Golf World Top 100: Best Courses in the UK and Ireland – 10-1

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What are the best golf courses in the UK and Ireland? The revered Golf World Top 100 reveals all in our most anticipated ranking.

JUMP TO: How we did it | 200-101 | 100-76 | 75-51 | 50-26 | 25-11 | 10-1

This is it. We have reached the Top 10 golf courses in Britain and Ireland. Head over to our ‘How we did it’ to find out about the panel and our scoring system for this mammoth task!

And, as this is our flagship ranking, we’ve produced a special 84-page digital magazine, which is packed with additional content, including expert interviews, opinion, guides to the best GB&I trips, statistics from the rankings and a fascinating look at the evolution of the list. You can download your copy, here.

As always, please do feed back where you feel we’re right and, more likely, where you think we’ve gone wrong. We’d love to hear from you via email, on TwitterFacebook or Instagram.

And, once you’ve enjoyed this ranking, please do take a look at some of our others – from the best courses in Scotland and Europe, to the most fun courses to play and the finest resorts in Europe, we’ve got it covered.

Chris Bertram, Golf World Top 100 Editor

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Golf World Top 100: Best courses in the UK & Ireland – 10-1

The par-4 13th at North Berwick is one of the best golf holes in Great Britain and Ireland.

10. North Berwick: ⬆️ 9

North Berwick, East Lothian, Scotland

Design 35 Setting 12 Memorability 15 Playability 8 Consistency 7 Presentation 8 Total 85

It says a lot about the emphasis of this ranking and this panel that our No.1 GB&I Fun course makes its debut in the top 10 of the blue riband list. Memorable hole after memorable hole, especially coming home on what is probably the most entertaining back nine in this list, make it a must play. Don’t be surprised to see a further rise in future rankings; its conditioning is improving and promises to get even better.

Royal Birkdale is one of the best golf courses in the UK and Ireland.

9. Royal Birkdale: ↔️

Southport, Merseyside, England

Design 33 Setting 13 Memorability 14 Playability 7 Consistency 9 Presentation 9 Total 85

An Open venue loved by tour pros for its fairness and lack of tricks, this is the place for you if you enjoy hitting down fairways snaking between enormous dunes. Retains its place in a supremely competitive top 10, which is no mean feat, without quite having the interest in fairways and greens of others among the elite. Oozes class from start to exciting finish, with no notably weak holes.

Sunningdale Old is one of the best golf courses in the UK and Ireland.

8. Sunningdale (Old): ⬇️ 1

Sunningdale, Surrey, England

Design 34 Setting 13 Memorability 13 Playability 8 Consistency 8 Presentation 9 Total 85

GB&I’s No.1 inland course and England’s No.2 overall, the Old is a beguiling experience among pines and heather. But while it is charming and intoxicating, it is also a serious test for all of us, even if sadly now too short for the pros. Serene and joyous.

Royal St George's is one of the best golf courses in the UK and Ireland.

7. Royal St George’s: ⬆️ 3

Sandwich, Kent, England

Design 34 Setting 12 Memorability 14 Playability 7 Consistency 9 Presentation 9 Total 85

England’s No.1 is a course that combines a challenge relentless enough to test the greatest ball-strikers in the world with a collection of holes sufficiently compelling to melt the heart of even the most difficult-to-please architectural connoisseur.

The quirks of ‘Sandwich’ – as a result of the enjoyably undulating nature of the linksland on which it is built – do not appeal to all pros, but most of those of us who play the game to be entertained are engaged by them and accept their idiosyncrasies. Welcome them, in fact.

St George’s has seven blind tee shots but you need not be scared of it with driver in hand.Instead, much of the test comes around greens often cuddled by rough-covered hills, gullies and steep-faced bunkers. It is a links to be tackled with relish and to embrace its admirable eccentricity.

RELATED: Best Golf Courses in England

Phil Mickelson plays a practice round at Royal St George's ahead of the 2021 Open.

Phil Mickelson: ‘Royal St George’s has so much character’

The six-time Major champion on his love for Sanwich’s finest links

I watched in ’85 when Sandy Lyle won, when he made five from down in the swale. I recall the ball rolling back to him and everybody thought he may have lost his chance, but he got up and down and won.

