What are the best links golf courses in Great Britain and Ireland? The Golf World Top 100 panel ranks the best links courses across England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Golf writing is not short of romantic prose, but rarely is it felt more keenly than when the subject is the best links golf courses. “If you have golf running through your veins and down your fingers, it is inconceivable you will not one day find yourself in Dornoch. And when you do visit this quaint Highlands town and play its mesmerizing links, it will surely ingrain the game a little deeper in your soul.”
Someone once wrote that about Royal Dornoch. I mean, seriously, what was the writer thinking? It’s an area of grass. Well, I can tell you what he was thinking, because I was the writer. And I stand by every overtly flowery word of it.
There is something very special about links that inland courses – as magical as places such as Sunningdale, Swinley Forest and Loch Lomond are – cannot replicate.
Playing beside the sea is the obvious point of difference; the smells, the sounds and the scenes are surely the most evocative, indelible backdrop to the game. The setting many links enjoy is naturally a large part of their appeal, both in the obvious aesthetic sense of providing a beautiful canvas for your game in addition to the part the sea plays in the challenge.
Equally, the crunch of a shell path, the cry of a seagull and the waft of moist, salty air are nothing to do with golf but on their own are triggers for me to so many happy memories.
Even the very loosely romantic will surely savour the knowledge the sport was invented and nurtured on links; that this is how the game was and is meant to be. Golf would not have emerged and certainly would not have flourished without the suitability of sandy fescue for the game (and, happily, of nothing else).
That firm turf is one of its principal allures for me. Yes, heathlands share similar idyllic sand-based surfaces, but I’d give links the edge. The ‘thump’ that accompanies a ball being squeezed against firm fescue by an iron is, for me, the game’s greatest feeling.
Golf’s birth by the seaside manifests to it being the most natural arena for the game, land where wind and waves unknowingly sculpted terrain for the game that is superior to anything man and his machines could ever produce.
These sandy landforms needed only the light touch of architects to turn them into exceptional holes of all kinds. Holes that demand brain and brawn to tame them. Holes that exhilarate with their beauty. Holes that captivate, charm and even bewilder with their eccentric nature.
Idiosyncratic holes are certainly not the sole preserve of links but, in large part because of their inherent landscapes – links are where the large majority of these gloriously quirky holes are found.
Sand hills – whether towering in nature or more gentle dune slacks – offer the possibility of thrilling elevated tees, compelling corridors of play and shields for blind shots.
Extravagant humps and hollows left by Mother Nature house green complexes of ingenious, intriguing and sometimes almost cruel nature. These cunning surrounds are covered in closely-cropped fescue grass that offers a multitude of options to get your ball on the green. Links permit, encourage and reward creativity around the green.
The greens themselves – from bathtub to ‘Biarritz’ and ‘Redan’ to punchbowl, to name but a few – are pure entertainment to firstly try to hit and then to putt on. Slopes range from subtle and nuanced to extravagant and bewildering. The common theme is that they are the purest putting surfaces you’ll ever experience. Play a links with one greenkeeper in the western isles of Scotland and its greens will be sublime – because golf belongs on linksland.
Going hand in hand with the creativity links offer are the options they empower.As a result – and also because of the windbeing so often a factor – it’s by far the most mentally taxing type of golf but also the most rewarding.
Is there a more enjoyable shot in the game than a three-quarter 7-iron leaping and bounding along rippling linksland – its contours highlighted by a low sun – and ending up pin high when you had 110 yards into a breeze?
Perhaps a 9-iron chip-and-run from just off the green, played away from the pin to use the contours to guide your ball towards the hole.
Those shots, to my mind, are what fun golf is all about. The need to find a way to use the terrain to your advantage, then having enough skill to execute your plan.
Those shots can be played on any links in any land, even if of course there is significant variation among our seaside courses in terms of their challenge, heritage, fame and cost.
Playing the big names brings with it the knowledge that the game’s iconic championships and its very finest players have trodden the fairways you now tread. And yet at the other end of the spectrum, that village nine-holer in the western isles you’ve accidentally stumbled upon brings that joyous feeling of winning at life.
Most links have been around for a century and more and as a result have several aspects that were inherent to golf at that time, smaller things but nonetheless things I personally lap up. Green-to-tee walks are short. The routing is easy to follow (as in it makes sense). They have minimal course furniture. There are shell paths to scrunch your way along rather than concrete driveways to contaminate the fescue, heather, marram and sea views. Its bunkers might have a name. Two-foot-wide burns might too. And a grassy gully. There is usually a simplicity and unfussiness to the whole thing.
Oh, and they are presented beautifully all year round; you walk off after 18 holes in January with not so much as a splash mark on the bottom of your trousers. That, of course, goes back to the very earliest days of the game, and why linksland was where golf began.
Golf was made for linksland and linksland was made for golf.
Anyway, to the list. The courses are chosen and ranked by an experienced panel, invited to take part because of their extensive knowledge of the courses in contention.
