this a great spot for a city break too. Dublin is a cracking weekend trip for groups of friends or as a couple.“
Digital Content Creator
ROYAL PORTRUSH – COUNTY ANTRIM – NORTHERN IRELAND:
Considering we’ve included one of the Republic of Ireland’s best ancient layouts, it seems only fair to give Northern Ireland the nod as well. Royal County Down might be the top-ranked course in the entire world according to many, but with The 2019 Open Championship still relatively fresh in the memory, we thought we’d take a little peek at Royal Portrush.
Founded in 1888, Royal Portrush is the only course to have hosted The Open Championship outside of Scotland and England in the tournament’s history. You’ll all remember Shane Lowry’s performance in 2019. A Saturday 63 followed by a closing 72 fired the Irishman into a 6 shot win. It was one of the event’s most memorable tournaments in recent memory.
We’ll leave it to Bernard Darwin, author of “The Golf Courses of The British Isles” to paint the picture…
“Portrush stands on a rocky promontory that juts out into the Atlantic, and, if I may allude to such trivialities, the scenery of the coast is wonderfully striking. On the east are the White Rocks, tall limestone cliffs that lead to Dunluce Castle and the headlands of the Giant’s Causeway. On the west are the hills of Inishowen, beyond which lie Portsalon and Buncrana and the links of Donegal.“
Other amazing courses like Castlerock and Portstewart – home to perhaps the best opening 9 holes in golf – just a short drive away. A Northern Ireland golf odyssey is a must for any links lovers out there.
TENBY GOLF CLUB – PEMBROKESHIRE – WALES:
For parity’s sake, we just had to include Wales in this article. The two most famous courses here are Royal Porthcawl and Royal St David’s. Wales’ oldest course is Tenby, where you’ll find one of the most traditional links experiences in the world.
They’re not everyone’s cup of tea, but there are blind shots aplenty at Tenby. These are very much part of the makeup of many traditional links courses. Like Royal North Devon, some might consider Tenby to be eccentric and quirky, but as far as old-school links go, there are few better than this Welsh gem.
There are a tonne of other top-class courses in the vicinity too. Package Tenby up with any combination of Ashburnham, Pennard, Royal Porthcawl and Pyle & Kenfig – known locally as P&K – and Wales might just be your next biggest surprise package when it comes to a links golf tour.
We hope we’ve given you some insight into the best links courses and introduced you to the new kids on the block. Will you add them to your to-play list as well as the classics? If you’re a bit of a newbie to the game, find out how Links golf compares to Parkland golf. Watch the video below: