I fell in love on a golf course. Maybe that’s why they’ve held a special place in my mind and heart ever since. You see, I don’t play golf, but I’ve traipsed around some of the most beautiful and inspiring golf courses in the world, during my former life as a touring professional’s wife. I’ve written about golf courses for golf magazines. I love the peace, the designs, the art and architecture — and the land, seas, rivers, deserts, mountains, and lakes that often surround the courses. So I went on a search for some of the world’s most inspiring golf courses. These are courses that have an impact, not only on people’s games but on their spirits. Even if you don’t like golf – these are places that call to anyone.
The Fairmont Southampton Course, Bermuda
Located on the grounds of The Fairmont Southampton resort, this 18 hole par-3 golf course features some dramatic elevation changes over its 2,684-yard site, with strategic bunkers and a capricious prevailing wind. A par-3 course is all about your short game — the short game is the “thinkers” game. It makes the difference between coming off the course happy and ready to continue your day enjoying all the luxurious amenities the resort offers, or tearing your hair out and being grumpy at dinner, despite the spectacular sunsets on the ocean. If you don’t play golf, you can still appreciate Gibbs Lighthouse off the 16th hole, the luscious pink sand beaches and the splashes of tropical color against that stunning turquoise water. And then there’s the rest of the resort to play in.
North Berwick’s West Links, Scotland
The West Links is a true Scottish links course. Founded in 1832, it begins in town and makes the turn to wind along the Firth of Forth. It’s a collection of unique holes – but three of them on the seaside back nine are especially memorable. There’s “The Pit” – the 13th hole with a green situated between dunes and a small stone wall (we’re talking one very tight fairway). The approach to the 14th hole (“Perfection”) is a blind one, but leads to views of Bass Rock and the Island of Fidra — Robert Lewis Stevenson is said to have used this island as his inspiration in his novel Treasure Island. The par-3 15th hole along the seaside is the world’s original Redan hole and is the model on which all Redan holes are based. Maybe what makes this course even more of an inspiration is the Children’s course – once the Ladies course of 1888 — a 9 hole Par 3 layout adjacent to the 15th and 16th holes on the West Links. The past and the future of Scottish links golf come together here.
Lofoten Links, Norway
There are four spectacular golf courses in Norway – I chose Lofoten Links because between May 23rd to July 24th golfers can play 144 holes in 24 hours. How? The sun doesn’t set in Lofoten during that time, allowing you to play golf at midnight. Yes – this is the golf addict’s ultimate dream course! But you’d better be prepared for the water hazards – the sea itself is a water obstacle on several holes and the beaches act as sand traps. The 9-hole par 31 course is 2,239 yards and is slope rated. It’s often compared to Scottish links courses. Lofoten is a group of islands off the coast of Norway — named the third most appealing island cluster by National Geographic Traveler in 2007. With a view of the Lofoten Mountains, the Atlantic Ocean and the magical Arctic light, this is a course that would inspire even the most die-hard non-golfer to visit- especially at midnight.
The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort’s Pacifico Course, Mexico
It’s hard to choose when a resort boasts two gorgeous golf courses – both Jack Nicklaus Signature designs. But I chose the Pacifico Course because of its famous optional 19th hole three-par – “Tail of the Whale” – the only natural island green. This course is an 18-hole, par 72-championship course that features five sets of tees – choose your tee for your level of skill. Eight of the holes face the glorious Pacific Ocean, while the 13th hole takes you along a tropical lagoon. Punta Mita means “gateway to paradise.” This is coastal Mexico at its most seductive – palm trees, exotic flowers, white sand beaches and sunsets in a wash of neon colors. The Marietas Islands are nearby. It shares the same latitude as Hawaii, so the weather is always perfect. Visit this course and resort and you may feel like a superstar – or catch one on a secret getaway.
Fairmont Chateau Whistler Golf Club, British Columbia, Canada
First of all, who can resist the artistic vision of designer Robert Trent Jones, Jr. when he has the snow-capped Coastal Mountains in British Columbia for a backdrop on his canvas? Like a fine painter, the famed course designer sees the harmony in the course bunkers as they relate to the glacier’s snow patches miles away. The Fairmount Chateau‘s par-72, 18-hole course is carved into the side of Blackcomb Mountain, using the mountain’s natural features as highlights – exposed granite rock faces and cliffs, ravines, creeks with tumbling waterfalls and great stands of Douglas fir. The 400 foot elevation changes include an 80-foot drop from tee to green on the 8th hole. This course has earned accolades from Golf Digest (4 ½ stars) and Canada’s SCOREGolf Magazine. But what makes it most inspiring is the magnificent wilderness that surrounds it and towers above. This is a golf course that adorns its environment and uses the features as individual jewels. If you can’t play golf, you could always paint it.
