Which golf courses are the most fun to play in Great Britain and Ireland? The Golf World Top 100 panel ranks the most enjoyable experiences.
Welcome to the Golf World Top 100 Fun Courses in Great Britain and Ireland
I know a lot of you will love playing in your club’s competitions and plenty more will relish taking on a friend in a fierce matchplay contest, but my wholly unresearched prediction is that the majority play golf to have fun. For entertainment. To put a smile on your face during and after the round.
Identifying the 100 courses in GB&I most likely to do just that must be a ranking most will agree is a worthy task. I am hopeful we have succeeded in this ambition, and that while there is variety among the type of courses – which I am pleased about, as it would’ve been tedious to be just a list of quirky, short links – the common theme is that they have ingredients that encourage entertainment.
What constitutes a fun course is a question that could take up several pages. I asked our panel to suggest what made a course fun for them, and by way of a hint as to the sort of courses you’ll see in this list, here are some of their thoughts: “A sense of intrigue and adventure, a little bit of the unknown”. “Clever use of slopes, green positioning, and well-placed hazards, rather than heavy rough. Usually shorter than average”. “Short walks from green to tee, quick to play”. “A ‘good shot’ does not always end up in the perfect position”. “Do I want to return there soon?”
A key debate around ‘what is fun’ surrounds whether courses that host championships and are thus stringent enough to test the strongest players should be considered. We debated this at length, and we have included them – well, some. So you will find some courses that host Opens, because our panel still find them fun to play. I fully accept in inclement weather or off back tees, these courses can easily not be much fun. But they got plenty of votes from golfers with mid-handicaps, so it felt correct to include them.
What’s more, our No.1 hosts Open qualifying and I doubt many would suggest it is not fun, so where do you draw the line? So there are courses in that host championships, albeit in lower slots than they are usually found in recognition of their exacting aspects. There is pleasing geographical spread to the entries – not by design, just a happy coincidence. It means there will be fun courses to enjoy wherever you live in GB&I.
I hope you have fun discovering the 100 we have selected and, more importantly, playing some of them.
As always, we welcome your feedback on all of our rankings and know that everyone will have an opinion on their favourite’s position. We’d love to hear from you via email, on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
Helping me assemble the list of the most fun golf courses were: David Jones, Alex Wright, Ben Hunter, Stuart Bendoris, Eric Carrier, Ken Hannah, Olle Dahlgren, David Walker, Malcolm McMillan, Neal Stewart, Alan McPherson, Kirk Baert, Laurie Evans, Kevin Markham, Robert Giannotti, David Thomas, John Smith, Richard Allen, Tom Stenner-Evans, Rob King, Gareth Morgan, Stephen Lloyd, Jude Mackenzie, Joan Weight, Scott Allan, Andrew Stracey and Malcolm Baker.
Chris Bertram, Golf World Top 100 Editor
How we ranked the best fun golf courses
We wanted creating the list to be fun – so that meant the worthy but laborious process of marking courses was axed. Instead, identifying the 100 and the order was all about intuition and heart.
Panelists listed courses they felt were most fun in groups (starting with a top 10) and then the ‘nominations’ were collated to provide the list. This information is detailed in each entry, as are names of other fun courses to play nearby, to help you create a trip.
Aberfoyle, Stirling, Scotland
It may well be a new name to many of you but Aberfoyle was founded in 1890 and extended to 18 almost a century later. It weighs in at just 5,158 yards, but strong side slopes, trees, rocks, burns and rough await. It’s an absolute blast.
Forfar, Angus, Scotland
Undulating fairways and some very interesting green complexes have edged Forfar into this Top 100.
98. St Medan
Port William, Galloway, Scotland
Unassuming, unfussy, unheralded… and absolutely brilliant entertainment. Go there and tell us this incredible value links doesn’t deserve its Top 100 debut.
97. Spey Bay
Moray, Highlands, Scotland
Interesting times ahead for this Highlands links, with a reversible course planned by its new owners. It has the bones of a great course and as it is, it’s more than fun enough for this ranking.
96. Royal Ashdown Forest (West Course)
Forest Row, Sussex
An easy walking alternative to the Old. The West is lined by trees rather than heather and has small, often elevated greens with some devilish run-offs.
95. Borth & Ynyslas
Borth, West Coast of Wales, Wales
Oozes charm and authenticity. This West Wales links is playable seaside golf in the raw with all the classic, enjoyable features.
