Welcome to the Hotlist – my recommendations for the very best of golfing architecture in England.
In order to make my list, courses have to show design features that make it FUN to play. For me this includes:
- Width off the tee
- Lots of options
- Interesting and occasionally intimidating hazards
- A range of entertaining green complexes that make the golfer think
- Plays firm and fast
- Contains quirky ‘Englishness’
The following features make it very unlikely that a course will make the list:
- Too many trees
- Over-use of water hazards
- Courses that are overly penal in terms of width or length
I have played all of the courses on the list. Luckily there are many more to discover! Any recommendations are welcome.
Latest entries: Bungay & Waveney Golf Club, Warren Golf Club.
Bath Golf Club (Somerset)
Situated high on Bathampton Downs with panoramic views over the wonderful City, Bath Golf Club contains clever changes in elevation, plenty of options from the tee and superb conditioning of interesting green complexes for a fun challenge.
All photos from GolfWorking, providers of stunning photography and bespoke websites.
Beau Desert Golf Club (Staffordshire)
Undulating heathland course in the heart of England. With each hole set apart from its counterparts, this is peaceful, quality golf. The green complexes are amongst the most challenging in the country due to their speed and slope.
(The) Berkshire Golf Club (Berkshire)
With 36 holes of quality heathland golf across the Red and Blue courses, there are plenty of great photo opportunities at The Berkshire.
The courses are not overly long but contain a delicious combination of strategy and conditioning in a delightful environment.
Bramshaw Golf Club (Forest Course) (Hampshire)
The hamlet of Bramshaw in the New Forest National Park is home to two very different 18 hole courses. The Manor is a beautifully conditioned traditionally styled parkland course worthy of plaudits and expensive green fees.
My advice however if time allows for only a single round is the much cheaper and very different Forest Course. This is the very definition of natural golf. The green-staff are heavily restricted on how much maintenance they can do given the strict conditions of the protected status of the land that lies within the National Park. Fortunately, there is a secondary maintenance crew consisting of ponies, cattle and pigs that roam the course in the nature of disinterested spectators, helping to keep the grass short.
With the fences around the greens (to keep the animals off) being basically the only non-natural element, undulating ground and natural streams combine to create a wonderful walk and hugely enjoyable golfing challenge.
Broadstone Golf Club (Dorset)
Wonderful heathland course in Dorset, with an extraordinary routing across a remarkably large expanse of undulating land so that each hole sits apart from the others.
Contains a number of outstanding holes, with many requiring an heroic carry to reach the green in regulation.
Bungay & Waveney Valley Golf Club (Suffolk)
A quirky and fun course set over common land in the West of Suffolk. Makes good use of some natural contours and offers plenty of options for the golfer to make some heroic choices.
Cavendish Golf Club (Derbyshire)
Set on the outskirts of Buxton in the heart of the Peak District, Cavendish Golf Club was designed by Dr Alastair Mackenzie, who later had the dominant hand in creating Augusta National.
Although much shorter and without the huge wealth of the Masters venue, there are nevertheless some similarities between the two layouts. Cavendish is generally wide from the tee, uses the natural contours well and has wickedly sloping green complexes.
Overall a fantastically fun course with a number of excellent holes including the magnificent final hole, which combines a vast panorama of a tee shot followed by a claustrophobic approach to the green perched beside the clubhouse.
Chulmleigh Golf Club (Devon)
Chulmleigh Golf Club in picturesque Mid-Devon holds a special place in my heart as where the golf bug bit me as a youngster on holiday. The 18-Hole Par 3 course has tiny greens and dramatic slopes on holes averaging about 80 yards.
There should be more courses like this! It would still be difficult me today as a low-handicapper. Unfortunately golf prices itself too low and this type of course struggles to charge enough to make ends meet. Such a shame. Interestingly, the course utilises just 9 holes in the winter, although the yardages are longer.
Dartmouth Hotel, Golf & Spa (Devon)
Devon based resort that has gone through some difficult financial times and several changes of ownership (including former racing driver Nigel Mansell). Set in a spectacular location, the facility includes 27 holes. The Championship course includes several spectacular holes with severe changes in elevation. Photo shows the incredible long par 3 finishing hole. Buggies recommended!
Dereham Golf Club (Norfolk)
In general I am not a big fan of parkland golf – cloggy soil and too many trees for my liking.
Nevertheless the pretty 9-Hole course set on the edge of the market town in central Norfolk offers enough variety, angles and options to keep my interest.
East Devon Golf Club (Devon)
The magnificent Saunton and Westward Ho! tend to generate the golfing headlines in Devon, but if you swop the North coast for the South, you will find a stunning cliff-top course in the well to do village of Budleigh Salterton.
With undulating heathland and an impressive variety of holes, this is a course to put a smile on your face. Incredibly pretty, yet with some epic scale and superb routing this is a golfing journey for all levels of player.
