There are few sports with the rich history and heritage that golf enjoys. The first golf course in a country is a revered place and makes for an international collection of places you should play. Imagine teeing up where it all began for a country. This is where it all began for the area and you know the club will want to show that fact off to you.
Whilst the true origins of the sport of golf are still debated, there is no doubt that the game that we love today was first played in Scotland. The sport developed and grew here then made a short cross over to England then the other home nations before moving to France and Spain.
Golf is now a truly global sport but it is no surprise that people still want to travel from all over to play at the home of golf, St Andrews. Playing a course that brought golf to a country is a special experience, we shine a light on some of the various places you can have such an experience.
This is the ‘Home of Golf’ and a truly special place for any golfer to visit, what better a place to start. This is a city that is dedicated to golf and everywhere you look is a nod to the greatest export of the place. It is thought that golf has been played on the links land of St Andrews since around 1527 and now The Old Course is the most recognisable course in the world.
There are few features of a golf course more famous than the hell bunker, the road hole bunker, the Swilcan Bridge and the valley of sin. The course was designed by Old Tom Morris who was the club professional for many years and also a club maker in the local area. There are many landmarks that you have to visit as you make your way around the course and even if you avoid some of the terrible bunkers that litter the course, it is worth throwing a ball in and trying to escape. You haven’t really played St Andrews if you haven’t bounced a ball off of the wall at The Road Hole or successfully got a ball out of the bunker of the same name, have you?
The most special factor at St Andrews, it is a fully public course and the price of a round is protected by the Links Trust who care for the courses in St Andrews. This is not just a golf course, it is a museum and a round of golf that takes you back in time. Modern equipment certainly makes the course easier but that can be quickly neutralised by some classic Scottish links weather so don’t get cocky.
Teeing off at The Old Course is a truly special moment in the life of any golfer. Standing on the pristine tee box where the legends of our sport have stood, with the famous clubhouse of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club and the hallowed turf in front. You must savour every shot and every step you make on this course and appreciate the honour that it is to play golf on such a historic venue. You will never forget your first round on The Old Course at St Andrews.
With the more modern form of golf taking off in Scotland, it wasn’t long before England has its first course. At this time, golf was only played on the non-arable links land close to the coast. Founded in 1864, some refer to this course as Westward Ho! or ‘the St Andrews of the South’. Fittingly, this course was designed by Old Tom Morris too.
Much like St Andrews, Royal North Devon still plays on the original fairways that were laid down all that time ago. The terrain of this course is classic and pure links. Standing in the clubhouse, you will struggle to find the layout of the course as the flat land has no trees and only higher grass and gorse to really define the holes. Many have taken a wrong turn or teed off in the wrong place because of the simplicity of the layout of this course. Make sure you buy a course guide so that you don’t fall into that trap.
Like any historic golf club around the world, the pride the club has for its history is palpable. When you visit Royal North Devon, you must leave extra time so that you can explore the clubhouse and enjoy the fascinating collection of memorabilia that they have on display. This is the cradle of English golf and a very special golfing destination.
Tenby Golf Club
As we make our way through the history of golf in the mainland Britain, it is now time to introduce the very first course opened in Wales. Tenby Golf Club is somewhat of a hidden gem and only the most discerning golfer may know of it. As a result, this is a place to visit that will make your list of courses played stand out as unique. Again, this is a links course and it is an absolutely wonderful place to play a round.
Sitting on the Pembrokeshire coast, it is thought that golf has been played on this land since 1875 and Tenby Golf Club was formally founded in 1888. The course was originally only nine holes until James Braid developed it to a full course in 1907. This is a course that fiercely protects the traditional appeal of the course and has a charming lack of modern features. There is something incredibly pure about the playing experience on this links.
At around 6,500 yards from the back tees, this is not a long course, however, the architectural features of the course make it one for thinkers. This isn’t a course that you will be able to wrestle into submission with long powerful driving displays, you need to place the ball and plot your way around. Penal bunkers, tricky cambering fairways and the classic thick gorse bushes will keep you engaged as you play here. A unique round awaits you at Tenby Golf Club.