94. Pitlochry, Perthshire, Scotland
Gorgeous setting and once you have got up to the elevated fairways, exceptional views accompany the sporty par 4s.
Arisaig, Highlands, Scotland
At times fun, at times quirky, at times confusing, at times rugged – and always a very beautiful experience. The views to Skye are utterly breathtaking, as is the first tee shot to a par 3 green perched in the sky.
92. Isle of Purbeck
Swanage, Dorset, England
Undergoing a Tim Lobb revival that we are excited will make it even more fun, playable and exhilarating. An awesome property and setting. Views over Brownsea Island, Bournemouth and the Solent are outstanding but there is more to this Dorset course than just that, with lots of fine holes.
91. Ballybunion (Cashen Course)
Ballybunion, Kerry, Ireland
Raucous links that is the naughty little sister to the fabled Old. Can be a serious test in a breeze, otherwise it would be higher because this explosive Trent Jones links is so much fun in calm conditions. A links from a different dimension, for here there are towering dunes with greens that often explode out of the dunes themselves. Reaching them is a riot.
90. North West
Lisfannon, Donegal, Ireland
The Top 100 Editor would have this in the top 50! Short, quirky links that is enjoyably fiddly – not least a par 3 that is less than 100 yards. Silken fairways weave across a low links landscape. Yes, it looks flat from the road but just you wait for the cunning twists and turns and perfect greens.
89. Minchinhampton Old
Stroud, Gloucestershire, England
Minchinhampton has a great parcel of land for three courses, but the Old, the smallest, is the most playable for all handicaps. Stunning and ancient landscape.
This is lie-of-the land golf as the game began, with cattle, horses and sheep for company. That won’t appeal to everyone but if it’s rustic golf you favour, you’ll love it – and we certainly do.
Anstruther, Fife, Scotland
Fun Fife nine-holer featuring the world-famous par-3 5th hole – the ‘Rockies’ is a dog-leg to an elevated green. The story goes that Tiger Woods once flew over it in a helicopter and simply shook his head.
Nefyn, west coast of Wales, Wales
If fun for you is spectacular views and some heroic shots over the corners of cliffs, Nefyn would be higher for you, too. “How is this course not in the top 10?!” said one panelist. “Playing the peninsula is such fun. I have to go back.”
Elgin, Highlands, Scotland
“Like the best cake – home-made,” said one panelist. Nine holes of unadulterated links pleasure on the Moray coast.
Newtownards, Down, Northern Ireland
The Scrabo scramble starts on the 1st hole, never letting up as holes charge over a rugged hillside drenched in the sharpest swathes of gorse known to mankind.
84. West Kilbride
Seamill, Ayrshire, Scotland
Great links land, island views, variety, integral walls, birdie chances, OOB terror. All the ingredients for a classic links course – and all very lovingly preserved.
Liphook, Hampshire, England
Liphook has some ‘straight away’ holes that don’t immediately scream fun, but in its par 3s especially it has some real highlights…holes that require thought and touch. Exquisite heathland that very gently examines your game rather than charmlessly interrogates it.
82. West Cornwall
St Ives, Cornwall, England
Comprises blind shots, undulating fairways and super green complexes as a result of its minimalist design, with the course feeling so authentic and natural. The criss-crossing of holes won’t be for everyone, but there is so much fun packed into this compact site.
81. Musselburgh (Old Course)
Musselburgh, East Lothian, Scotland
An Open rota course in name, but stands as a fun course that’s ideal for all skill sets. Great links turf, contained within a racetrack, and largely unaltered for 200 years. “I have written ‘fun, linksy’ in my notes about it,” said one panellist. We freely admit that we are seduced a bit by the history of Musselburgh, and why it’s not more revered is a mystery to us. Get your half-set in a sugar bag and on a summer’s evening, this is absolutely perfect.
Newquay, Cornwall, England
A Harry Colt links that is a miniature Muirfield. So relaxing. Right on the beach, loads of risk-reward and many half-par holes.
79. Sunningdale Heath
Sunningdale, Surrey, England
Formerly known as Sunningdale Ladies, this Harry Colt heathland is enjoying a renaissance on and off the course. Classic par 3s and sporty 4s that are playable but ask for all the clubs in your bag. It isn’t the stroll over the heathland it’s sometimes made out to be, but equally it doesn’t exist to punish you. A delightful course of traditional charms.