I remember watching that Open on television, so to then be able to play the course gives you even more feel for its character. It’s got a lot of difficult, difficult greens, a lot of slopes and I really enjoy it. It’s a spectacular course because it has a lot of character to it.

Around the greens there’s a lot of character. There’s a lot of slopes, not soft pitches, but a lot of definition. Edges of greens you can see, fall-offs you can see.
It makes shot making into greens very important, because one side of the green you can get up and down from, and the other side you can’t. Now typically we hear about that at the US Open, but in links golf, most of the time you can get up and down from around the greens. But at St George’s there is half the green that you really can’t.

Royal St George's is one of the best golf courses in the UK and Ireland.

Angles and approaches into greens are very important, as it is in most Open Championships, but I think at St George’s especially because of how well the bunkering around the greens is.

I think it’s a very fair test off the tee, given the bunker placement. It requires a lot of strategy. But also it gives you a very good or reasonable size fairway to hit it to.

Whereas somewhere like Muirfield is a little flatter in front of the greens and the ball kicks a little straighter, St George’s is more of the norm for an Open links.

It’s more normal to have the ball hit in the middle of the fairway but then kick and go into the rough, or where balls hit into the middle of the green, kick and go into the corners of the green; I think that’s more normal for an Open. So knowing the nuances of the course is a big factor.

I loved links golf from when I first played it, in 1991. I played Portmarnock in the Walker Cup, which is certainly one of the greatest links around. That set-up was spectacular, and it made me very excited about links golf. And I played the ’91 Open at Birkdale and I thought that was a great track. All the links have their own history and a lot of character.

RELATED: Our hole-by-hole guide to Royal St George’s

The Dunluce at Royal Portrush is one of the best golf courses in the UK and Ireland.

6. Royal Portrush (Dunluce): ⬇️ 3

Portrush, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland

Design 34 Setting 14 Memorability 12 Playability 7 Consistency 9 Presentation 9 Total 85

This position for the Dunluce gives Northern Ireland a third of the top six. Back on the Open rota and with two new holes universally well received, Portrush is even more firmly established as one of the elite courses on our islands.

The loss of two relatively modest – but often a little unfairly maligned – closing holes and the creation of a pair of blockbusters by Martin Ebert has added to Portrush’s allure.

It is a world-class links that has everything; uncommon variety, coastal scenery, an all-round challenge, some risk-reward strategy, and a sense of being somewhere special. Make no mistake, this Harry Colt original would be a worthy and credible No.1 in this list.

The Dunluce at Royal Portrush is one of the best golf courses in the UK and Ireland.

Rory McIlroy: ‘I first played Portrush for my 10th birthday present’

 From a gift in 1999 to a 61 aged 16, the four-time Major champion explains why it’s so special

My first memories of Portrush are going up there to watch my dad play in the North of Ireland Championship.

I remember chipping around the chipping green, being seven or eight years of age, while my dad was out playing on the Dunluce in the Championship.

And that was the start of my summers always involving Portrush, because then all of a sudden I got to the stage where I was playing in the North of Ireland and going up there to play in it. First, though, my dad took me to Portrush for my 10th birthday to play it, which was my birthday present. I actually met Darren Clarke that day for the first time, which was really cool.

Portrush – at least the golf club – has been a very big part of my upbringing.

So when I was driving in for the first time in Open week (2019), and I’m on the road I’ve been on so many times and I look to the right where you’ve got the second tee and you see someone like Tony Finau teeing off, it was sort of strange to see those guys there.

But it was really cool. It just sort of shows what we’ve done in terms of players. G-Mac winning the US Open, Darren winning The Open, and then some of the success that I’ve had. And how Northern Ireland has come on as a country that we were able to host such a big event here again.

Rory McIlroy practising at the 2019 Open Championship at Royal Portrush.

I think one of the great things about the golf course is – and I sort of realised this on the Saturday before The Open when I went to play it – off the tee it makes you challenge at least one bunker. If you try to take all the bunkers out of play, it’s going to be very difficult. You’re leaving yourself a lot of long approach shots.

