Augusta. Bandon. Pebble. The Old Course. These courses are on pretty much any golfer’s bucket list, and rightfully so. But what if you’re looking for something a little beyond the pale? Maybe a sense of adventure is more important to you than perfectly manicured fairways. If so, check out any of these ten courses for a truly one-of-a-kind golfing experience.
Himalayan Golf Club (Pokhara, Nepal): Located in Pokhara, a popular backpacker’s destination at the foot of the Himalayas, this course gets off to an unassuming start with back-to-back flat, somewhat bland holes. From there, the course plunges 250 feet into a river gorge created by the icy blue waters of the Seti Gandaki River. The setting is truly spectacular, with panoramic views of snowcapped peaks and rapidly-flowing river coming into play on many holes, but, as with several of the courses on this list, this is no-frills golf, to be sure: several of the holes use the same green, and barbed wire surrounds the greens, in order to keep the local cattle from trampling them. As with any activity in Nepal, the people make the experience even more memorable. Despite playing as a single, I elected to take both a caddie and a forecaddie, the latter of whom couldn’t have been more than 8 years old. I’ll never forget hitting my tee shot into the river on the sixth hole, only to have my forecaddie’s entrepreneurial, pantsless friend sell it back to me for 25 cents a few holes later.
Addis Ababa Golf Club (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia): When one thinks Ethiopia, golf is perhaps the last thing that comes to mind. The diverse, culturally-rich nation is home to over 100 million people but only a handful of golfers. The country’s only golf course lies in the heart of its bustling capital, Addis Ababa. The pleasant, nine-hole layout offers few challenges for the accomplished golfer, but its novelty and unique glimpse into Ethiopia’s golf community make it worth the trip if you’re ever in the area.
Leopard Creek Golf Club (Malelane, South Africa): No trip to South Africa is complete without a safari, and what better way to do it than to combine one with a round of golf? On the southern border of the world-famous Kruger National Park, the Gary Player layout does a great job of incorporating the bush landscape into each hole. But it’s the variety of wildlife, many of whom make an appearance during your round of golf, which makes this course so special. Hippos and crocodiles make the water truly hazardous, and Luke Donald can attest to the fact that it’s always best to let the baboons play through.
Legend Golf & Safari Resort (Bosveld, South Africa): Despite South Africa’s bevy of European Tour stops and global top-100 courses, the golf course at Legend Resort remains one of my clients’ most requested rounds of golf for one reason and one reason only: the Extreme 19th. The 400-yard par three requires golfers to take a helicopter to reach its tee, perched some 1,300 feet above a green in the shape of the African continent. As of last year, a mere 15 players had made a birdie.
Golf Mountain (Engstligenalp, Switzerland): Here in Austin, pop-up restaurants are all the rage, but who knew there were pop-up golf courses? Each September for the last five years, this plateau in the Swiss Alps has been converted into a rugged golf course, complete with clubhouse and driving range. The greens are artificial, but the rest of the course is as natural as it gets.
Kabul Golf Club (Kabul, Afghanistan): Most of the courses on this list merely require a bit of dedication to reach, but Kabul Golf Club is truly a track that only a select few will have the stones to tackle. That anyone in Afghanistan can muster up the courage to even consider a round of golf speaks volumes to the eternal optimism of the human spirit. The course opened in 2004 as a nine-hole layout but has since been reduced to six due to complications from the ongoing conflict. The brave souls who venture out on the course take strips of artificial turf with them to balance out the rocky terrain, but the sand greens are surprisingly puttable.
La Paz Golf Club (La Paz, Bolivia): Remember that round you played in Denver one time? Remember how far the ball went? Well, La Paz Golf Club has got that beat. In fact, the course sits over twice as far above sea level as the Mile High City. The rocky layout in the Bolivian capital gives golfers a lunar feeling, and it sometimes feels as though your tee shots might reach the moon, too.
Furnace Creek Golf Course (Death Valley, U.S.): From the world’s highest course to its lowest: Furnace Creek in Death Valley sits at 214 feet below sea level, just a quarter-mile from the site where the hottest temperature ever measured in the Western Hemisphere was recorded. Temperatures on a typical summer day creep towards 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and the fact that it’s a dry heat is of little consolation. The course hosts the Heatstroke Open each summer, where a few dozen foolhardy golfers attempt to gain entry into that year’s Darwin Awards.
Nullarbor Links (Australia): What’s the longest golf course you’ve played? 7,500 yards? Psssshh. Try 850 miles. The golf-course-as-a-road-trip concept is certainly a novel one, and one that Nullarbor Links does well. This course in the Australian Outback was meant to turn this barren landscape as a place to linger for a few days, rather than pass through or avoid altogether. The course takes a minimum of three days to complete, and you can go ahead and leave your notion of your handicap on the first tee. You won’t break par, but you’ll meet a hell of lot of interesting people along the way, not to mention a kangaroo or two.
Ile aux Cerfs Golf Club (Port Louis, Mauritius): You don’t even have to appreciate golf to recognize the fact that the idyllic course at Ile aux Cerfs is pure paradise. Occupying its very own island in the Indian Ocean, the Bernhard Langer design is a visual knockout, with white sandy beaches ringing many of the holes. The course is a nonstop feast for the senses, with the scent and spray of the ocean present on each hole as you wind through verdant mangroves and glistening tidepools.
Ravi Coutinho 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.