Hayling Island, Hampshire, England
Really, really, really good links. If you haven’t played here, you are missing out. Some world-class links holes on a course that is rising in our English ranking and gives you enough back to be definitely fun.
The 10th is the pure definition of fun golf, a 280-yard par 4 that’s often driveable with a long iron. The perfect blend of risk-reward. And so much fun chipping and putting around the green. It’s the perfect half-par hole – and so much of the fun in golf is to be had on good half-par holes.
77. Isle of Harris
Scarista, Outer Hebrides, Scotland
Charming nine-holer with views to die for, many of the greens lie in natural bowls. The links is lined by the white sands and turquoise waters of the Hebrides. Epic setting with holes along the beachside, regularly making for some heroic shots.
Tralee, Kerry, Ireland
A serious heavyweight in links golf but the fun is laid on thick with four of Ireland’s most thrilling par 3s and a back nine regarded as one of the best in the country. And don’t forget the views.
Golf World Top 100: Fun Golf Courses – 75-51
Skegness, Lincolnshire, England
Relatively forgiving links that won’t beat you up. Clever use of dune ridges creates memorable holes.
74. Castlerock (Bann)
Castlerock, Derry, Northern Ireland
Nine holes of natural sway, cruising along the coastline. Entertaining green sites abound and there is but one bunker on the Bann. Routed through sizeable dunes on land closer to the sea than the club’s 18-hole Mussenden, the Bann has one par 5 and a succession of cute 3s and sporty 4s. It is often a little tight and in a breeze is a proper test, so with a little added width it could be even higher. Still, indubitably fun.
Aberdovey, west coast of Wales, Wales
A searching links in a breeze, but Aberdovey has too many unforgettable holes not to get in this ranking. The start and end are absolutely brilliant, all cute par 3s and sporty par 4s. Good enough for the great writer Bernard Darwin (it was his favorite), so good enough for this list. A links that hosts championships but remains playable for all – and in its start and finish, it has holes as entertaining as anything in the list.
72. Church Stretton
Shrewsbury, Shropshire, England
This James Braid design looks immense and has some fabulous features and holes to go with the scenery. Quirky and picturesque is not a bad combination. Part ‘Highlands’, part ‘Lake District’, you can easily forget where you are at this rural Shropshire playground.
71. Rosapenna (Old Tom)
Downings, Donegal, Ireland
The shorter, more cuddly sister course to the Sandy Hills and the brand-new, world-class St Patrick’s Links, this is a delightful traditional seaside course that asks just enough questions in its varied holes, but also gives you something back. Certainly no pushover, but you have fun with every shot.
70. Leckford (Old)
Andover, Hampshire, England
The nine-hole Old is a mini Harry Colt classic plotted on undulating, chalk-based downland and has remained virtually unchanged apart from some tee extensions and repositioning of bunkers. It opens with a couple of par 5s and the classic par-3 3rd rounds-off a terrific start. It’s short, playable, and cunning.
Tenby, South Wales, Wales
Some wonderful design features on this South Wales links that get it into this position in front of some notable names. When it’s running firm and fast in the summer, it is seriously entertaining to bounce your ball around its brown fairways and into its cool green complexes.
68. Clandeboye (Ava)
Newtownards, Down, Northern Ireland
A short, spry and under-appreciated heathland/parkland par 70, usually overshadowed by its mightier sibling (the Dufferin). Despite several delicious short par 4s, do not call it the ‘wee’ course: it has far too much bite for that.
67. Swinley Forest
Ascot, Berkshire, England
Is is fun or is it simply heart-warmingly exquisite? It might be more of the latter but we think it is also plenty of the former. “I loved this course! And the women’s tees are interestingly placed. You come off smiling.”
66. Monifieth (Ashludie Course)
One of the great ‘small’ links, where risk-reward abounds. Just a joy.
Arklow, Wicklow, Ireland
A low, cunning links and a car park and clubhouse that reveal all of Arklow’s charms. Enjoy the middle, seven-hole stretch packed with four par 3s. And enjoy the greens… they almost swagger.
64. Crail (Balcomie)
Crail, Fife, Scotland
Offers something different from Fife’s out and out pure links. Set down on the edge of cliffs and asks for thrilling shots to avoid the rocks; exhilarating fun. Hop along the seashore holes with thrilling, dramatic shot making the prime narrative. Lives long in the memory.
Portsalon, Donegal, Ireland
Some double-greens, endless energy, the best 2nd hole in Ireland and a legend of sailors buried beneath the 18th fairway. That should keep you well entertained.