I think a lot of tee shots there you challenge one bunker but you sort of stay short of the next. You sort of have a little area to hit it into. So it still makes you play – you still have to concentrate on the tee shot.

But there is a flexibility to it. There are some holes in certain winds I can hit driver, but in certain winds I’ll just hit an iron and play it that way.

‘Flexibility’ is actually a good word for Portrush, I think, because, as we all know in links golf, different wind conditions and different wind directions can completely change what you do and how holes play.

For example, the second hole at Portrush, you’ve got that collection of the three bunkers, around 280, 290 off the tee, but then you’ve got a bunker on the left-hand side that’s 310. And the only way I’d ever hit driver there in a tournament is if I knew I could carry that bunker on the left. For the most part I’ll lay it up.

People talk about the 61 I shot, but the golf course has changed so much since 2005 when I shot it. It’s a different par, different holes. There’s a lot of holes that have been lengthened. There’s been a par 5 that has been turned into a par 4.

Now, in normal-to-tricky conditions like we had in Open week, you’re looking at 67, 68 being a good score. Calmer conditions like we had before the tournament, you could probably potentially see a 63, 64, 65.

The internal out of bounds at the 1st is not common, but it’s the way it’s always been. It never really comes into my thinking.

RELATED: Best Golf Courses in Ireland

Muirfield is one of the best golf courses in Great Britain and Ireland.

5. Muirfield: ↔️

Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland

Design 35 Setting 12 Memorability 12 Playability 6 Consistency 10 Presentation 10 Total 85

A former No.1 in the days when tour players were asked for input even if they had played only a handful of contenders. That is not to play down the quality of Muirfield, but rather explain why it could be top in the last decade and fifth now.

With a panel of club golfers, albeit many strong ones, and an emphasis on forgiveness and fun, it feels unlikely to be repeated. Muirfield is an awesome test in any weather, a trial of strategy, ball-striking and nous. The ultimate player’s course.

Royal Dornoch is one of the best golf courses in Great Britain and Ireland.

4. Royal Dornoch: ⬆️ 2

Dornoch, Scotland

Design 35 Setting 13 Memorability 14 Playability 8 Consistency 8 Presentation 8 Total 86

The highest position Royal Dornoch has occupied in our GB&I list has, you might justifiably suggest, been a long time coming.

It was in our very first ranking 40 years ago, but only once in the 14 lists since that inaugural one did it make the top 10 (ninth in 2000). We were not alone in being slow to recognise the enchanting nature of this mystical links. Another ranking had it behind Killarney’s Killeen and Druids Glen in the late ’90s, at No.51.

Probably its location played a part, in the sense relatively few people will have made it to the Highlands – it’s five hours north of Glasgow and a full hour from Inverness, never mind from anywhere south of the border. Still, when Tom Watson says it “is the most fun I have ever had playing golf” after his 1981 trip – during which he began to fall in love with links golf – it must be said we’ve been a little slow to acknowledge its class.

Before him, legendary American golf writer Herbert Warren Wind stated “No golfer has completed his education until he has played and studied Royal Dornoch.”

Those Americans had Dornoch right long before we did, even if it has been on a constant ascent since the 2008 ranking, when it was 11th. It now certainly feels as if it is established as an essential pilgrimage for any golfer with a taste for playing the finest courses and an antennae for the history of the game and its architecture.

Dornoch could not be more different from the Scottish course it has usurped for the first time, Muirfield. Where the Open venue is accused of being too demanding to charm and mesmerise the golfer who plays the game to be enriched and entertained, Dornoch oozes those characteristics.

It has a mystique and an atmosphere only the Old Course, in its different way, can match of courses in these islands. The beauty of the setting, the effortless lie-of-the-land nature of the holes, the hypnotic tranquility of the Highlands and the aura and legacy of Donald Ross combine to make this one of the world’s greatest courses.

Royal Dornoch is one of the best golf courses in Great Britain and Ireland.

“Dornoch is a special place”

Top 100 panellist David Jones, @UKGolfGuy on Twitter, pens a love letter to our No.4.

Royal Dornoch is a course which rewards brains over brawn. Most golfers will be able to hit driver from the tee without fear of punishment. But it is around the greens that the course shows where the defences lie.

