Fairways to heaven: 10 best UK golf breaks

Mike MacEacheran
·8 min read
Dumbarnie Links lies along the north shore of Firth of Forth in Leven: Dumbarnie Links
Dumbarnie Links lies along the north shore of Firth of Forth in Leven: Dumbarnie Links

Up until lockdown, the UK’s rain-lashed golf courses barely registered on most Brits’ summer travel map. Any talk of a great golfing holiday brought up sun-tinged courses in the Costas, the Algarve and Florida. Turkey’s on-the-up Turquoise Coast might have been mentioned. At a push, the Canaries and Cyprus too. But Warwickshire, Kent or County Antrim? Not likely.

That’s all changed, of course. Staycations are booming and few places are safer than a crowd-free flagstick. Fear and fever don’t stalk the fairway and from the tee to the green, the golf course is ground zero for a corona-free break, with fresh air, scenery and uniform social distancing the norm. Indeed, the only thing you’ll have to cough-up for is the often exorbitant green fees.

Another thing: as the first activity out of lockdown, golf is already playing a key role in reinvigorating domestic tourism economies.

Fancy tackling an Open hall-of-fame battleground, or bucket-list landmark course? Of course you do.

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Royal St. George’s Golf Club, Kent

The 1st hole at Royal St George's (Royal St George's)
The 1st hole at Royal St George's (Royal St George's)

The unicorn of golf breaks is somewhere with stockpiled championship courses, meaning travel-free bliss once you’ve unpacked your clubs. The Kent coast near Sandwich knows its golf, with Royal St. George’s backed-up beside two other historic Open venues — Prince’s Golf Club and Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club.

They’re only a concern if you can tear yourself away from England’s most famous 18-holer, set flush against Sandwich Bay and the Strait of Dover. Here, every hole presents a puzzle, with the fourth, in particular, home to the UK’s steepest and deepest bunker. The mood in the clubhouse, meanwhile, reeks of golf’s glory days: jacket and tie are compulsory, and phones are banned, except in the car park. Planning ahead? The championship club is to host The Open in July 2021.

Stay:

The Lodge at Prince’s, a 12-room lodge with uplifting fairway views. Doubles from £150, B&B.

Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club, Lancashire

Fancy a scramble? This regular Open host has 174 bunkers to out-fox you, with greens and fairways boxed-in by sprawling Blackpool suburbia. But what Royal Lytham & St Annes lacks in centrefold looks, it makes up for with history and tricky playability the back-nine is renowned for seeing even the best scratch golfers come unstuck. A favourite on the ladies’ circuit, the Women’s British Open has been played here five times.

Stay:

The Dormy House, a 16-bedroom farmhouse-chic hotel just a chip away from the 1st tee. Doubles from £325, half-board, including one round.

Dumbarnie Links, Fife

Dumbarnie Links boasts shoreline views (Dumbarnie Links)
Dumbarnie Links boasts shoreline views (Dumbarnie Links)

For first timers to Fife, there are two certainties. One, you’ll get goosebumps while standing in the home of golf, looking onto the back-to-back 1st tee and 18th green at The Old Course at St Andrews. And two, you’ll be glad you headed south to newborn Dumbarnie Links, 15 miles south of world-class St. Andrews.

A new tradition links course, it’s this year’s star turn in the golf world, with 18 holes blueprinted by former Ryder Cup maestro and golf architect Clive Clark. Expect rollercoaster greens abutting the North Sea and machair-fringed roughs just right for losing your ball in.

Stay:

The Peat Inn, a restaurant with rooms that specialises in exemplary three-course lunches and six-course tasting menus fit for celebrating a matchplay win. Doubles from £240, B&B.

Close House Golf Club, Northumberland

Even those who don’t know the difference between a bogie and a birdie know who Lee Westwood is. The greatest English swinger of his generation and former world number one is the attached touring pro at the Close House, putting his signature on two trophy courses. Pick between the Colt and Filly courses, the former being a European Tour venue which carves close to Hadrian’s Wall. Look out for an Old Roman Fort at the 11th, then wallop a zinger.

Stay:

The Courtyard at Close House, with 16 suites all named after courses designed by esteemed course architect Harry Colt. Doubles from £137, room only.

Gleneagles, Perthshire

Gleneagles has three championship golf courses for keen golfers (istock)
Gleneagles has three championship golf courses for keen golfers (istock)

Born from the legacy of its original owner the Caledonian Railway Company, this 1920s-era grand dame was traditionally a haunt for Great Gatsby-type gatherings and grouse shoots. Times change, but Gleneagles remains satisfyingly in fashion with the golf crowd.