Woking, Surrey, England
Rises above other high-class heathland courses in the interest stakes to get into this Top 100 by virtue of a terrific set of green complexes that make the short game such an intriguing proposition here. An architectural education as well as joyous experience among pine and heather.
61. Narin & Portnoo
Narin, Donegal, Ireland
The Gil Hanse-renovated links in the wild beauty of Donegal boasts flourishes of intrigue, quirk and holes that dip their toe into the Atlantic Ocean. The funky elevated 1st green sets the quirky tone and in the 7th green, sited between dunes and rocks on the edge of the sea, it has one of our favourite holes in Ireland.
Golspie, Highlands, Scotland
Famously three courses in one – and not a charmless hole among them. The links holes are the pick, but the heathland ones aren’t far behind and the woodland section is hardly weak. Taken together, a round to remember.
Cavendish, Derbyshire, England
This Alister MacKenzie masterclass in design has been skilfully restored by Jonathan Gaunt to provide a clever, probing examination of your game in a way only the great courses can. It demands nous and finesse rather than brute force – and is all the more entertaining for that.
Lanark, Lanarkshire, Scotland
A moorland of Gleneagles class – and the story goes the super-resort was almost going to be built here. Bags of idiosyncrasy – in the most positive sense possible.
57. St Andrews (Castle)
St Andrews, Fife, Scotland
Divides opinion more than its envelope-pushing design by David McLay Kidd ought to, for some reason. We like it more than most and, with an objective mind, are sure you will too. Epic views and some funky holes.
With some putting surfaces reminiscent of the Himalayas, it offers a complete test of your game but remains playable. “It’s a stunning, breathtaking course with amazing views and a different challenge on each hole,” said one panelist. “Good positions for the women’s tees.”
56. St Enodoc (Church)
Rock, Cornwall, England
One of those courses that can test anyone, so there is an element of difficulty on the Church not seen in most of the entries in this list – but there are also so many fabulously quirky holes which are so entertaining to tackle that we had to include it. Has a quieter phase in the middle of the back nine but otherwise it is one of GB&I’s most engaging courses. Half of its holes are forever unforgettable.
Strandhill, Sligo, Ireland
We’ve enjoyed it for years and always feel we could do a better job of promoting it because it really is the real deal. If West Kilbride sums up a Scottish links, Strandhill is an Irish links all over. Super routing through dunes. Strikes a super balance between testing and flattering. A dominant dune, squeezed between two swathes of ocean, sees holes spilling down every side in myriad shapes and quirk. Holes 5, 13 and 15 top the charts.
54. Bude & North Cornwall
Bude, Cornwall, England
A links that plays within the town itself has a special atmosphere, as we know, and Bude & North Cornwall offers that in spades. A simple seaside course with the classic features and appeal that doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. It tests you, but it charms you much more – this position is the least it deserves and its reputation is deservedly growing.
53. Bamburgh Castle
Bamburgh, Northumberland, England
Bamburgh’s clifftop location puts you in the mood to be entertained and the routing over an undulating landscape framed by bracken and rocks only enhances that feeling. A second round is advised because (a) it’s so good and (b) some holes are even better with a little more knowledge.
Set in ‘castle country’, it needs to be very special to divert attention away from the most spectacular coastal golf site in the UK. It is.
52. Blairgowrie (Wee Course)
Blairgowrie, Perthshire, Scotland
The name says it all. The flattering Rosemount could have made this list too – but the Wee charmed its way in. Set in mature woodland, this superbly maintained course is one of the best nine-holers in Scotland. An absolute delight.
The springy heathland turf, the flattering score you can make, the cute holes, the feeling of getting one up on the world for knowing it is there as well as the club’s Scottish Top 100 fixtures Rosemount and Lansdowne. Nothing to dislike about this gorgeous little discovery.
51. Cruden Bay (St Olaf Course)
Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
The little sister at Cruden Bay does not let the side down. Do NOT visit here and miss it. Anyone yet to get to this funky links is missing out. Inner, short course, by Fowler and Simpson, boasting epic par 3s.
Golf World Top 100: Fun Golf Courses – 50-26
Ardglass, Co. Down, Northern Ireland
The first tee shot lives forever in everyone’s mind here and it is certainly truly epic, but there is a lot more to this links on clifftop terrain than just an explosive opening. Distinctive holes and terrific views on a course that deserves higher billing. County Down is quietly a haven for fun courses.