Lübker Golf Resort, Denmark
Three hours from Copenhagen in the region of Jutland, Denmark’s first golf course community, the Lübker, has inspired Danes to think of golf as a desirable lifestyle and not just a game. In 2008, it was named “Best New International Golf Course” by GOLF Magazine in the U.S. This is another Robert Trent Jones, Jr. course, with Bruce Charlton as lead architect. The 27-hole course has been compared to Spain’s renowned championship course Valderrama. What’s inspiring is its compatibility with and support of the natural eco-systems and wetlands – preserving existing ponds, creating new ones, and enhancing habitats for wildlife, including an endangered species of frog. Yes – concern for the environment is a trait of the best and most inspiring golf courses anywhere. With bold bunkers, heavily contoured greens and wetlands in play, the course also lies adjacent to a Viking graveyard. How many courses can say that?
Spring City Golf & Lake Resort (Lake Course),China
Like the Chateau Whistler Course in British Columbia, Canada, Robert Trent Jones II uses dramatic elevations and rugged terrain to sculpt a challenging course along the side of a mountain overlooking Lake Yang Zong Hail in China. Golfers can see the entire course from the first hole. The 10-year old Spring City Lake course sits at 4,900 feet above sea level, surrounded by mountains 8,000 feet high. The answer to setting up a links-style course on this type of landscape is in the series of switchback holes – a continuous layout of terraced holes over 7,200 yards. Being able to see what you have in store as you view the course from the first hole must be intimidating – deep rocky ravines and natural hazards could play a disappearing act with your ball. Or you could end up with a side hill lie – and even I know that’s a bad thing. Or there’s the lake, ready to swallow your ball and your pride. Still – this is a piece of land art in China. Don’t forget there’s a very upscale clubhouse and spa waiting with exquisite cuisine.
Cape Kidnappers, New Zealand
I’m a great fan of the HBO series Flight of the Conchords – in which intrepid New Zealanders Bret and Jemaine try to make their musical fortune in New York City with their agent Murray, who moonlights out of his closet-like office in the New Zealand embassy. New Zealand is the butt of many jokes in the series. But one look at the spell-binding Cape Kidnappers golf course on Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand and you’re ready for the next flight to see this country for yourself. This is golf on a grand scale landscape, built on 600 ft. high bluffs that jut out into the Pacific like the fingers of God. Yes, that’s right – course designer Tom Doak built holes on the tops of those bluffs. He’s designed a course that is unique in the world – a par 71 course over 7,119 yards with extremely deep bunkers, shots hit over the tops of tea trees, a sea wind that dries greens fast and firm. Doak says, “If it were any bigger or any more dramatic, it would probably be cordoned off as a national park.” If you’d go to the end of the earth to play golf, this would literally be the place.
Trump International Golf Club & Residences, Puerto Rico
Picture this: One thousand acres of Atlantic Ocean waterfront and views of the Caribbean National Rainforest of El Yunque. Mangroves, lakes and waterways. Tropical flowers. And two 18-hole championship golf courses – 36 holes to play, designed by the great American player, Tom Kite. Put him together with Donald Trump and you can imagine a golf environment in paradise. Like most of the courses in our list, it’s already winning awards. The PGA Tour has created the Puerto Rican Open at the Championship Course – a challenging par 72, 7,526 yard journey around man-made lakes that brings you to oceanside. In its first year in 2008, the tour event attracted 75,000 spectators. With a 46,000 sq. ft. clubhouse and multi-million dollar residences being built – this course inspires golfers and dreams of sexy luxury travel.
The Legend Golf & Safari Resort, South Africa
Many people may not be aware that golf courses are some of the most environmentally sensitive places in the world. The Legend Golf & Safari Resort may be one of the greatest examples of that sensitivity. The 18- hole championship course sits inside a bushveld sanctuary preserved and designed to be in complete harmony with the natural surroundings. It’s the longest golf course in Africa. No less than 18 of the world’s best pro golfers from all four corners of the globe were involved in its design. Surrounding the course is the game preserve (hence the “safari” – we’re not talking about a walk in the bush looking for a golf ball) with the Waterberg Mountains in the distance. But The Legend is most thrilling for its Extreme 19th hole — the longest and most dramatic Par 3 in the world. To play it, you must fly by helicopter to the tee atop Hanglip Mountain and hit to the green 430 metres below, to a green in the shape of Africa. There is no way to adequately describe this shot, except by seeing for yourself in this video:
American Lake Veterans Golf Course, Washington State, USA
Choosing the most inspiring golf course for the USA was almost impossible for me. I had at least 40 wonderful nominations. But of all of them — one little golf course in Washington State touched my heart for pure inspiration. It’s not the most beautiful course or the most impressive for its topography and design. It’s not famous or luxurious. What it has is dignity, bravery, heart and embodies the joy and peace of spirit that golf can bring to people. American Lakes Veterans Golf Course is operated and maintained entirely by volunteers – all of which are veterans – and supported by an organization called the Friends of American Lake Veterans Golf Course. All active military, retired military, veterans and their guests are authorized to play at the course. Here veterans are helped to rehab injuries, handle post-traumatic stress and enrich their lives through the game of golf. Instructors work with VeteransAdministration hospital physical therapists and staff to help players utilize golf in their rehab. The course has large tees and practice area, wide and smooth paths, a modified driving range and handicap-accessible greens specifically designed to help vets learn the game of golf and allow disabled players to maneuver their carts… If that doesn’t inspire you, I don’t know what will.