Planning a golf trip can be an arduous task, but sometimes picking the perfect destination can be the hardest part. To help get you started, I have ranked the world’s top 10 golf destinations.
1. Dublin, Ireland and Northern Ireland
Must Plays: Royal County Down-Championship, Royal Portrush-Dunluce, Portmarnock, European Club
Others of interest: K Club-Palmer, County Louth, Portstewart-Strand, Island
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The island of Ireland is divided politically into the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, but, to get the most out of your golf trip to the Emerald Isle, you need to visit both. The island’s top two courses are in Northern Ireland, a country which boasts both the world’s top-ranked course at Royal County Down as well as 2019 Open Championship host, Royal Portrush.
Just two hours south of County Down, Ireland’s capital and largest city of Dublin has a glut of championship golf courses and the natural links layouts at Portmarnock and the European Club are the cream of the crop. Tack on a round at the luxurious K Club’s Palmer Course, the former Ryder Cup host course and host of this week’s Irish Open, and you have my pick for the world’s greatest golf trip.
2. Central Scotland
Must plays: St. Andrews-Old, Carnoustie-Championship, Turnberry-Ailsa, Muirfield, Kingsbarns
Others of interest: Royal Troon-Old, North Berwick, St. Andrews-Castle, St. Andrews-New
If you have hopes of playing on the world-famous courses in central Scotland, you need to plan well in advance. The Kingdom of Fife, home to seven courses in St. Andrews as well as Kingsbarns, is the main attraction and is packed with golfers year-round. Additionally, in less than two hours' time, you can get to any number of world-class links courses that make up the most historic collection of courses in the world, including the current British Open courses at Turnberry, Carnoustie, Troon and Muirfield.
3. Bandon (Ore.)
Must plays: Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails, Pacific Dunes, Bandon-Old MacDonald
Others of interest: Bandon Preserve
If you want the best arrangement of phenomenal golf all in one place, then you can’t beat Oregon’s crown jewel. With four different courses that have made their way onto many world top 100 lists, arguably the world’s best par-3 course and a 100,000 square-foot putting courses that is unlike anything you have ever seen, Bandon is my idea of golfing heaven.
4. Melbourne, Australia
Must plays: Royal Melbourne-West, Kingston Heath, Victoria, Metropolitan
Others of interest: St. Andrews Beach, Royal Melbourne-East, Dunes, Barwon Heads, Thirteenth Beach, Woodlands
With about half of Australia’s best golf courses in and around the city of Melbourne (using any reputable rankings you can find), the city and its Sandbelt region represent the Mecca of Australian golf. The best golf is concentrated in several clusters around Port Phillip Bay, but your first stop has to be a half hour southeast of the city from where Royal Melbourne, Kingston Heath, Victoria and Metropolitan are all within a hair’s breadth.
5. Southwest Ireland
Must plays: Ballybunion-Old, Lahinch-Old, Waterville, Old Head, Tralee
Others of interest: Doonbeg, Killarney-Killeen, Dooks
Movement between the golf courses of southwest Ireland isn’t as condensed as it is in a place like Melbourne, but the area’s best golf is spread over a stretch of beautiful coastal terrain, known as the Wild Atlantic Way, so it is not hard to make the most out of a few extra hours in the car. Ballybunion and Lahinch are the staples, but make sure to include Old Head, which is built on a dramatic promontory that juts out into the Atlantic and will play host to your most memorable round in Ireland.
6. Cape Breton Island (Canada)
Must plays: Cabot Cliffs, Cabot Links, Highlands Links
Others of interest: Bell Bay, The Lakes Cape Breton
Cape Breton Island, the northeastern section of Canada’s Nova Scotia province, is quickly becoming one of the world’s can’t-miss golf destinations. Highlands Links, with a layout that bobs and weaves through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park, has been a fixture among Canada’s great courses for a while. The addition of Cabot Links and Cabot Cliffs, however, has escalated the area to new heights in the golfing world. Visitors to the area can expect a great mix of links-style golf, similar to what you would find in Britain, with picturesque parkland golf that brilliantly incorporates all of the area’s natural beauty.
Must plays: Royal St. George’s, Sunningdale-Old, Sunningdale-New, Swinley Forest
Others of interest: St. Georges Hill-Red & Blue, Walton Heath-Old, Berkshire-Red, Royal Cinque Ports
Given all that the city has to offer, London can get lost as a great golf destination, but I urge you not to overlook it. About an hour west of the city you will find the best assortment of heathland courses in the British Isles, with the two gems at Sunningdale leading the way. A trip to England is not complete, though, without some great links golf and one of England’s finest links, Royal St. George’s, is located two hours east of the city in the historic town of Sandwich.
8. Monterey Peninsula (Calif.)
Must plays: Pebble Beach, Pasatiempo, Spyglass
Others of interest: Spanish Bay, Poppy Hills
The Monterey Peninsula has a great selection of courses, but, let’s be honest, the area makes it on this list largely on the strength of Pebble Beach’s iconic stretch of clifftop holes that every dedicated golfer is somewhat obligated to play at least once. The key is to tack on a round at Pasatiempo, which is situated halfway between Monterey and the Bay Area and majestically rises and falls in the rolling hills along California’s coast.
9. Dominican Republic
Must plays: Casa de Campo-Teeth of the Dog, Cap Cana-Punta Espada, Punta Cana-Corales
Others of interest: Casa de Campo-Dye Fore, Punta Cana-La Cana
The best golf that the Caribbean region has to offer is found along the eastern shores of the Dominican Republic. The Casa de Campo resort put the area on the map in the 1970s with its famous Teeth of the Dog course, which hugs the coral waters of the Caribbean, and two additional top-tier public courses have since been added to the resort. Casa de Campo wouldn’t make this list on its own, though. Thanks to the recently opened Corales Course at Punta Cana and Punta Espada Course at Cap Cana, both of which are just over an hour east of Casa de Campo, the area is now home to three of the Carribean’s best courses and, consequently, has become the premier Latin American golf destination.
10. Northern Scotland
Must plays: Royal Dornoch-Championship, Castle Stuart, Trump International, Royal Aberdeen-Balgownie, Cruden Bay
Others of interest: Nairn, Brora, Moray
I debated between Mexico’s golf hub in Los Cabos and northern Scotland for my last spot on the list. I ultimately chose northern Scotland for one reason: I think Royal Dornoch is Scotland’s best course. The layout fits seamlessly along the Dornoch Firth, and the spectacular, wild gorse that lines the course will be etched in your memory forever. It’s hard to even say which of the other courses in the area are the best because they are all fantastic, but I’d probably pick Castle Stuart and Trump International, both of which recently opened to great fanfare.
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.