Bernard Gallacher’s Top 10 UK Golf Courses

Golf Care, 14th September 2015

The sheer amount of outstanding golf courses in the UK is staggering, but there are a select few that stand out from the crowd in terms of playability, difficulty and of course, beauty.

Here at Golf Care, we are well aware of which clubs provide the ultimate player experience and have collated the top 10 golf courses in the UK.

#1 Royal Birkdale

Few could disagree that Royal Birkdale is by far the best golf course the UK has to offer. The Par 72 course stretches for 6,817 yards and makes for a long and challenging double dog-leg par 4. Making the opening par here is like earning a badge of honour, recognised amongst the most seasoned of professional players. Highlights include the short 12th or the three par-5s in four holes to finish, but it’s the “lesser” holes that really help this course make number 1 on our list.


BERNARD: “I first played Royal Birkdale in the Ryder Cup in 1969. I can recall vividly sitting by the 18th green watching Tony Jacklin play Jack Nicklaus in the final singles, on the last day, effectively for the Ryder Cup.

“Both putted for birdies, Jack’s rolled five feet passed, and Tony’s came up two feet short. After taking an inordinate length of time over his putt, Jack holed his putt, picked his ball out of the hole, and at the same time, picked up Tony’s marker, conceding his putt to half the hole, match and the Ryder Cup. I thought at the time it was the greatest sporting gesture I have ever seen, and still do today!”

#2 Carnoustie

This infamous golf course may not be regarded as the most “relaxing” place to play 18 holes, as it certainly does challenge the player, putting to good use almost every club in the bag at some point. A stunning 72 par course framed by rolling dunes and striking raised greenery. Call it frustrating or call it challenging, you’ve got  6,941 yards of tough par 4s with one of the harshest par 3s (the 16th hole is a nightmare) in the world to contend with.


BERNARD: “The toughest of the Open Championship courses with an especially difficult finish, where the meandering Barry Burn comes into play 5 times over the last 2 holes. Who can forget Jean Van der Velde coming to grief at the final hole in the 1999 Open! It always produces great winners – Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Tom Watson, Padraig Harrington and fellow Scot, Paul Lawrie.”

#3 Royal Lytham St Anne’s

Although Royal Lytham is the shortest golf course on the Open schedule, don’t be fooled as even the great Tiger Woods has struggled with its 6,400 yards and 71 par. The last 5 holes are a real treat and the extremely well kept and picturesque grounds add to its appeal. Don’t be surprised if you fail to tame this beast on your first try, you may not see it straight away, but very soon it becomes apparent as to why this course is the home to an Open.


BERNARD: A true Links course but no longer by the sea! Unusual opening hole because it starts with a difficult par 3 that is over 200 yards long. A demanding course off the tee and Seve’s 2 victories here belie the fact that he was always a bad driver of the ball. My best memories were watching Tony Jacklin hit an absolute ‘corker’ off the last tee in the 1969 Open Championship as Henry Longhurst said on TV, to win by 2 strokes and my beating of the great Jack Nicklaus on the last green in the Ryder Cup singles in 1977! (….had to get that in!).”

#4 Royal Liverpool

A consistent choice for the Open and an extremely underrated course that is as stunning as it is enjoyable to play, The Royal Liverpool makes the cut of the top 10 golf courses in the UK with ease. However, don’t be lulled by its beauty, this course requires a strategic mind. Where the greens are fairly flat and easily playable, the rough lies in wait ready to kidnap your ball. The par 3 13th hole is the highlight as it is right on the coast line. Gorgeous sun, sea and golf – what more could you want from this 72 par 6,237 yard stunner?

HOYLAKE, EGLAND - SEPTEMBER 14:  The green on the 560 yards par 5, 16th hole 'Dun' with The Clubhouse behind which will play as the 18th hole in the 2014 Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club on September 14, 2013 in Hoylake, Wirral, England.  (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

BERNARD: “A fine golf course on the Wirral, where the capricious wind makes it a demanding test. The Open returned here in 2006 after a 39 year gap and the record crowds that turned up to watch, were not disappointed when Tiger Woods won by 2 strokes. Fast forward to 2014 and working as an on course commentator for Radio 5 Live, I had the pleasure of watching Rory McIroy win his first Open Championship. Imperious off the tee, he never looked in danger of being caught.”

#5 The Belfry – Brabazon Golf Course

The course has probably achieved more than Dave Thomas and Peter Alliss – the team behind the course – could have ever imagined when they set out to convert it in the late 70’s. This now world renowned golf course was once a humble potato field which has hosted four Ryder Cups and a myriad of European Tour events. The 72 par 6,391 yard course is a thrilling test of your mettle, with highlight holes coming in the form of the short par-4 10th and its immense finale which sees players attacking the 18th hole whilst overlooking a beautiful lake and the five star hotel. One for the bucket list for sure.

the belfry

BERNARD: “Custom Built to hold the Ryder Cup. I played in every Ryder Cup from 1969 to 1983 and was on the losing side every time except 1969 when it was a drawn match. I failed to make the 1985 side at The Belfry and the team under Tony Jacklin’s superb captaincy  went on to win! I did play a very small part in that victory because I was Tony’s Vice-Captain. My friend Sam Torrance holed the winning putt and we have been celebrating ever since! I captained the team in 1993 and although we got off to a good start, we eventually ran out of steam and lost.”