As always, we welcome your feedback on all of our rankings and know that everyone will have an opinion on their favorite’s position. We’d love to hear from you via email, on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.
To read Top 100 Editor Chris Bertram’s review of each course, simply click on its name.
100 Montrose (1562)
Montrose, Angus, Scotland
A classic links course that can be a severe test, particularly in windy conditions.
Plenty of variety that is bettered only by the history of one of the world’s ancient playing areas. Erosion threatens this links so get there soon to play it as close to what was originally intended as possible.
Murvagh, Co. Donegal, Ireland
The sensational holes five to seven stand out and will live in the memory long after you leave. We always use words such as bold, brawny and challenging about Donegal, and we aren’t misleading you. A serious examination among the dunes that’s not for the faint-hearted.
Bridgend, Mid Glamorgan, Wales
The back nine is bewitching, the front nine less so. It’s fair to say the front nine is the warm-up for the awesome back nine, but it’s good enough to sneak in here. The best holes are immense, the more modest ones perfectly adequate. One not to miss, because the highs of P&K are immense.
Tenby, Pembrokeshire, Wales
Get it on a summer’s day and you are in links heaven. Tenby is a pure, pure, pure links. Bouncy, brown and bewildering at times, this is the links course we used to never want to leave as a child on holiday. A host of classic features include a punchbowl green that is adorable.
Glenbeigh, Co. Kerry, Ireland
Terrific setting and holes that have been significantly improved by the leading architect Martin Hawtree in a worthwhile overhaul. Dooks is ‘location, location, location’… plus some wonderful variety in the holes. The secret sensation of the Ring of Kerry easily gets in our list.
95 Gullane No.2
Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland
Just because there is No.1, it is easy to overlook No.2. To do so is a tragedy as the second course here really must not be under-rated. Once on top of Gullane hill you are rewarded with fine views and some sufficiently varied holes. Less drama than No.1, but will still be a fixture in this list.
Ballyconneely, Co. Galway, Ireland
Connemara Golf Club is a West of Ireland Eddie Hackett links design, and he has used the natural landscape to maximum effect. A flattish opening nine throws up some interesting, unexpected bumps, but it is the back nine that will enthrall visitors.
The 13th and 14th promise two of Ireland’s best holes, while the double par five finish will show you what windy links golf is all about.
And all the time the scenery is spectacular, with views to the Atlantic and the Twelve Bens. The clubhouse sits at the centre of it all.
Braunton, Devon, England
Less punishing and with more variety than the more famous East, according to one panelist. Enjoys a passage through Saunton’s larger dunes, even if the West lacks the craft of the older and more venerated East. A fabulous 36-hole day is on offer at this Devon club.
Downings, Co. Donegal, Ireland
Expect two very different feeling nines on Old Tom, with the front nine relatively sheltered and sedate, and the back nine more exposed to the wind. It is a great contrast to Sandy Hills – and some may well prefer the No.2 here. Really enjoyable, straightforward links golf.
Perranporth, Cornwall, England
Riotous fun above the town on undulating, elevated fairways. Its elevation invites the wind to ask additional questions of your game. Firm greens so expect to be going through the back if you try to fly all the way on, but Perranporth is all about fun and bewildering, undulating fairways.
Burry Port, Carmarthenshire, Wales
A vastly underrated Welsh links, Ashburnham Golf Club is hidden away at Burry Port, west of Llanelli.
Yes, it has an indifferent start and finish – the 1st and 18th play up and down a hill and the 2nd, 16th and 17th are undeniably modest – but that is only in relation to the quality of the rest of the course.
In the 13 holes between the 3rd and 15th inclusive, Ashburnham boasts 13 of the finest links holes in the Principality which can compare favorably with anywhere else.
So the start and finish ought not to disguise the fact this is overall an exceptionally good links. Don’t take our word for it though – Harry Vardon once said “The course I like best in Wales is Ashburnham.”
At its best, in the heart of the dunes, Ashburnham has no peers in Wales and in holes such as the short 6th, the par-4 9th, and the par-5 14th it can respectively offer the charming, the challenging and the characterful.
89 Gailes Links
Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland
A driver’s course cutting through swathes of gorse and heather. A generally flat links course with some really good holes, Glasgow Gailes offers a nice flow and sequence, a stringent test with no real weak holes in sight. Improved markedly of late to more than justify its place here.
88 Moray (Old)
Lossiemouth, Inverness-shire, Scotland
The Old here – the New is in our ‘Next 50’ – ends dramatically with a fantastically sited 18th green right under the windows of the clubhouse. Subtle links that is threaded between gorse towards delightful greens. Moray Old packs a punch right to the end, building and building to a fine finale.
Aberlady, East Lothian, Scotland
Luffness won’t blow you away, but it will test your patience and your ball-striking. Known as a ‘Mini Muirfield’, this pedigree links replicates the unobtrusive class of the revered Open host and boasts some stellar holes and lots of deep bunkers. Expect nothing else but a high-class experience.
Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Records suggest golf was played on these rumpled, narrow fairways even before the 1780 date which is noted as the birth of the club. What isn’t for debate is how fabulous Fraserburgh is. A couple of our panelists absolutely rave about it and would have it 20 places higher.
Bridge of Don, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Shorter and less penal than Royal Aberdeen, the course it shares a boundary with to the south. Murcar impressively holds its own in stellar company on Aberdeenshire’s glittering coastline. A playable seaside classic.
Blackwaterfoot, Isle of Arran, Scotland
There is nothing ordinary about Shiskine, and that is all for the better. The connoisseur will appreciate the strategic blindness of the ‘Road Hole’, the ‘Shore Hole’s’ testy punchbowl green, and the sneakily frustrating double-blind green at ‘The Hollows’.
A blind par 3, a par 4 with a railway signaling system to indicate when you can play your second shot, glorious views and fascination at every turn… this is surely what golf should be about. Just the 12 holes, but in that dozen there is plenty of excitement to get Shiskine into our Top 100.
83 Seaton Carew
Seaton Carew, Co. Druham, England
Seaton Carew has been revitalised of late and its appearance in this list ahead of several terrific links at the top of the Next 50 is evidence of that.
It’s not especially scenic but is a wonderful seaside challenge, its relatively flat, cleverly-bunkered fairways leading to beautifully-contoured greens and surrounds.
One of very few Alister Mackenzie-designed links, it is consistently good and this north-east of England course that will contend for the GB&I Top 100 Courses list in 2024.
Littlestone-on-Sea, Kent, England
Fast running and windswept – a delight on a sunny day. Runs fast in summer… in fact it plays on firm land all year round as befits its location in the driest part of Britain. Bags of character and terrific use of the gently undulating terrain.
An open links for 12 holes, Conwy tightens for the last six with lots of gorse in play. It has a wonderful setting as it wraps around the bay with mountains on the other side and it constantly challenges the golfer through numerous direction changes.
Played host to the Curtis Cup in 2021 and recent improvements have nudged it up into the top five best golf courses in Wales.
Padstow, Cornwall, England
Tom Mackenzie of Mackenzie & Ebert has helped this links on the edge of the Atlantic punch its weight without losing its Colt legacy.
Trevose’s iconic 4th received a major overhaul so that now, standing on the green, the glorious views behind are in sight. Half of the other holes have also been extensively re-worked and Trevose is now threatening a return to our GB&I Top 100 ranking.
Berwick-upon-Tweed, Northumberland, England
James Braid was typically astute on this links land. The fact Goswick is a relatively isolated high-class course should not deter you from making the journey to this charming links (conveniently just off the A1) which boasts a diverse set of holes overlooking Holy Island.
Skegness, Lincolnshire, England
A relatively unheralded gem, Seacroft is a really enjoyable links overlooking The Wash just south of Skegness. Brilliantly set down across dune ridges on the Lincolnshire coast. Fascinating, playable and pure out-and-back links, one of the few on England’s east coast.
Wirral, Merseyside, England
Much more than just the home of Stableford. Characterful holes and a fast-running experience on a links that rarely gets the credit it warrants. You can routinely expect firm, slick greens here. Wonderful front nine view over the sea and the Port of Liverpool.
Portnoo, Co. Donegal, Ireland
A towering stretch of dunes sits at the heart of this Donegal links, with its holes routed around and through it. Leading American designer Gil Hanse’s know-how and nous has recently added to the allure of this links of great variety. It would not be out of place in the 60s – the margins are that fine.
Fanad, Co. Donegal, Ireland
Somewhat hard to find, very easy to enjoy. Donegal is packed with quality links and this is the secret find, as befits a course that crept into our GB&I ranking earlier this year. The 2nd tee offers one of Ireland’s best views – and that is some statement. Inconsistent finish costs it a few places.
Castlerock, Co. Londonderry, Northern Ireland
A very competent and often breathtaking links near Portrush – Castlerock is now getting the recognition it deserves. Some stellar holes over raunchy terrain that deserves a place in the 90s. The Bann is also superb and together they offer a pair of tracks as fun as any club can offer.
Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotlan
Springy fairways by the Firth of Forth. Dunbar may begin and end relatively modestly, but everything in between is magnificent with holes that get you right down to the shore. Some of the best fescue in this list.
Carnoustie, Angus, Scotland
Panmure has a slow start and finish, but is top quality in between. Great history and some brilliant holes. A pleasing middle-section of holes over more rumpled land is right out of the top drawer. The turf is a particular joy to strike irons off.
Southerness, Dumfriesshire, Scotland
The pride of Dumfries and Galloway, albeit with views to the south over the fells of the Lake District. The par 4s on the back nine would sit comfortably among the top-20 links in this list. Gorse is a very clear and ever-present threat for those straying from the fairway.
St Andrews, Scotland
The newest addition to the St Andrews complex, the Castle Course opened in 2008. A modern links with tremendously undulating greens. They are of consistent pace, but hit it to the wrong spot and you’ll be faced with some devilish putts. Awesome views, great fun, a very good design… All in all the Castle is a clifftop course that is never dull.
Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland
A modern links design, with some of Scotland’s deepest bunkers. Kyle Phillips is one of the great modern architects and while Dundonald lacks seaside panoramas, it makes up for it in drama and is poised to get even better with architect Tim Lobb overseeing.
Hayling Island, Hampshire, England
A true gem, one of the only true links on the south coast west of Rye. A links played over interesting terrain that gets better as the round progresses. Terrific fescue turf gets it a few extra nods from the panel. A wonderful variety of holes.
Castletown, Isle of Man, England
Some spectacular scenes and golf holes on this Manx links. The skills of Old Tom and Mackenzie Ross have combined to create a stellar links on the Isle of Man. Rugged, raw and dramatic. Castletown has one of the best settings in the second 50 of this list.
Inishowen, Co. Donegal, Ireland
Ballyliffin’s courses can never be more than a dozen places apart in any ranking [in this case it’s 11 spots] – they are so close in quality. While the Glashedy enjoys the best of the higher ground, the Old has more than its share of crumpled fairways, clever bunkering and entertaining greens.
Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland
“The cliffside holes by the Firth of Forth are superb – it’s just a shame there aren’t just a few more of them,” wrote one panellist. It might be true, but Tom Doak’s routing is predictably masterful, the green complexes typically intriguing and the steady land used to its maximum.
Southport, Merseyside, England
S&A incorporates a carefully weaved routing that ensures the wind is coming from different angles during your round. This two-time Ryder Cup venue unusually starts with a par 3 before winding through the dunes and pines so characteristic of this coastline.
Portstewart, Derry, Northern Ireland
The back nine was sharpened up for the recent Irish Open, but it still represents a slight letdown after a stunning opening half. Inconsistent, but at its best on the front nine, Portstewart offers peerless excitement amid some giant dunes.
St Andrews, Fife, Scotland
Don’t be lulled by the straightforward start, St Andrews shows its teeth later. It is in some people’s eyes a truer and fairer test than the Old, which inevitably means it’s not as characterful and quirky. But its placing at No.57 illustrates how highly we rate the little sister to our No.2.
Westward Ho!, Devon, England
Famous for its bulrushes, on hand to gobble up an inaccurate drive, Royal North Devon Golf Club is known as England’s St Andrews. It’s not a silly comment, given the history of the course and also the strategic way this gently rippling links tests your game. A wonderfully historic clubhouse, too.
Brora, Sutherland, Scotland
James Braid used the natural features to full effect. Tracks the coast and the small-to-medium-sized undulations perfectly. Plays over near-flawless links terrain with the added bonus of some dramatic elevation changes. Braid enthusiasts adore their man’s Highlands masterpiece.
Elie, Fife, Scotland
Quirky [look no further than submarine periscope towering 10m above the starter’s hut!] and great fun. Elie used to be Fife’s forgotten course – not any more. Beautiful use of the terrain to create a links of rare class. Just enough quirkiness to see it rise above many more famous names in the list.
Scotland’s newest links had to be special to stand out – it is and it has. It will be extremely popular with American golfers as well as Brits for its mix of scenery, risk-reward holes and playability. We even predict the 17th, a sharp dog-leg right which will bemuse some off the tee and might be pinpointed as a weaker hole, will end up being a heroic moment in the round. As Dumbarnie matures and settles – giving it higher Presentation marks – expect it to rise in our 100s. This, rest assured, is a cautious first ranking.
Downings, Co. Donegal, Ireland
If you like plateau greens, you’ll love Pat Ruddy’s Sandy Hills monster. Rosapenna’s No.1 – the Old Tom follows later – is a serious, serious test. In inclement weather it is very tough and your short game will be tested to the limit around those greens, but you’ll love taking it on.
Aberdovey, Gwynedd, Wales
The railway line is a very real and present hazard – and it’s all the better for that. Bernard Darwin’s favourite dishes up everything you’d expect from a proper links – bumps and humps, swales and hollows, tight seaside turf and prominent dunes. Not as consistent as some, but the highlights at the start and the end are splendid.
Enniscrone, Co. Sligo, Ireland
Rugged, remote links golf at its ‘edgy’ best. May lack a little consistency compared to the elite links in this list, but its best holes are very, very good. In a land so easy on the eye, it boasts some of the most dramatic scenes in Ireland, with undulating fairways lined by marram-covered dune ridges.
Ballyliffin, Donegal, Ireland
Rarely plays without a stiff breeze – or stronger… Glashedy is a modern links that does very well to hang on to the traditional courses that dominate the top 50 of our list. It is characterised by large, testing greens and plenty of bunkers – tame her, and you have played extremely well.
Campbeltown, Argyll, Scotland
A tough ask to be anywhere near as entertaining as neighboring Mach Old, but Mach Dunes makes a good fist of it! Some crazily good green sites by David McLay Kidd, at least partly a result of its sensitive construction.