Beyond the PGA Centenary Course (designed by the incomparable Jack Nicklaus), King’s Course, Queen’s Course, PGA National Academy and Wee Course, there’s much for the golfer to muddle through. Consider the history: the Ryder Cup was born here in 1921 and it hosted the most recent Solheim Cup last summer. Then there’s The Dormy clubhouse, with its own label beer from Harviestoun Brewery. And for non-golfers, there’s shooting, horse riding, fieldcraft lessons and the UK’s only gun dog school. Oh, and the two Michelin-star restaurant from the late, great Andrew Fairlie. What’s not to like?

Stay:

At Gleneagles, of course. Doubles from £570, B&B, including golf.

The Belfry, Warwickshire

Whisper it: The Belfry might just be the UK’s most storied golf resort. The star of more Ryder Cups than any other club in the world, this is hallowed turf for spectacle, pure and simple. Remember Paul McGinley sinking a putt on the 18th to seal victory in 2002? Or Nick Faldo’s hole in one back in 1993? This place is Shangri-La for stroke play.

Count three hall of fame courses Brabazon, PGA National and Derby with all serving up big-shot greens, fast-running fairways and in-your-face bunkers and water hazards.

Stay:

The Belfry Hotel, a spiffy four-starrer with restaurants and bars for tall tales about putts and a spa and health club for fixing shoulder aches. Doubles from £119, B&B, including two rounds.

St Mellion, Cornwall

St Mellion is home to Jack Nicklaus' first UK course (St Mellion)
St Mellion is home to Jack Nicklaus' first UK course (St Mellion)

What a coup. It was 1988 and St Mellion had secured Jack Nicklaus for his first signature course in Europe. “It’s everything I hoped for and more,” he said after its completion, and the course remains just as compelling today. A Cornish reimagining of Augusta the most famous course on the other side of the Atlantic it delivers heavy duty obstacles, from narrow greens and glassy-calm lakes to conifer forests to shank right through.

Stay:

The St Mellion Estate, with resort rooms, suites, two-bed cottages and plenty of Cornish hospitality. Doubles from £115, half-board, including two rounds.

Celtic Manor, Newport

When golfers talk about courses to play before you die, this Welsh promised land regularly tops the leaderboard. Think of 2,000 acres of grasslands and meadows, three hotels, self-catering lodges, a conference centre, two spas and so far, not one mention of the courses themselves.

There are three to dream on. One designed by fan-favourite Colin Montgomerie, one purpose-built to host 2010’s Ryder Cup (recap: Europe sunk the USA), and one voted the best inland golf course in the country. Talk about pedigree.

Stay:

Manor House Hotel, which offers shuttles to all parts of the resort. Doubles from £114, B&B, including two rounds on the Roman Road and The Montgomerie courses.

Royal Portrush, County Antrim

Royal Portrush, facing out to the Hebridean coast (Royal Portrush)
Royal Portrush, facing out to the Hebridean coast (Royal Portrush)

Last year’s British Open made a historic return to Northern Ireland and there is still a sense of Irish hero Shane Lowry’s chest-thumping leaderboard victory lingering on the greens. Opened in 1888, the golf club is a magical links affair, with views of both the Donegal Hills and Hebridean coastline across the Irish Sea. Play long off the tee on the 7,317-yard Dunluce Course, with its tricky dogleg holes and elevated tees, or practice your short game on the far tighter Valley Course.

Stay:

Golflinks Hotel Portrush, plumped on Ireland’s Causeway Coast and opposite Royal Portrush Golf Course. Golfers retreat package from £135, including B&B and equipment lockers.

Trump Turnberry, Ayrshire

Love him or loathe him, there’s no denying Donald Trump knows how to create a stymie. His golf courses include Trump International Golf Links Aberdeen in Balmedie and the dazzling, 110-year-old Trump Turnberry, which comprises three pinch-yourself links courses and a Colin Montgomerie academy overlooking Ailsa Craig.

The history here is as thick as the tussocky dunes and a round on the renowned Ailsa Course takes in the Turnberry Lighthouse, as familiar to golfers as Wembley is to football fans.

Stay:

At Trump Turnberry. As the four-time host of golf’s greatest tournament, The Open, the history swirls around the suites and spa of this Edwardian-era hotel. Doubles from £398, including two rounds on the King Robert the Bruce course.