The more you play the course, the more you realise where you need to miss to have a chance of saving par.

Take the wonderful par-3 2nd hole, for example. Leave it in the jaws short of the green and you have a decent chance of getting up and down. Miss the green to the left or right and you will have one of the hardest shots on the course as you try to float one onto the domed green.

Those classic Donald Ross domed greens are a theme of the challenge on the way round and they require your constant attention if you are to put a score together.

However, Dornoch may best be appreciated without obsessing over every stroke you take. The setting is simply magnificent. The front nine takes you out on the upper plateau with some of the best views in golf, before you drop closer to the water for the back nine. It is such a simple routing, but one which is impossible to imagine being bettered.

The consistency of the holes is also tremendous. The quality is maintained all the way around the course and ask 18 people for their favourite holes and you may get 18 different answers.

However, one hole is probably consistently the most challenging – the famous long par 4 14th – ‘Foxy’. It’s a hole where the movement of the ground serves to confound. There are no bunkers on the hole, but you need to plot your way through and across multiple ridges that lie in wait. The knoll in front of the elevated green makes running one up a tough ask. Anyone getting on the green in regulation has hit two pretty special shots to achieve such a feat. For most of us, just take a five and run!

Dornoch isn’t an easy place to get to – it’s a long drive from the large populations of Edinburgh and Glasgow, never mind from those further south in Britain. But the reward for those who make the journey is huge. It is a course which will simply delight golfers of all levels and one which will live in the mind forever.

It really is that special a place.

David has also written an excellent detailed analysis of this new ranking, which you can read here.

Turnberry's Ailsa is one of the best golf courses in Great Britain and Ireland.

3. Turnberry (Ailsa): ⬇️ 2

Turnberry, Ayrshire, Scotland

Design 33 Setting 15 Memorability 15 Playability 8 Consistency 9 Presentation 8 Total 88

It’s been No.1 before and after the Martin Ebert overhaul it may well be top again, as a glance at the marks demonstrates.

There really is nothing to choose between the top three and if you were to play them all on consecutive days and tell us we had the ‘wrong’ order, we would not put up too much of an argument. It does, however, feel as if the names in the top three are established even if the order is more fluid; this trio feel slightly adrift from the rest of a world-class top 10. It might seem boring to say this two years out, but if they aren’t the top three in 2024, it will be a surprise.

The Ailsa – a World top 10 certainty – is the most aesthetically pleasing of the trio; which is no mean statement given Royal County Down’s breathtaking setting.
The Ailsa just tops it for jaw-dropping moments, with the spell around the famous lighthouse bettered by nowhere in GB&I and arguably matched only by a couple of moments at Old Head of Kinsale.

Ebert was handed a mouthwatering task given the Ailsa had long been punching way below its weight, and he made a wonderful job of ensuring it now realises its potential. Weak holes have disappeared and previously strong ones are enhanced. The 9-10-11 run around the lighthouse is peerless and the Ailsa, ‘Duel in the Sun’ and all, has that money-can’t-buy commodity – an aura.

For some panellists it is No.1. Don’t be surprised if it is in that position again.

RELATED: Best Golf Courses in Scotland

Royal County Down is one of the best golf courses in Great Britain and Ireland.

2. Royal County Down (Championship): ↔️

Newcastle, Co. Down, Northern Ireland

Design 35 Setting 15 Memorability 14 Playability 6 Consistency 9 Presentation 9 Total 88

For many on the panel, this is clearly the No.1 course in these islands and indeed worldwide. A simply outstanding layout that wins most categories against most courses except one: Playability.

RCD is unquestionably a difficult course and that six out of 10 is not a harsh judgement. It is often demanding off the tee, it is usually demanding on approaches and it is always demanding on and around the green. The RCD examination paper has no holes in it. It does not let up from tee to green from 1 to 18. It is playable, especially in fair weather, but we have to acknowledge that a golfer could come here, have an off day and be chastened by the experience.

Otherwise, it is pretty much perfection, a dreamy setting allied to a bewildering variety of holes you will remember forever. What a course.

The Old Course at St Andrews is the best golf course in Great Britain and Ireland according to the Golf World Top 100 panel.