Tralee, Co. Kerry, Ireland
Clifftop-links laid out by Arnold Palmer that possesses bags of drama and breathtaking scenery. The nines are somewhat imbalanced [the best holes are on the back nine], but coming home is a truly epic experience. Tralee loses a few marks here for its less-linksy clifftop character.
Sandwich, Kent, England
The Shore and Dunes nines had always been the premier combination at Prince’s, which overlooks Sandwich Bay in Kent and has Royal St George’s as its over-the-fence neighbour.
But after a significant overhaul by the R&A’s preferred architect, Martin Ebert, of Mackenzie & Ebert, the Himalayas is now the equal of its sisters… if not even better and this former Open venue is one of Britain’s premier courses again.
50 West Lancs
Blundellsands, Merseyside, England
Possibly tougher than its famous Merseyside neighbours. An unassuming club and an unfussy links. Always in terrific condition, West Lancs is not to be messed with – it will take anyone’s game on and give it a match. The collection of short holes is sensational.
Southport, Lancashire, England
Starts flat and gradually becomes more and more hilly, it adds much to Southport’s portfolio. The back nine among towering dunes is epic, like next door Birkdale, but Hillside wouldn’t grace the top 50 if the front nine’s routing and tee locations weren’t also high class. It indubitably is.
48 Gullane No.1
Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland
Very underrated and so often overshadowed by nearby Muirfield and North Berwick. No.1 incorporates a variety of holes that are not found at many more heralded links. Brilliant routing that works the landscape magnificently. Supremely conditioned yet admirably feels natural.
Nairn, Highlands, Scotland
The host of many international events, from Curtis to Walker Cups, Nairn is a class act. The variety of holes here is wonderful, with the shoreside holes the scenic highlight, but there is also much to commend those that head inland, too. Its greens are like baize – few will be better in this whole list.
Hunstanton, Norfolk, England
Renowned for the speed and quality of its greens. Hunstanton has the championship calibre to neighbour Royal West Norfolk’s quirk and eccentricity. A consistent affair that’s always in impeccable condition, with some fearsome bunkering and a tricky closing stretch.
45 County Sligo
Rosses Point, Co. Sligo, Ireland
As inspiring a setting of sea and mountains as any in the British Isles. Expect acute elevation changes, magnificent views of Benbulben [Ireland’s Table Mountain], and some brilliant holes that strain brain and brawn at this unassuming links. A top-40 slot, ahead of some feted Irish links.
Swansea, West Glamorgan, Wales
There is nowhere quite like it – cows, castle ruins and footpaths litter the course, but who cares when you are having such fun? A links set down on clifftops that is tremendously entertaining and a very unusual experience in terms of trying to classify a links that does sit on clifftops.
Harlech, Gwynedd, Wales
Royal St David’s has you on the drive through the village, with the most perfect glimpse of its linksland that doesn’t disappoint. It lies between Harlech Castle and Cardigan Bay on terrific, rumpled land that was simply made for golf. One of the few great links to end with a par 3.
Kilkee, Co. Clare, Ireland
Recently toned down due to coastal erosion [five greens were washed away in 2014], but Doonbeg still a tough proposition. We loved the original by Greg Norman and are impressed by Martin Hawtree’s renovation. The loss of the bewildering par-3 14th is a shame, but its replacement is hardly boring.
41 The European
Brittas Bay, Co. Dublin, Ireland
The European is a magnificent test that is well-suited to those with a strong long-game. It is a classic Pat Ruddy examination – as you’d expect from the man who owns the club and designed the course. With the freedom to do as he wished, he produced a titanic, brawny test… just as he likes it.
Belmullet, Co. Mayo, Ireland
“More ups and downs than the FTSE 100,” suggested one panellist. “Wild, wild, wild” said another. Both are correct. This is a remote links that’s grand in scale and variety. Only the intrepid ever get here – but it’s worth it. If high-octane links action is your thing, start planning a trip right now.
39 County Louth
Baltray, Co. Louth, Ireland
Few dazzling sea views on offer here, but some impressive dunes nonetheless. A good player’s links course. Traditional, no-frills layout that does not try to overwhelm you and just lets effortless holes sitting in the natural terrain do all the talking. Baltray is the choice of those in the know in Ireland.
38 The Island
Malahide, Co. Dublin, Ireland
Not a big name and easily overlooked, but a brilliant links, as we’ve been stating for the past few years. Mackenzie & Ebert’s rework has enhanced what we always rated as one of Ireland’s elite, with new bunkering, new tees and greens and a couple of new holes. Understated excellence.
Burnham, Somerset, England
Blessed with some of the best green sites in England. We love Burnham & Berrow and have championed it for some time. The front nine is incredible and we don’t have a problem with the so-called ‘weak’ holes around the turn. If anything, they prime you for the great golf coming in.
Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland
Lying along a thin strip close by the sea, crosswinds are a strong factor at this Ayrshire links. High-class hole after high-class hole unfolds in front of you on a pedigree links that takes no prisoners. Western Gailes’ par 4s ooze quality as they examine your game thoroughly.
Braunton, Devon, England
Saunton is home to 36 holes of beautiful championship links golf in the heart of north Devon.
