Golf is a special sport with a rich history and a deep connection to its heritage. The sport has been played for centuries and was once banned in Britain as it was seen as a distraction to archers. Whilst many other sports have been played for centuries, the unique thing about golf is that many of these historic courses still exist and are fairly unchanged.
One of the main features of old golf courses is the fact that they tend to have smaller greens. This is a feature that will test you more than you think as it puts real pressure on your short game and approach play. As you may have witnessed during the 2019 US Open at Pebble Beach Golf Links, tight old courses with small greens can wreak havoc on modern tour players. Today we will look at some golf courses over 100 years old that you must play to experience classic golf at its very best. Experience the history of our great sport for yourself and take a step back in time on some of these timeless courses.
Recommended Golf Courses to play over 100 years old
East Lothian, Scotland
Situated out on the Berwick coast, near Edinburgh, this is a stunning Old Tom Morris golf course and one that has stood the test of time. The West Course is the third oldest golf course still being played on in the world and is still on its original fairways! This course is, like most of the ones that will be discussed in this article, a nine outward and nine inward holes set-up. You never want to lose 10 & 8 but it’s much worse on an old links course as you face a harrowing and long walk back to the clubhouse. One of those courses that when you are playing downwind for the front-nine, you feel the pressure of making birdies as you know the back-nine will be about damage limitation.
The greens at North Berwick are immaculate and just seem to blend into the surrounding fairway. Like many golf courses over 100 years old, there are some great quirks that come into play during the round such as a wall that sits in front of the green at the 14th. The 15th hole “Redan”, a wonderful par three, is the most replicated hole in the world and there is an unsurprising familiarity when you tee up on this hole.
Walking around the clubhouse of Prestwick is an experience in itself. This is one of the greatest collections of golfing memorabilia on earth and all because this is the birthplace of The Open Championship. Only The Old Course at St Andrews has held more Opens than the twenty-four played here. Prestwick is a monument to the history of golf. This is a unique playing experience and this is down to the fact that changes to the course through the years have been minimal.
This course was designed by Old Tom Morris and now plays at 6,900 yards from the championship tees. Famous features at the course include an opening tee-shot with a railway line awaiting anything missing to the right. The 17th hole “Alps” was originally the 2nd hole in 1851 and is the oldest existing hole in championship golf. The 5th hole “Himalayas” is also a famous challenge on the course as it is a blind par three. A small disc gives you a target but with five greenside bunkers protecting the left side of the green, a par here is a great score! The clubhouse is famous for a drink called kummel which has had its part to play in golfing history. Grab a drink of this rare spirit at the bar and ask a member about the club’s favourite tipple.
South West, England
This is the oldest course in England and is over 150-years old. It is yet another one designed by Old Tom Morris, he was prolific in the early days of golf. Those who know this place affectionately know it as Westward Ho! and don’t forget that exclamation mark. The course sits right on the coast and the playing experience is enhanced by the waves crashing against the rocks as you make your way around. This course is, incredibly, still played on its original fairways and the soft rolling terrain is links golf at its finest. It is the oldest links course outside Scotland and the second oldest ladies golf club in the world. A fine example of true golfing history.
If you are an animal lover, you will be pleased by the fact that sheep and horses freely walk the old course. There is a real issue with Royal North Devon though, it is running out of time. This course is on a precarious piece of coast and in February 2018 the 7th green was washed away in a storm. We aren’t over-exaggerating when we say that time is not on the side of this famous course. There are no plans to reinforce the cliffs upon which the course is built either. Don’t waste time and make sure you get a round in here soon before it is too late.
Tenby Golf Club
South West Wales
Golf has been played at Tenby Golf Club since 1888 and it is the oldest course in Wales. This course was designed by James Braid, the other prolific Scottish course architect of this era, and has many of the features that his courses are loved for. Here you will find tight tee shots requiring accuracy, many holes dogleg too which is a common feature on a Braid course. There are also plenty of pot bunkers awaiting stray approaches to the small greens. At 6,300 yards, this is not a long course, especially on dried-out and fiery summer links turf. However, the challenge of this course lies in the need for touch and control.
