Although exciting, a British Isles golfing itinerary that includes only the best-known courses will cost you a pretty penny.
My advice: mix in a few of the following reasonably-priced gems and you won’t sacrifice much quality or excitement.
Here are my top 10 courses in the British Isles that you can play for under $150:
North Berwick (Scotland) – The third-oldest course in the world, this short, quirky links incorporates the adjacent sea at every opportunity. Blind shots and forced carries abound, but even on its most difficult day, the course always leaves the golfer wanting more. Several of North Berwick’s holes are memorable, including the par-3 15th, Redan, which plays diagonally to a protected green and is said to be the most-copied hole in the world, as well as the 13th hole where an ancient stone wall completely blocks the front of the small green.
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Rosapenna Sandy Hills Course (Ireland) – Golf at Rosapenna dates back to 1891. However, it wasn’t until 2003 when Pat Ruddy’s masterpiece, the Sandy Hills Course, opened for play that Rosapenna truly became a can’t-miss golfing destination in Ireland’s northwest. The course gets its name from the massive sand dunes through which Ruddy’s demanding layout cuts and weaves. The course has actually been softened up in recent years to make it more playable but the views across Sheep Haven Bay are still as spectacular as ever.
Woodhall Spa Hotchkin Course (England) – One of the British Isles’ very best inland courses, the Hotchkin Course is certainly Harry Vardon’s best design work. Typical of a heathland layout, the design utilizes a blend of trees, gorse and deep bunkers to challenge golfers, so accurate shot-making is a must in order to score well. This world top 100 gem is, with a doubt, one of the best value plays in England.
Machrihanish (Scotland) – Located on the Kintyre peninsula, Machrihanish is tougher to get to than other great Scottish courses. A new car ferry service across the Firth of Clyde makes the great old links somewhat more accessible, and those who have played it will tell you it is worth the bit of extra trouble to get there. The first tee welcomes golfers with one of the great opening tee shots in golf, which requires a carry over 150 yards of Atlantic coastline. It is a traditional links that is short by today's standards, but the course has withstood the test of time thanks to its natural beauty.
Saunton East Course (England) – The tougher and more championship-worthy of Saunton’s two courses, the East Course runs along Bideford Bay in England’s southwest and, with only two par 5s, plays to a very difficult par of 71. The towering mounds of the Braunton Burrows sand dune system cut between holes, leaving players with a feeling of seclusion and tranquility at several points along the way.
County Sligo (Ireland) – Situated in the heart of Yeats Country in northwest Ireland, County Sligo – or Rosses Point as it is often referred to – is as much of a joy to play as it is to behold. The course plays over three distinct areas, each with its own unique attributes, and the layout truly has it all, from challenging bunkering to dramatic clifftop greens.
Dundonald (Scotland) – Dundonald is the newest addition to the jam-packed golfing landscape along Scotland’s Ayrshire coast, having only recently opened for play in 2005. The course’s slightly-raised green complexes show a modern touch, but the overall layout feels like a classic links and the golfing world has quickly taken notice of designer Kyle Phillips’ masterful design.
Carne (Ireland) – The last design by famed Irish architect Eddie Hackett, Carne is a raw, wild links along Ireland’s remote west coast that Hackett considered his finest work. The landscape is otherworldly, almost like playing on the moon, and very little earth was moved to create this fantastic layout. The course winds its way through towering sand dunes where, as with any coastal Irish links, the wind is always a major factor.
St. Enodoc Church Course (England) – The Church Course features a bit more elevation change than other links courses, which means views across the adjacent Camel Estuary and beyond are plentiful. The course’s most notable feature is the sixth hole’s Himalaya Bunker, probably the largest sand hazard in golf and certainly the most intimidating.
Brora (Scotland) – Scotland’s most northerly championship links, Brora is a true hidden gem in every sense of the word. The delightful drive up the coast to Brora winds past quaint Highland villages and the breathtaking Dunrobin Castle, building the anticipation with each stunning view. The course does not disappoint, a true links with perhaps more holes played close to the water’s edge than any other in Scotland. Five-time British Open champion Peter Thomson lists Brora as his favorite course in the world, and reportedly still makes the pilgrimage twice a year to play.
Jonathan Alden is a contributor at Golf News Net and the founder of Worldwide Golf Adventures, a golf travel company based in Austin, TX that offers dream vacations to the world's top golf destinations.