“We loved it – the views, the ravines, the welcome and the wind. I loved that it had some easier holes, too, so I didn’t feel totally beaten up,” said one of our female panelists.
49. Reigate Heath
Reigate Heath, Surrey, England
Just nine holes here, but good enough to get this 1895 heathland into this prominent position thanks to some of the finest green complexes in Surrey.
There is just one par 5, while the two-shotters range from just over 300 yards up to 400. The par-3 6th is 226 yards though, showing Reigate Heath is the real deal. But mostly it’s just a bucket of charm and pleasing on the eye.
48. Royal County Down (Annesley Course)
Newcastle, Co Down, Northern Ireland
The Championship course in miniature. This is the ideal warm-up for the big occasion where small is beautiful. Its place at No.48 is the least it deserves.
Improved immeasurably by Martin Ebert of Mackenzie & Ebert, the No.2 at RCD offers as many good sea views as the No.1 as well as a more playable but still exciting seaside experience. This improved links is not to be underestimated these days.
Derbyhaven, Isle of Man
New entry to the list mixes a glad-to-be-alive feeling of the cliff-edge setting with some special holes and a nicely forgiving nature. Just typing that makes us want to be back there now.
Arran, Argyll, Scotland
The setting is epic and helps the enjoyment, but the holes are also wonderful, and a little bonkers! Sits in Glen Sannox, a lush punchbowl created by water flowing from the dramatic and craggy Arran mountains.
45. Gullane (No.3)
Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland
The third-best course at Gullane is its most fun. It may be shorter than its more illustrious bigger brothers, but with great greens and classic links turf, it is pure fun.
Welshpool, Powys, Wales
Wales’ answer to the bunkerless, characterful courses more often seen in England is every bit as enjoyable as those. Braid made a predictably good job of using the land to create a course of numerous highs that is never anything but interesting. An inland course of adventure and charm, it’s a firm favourite with us, with good reason.
Appleby, Cumbria, England
Moorlands do very well in this ranking and here is another beauty. Never punishes you, always entertains you. Brilliant! Could be 15 spots higher. Its journey over undulating moorland that feels like it exists just for great golf is getting the recognition it warrants.
Donabate, Dublin, Ireland
Never heard of it? It might be a course few know lots about, but its position here tells you how electrifying this links is. A small public links packed with seven high energy par 3s and a landscape full of surprises.
41. Royal North Devon
Westward Ho!, Devon, England
It’s hard not to think golf design really lost its way when you consider RND oozes the in vogue architectural philosophy of today; wide fairways, an emphasis on angles and cool green complexes. Played over crumpled fairways with room to hit the odd bad shot, we are big fans of Westward Ho!
Southend, Argyll, Scotland
The sunken green at the 4th warrants Dunaverty’s inclusion alone. But there’s so much more to this easy-to-adore links. The cute, low-profile links down the road from the famed Machrihanish pair is now getting the recognition it fully deserves. A modest start and finish give scant notice of the high jinks that come in between. Extensive views and some epic holes on a links with an increasing number of fans.
Seascale, Cumbria, England
We love it here! Takes a bit of getting to, but you won’t regret it. Several all-world links holes, mostly wonderful views, highly playable and a real ‘glad to be alive feeling’. Play Silloth while you’re at it and Windermere and Appleby inland, and you have a wonderful Cumbria itinerary.
Nuffield, Oxfordshire, England
Willie Park’s moorland-heathland tumbles over fabulous ground for engaging golf. Myriad bunkers not necessary here – the terrain is suitably testing.
South Uist, Outer Hebrides, Scotland
Raw, rugged and ridiculously authentic, Askernish’s natural links isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but those who enjoy history, a great backstory, a lack of manicured perfection and holes sitting in untouched linksland will adore it. We are resolutely in that camp and feel it could easily be top-20.
36. The Addington
Croydon, Surrey, England
We’ve always loved it and the long-term restoration is only enhancing that view. In 2010, long before this Fun ranking was dreamt up, we described it as “endlessly entertaining”. “A lovely golf course with very individual holes,” said one panelist.
Windermere, Cumbria, England
The setting certainly helps, but Windermere actually scores at least as highly for its charm and character. Short and flattering if you’ve got your ball under control, but so easy to run up scores due to its clever use of the entertaining land. An inland course that is so easy to be seduced by.