#6 Royal Portrush

Harry Colt, the king of golf course architecture described Royal Portrush as his finest work, and any golfing enthusiast can see why. Each hole challenges the player consistently with a variety of dog legs nestled in the awe inspiring coastal surroundings of the Irish Sea. Our advice – just try and enjoy your day, as there’s a good chance you won’t play to your handicap due to the immense challenge this 72 par 7,143 yard course yields.

The ultimate challenge comes in the form of the 14th hole affectionately named Calamity Corner. This hole requires a 210 yard carry into the wind, oh and it’s over a crater, oh and if you miss the green on the left, you may as well say goodbye to your ball.

royal portrush

BERNARD: “I played the course for the first time in the British Seniors in 2004 and it certainly lived up to my expectations . A true links course with fast bouncy fairways and difficult to hit greens . Max Faulkner, my former teacher and mentor won The Open there in 1951 and I am pleased it will return in 2019.”

#7 Muirfield

Although the Muirfield website describes the course as “fair, inspiring, elegant and world-renowned” it fails to mention just how demanding this place can be. Another stunning links course to add to your bucket list for sure, but be advised this course takes no prisoners (besides your ball).

Muirfield has played host to 15 Opens and has become a favourite amongst the world’s greatest players. Just think carefully about your approach shots as once you’re on the green, the little burrows are hard to read.

BERNARD: “On the south side of The Firth of Forth. One of the world’s great courses. I won the inaugural Scottish Stroke Play Championships here in 1967 and decided to turn professional shortly afterwards. I watched Jack Nicklaus win his first Open there in 1966, driving with 1 iron off most tees. He thought so highly of the course, that he built a course in his home State of Ohio and named it Muirfield Village.”

#8 Royal County Down

No top ten list would ever be complete without a mention of Northern Ireland’s Royal County Down. Stunning scenery combined with 18 challenging holes, you’ll need a second run at the course to fully appreciate what it has to offer. However, this beauty has a beast lurking within it in the form of the blind water hazard in the middle of the 17th fairway, so beware. If the wind is up, you’re best placed shots can be thwarted by the gusts turning it into a “hit and hope” operation.

NEWCASTLE, UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 06:  Ross McLister of Wales hits his third shot on the ninth hole during the afternoon's play at the Boys Home Internationals at Royal County Down Golf Club on August 6, 2008 in Newcastle, Northern Ireland.  (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

BERNARD: “Another course I only played as a Senior. A magnificently scenic course with the Mountains of Mourn as a back drop. A classic links with plenty of blind drives and fast fairways bordered by heather and whins. It is difficult to understand why The Open has never been played there. Rory McIlroy hosted the Irish Open early this year and the Pro’s struggled to score when the wind got up.”

#9 St Andrews (Old)

This par 72, 6,721 yard world renowned course features the most famous hole in the world, the 17th,  which has been affectionately named the Road Hole. In fact, the Road Hole is the only hole in thehistory of golf to have a book written about it. The first tee is famed for making the hairs on the back of your neck stand up due to the fantastic views of the Royal and Ancient clubhouse as well as the Auld Grey Toon. Aside from being enjoyed by almost every resident of St Andrews, the course itself is also well known for its deep swale entitled the Valley of Sin on the lead up to the 18th hole – not where you want to be!

BERNARD: “My favourite course in the world – every golfer should plan on making a visit! The great Bobby Jones said if he had only one course to play for the rest of his life, it would be St Andrews. You do feel a sense of history when you stand on the first tee, with the R&A Clubhouse in the background.

Every hole has its own story, but the most famous has to be the 17th, The Road Hole. I remember watching Tom Watson over club on to the road in the 1984 Open, and Seve birdied the last to deny Tom his sixth Open title.”

#10 Sunningdale (old)

A 70 par course stretching for 6,063 and by far one of the best inland courses the UK has to offer, Sunningdale was a favourite of the great Bobby Jones – so you now you have to visit it at least once in your lifetime. This course will test every facet of your game whilst allowing for plenty of birdie opportunities along the way. Although it may now regarded as a particularly short course,m it’s a beautiful day out. The scenery is stunning and the approach shot to the 7th green and tee shot at the 10th are a beautiful sight to behold. This relaxing nd rewarding course reminds us that golf is all about fun. Enjoy it.

BERNARD: “A course I am privileged to play often, living nearby. A true heathland course with fast greens. Sunningdale in essence is the perfect golfing venue. A course that can test the best players in the world and at the same time, be hugely enjoyable for golfers of any handicap.”

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