It is situated on Braunton Burrows, a sand dune system that is the largest in England and vitally important for its plants and animals.
In recognition of this, the Burrows and Saunton’s courses have been designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and a Unesco Biosphere Reserve.
In 2023, we ranked Saunton’s East course as 95th among the best golf courses in the World and it is established as one of the finest championship links in England – including being touted as a venue capable of hosting The Open.
Saunton has a rich history dating back to 1897 and has been the host of many elite events, such as the 2022 England Golf Brabazon Trophy. It will stage the 2024 R&A Senior Amateur Championship.
The East begins with a succession of two-shot holes that ooze class and set the tone for a links of rare calibre.
Saunton’s West is a wonderful complement and has been ranked as high as 43rd in England. Visitors are welcome all year round.
Silloth, Cumbria, England
Located far from the madding crowd in coastal Cumbria, but worth the effort to get there. Silloth rewards the determined traveller for their journey with an epic round among notable dunes leading to terrific green complexes. Scored very highly among the panel for its routing.
Southport, Lancashire, England
Classic links holes punctuated by a fine mid-round woodland stretch. One panellist has this as their top course in Southport – and bearing in mind Royal Birkdale is just along the coast, that’s how good Formby Golf Club is. It has a pleasingly consistent quality of turf, too. Well worthy of this notable position.
32 The Machrie
Islay, Argyll, Scotland
Tour-player-turned-architect DJ Russell full-scale overhaul of the Machrie means it now makes even more of its seaside location.
It is distinctly more playable and has retained the unique, endearing features that it was always famed for. Blind shots are still very much part of the Machrie experience, but now only if you get out of position. Add in terrific natural presentation, a pleasing variety of holes and a brilliant routing and you have one of Scotland’s elite links layouts.
Brancaster, Norfolk, England
If fun, entertaining, eccentric golf is your bag, start planning your trip now. No other course in Britain changes with the tides as Brancaster does – you need to check the tide tables before visiting as you could very easily end up cut off in the car park. Tremendous fun at a terrific club.
Rye, East Sussex, England
A Harry Colt seaside masterpiece that will enchant with its layout and feel from start to finish. A historic links that oozes charisma with a set of par 3s overshadowed by very few even within this stellar list. Yet, while Rye’s short holes are correctly admired, the par 4s are equally strong.
Wadebridge, Cornwall, England
One of the few links to play all around a churchyard, St Enodoc’s aptly-named premier course boasts a magnificent opening six holes and a wonderful finish. A quieter corner on the back nine loses it a mark or two for consistency, but this is a world-class, super-fun links course.
Machrihanish, Argyll, Scotland
Much to enjoy, even after the famed opening drive across the beach. Machrihanish could easily have ranked higher, because the highs are iconic and truly unforgettable. Just a little inconsistent with some sedate moments, especially the last couple – but by then you are spellbound by Mach Old.
Rest Bay, Mid Glamorgan, Wales
A links masterpiece that’s hosted a number of Senior Opens, Wales’ No.1 enraptures you within the opening trio. The pace is however maintained throughout, with constant views of the sea and a terrific variety of holes. The Walker Cup host is better presented now than ever.
Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
You can’t forget to make the turn after the 9th here, or you could end up playing next door Murcar by mistake. The front nine is as good as its reputation says it is. The back nine might well be less explosive – where isn’t? – but this links oozes class from every blade of its fine fescue.
Prestwick, Ayrshire, Scotland
Too short for modern Opens, but still presents a tremendous amount of fun for amateurs. It’s odd that Prestwick is not regarded more highly than it is. For us, it has the history, it has the holes and it has the setting, as this position suggests. Simply a must play, and deserves this top-25 slot.
Hoylake, Merseyside, England
For some it is a tough and austere golf course, but for us Hoylake is beautifully conditioned, interesting and historic.
It begins with subtlety, which might leave the casual golfer underwhelmed but the connoisseur intrigued, however the middle stretch along and through the coastline dunes will satisfy all who play here.
Its return to The Open rota has enhanced its reputation and prestige further and in real terms the gift of a brand-new, Martin Ebert-designed par 3 – the 17th hole, played towards an elevated green looking out to the Dee Estuary.
Lytham, Lancashire, England
“A monster of a course, ready to devour your game,” is how one panellist described it. Lytham is certainly no pushover. There isn’t a weak hole to be found. The turf is immaculate, bouncy and inviting and the closing stretch is just magnificent. ‘Pure’ sounds twee, but Lytham is exactly that.
Deal, Kent, England
Benefits from some of Britain’s most naturally undulating terrain. A fast-running links with rippling fairways and unexpected green locations. Littered with fine holes, Deal should not be overlooked for more celebrated neighbour, St George’s. Understated, but not underpowered.
21 Skibo Castle
Dornoch, Highlands, Scotland
After a comprehensive overhaul led by Mackenzie and director of golf David Thomson, Skibo now rightly rubs shoulders with the elite in British and Irish golf. The absence of gorse is the most obvious change, but the routing has changed, individual holes have changed and even the character of the course has changed. It is more linksy than ever and in astonishing condition.