34. Machrihanish Dunes
Machrihanish, Argyll, Scotland
David McLay Kidd’s modern neighbor to the classic links is a raucous journey over undulating linksland. There is a raw feel to it all and some wonderfully unorthodox holes and wonderful green complexes. It’s a challenge in a breeze, otherwise it would be higher, but it’s in no way punishing. How links used to be.
Balnakeil, Highlands, Scotland
Nine holes of exquisite links golf. Has to be seen to be believed how good it is. Debuted in our Scottish Top 100 this year on the back of its fun factor so was a certainty for this list. Green complexes to cherish and holes to daydream about for years. The most fun you can have on a course for £10? It’s hard to justify paying 20 times that to play less fun courses…
32. Fortrose & Rosemarkie
Fortrose, Highlands, Scotland
F&R is laid out on a relatively slender strip of linksland with dolphins often leaping alongside… seriously, how could this course not be fun? It is straightforward, honest links golf that flatters a little and charms a lot. Oh to be walking those firm seaside fairways right now.
“The junior in me loved the course as a great links, but the adult now appreciates the surroundings and fun on the slim strip of land on the Black Isle,” said one panelist. The par-4 4th, played towards the lighthouse at Chanonry Point, is majestic.
Lundin, Fife, Scotland
Lets you open your shoulders off the tee and make a score yet all the while keeping you thoroughly engaged and interested around the greens. Dumbarnie is so playable that it almost can’t help but be fun for all standards, assuming you choose your tees wisely. There are risk-reward moments, birdie chances and a feeling of a course giving you something back. Chipping and putting around the greens is fun, too.
30. The Machrie
Islay, Argyll, Scotland
DJ Russell’s reworking of this classic links has made it much more playable. While some of the blindness has gone, it retains bags of eccentricity.
29. Rosapenna (St Patrick’s Course)
Downings, Donegal, Ireland
This Tom Doak design is brimming with sensual swagger, especially around the greens. A big, wide, embracing links that puts enjoyment front and center. Oozes ‘can’t wait to hit the next shot’ vibe.
Machrihanish, Argyll, Scotland
The front nine is like an audition for a Fun Top 100; unforgettable moment after unforgettable moment of distinctive links holes. The 1st is, as everyone knows, the most explosive way to start. Finding the line over the beach and executing the shot… that is first-class fun. It has a more sedate finish and that costs it a place in the top 20, but you’ve long fallen in love by then with one of Scotland’s classic courses.
27. Alnmouth Village
Alnmouth, Northumberland, England
The members try to keep this delightful seaside (though not classically linksy) course, one of the oldest in England (1869), a secret. Starts and ends in the town, but the stretch from the 5th to the 7th is utterly, utterly sensational. A real find, and Northumberland is a quietly excellent spot for a golf break.
26. Royal Dornoch
Dornoch, Highlands, Scotland
Some panel members felt it should be even higher, but others believe it to be a little too stringent to be really, really fun. This is where it resides as a result. Off its back tees it is definitely a proper challenge, but the green complexes and use of the land absolutely burst with fun.
Kington, Herefordshire, England
Fabulous moorland laid out over adventurous terrain with no two holes the same. Hit it well and you can make a score. And the views don’t harm the experience.
24. Gleneagles (Queen’s)
Auchterarder, Perthshire, Scotland
The shortest of Gleneagles’ three courses and many would say the Perthshire super-resort’s most enjoyable. The Queen’s gives you something back, although you do definitely have to play nicely to receive it. It’s no pushover. Exudes gorgeous views, classy holes and fabulous turf.
23. Formby Ladies
Southport, Lancashire, England
The little sister that sits inside the famous Curtis Cup host is a mini version that exudes playability and fun, with the same level of conditioning and architectural merit. A links that deserves your attention – witness its position in our England ranking – it cruises into the top 20 here.
22. The Ladies’ Putting Club (The Himalayas)
St Andrews, Fife, Scotland
Some may mock at a putting green being in a Top 100. Let them spend 45 minutes on ‘The Himalayas’ and then see what they say. A fun entry to the Fun Top 100.
Yes, it is ‘just’ a putting course… but what a putting course! It requires skill, imagination and a sure touch to master it, all the while engaging your creativity like few others. Wonderful. Don’t go to St Andrews and not experience it…
21. Royal Worlington & Newmarket
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, England
Oozes strategy and nuance, so much so that it can take a couple of rounds of ‘The Sacred Nine’ to really start to appreciate its charm and appeal. Further proof that compelling courses exist away from the seaside tracks of yesteryear laid out on natural linksland.