It is rare to find someone who has played at Tenby, despite the history and pedigree of the course, this is one that only discerning golfers seem to appreciate. Playing here is also an absolute bargain and the welcome that you get at the course makes you want to keep coming back.
This is the youngest course on the list as it only qualifies this year. Pebble Beach Golf Links opened in February 1919 and has gone on to be among the most famous golf courses in the world. Having held a record six US Open Championships and hosting the annual celebrity pro-am on the PGA Tour, this course is steeped in golfing history. At just over 7,000 yards, the course is certainly not long by modern standards, however, it is tricky and doesn’t need length as a defence.
At Pebble Beach, you will play some of the most famous holes in golf including the short par three 7th that plays downhill to the tiny green and tests your mettle. The finishing hole is one of the most famous in golf too and keeps you honest right until the end of the round. There is no doubt that a round on this centenarian is a real treat, make the pilgrimage to the Monterey Coast you won’t regret it.
North Carolina, USA
One of America’s golfing icons, Pinehurst Golf Resort dates back to 1895 and provides as great a challenge today as it did when it was first created. Having held a remarkable amount of professional and amateur golf tournaments, Pinehurt has a history that few can match. Those lucky enough to play here are going to enjoy a range of tree-lined layouts with fast-running fairways and sandy waste areas ready to snare any offline shots.
Recent past winners to have claimed the title on the world famous #2 Course at Pinehurst include an emotional Payne Stewart win in 1999, a classic victory for Michael Campbell who fended off Tiger Woods to claim New Zealand’s 2nd ever Major title and most recently Martin Kaymer who destroyed a stellar field to claim his 1st US Open title in 2014. Kaymer romped to an 8-shot victory and a -9 total. 2014 was a unique year for both Men’s and Women’s golf with Pinehurst also hosting The Women’s US Open which was won by Michelle Wie.
South West Ireland
Opening in 1892, Lahinch Golf Club is one of the most enchanting golf courses in the world and a playing experience you will not forget. The Dubai Irish Open will be played over the Old Course at Lahinch in 2019 and it is sure to be a wonderful spectacle. Over the years, this course has been reconfigured a number of times and the architects that have worked on this land include Old Tom Morris, Dr Alister MacKenzie and Dr Martin Hawtree. The gentle undulating links land is one of golf’s greatest delights.
As you make your way around this course you may meet the local ‘weathermen’. The goats that roam the course freely are an integral part of the course, they are even on the club crest, and it is said that if they are taking shelter at the clubhouse you are in for a wet round. The short par five 4th hole “Klondyke” is one of the highlights of the round and a quirky hole you will love. An accurate tee shot between sand dunes leaves you a blind second shot which is where the hole got its name. Klondyke is the name of a giant sand dune that sits in front of the green and creates the obscured approach shot. A classic Old Tom Morris hole to be savoured.
South West Ireland
The 1890s were a great time for Irish golf as just one year after the opening of Lahinch Golf Club a twelve-hole course opened up nearby in Ballybunion. This course is regarded by many as the best course in Ireland and one of the very best in the UK. It is eighteen holes of pure joy and a true timeless classic that you cannot miss. Tom Watson, the legendary American golfer, instantly fell in love with the place when he visited and returns regularly for his fix.
Every hole on the course is excellent and there are a few that are exceptional. The 2nd is a long and tough par four which can be incredibly challenging when the wind gets up, there is no gentle start to your round at Ballybunion. The 11th hole is also an absolute stand-out and probably the signature hole on the course. Named “Watsons”, this is a 472-yard par four that will certainly find its way onto your “best 18”. Ballybunion has a wild quality about it that adds to the character of the place. The main challenge at this course is only playing it once.
Opened in 1891, Brora Golf Club is one of the golf courses above 100 years old that you absolutely must play. If you ask anyone who has played Brora they will almost certainly have it at the very top of their list. The course was designed by James Braid and has remained relatively untouched through the years. Situated in the Scottish highlands, you can be assured of incredible golf and a warm welcome to the club.
