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 half and the courses that rank from 50th to 26th. 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 – 50-26
50. Kiawah Island (Ocean)
South Carolina, USA
One of Pete Dye’s biggest successes. He and wife Alice routed 10 holes hugging the Atlantic and the other eight running parallel to them. It was Alice who suggested raising the fairways to give unobstructed views of the ocean. This Ryder Cup venue is a breath-taking but breezy challenge.
Also play: There are a handful of other courses on site and Pinehurst also in North Carolina.
Get there: Charleston airport 45 minutes away.
49. Gleneagles (King’s)
People often get the King’s wrong these days; just because it cannot host the Tour now does not make it a pushover. For us, James Braid’s work remains a very, very solid all-round test. He used the tumbling land brilliantly and the King’s is packed with 10/10 holes. Oh, and gorgeous scenery.
Also play: The Queen’s and PGA Centenary on site as well as Blairgowrie’s two courses nearby.
Closest cities: Perth is 15 minutes, Edinburgh 50.
48. St George’s Hill
Now gaining the reputation it deserves after too many years in the shadow of its Surrey neighbours. St George’s Hill is a Harry Colt original that flows beautifully over undulating heathland that permits some of the sandbelt’s most adventurous holes. It may be Surrey’s most entertaining round.
Also play: Sunningdale Old/New, Walton Heath Old/New, three Ws, Swinley Forest, The Berkshire.
Closest city: London is 30 miles away.
47. Bethpage (Black)
New York, USA
Rees Jones may have renovated them a couple of times, but essentially you are playing the holes AW Tillinghast laid out (or was it the park’s superintendent Joseph Burbank?). And they ain’t easy. This is muscular golf; as the infamous sign says, the Black is an ‘extremely difficult course’.
Also play: So many courses in New York – including some all-world private ones.
Get there: New York JFK is 40 minutes away.
A very hard course to classify, but a very easy course to enjoy. Ganton sits inland, but plays like a links – glacier movement is the reason this sandy site is now 10 miles from the coast. The Ryder, Walker and Curtis Cup host is a classy but exacting test with some of England’s finest bunkering.
Also play: A little out on its own but Alwoodley and Moortown are just over an hour away in Leeds.
Closest city: York is 40 minutes away.
45. Cabot Links
Nova Scotia, Canada
Opened in 2011, Cabot Links was designed by Rod Whitman, the right-hand man of Bill Coore, of Coore-Crenshaw – the design firm who designed Cabot Cliffs. It has the characteristics of a firm and fast links and every hole has a view of the ocean. Five holes are played directly across or along the beach.
Also play: Cabot Cliffs, which graces this list, plus Baddeck Forks and Le Portage, an hour away.
Get there: Halifax International, three hours away.
44. Whistling Straits (Straits)
The purist might take issue with those that claim this is a genuine links, and they’d have some justification. It’s anything but natural, and it does look a little too green perhaps. However you classify it though, the fescue fairways (Providence Bent is used for the greens), pot bunkers, and Lake Michigan breezes make it very entertaining.
Also play: Sand Valley, Erin Hills, Lawsonia Links.
Get there: Chicago (O’Hare) is two hours away.
43. Cape Kidnappers (Doak Classic)
Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand
Takes it name from the scenic headland named after an attempt by local Maori to kidnap one of Captain Cook’s crew. Tom Doak laid down a course on its fingers of land in 2004, using the ridge-and-valley landscape to predictably impressive effect.
Yet even his design nous may be surpassed by the views from the cliffs. Fairways are perched on the edge of drops 140m above sea level. It looks unplayable from this image but in reality, although every hole has a view of Hawke’s Bay, some play conservatively alongside deep ravines. Yet, as Doak says, “Three times you have to make a perilous leap from the end of one ridge to the end of the next.”
Also play: Kauri Cliffs is further north in the North Island, Paraparaumu Beach GC is to the south.
