St. Andrews, Old Course
Many would call the Old Course at St. Andrews ‘the home of golf’. Indeed, this historic course has given itself this auspicious moniker and for a course that will be hosting The Open for a record 29th time this July it is easy to see why. St. Andrews’ Old Course needs no introduction really, but it is worth remembering that the world’s finest golfers have been gracing its fairways for nearly 600 years. The Swilcan Bridge, Hell Bunker, and the R&A Clubhouse are well-known, iconic golf landmarks, yet the Old Course is very much open to the general public. A ballot is drawn for half of the allocated tee times, so there is a very good chance that new bookers will be given a slot. Jack Nicklaus said of the Old Course: “There is just no other golf course that is even remotely close”. Nothing more needs to be said really!
Monday to Friday, but with limited availability
£80-170, depending on the season
Sunningdale, Old Course
Designed to recreate the visuals and playability of the Augusta National Golf Club, Sunningdale Old Course is one of the finest courses in the UK. Deep inland, away from troublesome sea breezes and situated amongst the famous courses of the Surrey Sand Belt (even though Sunningdale is technically in Berkshire), Sunningdale is a wonderful course to play at. Even though modern clubs have made the course relatively short, there is still a huge reward to be found from taking on some of those high-risk shots that look ever so achievable until the ball sails out of bounds. Overall, Sunningdale’s Old Course is one of the most pleasurable courses in the UK. Its new course, which actually is not so new at the ripe old age of 101, should not be overlooked either and provides a fantastic, although slightly more challenging, round of golf.
Monday to Thursday, with a recognized golf club handicap certificate of 18 for men and 24 for ladies
£205 Apr – Oct
£125 Nov – Mar
Royal County Down
The Royal County Down Golf Club opened its doors in 1889 and has grown from strength to strength ever since. One of the oldest golf courses in Ireland and Rory McIlroy’s favourite course in the world, Royal County Down provides a truly unique golfing environment for competitors of any standard. Great challenges can be found among its interesting green layouts, plus its susceptibility to varying weather conditions can leave even the most experienced pros praying for a double bogey after frustrating stints in the cruel long rough and gorse.
Visitor Playing Days
Monday, Tuesday, and Friday – morning and afternoon
Thursday – morning
Sunday – afternoon
£50-190 per round
When Phil Mickelson birdied four of the last six holes to win the 2013 Open, he was in danger of making the back nine at Muirfield look relatively straightforward. Muirfield is anything but straightforward, with each unusual hole varying greatly in its direction towards the wind and conditions often testing at best. Having hosted the Open Championship 16 times since 1892, Muirfield is a course that many amateurs aspire to take on, but visitors will need to be experienced in the use of all 14 clubs to get round the holes in a reasonable fashion. However, for those looking for variety and a stern test, Muirfield can be one of the most satisfying and enjoyable courses in the world.
Tuesdays and Thursdays
Apr – Oct
£210 for one round and £270 for two rounds on the day
Nov – Mar
£110 for one round only
Birkdale’s distinctive Art Deco clubhouse was cutting edge when it was built in 1935 and so were the ideas of its members, with ladies controversially being allowed to use the course from as far back as 1889. Birkdale even hosted the Ladies’ British Open Championship in 1909, so it must have taken some by surprise when in November 1951 Birkdale Golf Club was bestowed the very traditional honour of a Royal Charter from George VI. The Royal Birkdale Golf Club never looked back and has famously hosted nine men’s Open Championships since, as well as the Ryder (twice), Walker, and Curtis Cups. The Royal Birkdale is one of the finest courses in the world and can be incredibly challenging. On a bad day strong winds will roar in from the Irish Sea, completely sabotaging your game and making those incredibly difficult-to-read greens and fairways a golfer’s nightmare. Make sure that you have taken out golf insurance (specialist sports insurers like Bluefin Sport can provide golf insurance policies), because when the winds are up expect golf balls and clubs to be flying around everywhere from infuriated players.
Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday
£145-235 (Oct – Mar includes a Soup and Sandwich Lunch)