What are the best golf courses in the world? The Golf World Top 100 panel ranks the finest layouts on the planet… that you can actually play.
Continuing our countdown of the best golf courses in the world, we’re into the top ten as we reveal which course tops the revered list. And remember, we’ve only considered courses that are open to the public in this inaugural ranking. Head over to our ‘How we did it‘ for a full explanation of why and to see how we carried out this mammoth task!
And, once you’ve enjoyed this ranking, please do take a look at some of our others – from the best courses in England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Europe and the USA, to GB&I’s best links, the most fun courses to play and the finest resorts in Europe and the World has to offer, we’ve got it covered.
Chris Bertram, Golf World Top 100 Editor
Golf World Top 100: Best Courses in the World – 10-1
10. Cape Wickham
One of the most breathtaking courses ever built. Set along the cliffs of remote King Island, the setting is peerless and the course more than lives up to its canvas. Pretty much every hole is on or very close to the coastline, so you feel the spray on your face. A course designed to please. So many holes are magnificent, including the 18th – which may be the world’s most spectacular climax.
Also play: Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm.
Get there: Fly to King Island from Melbourne.
9. Royal Dornoch (Championship)
A links that never seems to stop surprising and enchanting. If you have golf running through your veins, you have to make the journey to this Highland links. Its setting is often overlooked as the domed-green tests and memorable holes set in natural linksland take the focus, but it is an aesthetic delight.
Also play: Skibo Castle and Brora nearby plus Nairn and Castle Stuart further south.
Closest city: Inverness is 60 minutes away.
8. Pinehurst (No.2)
North Carolina, USA
No.2 is a masterclass in course architecture. This US Open venue was designed by Donald Ross and the famous domed greens are still in evidence, providing the greatest obstacle to a good score. Revised by Coore-Crenshaw in 2010, it is wide off the tee but after that you are tested on every shot.
Also play: You never need leave Pinehurst, which has nine courses. Kiawah to the south.
Get there: Raleigh Durham is 60 minutes away.
7. Royal Portrush (Dunluce)
Antrim, Northern Ireland
Back on The Open rota and receiving the plaudits it deserves. The Dunluce takes the golfer on a dramatic dunescape journey to the sea and back. Its variety derives from a site that changes from quiet ripples to significant elevation change. New holes by Martin Ebert add even more X Factor.
Also play: Portstewart is 10 minutes away, Ballyliffin just over an hour to the north-west.
Closest city: Belfast is under an hour away.
6. Pebble Beach
San Francisco, USA
Yes, there are many who say the course is not what it was and is in need of restoration. And yes, there are those who insist it has one too many mediocre holes to warrant this position. But its tee-sheet remains full, and many walking off the 18th green will tell you they just had the experience of a lifetime.
Also play: Spyglass Hill, also in this list, is along the coast. So, tantalisingly, is Cypress Point.
Get there: Fly to San Francisco or Los Angeles.
East Lothian, Scotland
Lacks the scenery of the others in this top 10, but does the pure links experience so well.
A routing with few peers, perfect bunkering, immaculate conditioning – and its greatest strength is arguably its consistency. Old Tom and Harry Colt created 18 holes that are all good, if not better than good.
Also play: North Berwick, also in this list, Gullane No.1 and No.2, Renaissance, Luffness, Kilspindie.
Closest city: Edinburgh is 45 minutes away.
4. Turnberry (Ailsa)
Martin Ebert’s bold revision of Philip Mackenzie Ross’ design has reaped significant rewards. Before Ebert’s intervention, the Ailsa would be more like No.54 rather than No.4.
But it now makes much more of its peerless setting as well as improving the technical merit of the holes. Full of memorable tests, the stretch around the lighthouse is one of the best in Britain.
Also play: Turnberry’s Kintyre, Royal Troon, Western Gailes, Prestwick, and Dundonald.
Closest city: Glasgow is an hour away.
3. Royal Melbourne
Royal Melbourne is golf on a grand scale. This Alister MacKenzie design incorporates fairways that are wide – although choose your line with care – and the slopes on the greens need to be seen to be believed.
The elevation change is significant as it rises and falls over Melbourne’s venerable ‘sandbelt’ terrain. For a course with such a venerated reputation it is more playable than you might imagine, but to score well you need to have a high level of control over your ball.
The 5th is regarded as one of the best par 3s in the world. Its green has deep bunkers left and right and a steep slope at the front. Any putt above the hole should be hit with a dextrous touch. T
hat Royal Melbourne splits GB&I’s finest links in our World top five is as good an indication as any as to its quality.
Also play: The East, which is also in this World Top 100, plus Victoria, Kingston Heath and Kingswood Peninsula.
Get there: Melbourne airport is 45 minutes away.
2. St Andrew’s (Old)
Set against the spectacular scenes that follow on every page of this Top 100, the Old might look a little sedate and under-powered. It does, however, take the breath away in many other ways.
It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up on the 1st tee and several times thereafter, especially as you play back into the town on the back nine.
Also play: St Andrews New and Castle , Kingsbarns, Dumbarnie and Elie.
Closest city: Edinburgh is 80 mins away.
1. Royal County Down
Down, Northern Ireland
You’ve seen some stunning courses and imagery throughout this ranking, but there is little – if anything – that surpasses this. Just drink in this setting for a moment, and know that this is not some kind of Photoshop wizardry – Royal County Down really is as aesthetically perfect as this.
That is the first, very obvious, appeal of our first World Top 100 No.1. The second is more subtle but just as notable; a relentlessly probing challenge of all aspects of the game.
It is indubitably an awesome test, one which in inclement weather could verge toward being too difficult for high handicappers. That is the sum total of any criticism you could level at the course we believe is the finest in the world.
RCD is, by any stretch of the imagination, not especially forgiving. Carries of up to 200 yards are sometimes required and while the fairways are often wide, gorse and rough mean waywardness is punished.
Drive bunkers add to the premium on direction, and their pleasingly unkempt nature – with overhanging lips of marram, fescue and heather – adds additional penalty.
Domed greens dismiss approach shots lacking accuracy and recovery shots around them are perilous, for the slick slopes take mishit chips (and putts) away from the pin and indeed potentially off the green entirely.
RELATED: Best Golf Courses in Ireland
Mistakes are punished here… and are compounded if not accepted. Fortune doesn’t often favour the brave at RCD. But while visitors must be prepared for a robust examination of all parts of their game, this Northern Ireland links never feels tricked-up or unfair – unless you dislike blind shots, because there are plenty of them here.
RCD does not need the help of the weather to be testing or to get its full experience. It is epic in any conditions and on a relatively benign evening it is utterly heavenly; still sufficiently challenging, but also offering the chance to savour (and capture for your screensaver and wallpaper) a location and landscape whose majesty is conveyed accurately in the images you see of it here and elsewhere.
On the opening trio, Dundrum Bay edges their right side and a better start in Britain and Ireland you will not find. Then you turn round for the seminal short 4th and the rest of the front nine, with the towering Mountains of Mourne a brooding backdrop. Sand dunes, gorse, bracken, heather and those bearded bunkers decorate fingers of gorgeous seaside turf, each individual masterpiece sitting exquisitely in the wider gallery.
It is, without fear of contradiction, a breathtaking arena and, in our opinion, the finest course in the world you can play.
Also play: Royal Portrush to the north and County Louth and Dublin’s elite (two hours) to the south.
Closest city: Belfast is less than an hour away.
READ NEXT: Best Golf Resorts in the World
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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.