Getting there: Sits between Auckland and Wellington.
West Yorkshire, England
A classy heathland laid out in an out-and-back routing, where the inward half tests all who play in the championships held there. Notable investment has promoted its Alister MacKenzie heritage. Expect risk-reward holes on springy turf that cut through heather, pines, gorse and bunkers.
Also play: Moortown, another classic Alister MacKenzie heathland, is literally across the A61.
Closest city: It is 15 minutes from Leeds centre.
41. Royal Liverpool
Hoylake is really gaining traction these days, where once it was maligned as a little austere and low key. It is nuanced, subtle and interesting. A well bunkered links with excellent green complexes, the new Martin Ebert par 3 is a hit. Is also quietly one of the best-conditioned courses in the UK.
Also play: Wallasey is on the Wirral too, plus you have all the Southport links just 45 minutes away.
Closest city: Liverpool is 30 minutes away.
40. Casa de Campo (Teeth of the Dog)
Opened in 1971, ‘The Dog’ held a special place in designer Pete Dye’s heart. He considered it his finest work, saying: “I created 11 holes and God created seven.” The seven the iconic architect refers to are those that lie along the coast and the ocean. Others wind through forest. A visual feast and Dye-level drama.
Also play: Dye Fore and The Links courses are also on site and superb, too.
Get there: Las Americas airport is 75 minutes away.
39. Bandon Dunes (Sheep Ranch)
Added to this mind-blowing resort on the Oregon coast in 2020 but considered by many to be the top course on the property. Sheep Ranch is more exposed to the northerly winds than its siblings, its clifftop greens give it an edge-of-the-world feel that raises the exhilaration factor.
Also play: Pacific Dunes, Bandon Dunes, Bandon Trails and Old Macdonald are all also on site.
Get there: Southwest Oregon airport or Portland
Waterville has a romantic history and an outstanding setting, but the course itself is its biggest star. Perched on the last bit of south-west Ireland on the edge of Ballinskelligs Bay, this is a links that leaves nothing in the tank. The dunes are big and so is the drama – not least the climax.
Also play: Ballybunion’s Old and Cashen, Tralee, Dooks and Doonbeg/Lahinch to the north.
Closest city: Cork and Limerick, two hours away.
37. Skibo Castle
There are only limited tee times, and it is expensive, but you can play here. It is worth the effort and expense. Revamped a decade after opening to take better advantage of its exquisite Loch Evelix and mountain setting, Skibo mixes challenge and scenery as few can – and it’s immaculately presented.
Also play: Royal Dornoch is almost walkable, plus Brora is a must. Tain and Golspie are also terrific.
Closest city: Inverness is 60 minutes away.
A spectacular position for a spectacular new course. Bob Harrison has laid down an epic course on the clifftops and shore of this tiny Scottish island. It was a feat of routing, imagination and engineering to get it to work but the results are breathtaking. In a breeze, exacting. But it’s bucket list stuff.
Also play: The Machrie on neighbouring Islay is also in this list, and Machrihanish en route too.
Get there: Fly/sail to Islay, then a ferry to Jura.
35. Walton Heath (Old)
Herbert Fowler was a master at working heathland and this 1904 example is one of his best. The last great venue for a Ryder Cup in Europe, the Old has possibly Surrey’s thickest blanket of heather and a good score is earned here – all the while enjoying views across the open heathland.
Also play: Sunningdale Old/New, Walton Heath, Woking and St George’s Hill are all in this list.
Closest city: London is 22 miles to the north.
34. Royal Troon (Championship)
Troon is often characterised as a dour but solid links. Yes, there are holes of that nature here, and good ones at that, but Troon is also frequently more scenic – especially on the opening stretch along the coast – and entertaining than it is given credit for. Plus it has the Postage Stamp…
Also play: Turnberry Ailsa to the south. Prestwick, Western Gailes and Dundonald nearby.
Closest city: Glasgow is 50 minutes away.