20. Castle Stuart
Inverness, Highlands, Scotland
GB&I’s most fun modern course. Its forgiveness off the tee is one key reason – but so too the fun you have working out your approaches and the short-game thrills around the green. It hosts championships, but can charm mere mortals.
Mallaranny, Mayo, Ireland
Raw ocean, wild links, pure happiness. This lightly buckled landscape of natural holes and greens enshrined by barbed wire is deliciously earthy.
18. Boat of Garten
Aviemore, Highlands, Scotland
Defines ‘Highland course’ – a variation of challenging holes carved into a landscape of trees, heather and broom, against the backdrop of the Cairngorm National Park.
Aberlady, East Lothian, Scotland
Leave the driver and maybe even the 3-wood in the car, shoot under your handicap and have a blast. Surely what golf should be? Flattering and delightful, if you can’t enjoy hitting wedges and short irons into its cool greens, give up the game.
Buckie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Set on a cavernous bay, Cullen is an unconventional joy. Short, part links, part coastal, with 10 par 3s, the Boar Craig – a monolith rock structure – dominates the course.
Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
A cute links with a beginning and end that are a little underwhelming. In between, however, you are utterly enthralled.
Brora, Highlands, Scotland
The most natural of links, with sheep grazing around you, and a handful of unforgettable holes headlining its appeal.
13. Carne (Wild Atlantic Dunes)
Belmullet, Mayo, Ireland
End of the earth stuff and boy does it feel like it as you play through, around and over mountainous dunes. Raw and natural, this is an odyssey like no other.
Painswick, Gloucestershire, England
Like Kington and Cleeve Hill, Painswick uses its land so ingeniously to produce a consistently entertaining round. The epitome of fun. Raw, yes, but 18 holes of pure entertainment. For evidence, consider the fact there are TWO blind par 3s. It won’t appeal to those who want sanitized golf set up for card-and-pencil rounds, but we’re not sure those types will be too engrossed in this celebration of fun courses.
Lundin, Fife, Scotland
Top-10 worthy and not just because this elegant links gives you a chance to score well; it is also dripping with nuance and strategy. If you don’t love Elie, we might struggle to be friends.
As with Fraserburgh, you can’t help but feel more golf should be like Elie. Where there are flatter moments, the cool green complexes add interest. Where there is more adventurous land, the holes fit it perfectly to provide strategic yet carefree examinations. Just the right amount of test.
Golf World Top 100: Fun Golf Courses – 10-1
10. Cleeve Hill
Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England
Sits on top of Cotswold hills and offers epic hole after epic hole. Sensational in more than one respect. The views, the funky holes, the playability… an England Top 100 course.
Perranporth, Cornwall, England
Pennard vibes, with a rumbustious journey over a landscape that’s been described as being like the surface of the moon. It sits high above the town and the views add to the enjoyment of a links that, while it is an English Top 100 fixture, doesn’t take itself too seriously.
8. Cruit Island
Kincasslagh, Donegal, Ireland
Ireland’s most fun course. This thrill-a-minute links takes you to the edge of the cliffs, over, along and between dunes. More twist than a 1960s disco, Cruit Island has an exuberance that teases the imagination on every hole. And then there are the views. And that par-3 6th…
Arran, Argyll, Scotland
Just 12 holes are enough to get this exquisite island links into the top 10. Starts nicely if sedately, relative to what is to come – because the middle section is utterly epic.
Pennard, South Wales, Wales
Wales’ most fun course – which as you’ll see, is a title well earned. Its journey over linksy turf perched on clifftops is constantly engaging and regularly breathtaking. Heroic shot-making and memorable holes to the fore. Using the rumpled land to your advantage is a joy and the accompanying views made this a certainty for the top 10 of this ranking.
Prestwick, Ayrshire, Scotland
The original Open host is a strong favorite of many on the panel. Prestwick reaches deep into your soul with its combination of legendary holes, mild bewilderment and sense of intrigue. Taking a 7-iron for your first shot of the day on a par 4 gets this historic links off to a fun start, and rarely does the entertainment drop after that. A more sedate period gives only time for reflection among the high-octane stuff.
Brancaster, Norfolk, England
England’s most fun course charms the golfer in the same way as the three links that follow it. Offers up holes that don’t just bring a smile to your face but make you laugh out loud. Was very close to being in the top three.
‘Brancaster’ is an endearingly quirky club with a course to match. No two holes are the same and there are several all-world ones in a fabulous all-round package.