Felixstowe Ferry Golf Club (Suffolk)
18 holes followed by fish n chips at the port town of Felixstowe is indeed one of life’s little pleasures.
Sea air, firm turf, width off the tee and plenty of options and strategy choices combine to make a very fun course.
Photos from www.felixstowegolf.co.uk
Feltwell Golf Club (Norfolk)
A 9-Hole course on the edge of the Fens in West Norfolk that was created by the RAF and still contains hazards from the concrete bases formerly used to fire rockets from the site.
Windswept with plenty of space, a clever design uses excellent green complexes to create tricky angles from offline tee shots.
Flempton Golf Club (Suffolk)
Tucked away between Bury St Edmunds and Mildenhall in rural Suffolk, Flempton is a proper secret gem. With 9 holes arranged in 3 loops of 3, this course is made for a quick game after work.
With excellent green complexes, outstanding bunkering and a lovely variety and routing, I can think of nowhere better (its more famous cousin up the road Royal Worlington would equal but not better it in my opinion) to dig out the Sunday bag, a handful of clubs and enjoy a twilight 18 in under 3 hours. Golf as it was meant to be.
Read my blog on the best 9 hole courses in East Anglia here.
Formby Golf Club (Merseyside)
Courses that contain a ‘hybrid’ of styles and settings tend to suffer in the rankings compared to the ‘pure’ links and heathland courses.
Personally I quite enjoy the variety that these courses provide – and Formby is a typical example – a links course that has a pine tree as its logo and rolls between pine forest and more traditional links terrain.
Formby is often the best conditioned course along this revered stretch of golfing country and that is some boast given the competition. With variety, lovely views and a fascinating architectural history, Formby is an under-rated gem.
Great Yarmouth & Caister Golf Club (Norfolk)
Raw, unapologetic and at times ugly, GY & C GC divides opinion like marmite for golfers in Norfolk.
In my view, the stretch between the 4th and the 16th provides a test of links golf to match many of this golfing outposts more famous counter-parts.
The oldest golf course in Norfolk, there are no real fairways at Yarmouth, just tightly grassed areas between gorse and bunkers. Set alongside, around, over and between the racetrack, and with caravan sites and industrial areas bordering the site, it is not pretty. Move on from this, however, and you will find an excellent layout of natural links golf worthy of its position on this list.
Illfracombe Golf Club (Devon)
18 Hole layout situated high on the cliffs on the North Devon coast, this course is often overlooked as golfers flock to nearby famous cousins Saunton and Royal North Devon. This is a shame as there are a bunch of fun holes and spectacular views over the sea. If you do make the trip, take your sense of humour as it is extremely undulating, there are a bunch of blind shots, and uniquely you are required to tee off the Par 4 17th hole before playing the parallel Par 3 16th and then walking across to play into the 17th green!
Isle of Purbeck Golf Club (Dorset)
If there is a course with better views in England than Isle of Purbeck then I am yet to find it. Perched high overlooking Poole Harbour and best reached by ferry, this is truly an outpost worth the time to get there.
Minehead & West Somerset Golf Club (Somerset)
Travel along the promenade and just before you run out of land at this 1960’s style seaside town, you will find the golf course.
With a lunar type landscape, this is an otherworldly golf experience. Best played firm and fast and with the beach coming into play around the turn, this is a bleak type of fun.
Read my full review here.
Mundesley Golf Club (Norfolk)
Often overlooked by golfers who flock to the honeypot locations of Cromer, Sheringham, Brancaster & Hunstanton further West along the North Norfolk coast, the century old 9-holer on the remote corner of the county at Mundesley is a path less trodden by visiting golfers.
This is a shame because it is a quirky gem, most famous as the site where Harry Vardon made his only hole-in-one. Near to the coast but without any sea views, the ability to play the ground game and use the contours on the firm turf is crucial to a good score.
Compact and full of options off the tee, this is an addictive, strategic course which should comfortable be covered in 90 minutes for a quick 9.
Painswick Golf Club (Gloucestershire)
Remarkable golf course set high on a ridge in Gloucestershire with stunning views across the Cotswolds. This course is summed up by its 5th hole, which is only 100 yards long but plays blindly over a huge former hill fort rampart with the green only 12 yards beyond. Totally bonkers but wonderfully natural.
Officially ranked as the most quirky course in England (by me). Read about the top 3 here.
Parkstone Golf Club (Dorset)
Immaculate heathland layout in a wealthy area near to Sandbanks in Bournemouth. Not a long course but with five Par 5’s and five Par 3’s it makes for a fun and challenging round in a wonderful, enchanting environment.
Royal Cromer Golf Club (Norfolk)
Royal Cromer Golf Club was founded in 1888, attaining its Royal title at this point by the Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VII.
RCGC is most famous for hosting the very first International golf match in 1905, between the Ladies of Great Britain and Ireland and the United States of America. The Curtis sisters were part of this match and later started the Curtis Cup.