Waterville, Co. Kerry, Ireland
Thrilling from the moment you arrive at this south-west Ireland outpost. The final three are as good as anywhere; they sum up the best golf has to offer – a short par 4, a mid-length par 3, a par 5 just about reachable for the very long. Each one is a brilliant test in its own right.
Balmedie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
A course as ambitious and bold as its owner, and which just about lives up to the hype. Loses some marks for its purity of links, despite sitting among huge dunes. Big holes, big views, big drama and a very big experience. The 14th tee, pictured, offers one of GB&I’s jaw-dropping moments.
Inverness, Highlands, Scotland
Memorable infinity views, which made for great television coverage during the Scottish Open, this is an expansive, playable and strategic modern classic. Castle Stuart could have been a touch higher but for the odd question mark over its links purity, a result of the sometimes clifftop feel.
Co Donegal, Rosapenna, Ireland
This Tom Doak design – with extensive input from associates Eric Iverson, Clyde Johnson and Angela Moser – is a breathtaking journey across raunchy Donegal linksland around Sheephaven Bay. The canvas was exceptionally good, the result an assault on the senses in the best possible way.
The greens are sporty, and may be eye-opening to some, but this is unmistakably a course that will be eventually bracketed with the world elite and become a must-play for anyone wishing to experience the best the game has to offer. St Patrick’s won’t stop at this historic entry position; as it matures, it will rise.
Troon, Ayrshire, Scotland
Despite what you may have heard, it’s not all about the par-3 Postage Stamp. Troon is generally underrated, with a scenic start, iconic middle among lots of gorses and next to the classic railway line, and a tough closing stretch [often into wind]. An awesome experience.
15 Cruden Bay
Cruden Bay, Aberdeenshire, Scotland
Just the once is never enough. Not even close. A superb routing, full of half-par holes, rumpled ground, dramatic elevation change and truly mesmerising vistas. Those elements combined, No.13 on this list does not flatter Cruden Bay – the top 10 would not flatter it. Endlessly entertaining.
Liscannor Bay, Co. Clare, Ireland
‘Ireland’s St Andrews’ – and every bit as memorable and atmospheric as that title suggests. The blind par-3 5th, ‘Dell’, and the iconic par-5 4th, ‘Klondyke’, take all the headlines, but Lahinch is much more than those two. As many as nine epic holes and super views to boot. A masterpiece.
Carnoustie, Angus, Scotland
Can be brutal if you attempt to play off tees beyond your capability. Unremittingly demanding and utterly unfussy, Carnoustie is a pure and comprehensive test. There are however regular lighter moments as well as gorgeous linksland scenes. Very possibly the best-presented links in the country.
Malahide, Dublin, Ireland
The scene of more famous events in Irish golf than any other links. This is a player’s course, oozing pedigree and demanding quality shots. An ‘Irish Muirfield’ in its examination, Portmarnock is all class. In most countries and in most lists in the world, it’s No.1.
Ballybunion, Co. Kerry, Ireland
From the 6th tee onwards, one great hole follows another. If it’s good enough to charm a links connoisseur like Tom Watson, then it’s plenty good enough for us.
If you enjoy dramatic holes among towering dunes, you’ll adore Ballybunion, one of Ireland’s stellar links.
Kingsbarns, Fife, Scotland
Much loved for its playability and stunning sea views on every hole, Kingsbarns is a modern masterpiece. Kyle Phillips’ sequencing of holes takes you on a wonderful journey along a glorious stretch of coastline. Loses some marks for its purity-of-links factor.
North Berwick, East Lothian, Scotland
If there’s one course our panelists said they would return to again and again and still get unbridled enjoyment playing it, this was it. North Berwick is home to some of the world’s most replicated holes – which is testament to its memorability and entertainment.
Southport, Merseyside, England
A tough but fair test – the English Muirfield, routed through some enormous dunes. It’s one of our most cherished and majestic links, few courses sustain the nature and extent of their challenge from start to finish as consistently as Birkdale.
Sandwich, Kent, England
Royal St George’s is quintessentially English in character – lovable, a little eccentric, but tough underneath. We are quite sure this Open-hosting golf course is England’s best links. Gorgeous dunescape provides some of the best set of green sites in this list.
Portrush, Co.Antrim, Northern Ireland
The Dunluce requires and rewards good driving more than most. A wonderful journey among high dunes that take you to the edge of the sea and back.
The land is a mix of quietly rippling fairways mixed with often notable changes in elevation, all the while with drama seemingly awaiting around every corner. Some understandably quibble with the decision to change the course in order to host The Open, but in the two new holes by Martin Ebert the Dunluce has at least gained two epic tests. Colt’s green complexes are as elegant as any links in this list.
Gullane, East Lothian, Scotland
Golfing perfection, only lacking the scenery to match. Muirfield does the pure links golf experience exceptionally well. Outstanding routing, majestic bunkering, strategically brilliant and peerless condition and consistency.