1. St Andrews (Old): ⬆️ 3

St Andrews, Fife, Scotland

Design 35 Setting 14 Memorability 15 Playability 8 Consistency 9 Presentation 8 Total 89

Here is the most surprising thing in this Top 100; this is the first time the Old Course has been our No.1 in Great Britain and Ireland. It seems as surprising as it is, frankly, wrong. But there was a different emphasis in previous lists and also, as the ranking illustrates, several outstanding rivals.

It was by no means a unanimous choice to rise to top spot among the panel, but enough love it for it to topple Royal County Down and Turnberry’s Ailsa, which it held off for top spot in our Scotland ranking.

We decided to keep this entry brief, and let three very well qualified others try to explain the unique appeal of our Great Britain and Ireland No.1.

Their contributions did not disappoint, and – unless you absolutely demand thrilling sea views – neither will the Old.

The Old Course at St Andrews is the best golf course in Great Britain and Ireland according to the Golf World Top 100 panel.

THE ARCHITECT

Tom Doak is the pre-eminent course designer since the Golden Age more than a century ago.

Was studying the Old Course the reason you spent so much of your year over here in St Andrews?

Yes, and also because I had an offer from (Links Superintendent) Walter Woods to work on the greenkeeping staff. Sadly, that part didn’t work out – because of the recession, he needed to put locals on the payroll. But he arranged for me to caddie, which forced me to see the course through other golfers’ eyes, and then I got to spend a lot of time with Walter in my off hours.
It was really the best of both worlds!

Can you remember what you thought of it the first time you played it?

Little known fact: the first time I played the Old Course was with my parents, when I was 15, and my dad was on an overseas business trip. We went to Troon – where I was not allowed to play; you have to be 18 to play there!– to St Andrews and Gleneagles. I honestly do not remember too much about the round of golf, apart from the fact that my mom could get around the course okay, even though she didn’t hit it very far in the air. But, no family photos exist, because we lost the camera at Gleneagles!

What surprised you about the Old – and what do people get wrong about it?

The biggest lie is that the front nine is boring. The 2nd and 4th are two of my favourite holes in golf, and the 1st and 5th are pretty cool, too. The holes are just hard to remember, because you don’t have the landmarks in town to aim at going out, and the boundary on the right is not a factor, like it is for all of the famous holes coming in. Plus, when the wind is coming from Leuchars, the opening holes are seriously hard.

If you played it tomorrow, would it still be a thrill, despite knowing it so well?

I don’t know if I would use the word thrilling, but I am always excited to play the Old Course. St Andrews really feels like a second home to me. I don’t usually get nervous on the first tee, because I am just out there playing for fun, but when I played in the Dunhill the one time (with my client from Sebonack GC) we were first off the tee on the Thursday morning, and I was just lucky to make contact at all.

The Old Course at St Andrews is the best golf course in Great Britain and Ireland according to the Golf World Top 100 panel.

Do you still learn things about it despite knowing it so well, and could you recall an example of something you noticed in a later round?

It took me a long time to get comfortable with the idea that sometimes you were actually better off playing into the ‘wrong’ fairway – you pretty much only see the locals doing that, or the occasional good player taking heed of a good caddie. At the 14th, lots of people go left of Hell, but it’s really a good play sometimes to go way left at the 1st, or the 4th (if you’re uncertain of getting home in two), or the 13th, or way right at the 10th.

When I played in the Dunhill, my partner was Andrew Oldcorn, who had played the Old Course in tournaments for 20 years, but he was playing the new back tees into the breeze going out for the first time, and he was really struggling to sort out how to attack the holes. At the 7th, he hit a big block way right, and thought it was gone, and I thought, wait, that’s probably over by the 11th tee. Sure enough, he was, with a reasonable angle to the green.

What would you say to people who say the Old Course is ‘just a flat piece of land and without its history it is fairly mundane’?

Lots of people are ignorant, and I’m very happy for them to leave the course to those who appreciate it.