For a full history of RCGC, click here.
With width off the tee, plenty of strategy and top-class conditioning, RCGC is a tonne of fun. Perched upon the cliff-top high above the North Norfolk coast, stunning views abound in every season:
This photo-shoot was conducted with a combination of drone and ground shots from Rob Howarth and Ashley Pickering from Fairway Flyovers. I cannot recommend these guys strongly enough – they have created some great photography and video for us at affordable prices. See below for a selection of the shots:
Rob & Ashley again – this time with some stunning summer shots.
Another summer shoot, this time from 2015 by Chris Taylor, a multi-award winning photographer based in North Norfolk:
It amazes me how the course changes according to the season – my favourite is probably the autumn with the burnt orange ferns and moody skies. Spring has its own character with vivid bright colours. Photos by Fairway Flyovers (Rob & Ashley).
These shots are a combination of stunning drone shots from Rob (Fairway Flyovers) and staff ground shots.
Royal Worlington & Newmarket Golf Club (Suffolk)
Like the Old Course (St Andrews), the ‘Sacred Nine’ near Mildenhall often leaves first time visitors underwhelmed. In fact, RW & N may just be the nearest thing you could get to the Home of Golf South of the Scottish border.
Thirty miles from the coast but playing very much firm and fast, when you stand on the 1st tee and survey the flattish piece of land where you can see all nine pins, you do wonder what all the fuss is about.
Two hours later and with a broad smile, you just want another go. Worlington is generous in the main off the tee and you will get plenty of opportunities to hit your Driver. The green complexes are some of the finest in the world. Full of variety and challenge, at the time of the Masters in April, they can often be faster then Augusta.
All lovers of golf course architecture should make the trip to Mildenhall on a summers evening for the very best of fun golf experiences.
Saunton Golf Club (Devon)
Most definitely one of my favourite places in the world – one of my happiest places – is Saunton Sands in Devon. With a magnificent sandy beach and two exquisite links courses (East and West) this is heaven on earth. Would undoubtedly be good enough to host the Open if access was easier.
All photos by John Mundy @golfphotostore
Seaford Head Golf Club (Sussex)
Spectacular undulating course on the Sussex Downs with incredible views along the South Coast in both directions and a vertigo inducing 18th tee shot.
A challenging piece of land to create a course – with some dtange holes as a result – but great fun with plenty of strategy options available.
Sheringham Golf Club (Norfolk)
Near neighbour and friendly rival of Royal Cromer, Sheringham offers a stunning cliff-top challenge. With the best holes coming mid-way through the front 9 and again for the final few holes with the added hazard of a steam train?! a trip to play Cromer and Sheringham offers one of the most scenic and enjoyable golfing trips available in England.
Stinchcombe Hill Golf Club (Gloucestershire)
Sited on top of a hill on the Southern edge of the Cotswolds and overlooking the Severn Valley, Stinchcombe Hill is a hidden gem and one of the most scenic courses in England.
These photos were taken by GolfWorking who produce some wonderful websites for courses around the UK.
Sutton Bridge Golf Club (Lincolnshire)
Utterly bonkers 9-Hole course set in an abandoned dock?! in rural Lincolnshire. Every hole is slightly crazy in design, with many playing alongside or over the 20-foot high dock walls.
Sutton Bridge was featured as one of the 3 most quirky courses in England in my April 2018 blog. Read the full details here.
Warren Golf Club (Devon)
If you find yourself in deepest, darkest South Devon, then head down the only road until it runs out and you will find Dawlish Warren Golf Club.
Built on a spit of land within a National Nature Reserve, what you will discover is a natural, quirky, unique links course. The approach to the 18th green presents a particularly scary proposition, sandwiched as it is between the road to the clubhouse and the railway line.
Wentworth Golf Club – East Course (Surrey)
I love Wentworth.
I also love Ernie Els – classy golfer and person. His brutal redesign of the West Course however, is not for me. Much preferred the softer edged Colt original.
The East Course is more natural, softer, contains a wealth of charm and is pretty as a picture. Enjoy the millionaires playground and soak up the fun.
Weston-Super-Mare Golf Club (Somerset)
At one end of the seedy Victorian seaside resort in Somerset, you will find a true links challenge.
Designed by legendary architect Dr. Alistair Mackenzie, Weston offers a subtle links challenge, with a set of superb short holes and a recreation of the Road Hole at St Andrews as its 15th.
Wyboston Lakes Golf Club (Bedfordshire)
Wyboston is a standard bearer for golfing architecture that allows a public golf course to appeal to beginners and expert players alike.
There is generally plenty of room off the tees, but clever use of hazards tempt the better player to take more risks to allow an easier shot to the green. Combined with generally excellent conditioning, this adds an element of fun for the low handicap player that is rare in this part of the golfing market.