Unfortunately for many budding golfers all over the world there are many world class golf courses that simply cannot be played without knowing one of the lucky few who have managed to secure membership.
Without the traffic that a golf course open to the public has to cope with these courses often flourish to become the very best in the world and as always forbidden fruit always tastes so much sweeter!
The prime example of such a club would be Augusta National in Georgia which would be atop many a golfers list of “courses to play before I die”. As well as the private clubs there are also a select few that ‘strangers’ can get a game on but doing so is notoriously difficult! Here are ten of the best exclusive and private golf clubs around in the UK today.
When The Wisley was established in the early nineties the club quickly drew plaudits and soon came to be recognised as one of the finest in England. Each member owns a stake in the club and they have every right to be proud of the course that so many golfers would jump at the chance to play.
Robert Trent Jones Jnr was the chief architect and Kyle Phillips, the creator of Kingsbarns, was working on his design team; no surprise then that the course is of such a high quality. Three nine hole loops make up the 27 stunning holes that are on offer at The Wisley and each one is as good as the last. Water is the key feature on this stunning course so accuracy and course management are key.
The quality of the club is reflected by the star value of a number of its members including Greg Rusedski, Eduardo and Francesco Molinari, Nicolas Fasth and England’s Paul Casey.
Located within easy reach of St Albans, Centurion has quickly established itself as not only one of the best in Hertfordshire but also the UK.
Designed by Simon Gidman, formerly an assistant of Hawtree Design, meanders through established oak and pine trees as well as impressive elevation changes to provide a challenge that tests course management as well as length.
The mix of modern design matched with mature countryside has created a golfing experience which is hard to match. Despite its youth, Centurion has already hosted European Tour, Ladies European Tour and The LIV Tour (which featured golfers like Lee Westwood, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson) that was won by Charl Schwartzel, highlighting its tournament pedigree.
Golfers wishing to play here can only do so as a member (which includes many professional footballers) and their guests. Those lucky enough to venture here should be sure to allow plenty of time to enjoy the excellent cuisine on offer which is a step above your standard golf club menu.
Like The Wisley, Queenwood is a relatively young golf course that has garnered a fantastic reputation as one of the finest in Surrey and indeed the entire country. Including clubs like Wentworth, the Surrey and Berkshire sandbelt is home to some of the top golf courses in the world but few have been built in the past 80 years. In 2001 Queenwood was founded and the course shot to the top of many a golfers bucket lists.
Unfortunately Queenwood is among the most secretive of golf clubs but the whispers coming from the lucky few that have played it would suggest it is something to behold. All you need to do to secure a round is buddy up to a member…anyone have Hugh Grant’s phone number? What about Michael Douglas?
Didn’t think so…
The Renaissance Club
Tom Doak is one of the finest golf course architects around; proof of which is the fact that he boasts a handful of courses that are constantly ranked among the finest in the world so it comes as no surprise that his first creation in the home of golf is pretty special. With courses like Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand, Barnbougle Dunes in Australia and Pacific Dunes in the USA, the Renaissance Club had a lot to live up to and by all accounts, it has done just that.
Carved out of 300 acres of stunning pine forest the course doesn’t follow the typical blueprint set down by Scotland’s older classics like St Andrews, Royal Troon and Carnoustie but this gives The Renaissance Club an added X factor. The course can range in length thanks to a selection of tees and at its longest it can stretch to a monstrous 7,426 yards in length meaning we may just see the world’s finest turning up in the coming years for tournament golf.
Archerfield Links is a private member’s club with two outstanding golf courses but unlike other club on this list, Archerfield is very much a golf club for the 21st century. Forget the clubhouse cliques, the old-fashioned dress-codes and the petty rules that drive modern golfer to insanity. Archerfield is a relaxed, welcoming club that is totally geared towards the enjoyment that can be had while playing the two stunning golf courses.
Members at Archerfield can enjoy two fantastic courses; the Fidra Links and the Dirleton Links. The Fidra is an eclectic mix of styles. Primarily a links course by nature Fidra also features giant, towering pines more akin to the great heathland courses of Surrey and Berkshire. The two courses at Archerfield share features including cavernous pot bunkers, punishing rough and sheer beauty that will ensure a round of golf here is a memorable experience.
Although this is a private member’s club visitors are welcome subject to the availability of tee times. If you fancy a round on one of these stunning golf courses it is time to buddy up to a member or be patient and try and secure a tee time on a day when the lucky members of the club are busy doing other things!
There are few settings more suited to be the site of a world class golf course that the shores of Loch Lomond and midway along the western banks of the loch lies the most exclusive private members’ golf club in the land.
Designed by the dynamic duo of Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, Loch Lomond opened for play in 1993 and was an instant hit. With the exception of the linked greens on the 2nd and 4th each hole is completely secluded from the rest of the course which creates a sense of drama for each and every shot.
Until recently Loch Lomond was the long term home of the Scottish Open which, when you consider the sheers quantity of world class golf courses in Scotland, speaks volumes about its quality. European Tour and Ryder Cup legend Colin Montgomerie says of the course,
“wherever Loch Lomond is ranked, it ought to be higher”
A simple yet astute way to sum up the quality of this stunning Scottish golf course.
