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. Kingston Heath
“You don’t get bunkering like this in any other place in the world,” said Tiger Woods of this Australian heathland paradise.
It may not have the scale and complexity of Royal Melbourne, but defined by its Alister MacKenzie bunkering, Kingston Heath is worthy of its top-10 place.
An outstanding portfolio of short holes, led by the 15th, headline this classy very heathland.
Established in 1909 as Elsternwick Park, in 1925 the club moved to Cheltenham and renamed itself because of the common heath plant that grew on site.
Also play: Royal Melbourne West & East, Victoria and Kingswood Peninsula – all are in this list.
Get there: Melbourne airport is 45 minutes away.
9. Royal Portrush (Dunluce)
Antrim, Northern Ireland
The Dunluce is now getting due reward for its all-round quality.
Martin Ebert’s two new holes have certainly helped, giving it a more exciting and consistent climax to this storied links.
Design, setting, memorability and conditioning in spades.
Also play: Portstewart is 10 minutes away, Ballyliffin just over an hour to the north-west.
Closest city: Belfast is under an hour away.
Royal Portrush Offer: From £649pp ENQUIRE NOW
Two nights B&B and three rounds at Royal Portrush
8. Bandon Dunes (Pacific Dunes)
Tom Doak’s imprint on this Oregon super resort serves up one mesmerizing hole after another.
‘Pac Dunes’ tops our Bandon ranking, but we are candid enough to admit that it was far from a unanimous decision.
The original Bandon Dunes pushes it close, but such is the minute differences between the World Top 100 courses, there are more than 10 places between them.
Also play: Bandon Dunes, Sheep Ranch, Bandon Trails and Old Macdonald – all on site, incredibly.
Get there: Southwest Oregon or Portland airport.
7. Cape Wickham
This collaboration between Darius Oliver and Mike DeVries enraptured every panelist who has played it.
It opened in 2015 and, like RCD and Turnberry, dazzles with its setting and engages with the design.
Cape Wickham is draped over the edges of remote King Island, with pretty much every hole on, or very close to, the coastline.
It begins with a high-calibre par 4 along the cliffs and ends with one of this list’s most spectacular par 4s, with the beach in play as you conclude your round on what we are saying is the world’s finest modern course.
Wide fairways ensure it’s playable even when it’s breezy (often), but to score well you need to find the right line from the tee.
Also play: Barnbougle Dunes and Lost Farm.
Get there: Fly to King Island from Melbourne.
East Lothian, Scotland
Another Scottish course… but does Muirfield look ‘high’ at No.6? I doubt many would suggest it is.
It is more aesthetically pleasing than it is often given credit for but its real appeal is in a cerebral routing that darts around the linksland.
Stringent, yes, but the overriding feeling is one of pure class.
Also play: North Berwick, also in this list, Gullane No.1 and No.2, Renaissance, Luffness, Kilspindie.
Closest city: Edinburgh is 45 minutes away.
5. Royal Dornoch (Championship)
The third Scottish course in the top five suggests ‘home’ bias, but be assured the overseas panel push ‘our’ courses even more strongly than we do.
Dornoch is a beguiling, spiritual experience that is good for the soul.
It has a wonderful setting, cleverness in its design that few can match, and a tangible mystique.
Also play: Skibo Castle and Brora nearby plus Nairn and Castle Stuart further south.
Closest city: Inverness is 60 minutes away.
4. Turnberry (Ailsa)
We are saying nothing new by commending the Martin Ebert overhaul of this iconic links; the Ailsa wasn’t always anywhere near as good as this.
Ebert has removed the weak holes and enhanced the great ones.
He has maximised the spectacular site, creating an outstanding seaside course with unforgettable moments. It would be a very worthy No.1.
Also play: Turnberry’s Kintyre, Royal Troon, Western Gailes, Prestwick, and Dundonald.
Closest city: Glasgow is an hour away.
Turnberry Offer: From £419pp ENQUIRE NOW
One night B&B and two rounds at Turnberry
3. Royal Melbourne
Maintains its position as the top public access courses outside GB&I.
This Alister MacKenzie design tumbles over venerable ‘Sandbelt’ land and splits GB&I’s finest links in the top five.
Expect wide fairways with an optimum angle into greens that are revered. Expect deep bunkers and expect steep slopes around the greens.
It is an achievement to be so high given its lack of coastal thrills. There are no others in the top 10 like that.
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. Royal County Down
Down, Northern Ireland
Our 2020 No.1 drops a spot, as it did in our GB&I ranking, with its unremittingly exacting examination the reason for its ‘fall’.
We have not changed our mind in the slightest about its unsurpassed ability to challenge all aspects of your game as well as blow you away in terms of setting. Nowhere does it better in our opinion.
But it is indubitably difficult and higher handicappers on an inclement day would unquestionably have it all on to take the enjoyment from the round they would want. At a time we are extolling the virtues of playability, RCD loses out in this regard.
Blind shots do not appeal to all but we find them tremendous fun, and RCD as a whole is simply brilliant.
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.
1. St Andrew’s (Old)
Our No.1 in Britain and Ireland becomes our No.1 in the world. And just as it did when it was elevated to top spot in GB&I – remarkably for the first time in our four decades of ranking – it will divide opinion.
Some will applaud us, citing the timeless strategy, nuance and charm of the Old.
Others will wonder with bewilderment what all the fuss is about.
It’s true that if panoramic sea views are essential for you to view a course as ‘great’, you will not be bowled over by the Old – it’s just not that sort of thing. However, while there are no crashing waves or cliff edges with the aesthetic wow factor, we would suggest that if the ambience of its setting doesn’t get your pulse racing, you have a fairly stony heart.
True, the Old gets deeper into your soul with every additional round, but multiple plays here are uncommon and most play here just once. That’s a great pity.
Even relatively small differences in pin position change the strategy of holes, so it is a different experience every time.
With a third of its holes world-class as well as world-famous, and another handful almost as good, the Old has memorable moments throughout while its few quieter moments act as welcome palate cleansers.
We believe it is the most special experience in the world, public or private. It feels a very worthy No.1.
Also play: St Andrews New and Castle , Kingsbarns, Dumbarnie and Elie.
Closest city: Edinburgh is 80 mins 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.