Tell us what you love about its strategy so much…

Bobby Jones said that it was the only course in the world where, if you pull your tee shot 10 yards off line, you really have to re-plot your strategy for the rest of the hole. Brooks Koepka said exactly the same thing, the first time I sat down with him. The strategy still works because the playing surface is so firm and the bunkers are so penal that if you leave yourself with a bunker in play on the approach, you will usually have to settle for hitting your approach shot to 40 feet and trying to make par. There are almost no other golf courses in the world where a pro will be happy playing for that.

And tell us one special Old Course memory – one that really stands out…

One day I went around with a family from California, the Dealeys. Now, the mom and dad were both pretty good players, as was their friend; their two college-age daughters had never played 18 holes before, though they had learned to hit balls on the range.

So, the daughters took turns, one playing the odd holes, the other the even holes, with me steering them around the trouble. And they could get around okay, though if they got into a pot bunker, the hole was over!

So they got more confident as the round progressed and at the 18th, the older daughter hits driver, 5-wood onto the green, and with a pretty good gallery watching, she almost sinks the 30-footer for three. There just aren’t many other Major championship sites where that story is possible, but it’s possible on the Old Course.

RELATED: Best Golf Holes in Britain and Ireland

The Old Course at St Andrews is the best golf course in Great Britain and Ireland according to the Golf World Top 100 panel.

THE PUNTER

David Jones, @UKGolfGuy on Twitter, is a panellist and a lover of golf trips. He has been fortunate to play many of the best courses around the world. He has also written an excellent detailed analysis of this new ranking, which you can read here.

Can you remember what you thought of the Old Course the first time you played it?

I first played The Old Course with my best friend and both of our dads – it was a magical day. I had walked the course at The Open and Dunhill Cup since I was a boy so to actually play it was just a dream come true. I loved how playable the course was. I’d hacked it around a few Open courses before which were attritional, but this was so much more fun.

What surprised you about it?

The options for playing the ball on the ground were unlike on any other course I’d seen before or have experienced since. There are so many different ways to get to the hole, including putting from far out if you want to. My friend had the chipping yips, so put the wedge away and shot a 74 using his putter 40 times!

You’ve played it a few times now. Is it still a thrill, how do you feel on the 1st tee and does anywhere else match it for pre-round excitement?

I defy anyone not to feel a tingle of excitement standing on that 1st tee. Even on the coldest winter’s day there will be people watching. It’s easy to tense up and swing too fast, which has been my downfall before. That first fairway is famously wide, but I have missed it both left and right before!

I don’t think there is anywhere quite like it. Maybe Merion is the closest I’ve come to first tee nerves, but there it’s just a few members watching, not what can feel like the whole town.

Do you still learn things about it despite the number of rounds you’ve now played on it?

Absolutely. The Old Course comes to life when the pins are put in the best spots on the green. Every time I see a different pin position I learn something new. It doesn’t just impact your putting. To get the best line in you need to tack your way up the hole, avoiding the tactically placed hazards.

Take the 7th green – it really doesn’t matter how close you drive it to the green, when the pin is tucked on a downslope behind that false front it needs a deft touch to get it close to the hole.

The Old Course at St Andrews is the best golf course in Great Britain and Ireland according to the Golf World Top 100 panel.

What would you say to people who say it is just a flat piece of land and without its history it is fairly mundane?

I have played the course a few times late in the day and, with a low sun, every hump and hollow come to life. You just don’t see them when the sun is high, especially when photographed from the air. This really is a golf course where you can let your imagination run riot. So many other courses dictate how to play a hole – here you are only limited by your own creativity. The more you play it, the more options you discover to get the ball to the hole.

OK, but you’ve played Pine Valley, regarded as the World No.1, you’ve played RCD – frequently No.1 in GB&I, you’ve played Morfontaine, the No.1 in Europe. Isn’t the Old Course just a bit dull compared to them?

It’s been said before that the Old Course shouldn’t be ranked with other courses, it is in a category of its own. Not only is it the most strategic course in the world, it is also the most historic – literally, the Home of Golf. Put those two factors together and you have a phenomenal combination.

You have many golf friends and you go on many trips – is it the course you talk about most? Or where would it rank?

It’s definitely right up there. There are more dramatic places and I am a sucker for a course where you can see, hear and smell the sea. But if I were to design a fantasy golf trip it would end with a round on the Old Course.

What advice would you have for a first-time player at the Old Course?