Winding its way through towering pines and between picturesque lakes, Bearwood Lakes is a golfer’s dream. Martin Hawtree has created a thing of beauty and to supplement the sheer quality of the layout, the course is maintained to the very highest standard all year long.
The immaculate fairways are generous but don’t be fooled into thinking you can just grip it and rip it. Stray tee shots are met with severe punishment so good course management is a handy asset to have. Traditionally Bearwood Lakes was strictly a member’s only club but in recent years they have (thankfully) offered the golfing public a small number of day memberships that get you 18 holes of golf and use of the world class practice facilities.
Although it is a tough task to pick a signature hole due to the quality of the entire layout we would go for the 14th as Bearwood Lakes’ signature hole. A stunning mid length par 3 that requires a carry over the corner of a lake is just one of many exciting shots golfers are forced to take on around this magical course.
Another of the famous Surrey & Berkshire sandbelt’s world class heathland courses. Swinley Forest is a charming golf club that despite having been on the scene for the best part of a century, has no history, no captain and almost none of the characteristics that would normally be associated with such a club. It is not just its eccentricities that make Swinley Forest so special; the course is also a world class test of golf.
Classed as Harry Colt’s “least bad course”, Swinley is an absolute joy to play with every hole very different from the next, the opening salvo is a long uphill par-4 which despite it’s yardage of less than 400 yards will have to have a long iron played into the green to find the putting surface, the second is a long iron or 3-wood over the hill to a small green lower than the fairway, the 3rd is a driveable par-4 with risk and reward available off the tee, the 4th an incredible par-3 with cavernous bunkers surrounding the green…the course goes on and on like this with cracking hole after cracking hole.
It comes as no surprise that a course of this quality was designed by one of the great architects of the game, Harry S. Colt. In fact this is reputedly Colt’s favourite design which speaks volumes when you consider the other courses in his impressive portfolio the likes of which include Sunningdale, Wentworth and the redesigns at Royal Liverpool and Muirfield.
Although this stunning course measures only 6,000 yards the par of 68 presents a real challenge and if you are lucky enough to get a round of golf here you can really savour it as in all likelihood you will have the course to yourself.
Muirfield is home to the “The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers” which according to written evidence is the oldest golf club in the world. After years at Leith Links the club moved to Muirfield after its opening in 1891. Old Tom Morris designed the original layout and since then it has been reworked and improved by Tom Simpson and Harry Colt so it is of no great surprise that it remains one of the finest golf courses in the world today.
Unlike other links of this era Muirfield doesn’t follow the traditional 9 out and 9 back routing and is also considered to be one of the fairest tests of links golf in the world. The quality of the course has never been in question and this is confirmed by the fact that it has hosted no less than 15 Open Championships.
Those wanting to play at this incredible course as a visitor can do so on a Tuesday or a Thursday. Tee-times are incredibly sought after so it is recommended that you book well in advance to secure one. Play on other days is as a guest of a member. With a clubhouse that is full of golfing history, spending some time enjoying it is well recommended with the lunch on offer considered to be one of the best in golf, giving the likes of Swinley and Sunnindale a very good run for their money. All in all a round at Muirfield is one that combines history and playability, a very fair but challenging course that leaves all who play here with a smile on their face.
Sunningdale Golf Club
Sunningdale is home to not one. But two world class heathland courses that are part of the great collection of courses situated on the famous Surrey & Berkshire sandbelt which has proved to be one of the finest patches of land for the creation of world class golf courses.
Lined with pine, birch and oak trees the New Course and the Old Course are both things of beauty and are two of the most enjoyable and true tests of golf to be found anywhere in the country. Intelligent bunkering and great swathes of heather only add to the challenge to be found on either course both of which have been shaped in some way by the great Harry Colt.
Royal & Ancient Golf Club
Founded in 1754, the R&A is a small and highly exclusive society of no fixed abode whose club membership extends to about 2,500 distinguished individuals around the world.
From the late 19th century onwards the club became known as the sport’s governing body and is now responsible for the running of the Open Championship and, in conjunction with the USGA, the administration of the rules of golf that as players we must adhere to today.
Today the R&A see themselves as having four key responsibilities:
- To be a member’s golf club with a high quality clubhouse and access to worlds class golfing facilities for day-today play.
- To maintain the position of St Andrews as the home of golf.
- To provide temporary accommodation for the club’s members and others.
- To acquire and preserve records of the game’s history.
Needless to say the R&A holds great significance to the game we all love and if you wish to be part of this great organisation then all you need is an application form and the joining fee…just kidding! The R&A is in fact notoriously exclusive and only ‘the crème de la crème’ of the golfing world need apply.
Perhaps your best chance to gain entry would be to buddy up to an existing member; the likes of which include Sir Michael Bonallack and Sean Connery. If all else fails book a Scottish golf break and play golf at the St Andrews Links where you can catch a glimpse of the magnificent R&A Clubhouse.