We all have tick-lists…Restaurants we have to eat at, hotels we have to stay in, things we have to do. For golfers, it’s the tick-list of “Courses I have to play before I die (and preferably whilst I can still get round a golf course under 100)”.
I’ve been lucky enough to play golf on five of the six continents (Australasia here I come!) and have always travelled with my clubs since the age of nine. Over the years I have seen amazing variety in golf course design – I calculate that I’ve played circa 1,500 golf clubs and I don’t want to know how many balls I’ve lost! It was inevitable that I’ve played golf courses that would be better used as cow fields and others that I could play for the rest of my life. Some of the golf courses’ architecture is flattering on the handicap and others make you think hard, struggle some more and eventually abandon all thoughts of posting a decent medal card. Nevertheless, if the course can beat you up and still entice you back for more, it must be good. Here’s my top 10 golf courses that provide a difficult challenge.
Wow, this golf course’s design is good. Off the coast to the west of Saint Andrews, it’s quite a new course but you certainly couldn’t tell and the test is relentless. Stunning links golf with large greens, thick wispy rough and views to take your breath away. You need a good caddy, a strong drink and concentration. Deservedly rated by many Pro’s as their favourite course in that part of the world.
Every time I’ve played here, it’s blown a hoolie but it’s the west coast of Ireland so what can I expect? The golf courses’ architecture (both new and old) provides wonderful tests of golf with every shot in the bad needed. Massive dunes, treacherous greens and wind coming from every direction. You know you’ve played golf after 36 holes here. The clubhouse is great but avoid buying waterproofs – it would be cheaper getting wet!
I actually prefer Royal West Norfolk just down the road but Hunstanton is a sterner test of nerves. Particularly as I always seem to be playing it in scratch foursomes and I’m playing the evens. The main difficulty here is the greens – many of which are below or above you and all of which are very well guarded. The prevailing wind plays havoc with your drives but a good shot is rewarded and a bad shot is penalised so you can’t complain. Wonderful and traditional golf with a clubhouse to match, ensures this golf course’s design easily makes the list.
Robert von Hagge is one of my favourite designers and he’s created five courses in France that are rated in the European Top 50: Seignosse, Royal Mougins, Golf National and Kempferhof are the other four. Les Bordes is his best and, as such, easily makes my top 10 golf courses. With water on 14 of the holes and huge white bunkers and some very narrow fairways, you have to concentrate for the full four hours. I can’t think of one easy hole. However, what von Hagge does do well is to offer an easier (albeit longer) route to the green but if you want to play to a decent handicap or just like taking risks then go for broke and rest easy (albeit with a few balls less) at night. You can sleep and eat at this hideaway in the Loire Valley.
A beautiful Tom Simpson gem. This designer is probably my favourite and was incredibly prolific considering he was at his peak well before the age of aeroplane travel. And not only did he work hard, he worked brilliantly and his creations have past the test of time to remain amongst the best golf courses in the world with effortless ease. Chantilly, north of Paris, is a parkland course with thick rough and tricky greens. The bunkers are perfectly-placed and every hole presents a challenge – whether it’s the length, an oak tree overhanging the fairway corner, a triple-tiered green or a massive bunker in the middle of the fairway. One of the best golf courses in the world, and definitely deserving of a place in my golf top 10!
Having just come back from here and lost about five balls per round, I want to go back again better prepared. Part of the Grenadine Islands, this is a corner of paradise and the Jim Fazio golf course fits in perfectly. The front nine is demanding off the tee as the landing zones are quite narrow and the wind off the beach (just yards away) can really punish the ball. The back nine is treacherous and wonderful at the same time…every shot has to be spot on. The greens and fairways are immaculate but the rough is fluffy and the thick stuff is a no-go zone! The best golf course architecture in the Caribbean by a long way.
I haven’t played that much in the States but I have played some of their best. For me, Pebble Beach is the tops. There’s the usual US-style slick service that sets you up nicely and the condition of the course is typical of the California climate. Rated No.1 public USA golf course, it isn’t the most difficult challenge you’ll ever face but you know the green-keeper is being kind on you. However, get a little bit of wind and let the history of the course affect you and there’s a very nasty bite behind the beautiful façade of the golf course’s design…
They say that tour pro’s have walked off this course – but they only play for money and the rest of us can play for fun! A simple clubhouse belies the genius of the design. Quite long and with plenty of cunningly-placed bunkers, you have to be Gary Player and John Daly if you are going to beat this golf course’s design and score well here. Again, the views are as distracting as a beautiful girl in a church and you need plenty of balls or a caddy with a long stick. South of Dublin and better than the big-name courses of the area.
For a so-called holiday golf course, this one is tough! Mauritius is now one of (if not the) best exotic golf destinations in the world with no less than six first-class courses. Le Touessrok, though, takes the biscuit with tight fairways and tiny greens. I’ve played this course several times, each with a different game plan…every time I’ve failed, but I’ve come back for more as the course does offer a birdie or two and a wonderful lunch. This golf course’s architecture is unique as it is the only course in the world to take over an entire island, and to get there you take the private launch from the hotel. In fact, maybe that’s why I never play well there as I’m too relaxed by the time I arrive!
Designed by Pete Dye and located in the heart of Provence, this is a beast of a golf course with a charming three-star hotel and two restaurants. Even by today’s standards it’s long off the back but I remember it being one of the very first courses that I had to hit a driver and a three-wood just to hit a par four in regulation…today’s balls make it shorter but it’s still one of the rare courses where you can play every shot, and every club, in your bag. Plus, some of the greens are 80 yards long so clubbing is so important (unless you like four-putting). Terrific target golf with scenery to take your breath away ensures this memorable golf course’s design was always going to sneak into my top 10!