The walk from the car park to the clubhouse gives you time to think. You are about to play a legendary course, to enter a legendary club. Stepping onto the 1st tee, you know you are in for a fight – against nature, Old Tom [original 1891 layout], as well as Harry Colt [1923 revision].
Every hole is tough, the routing is unrivalled, the rough unrelenting. But there is inspiration, from some of the great moments in Open history. It’s a dramatic course, but not in the drama of great and not so great holes… they are all good, if not better than good.
Dornoch, Highlands, Scotland
Play on a sunny summer evening and get a glimpse of heaven. Your appreciation grows with each and every visit. One of the finest natural links in the world and in ‘Foxy’ – the famed par-4 14th – Dornoch boasts a hole that is among the word’s finest.
Turnberry, Ayrshire, Scotland
Donald Trump’s multi-million pound investment has led to a masterful remake, and the changes make the difference between a top-10 spot and a top-three ranking. That third on this list is the absolute lowest we could have placed the Ailsa sums up how effective the overhaul by Martin Ebert has been there.
We loved the Ailsa for many years, but eventually saw its flaws – that it didn’t make the most of the peerless location, that it had weak holes and it felt disjointed. None of those complaints remain now, after Ebert’s renovation.
Newcastle, Co. Down, Northern Ireland
There are very few courses in the world, never mind by seaside in Britain and Ireland, which mesmerise and challenge as RCD does. The setting is epic, the Mountains of Mourne a brooding presence overlooking linksland that flits between gentle ripples and pronounced mound and dips.
You leave the stellar 18th knowing your game has had one of the hardest exams it will ever undergo, but you’ve also had the best experience of your life, too, where a superstar hole is always imminent, with the stretches on the front nine of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th plus the 7th, 8th and 9th without peer.
St Andrews, Fife, Scotland
Still and always will be the Mecca for any serious scholar of the game. People will tell you to go left from the tee, but that leaves difficult second shots on ‘double’ greens.
The Old Course is the most special experience golf can offer for probably all of us. It makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up on the 1st tee and it makes you think and plot your way around every hole after that.
On the stellar back nine it has in the 11th, the 17th and the 14th – arguably three of the seminal par 3, 4 and 5 holes in the world.
What is a links golf course?
The British Golf Museum defines a links as: “Land near the coast characterized by undulating terrain, often associated with dunes, infertile sandy soil and indigenous grasses such as marram, sea lyme, and the fescues and bents which, when properly managed, produce the fine textured turf for which links are famed.”
How we score the best links golf courses in Great Britain and Ireland
There are a total of 100 marks awarded, and every golf course is marked using the following criteria to find the best:
Design [40 marks]
A key category, split into three sub-sections: Does the course take advantage of its landscape ; the green complexes ; the routing .
Setting [15 marks]
The aesthetic value of the surrounding views and the course itself. And the overall ‘atmosphere’ of the course – not the club.
Memorability [15 marks]
How easy it is to recall holes? Are they distinctive, varied and interesting. Are they strategic and heroic?
Playability [10 marks]
Is it just too tough, possibly even unfair, for the majority? Or is it easily enjoyed by all?
Consistency [10 marks]
Does every hole deliver all of the above, or is it let down by a few poor ones?
Presentation [10 marks]
Two aspects: is maintenance at ease with its surroundings, and the conditioning of tees, fairways, bunkers and greens.
What if there is a tie?
In the event of a tie, Golf World Top 100 Editor Chris Bertram decides the positions based on breadth of opinions from the panel.
Do you consider anything other than the layout itself when scoring the best golf courses?
Off-course facilities, customer service or tournament pedigree played no part in deciding any of our Golf World Top 100 Courses rankings. We care about the best golf courses, not about who has the best clubhouse, has hosted the most Opens or provides the best lunches. No matter what your budget is, there are courses to fit your pocket. And you can play every course in this list, even if some offer very limited tee times.
Meet the Golf World Top 100 ranking panel
Chris Bertram: Top 100 Courses editor has played all 100 links golf courses in our list. Handicap 11.
Michael Bailey: 88 of the Top 100 played. Handicap 17
Peter Bosworth: 96 of the Top 100 played. Handicap 14
Olle Dahlgren: 98 of the Top 100 played. Handicap 6
Nick Dungay: 96 of the Top 100 played. Handicap 11
Alan Ferguson: All of the Top 100 golf courses played. Handicap 4
Simon Haines: 61 of the Top 100 played. Handicap 3
Clyde Johnson: 87 of the Top 100 played. Handicap 8
Ronan Rafferty: All of the Top 100 played. Handicap Pro
Ben Sargent: 84 of the Top 100 played. Handicap Pro
Stephen Vincent: 73 of the Top 100 played. Handicap 10
In addition, we accepted input from our Scottish specialists Alan McPherson and Neal Stewart, Irish golf courses supremo Kevin Markham and Wales golf aficionados Richard Allen and Phil Davies.
– The best golf course in Scotland revealed