33. Trump Aberdeen
If dramatic, ‘big dune’ golf is your thing, you’ll love it here – and think it could be even higher than this lofty position. There aren’t sand hills of this size in many places in the UK&I and Martin Hawtree used the topography to produce bold holes, awesome views and heart-pounding tee shots.
Also play: Cruden Bay and Royal Aberdeen in this list, plus Fraserburgh and Murcar.
Closest city: Aberdeen is 20 minutes away.
32. Bandon Dunes (Bandon Dunes)
Bandon Dunes was the first course to open at the eponymous resort, which may very well be the best in the world. There are three other courses in this list and another that was ‘Course 101’. The original was designed by Scot David McLay-Kidd, who persuaded Mike Keiser – in his first venture in golf resorts – to give a rookie architect a chance.
The original is still the favourite of many Bandon regulars, who enjoy a thrilling journey that takes them out to the ocean at the 4th hole, and makes return visits at the 6th, 12th, 15th and the sensational 16th, which might just be the most memorable hole you ever play.
Also play: Pacific Dunes, Sheep Ranch, Bandon Trails & Old Macdonald all on site.
Get there: Southwest Oregon or Portland.
31. Royal Lytham & St Annes
As we know, it isn’t anything to look at, with red-brick houses surrounding it. That said, the low-lying linksland – no big dunes here – is beautiful in itself. The bunkering is penal and impossible to avoid as the ground escorts your ball inexorably to sand. Peerlessly presented and consistently good.
Also play: Southport’s Birkdale, Hillside, Formby, S&A and West Lancs are all an hour away.
Closest city: Blackpool 10 mins, Liverpool 70 mins.
30. Kawana (Fuji)
Opened in 1936 and designed by Harry Colt’s associate Charles Alison, it has been described as ‘Japan’s Pebble Beach’. It sits alongside Kawana Hotel and sister course Oshima. Both courses offer majestic views – including of Mount Fuji. The Fuji course is a mix of tree-lined and cliff-edge holes.
Also play: Ogi GC and Kawana CC are short drives away – plus the Oshima option on site.
Get there: Haneda airport two hrs 30 mins away.
29. Swinley Forest
Swinley might have the best set of short holes in this entire list. Certainly, there won’t be any that are definitely better. Harry Colt’s “least worst” is the cutest heathland out there; the master used the undulating terrain to produce a course of rare class, tranquility and beauty.
Also play: Sunningdale Old/New, Walton Heath, Woking and St George’s Hill are all in this list.
Closest city: London is 50 minutes away.
28. Barnbougle (Lost Farm)
A very different style to sister Dunes course, Lost Farm doesn’t play as a ‘pure’ links; the ground is a little flatter and there isn’t the same firm fescue turf. It was designed as an easier test than the Dunes, but it still has a lot of nuance – and the par 3s are a particular strength.
Also play: The Dunes at Barnbougle Dunes, and hop over to King Island to get to Cape Wickham.
Get there: Fly to Hobart from an Australian airport.
27. Ballybunion (Old)
The Old course at Ballybunion starts modestly, there is no getting away from that. The first third makes visitors wonder what all the fuss is about and why Tom Watson waxed so lyrical about it. Then it leaves you speechless with such beauty and drama that we have it in our World top 30.
Also play: It’s in the famed Ring of Kerry, so Tralee, Waterville, Dooks – plus the Cashen, its No.2.
Closest city: Limerick is 80 minutes away.
26. New South Wales
‘La Perouse’ is a dreamy course in Botany Bay in south-east Sydney. It was officially opened in 1928 and designed by Alister MacKenzie. “It’s one of the great golf courses I’ve seen,” said Arnold Palmer.
NSW is routed among sand hills with holes taking you down towards the Pacific Ocean.
Also play: Lakes GC and The Australian are both a short drive away.
Get there: Sydney airport is 15 minutes away.
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.