The course remains relatively unchanged since 1923 which is when Braid was responsible for a large refurbishment project. At just over 6,200 yards from the back tees, this is a short course by modern standards but to let that bother you is to completely miss the point. This is a golf course for the true discerning golfer, one that oozes class and quality on every hole. The view from the 2nd tee is one of the greatest panoramas in all of golf. Raised above sea-level, the right side of the tee looks out onto the North Sea and an expanse of coast which is to be enjoyed by the eye but avoided with the golf ball. To the left you can see almost all of the historic course that awaits you. This wonderful dog legged par four makes for a strong start to the course and sets the tone for an unforgettable round.
If you know the history of golf, you will know that links land was where golf began and it took some time for the sport to move away from the coast. Here is the only inland course from The UK on our list and it is one of the finest in all of the world. The Old Course at Sunningdale was designed by Willie Park and Harry S. Colt, two of golf’s greatest architects. When you think of Sunningdale, the first thing that comes to mind are the ancient trees that line and decorate the heathland fairways. Like all of the courses on this list, Sunningdale has withstood the test of time incredibly and even new technology can’t help you overpower the sumptuous turf.
These famous trees don’t just provide a hazard for those struggling with accuracy, they create a wonderful intimate atmosphere as you make your way around the course. They enclose you into the course and make you feel like it is just you and the course and nothing else exists beyond that. The 10th hole is revered world-over especially for the incredible view from the tee. Looking down onto the perfectly cut fairway, you will be struck by the simplicity of the hole as you try to avoid the fairway bunkers that are poised to gobble up an errant shot. One of the wonderful quirks of this course is that the halfway house sits behind the 10th green. Enjoy this hole and then stock up on fuel before you finish off your back nine.
Spending some time in the clubhouse at Sunningdale is an absolute must. It’s rich history from Bobby Jones’ perfect 66 to more recent moments from The Seve Trophy or the annual Sunningdale Foursomes, golf at Sunningdale is as magical today as it was since the club was created.
Gran Canaria, Spain
Due to golf being made popular by the British, it will be no surprise to learn that as the sport spread around the world it did so via France and Spain. Real Golf Club de Las Palmas is Spain’s oldest club and where it all began for this now golf-loving nation. Although the club was founded in 1891, the current set-up was actually built in 1950. This move was a stroke of genius though as the course now sits beside a volcanic crater and gives phenomenal views over Gran Canaria.
This course, known to the locals as “Bandama” is a tricky one and despite a sparing use of bunkers, the raised greens aren’t easy to get to. This course will test your shortgame so be sure to sharpen those feel shots before you play. This is one of the most spectacular ranges you will ever practice on as you fire balls into the crater! The opening holes run alongside the rim of the crater whilst some the deep ravines and nearby mountains provide an incredible backdrop to your round. This course is a real treat on the eye and one that will keep your camera busy.
South of France
The Cote D’Azur is one of the world’s great summer playgrounds so it is fitting that a golf course over 100 years old calls it home. Opening in 1891 through funding from the Russian royal family, this seaside course is one of France’s most delicious golfing treats. Harry S. Colt is largely responsible for the course that we see today and the enduring quality of the playing experience. The course weaves its way through ancient trees that provide some shade for those playing in the afternoon sun, or difficulty for those who are struggling from the tee.
One of the quirks of this course is the need for two ferries during your round. You play the first two holes, grab a ferry over the river Siagne to play the next ten holes, then hop on another to finish your round. This course is only 6,300 yards but the trees, the intelligent design and tricky Colt bunkering creates a tricky course. The 16th hole is a great hole. A short par three with an island-type green surrounded by huge bunkers. Your tee shot heads toward the railway line that dissects the course as you try to find the lush green dancefloor surrounded by colossal bunkers. A unique playing experience that is a joy for all golfers.
Why play a golf course over 100 years old?
Golf has a relationship with its history in a way that no other sport can really compete with. We are lucky that around the world there are still so many opportunities to play golf courses over 100 years old and the list above is only a few examples of what is out there. Technology may have changed and revolutionised our sport, however, most golfers are aware of the humble days of the game and the journey to what we see today.
Playing historic courses is a magical experience as you consider those who have gone before you and the famous golfers who may have hit a shot from the spot you are on. Modern courses are great, of that there is no doubt, but nothing beats a round on one of those living museums of our sport.