It doesn’t take long for you to be intoxicated by Royal West Norfolk either, with the fabulous short 4th – which appears almost to be on stilts owing to its sleepered surrounds – being followed by the intriguing 5th, which asks for a tee shot of nerveless faith as you are asked to pound your ball over the dunes towards a fairway somewhere out there.
The turn, played among tidal salt marshes, is often selected as the highlight, but memorable moments arrive regularly on a links that mixes simple holes on flatter land and ones that make you smile on much more quirky terrain.
St Andrews, Fife, Scotland
Divides opinion a little, as ever, but the Old Course is playable for everyone – which is a good start when defining a fun course. Its strategy remains fully in place for us amateurs, which means so many decisions to make – and so many thrills when you execute them.
Some play the Old and never ‘get’ it, but we are in the majority who adore the most alluring piece of turf on the planet – and find it quite brilliant fun.
This would have been a brilliant No.1 – there is no doubt about that. We are devoted fans of Cruden Bay’s unusual mixture of the challenging and random and are pleased to note many more are these days being seduced by its charms.
In fact, recalling tackling the eccentric holes here is more or less what inspired the creation of this particular Top 100.
Could you ever be anything less than engaged when clambering over and around the dunes that create one of the world’s most compelling courses?
The par-4 3rd, ‘Claypits’, is likely to be one hole that has helped win over its wave of new fans, covering a mere 274 yards and including a blind drive through the dunes.
After being intoxicated by the 3rd, you then step onto the tee of the 4th and wonder wistfully about living in one of the cottages that sit behind ‘Port Erroll’ and being able to step out onto the tee whenever you fancied. Back in reality, those of us who merely visit from time to time must instead savour the blind shots over and between dunes, the green complexes, and the simple joy of it all; Cruden Bay makes you glad to be a well-travelled golfer.
The trio on the back nine, starting at the par-5 13th, ‘Bents’, and ending at par-3 15th, ‘Blin’ Dunt’ (referencing its blind nature), are arguably the very best of Cruden but, really, you never go for more than a couple of holes without something memorable occurring here.
In addition to Old Tom Morris and Archie Simpson, as well as (for what was by all accounts a very skilled revision) Tom Simpson and Herbert Fowler in the 1920s, we can all thank the money behind the links, the Great North of Scotland Railway Company, for what we enjoy today.
North Berwick, East Lothian, Scotland
This Top 100 produced a highly competitive top three, with a trio of courses that stood slightly apart from the rest and which would all have made worthy No.1s. They are, though, headed by this bag of tricks in East Lothian, and very few panellists questioned its status. So many of its iconic holes are riotous fun and you look back at the closing stretch as you walk off 18 having had the time of your life.
North Berwick is anything but ordinary, and that’s surely a prerequisite for a ‘fun’ course. It has holes that are famous and infamous the world over, and have been duly copied across the planet.
North Berwick comprises holes that are occasionally bewildering but always entertaining. If the journey out is adventurous, the journey home is simply one all-world hole after another.
It is not, however, hole after hole of landmarks, a full-scale crazy golf course – it is stringent enough to host Open qualifying, so you don’t breeze round and comfortably play to your handicap.
And yet, the bumps and humps of the front nine would be described as exceptionally characterful if it was paired with the back nine of almost any other course in the land. But, when it precedes the second half here, it actually seems relatively mundane.
For, come the closing third of this mesmeric links, you savour nothing but seminal holes. From firing over the drystone dyke hard to the 13th green to the blind glory of the 14th, aptly named ‘Perfection’, to widely-copied short 15th, ‘Redan’, it is an education in golf as the game began.
Beneath the windows of the Marine Hotel is the 16th, arguably golf’s most exciting and exacting green complex with two raised plateaux separated by a trough that has its own name, ‘Biarritz’.
The West links is gaining more exposure these days and while that will possibly rub against the hipster, the connoisseur and the historian, we are glad it is receiving the acclaim it deserves.
It is one of the most memorable courses in the world and East Lothian, Scotland and Great Britain are fortunate to call it one of theirs. We believe there is no more fun course on this island.
“Whether you come for ‘The Pit’ and it’s wall (13), the famous Redan at 15 or number 16’s most testing of greens, you’ll leave North Berwick already planning your next visit,” said one panelist.
BECOME A TODAY’S GOLFER MEMBER: Unlimited access to premium content and exclusive rewards!