Get there early. Walk across to the 17th tee and stroll down the Road Hole and the 18th, just taking it all in. Have a bit of fun on the Himalayas putting green, it will also get your mind in the right zone for some of the creativity that will serve you well out on the course. Don’t get to the first tee too early, there’s a difference between building anticipation and being a quivering wreck. And one last thing – smile and swing slow!

RELATED: Best Links Golf Courses in Britain and Ireland

The Old Course at St Andrews is the best golf course in Great Britain and Ireland according to the Golf World Top 100 panel.

THE TOUR PLAYER

Scotsman Richie Ramsay is a former US Amateur champion and a multiple winner on the European Tour. He is also an architectural buff.

Can you remember what you thought of the Old Course the first time you played it?

I played it the first time with my brother as a 16th birthday present from him. We always travelled to watch the Dunhill Links as kids, so I knew the course. Or at least I thought I did.

What surprised you about it?

Once you make your way out from the famous holes – 1-2 and 16-18 – it can feel a little underwhelming. Why is it so revered? Is it just the start and finish? At that age I wasn’t really thinking about that.

You’ve played it many times since – is it still a thrill and how do you feel on the first tee?

We played tournaments on many courses so there are some cool walks to the first tee. But the Old Course’s first is tough to beat. Firstly, you need to think where the flag is before you hit and factor in the wind, as this obviously helps you access pins. The variety of bounces on that rumpled fairway always amazes me. You walk off the first tee with an extra skip in your step, too. Sometimes even two skips if you don’t succumb to the locals’ eyes, the bay window or the general cauldron of the first tee.

Have you ever caught yourself, during a tournament, daydreaming about all the greats who’ve walked down that opening hole, or of any of the Old’s famous moments?

Yeah, I think a lot about the shots I watched at the Dunhill when I needed a lift above the wall at the back of 17. Rocco’s putt, Sanders’ miss, Seve’s back door putt, shot tracers into 17, bouncing the ball up on most holes as bunkers want to gobble your ball up.

The Old Course at St Andrews is the best golf course in Great Britain and Ireland according to the Golf World Top 100 panel.

Do you still learn things about the course despite all the rounds you’ve played there?

You always learn, that’s what’s makes it so much fun. Engagement of the brain, variety and challenge – it’s no secret to say that the Old Course does that on every hole, and that’s what makes it so rewarding to play it again and again.

How much of the best of course design is present in the Old Course, and what aspects would you pick out?

It is the variety, for me, that makes it so much fun. Every hole presents options – and they’re options for all abilities, not just for the elite golfers. The width of fairways and greens are the core fundamentals. A Dunhill set up compared to an Open are night and day. You need to learn again. And when you add in wind, the weather and the firmness, it seems like a never ending story for just one course.

What would you say to people who say it is just a flat piece of land and without its history it is fairly mundane?

It is relatively flat but each slope has an abundance of character and the more you play, the more you learn how they can present a challenge or provide a solution to the problem you face – the next shot.

Is it a course the players talk about – before, during or after a round?  

It does encourage very spirited debate as views change with every round. Unfortunately, some players don’t understand its challenge. This is normally down to two reasons. Either they just haven’t played it enough, or with today’s length a significant amount of strategy and thought has gone from the challenge.

I played with Wilco Nienaber and Nicolai Hojgaard in the Dunhill, final round in 2021. On the back nine I just played a different course to Nicolai. He was impressive, but at the same time it was one of worst things to watch, the not quite understanding the nature and challenge of the Old Course.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Bertram, Golf World Top 100 Editor

Chris Bertram is the Golf World Top 100 Editor.

He was born and brought up in Dumfriesshire and has been a sports journalist since 1996, initially as a junior writer with National Club Golfer magazine.

Chris then spent four years writing about football and rugby union for the Press Association but returned to be Editor and then Publisher of NCG before joining Golf World and Today’s Golfer as Senior Production Editor.

He has been freelance since 2010 and when he is not playing and writing about the world’s finest golf courses, he works for BBC Sport.

A keen all-round sportsman, Chris plays off 11 – which could be a little better if it wasn’t for hilariously poor lag putting which has to be seen to be believed.

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