Having described the courses that started golf as a movement, now we will look at a couple of courses that brought golf to global destinations more recently. Fittingly, as golf courses were built in Victorian times near holiday destinations, our first fits that bill. Belle Mare Plage in Mauritius is an idyllic golfing destination and was founded in 1994. The course was designed by South African, Hugh Baiocchi and is set on a former hunting reserve. This dramatic wooded land has made for a wonderful golfing experience.
The fairways may be tree-lined but they are wide and welcoming. This fact, paired with the piercing electric blue of the ocean makes for a unique round of golf. This course makes its way past one of the most beautiful beaches on the island on the east coast of the island. Thanks to a remodelling project by Rodney Wright, every hole on the course has some sort of water hazard so keeping your ball dry can be a tough ask around here.
The signature hole on the course is undoubtedly the par three 17th. This arrestingly beautiful short hole is one of the nicest you will ever play but best concentrate as there is a lot of water to be avoided. From the tee you hit over a sea inlet with a wonderful panorama of the mountains beyond the green. The indigenous trees frame the green along with five bunkers waiting to collect any mishit short to mid irons from the tee. A glorious hole that will punish you if you’re not careful.
United Arab Emirates
Dubai has become one of the world’s leading golf destinations and Emirates Golf Club is the one that started it all. When this course was opened in 1988 it was the first course in the Middle East, never mind the UAE. There was very little in Dubai at that time, in fact it was more of a fishing town than a global metropolis and so it is safe to say that few golf courses have seen as wild a change in backdrop over the years that Emirates Golf Club has. This is a true golfing oasis in the desert as the lush green fairways make their way across the naturally undulating sandy terrain. This is a course that will test your bunker play, there is an abundance of the stuff so it would have been stupid not to use it.
After being open just one year, The Dubai Desert Classic was founded and quickly started to draw the biggest names in the world out to play this unique course. Now the event is a mainstay of the European Tour in the Desert Swing portion of the calendar and a very large purse helps attract the most skilled players around. Another feature of the course is the use of some natural water hazards including some lakes that can trouble you as you make your way around the course.
The greens at The Majlis Course at The Emirates Golf Club are huge and allow for some weird and wonderful pin positions to test you. To add to this, the course is known for how fast the greens can run in the high season and this makes these tricky pin positions that bit more difficult. To score well around The Majlis, you must place your ball in the correct areas of the greens, that’s imperative.
Of all the modern courses in the world, The Emirates Golf Club has some of the most iconic features. The 7th is an outstanding par three over a lake that requires a full carry to reach dry land. This hole then sets you up for one of the most dramatic tee shots in all of golf. The 8th tee has you firing your driver toward the skyline of Dubai. This is a picture that anyone playing the course must capture and one that will stick firmly in your head. The distinctive shape of the buildings is a celebration of Bedouin tents that are synonymous with the region and another iconic feature of the playing experience here.
If you haven’t made the trip out to Dubai to play this course then you absolutely must put it onto your list. This is one of a new breed of golf course and one that has brought about a whole industry of golf in the area. You can revel in the history of the great players who have played and won at this luxurious course through the years.
From the very beginning of the game and the land where it all began to one of the modern icons of our sport, the collection above are special places to play golf. The game may have its origins on the coastal links land of eastern Scotland but now is played on almost any type of land you can think of. Here we even travel to the desert of the Middle East and the tropical African island of Mauritius.
In golf, we are constantly reminded of the storied and events that brought us to the modern game we play now. With coveted historical events such as The Open Championship we are never far from hearing about the history of our great sport. With over 34,000 golf courses around the world, it is always a special experience to visit one that got the sport started in its country.
Whilst we have covered just a few, this is a select club of courses that every golfer should experience. These courses have a special feeling about them and they are a privilege to play. Why not start collecting playing experiences at these significant destinations and get yourself closer to the backstory of golf.