If you've joined the ranks of the golf-obsessed, you'll most likely find your way to St. Andrews, one of the top golf travel destinations. A visit to this quaint town in eastern Scotland—and its world-famous links golf courses— will ingrain the game a little deeper in your soul. Afterall, it’s where golf began and where it continues to be paramount. St. Andrews has a money-can’t-buy mystique: Whether following in the footsteps of top golfers when striding down the Old Course’s first fairway or strolling along the cobble-stoned streets once trodden by Old Tom Morris, the pioneers who brought the game to the masses consider it a rite of passage. St. Andrews has been golf’s Mecca for more than four centuries; it’s an essential pilgrimage for those consumed by the royal and ancient game. Tour professionals are a notoriously cold-hearted bunch when it comes to golf courses; and yet, these statements, made at press conferences on the eve of Open Championships at St. Andrews, best sum it up:
The common theme among these testimonies? The sense of what St. Andrews means to the game and the town’s inextricable link to the origins of golf. That sense is still keenly felt today, in part due to its location. Whereas course developers now seek cliff or beach-side settings for new projects, St. Andrews Old starts and ends among the town’s buildings. The course is public, and its hallowed fairways have been the Sunday family playground for centuries. Today, you’ll still find walkers crossing the most revered piece of turf in the game while golfers play through for truly unique golf experiences. It is quaint, it is kooky, it is old-world. And no one ever steps onto the first tee feeling anything but giddy.
For most, playing the first hole is a blur of emotions, following years of anticipation. It shares a fairway with the 18th (the aforementioned grassy playground), so it’s a mercifully big target for sentimental golfers, whose eyes may be a little watery, minds somewhat frazzled, and limbs a bit tremulant. The first celebrates genius design on the Old—a course of subtle challenge. True and tried advice? Stay left off the left, and while that may ensure safety with your drive, it also means awkward second shots into huge, well protected greens. The best advice, in fact, is to find your own way ‘round. Don’t sweat over a tidy score; rather, drink in the iconic holes and feel history beneath your feet. There may be more exacting and visually spectacular courses in the UK and Ireland—and there are indeed courses with an even greater championship pedigree—but none can match the Old for romance.
When the Old hosts the 150th Open Championship in 2022, the aforementioned Mickelson will get his wish. The winner will go down in history, too (and later than planned owing to the pandemic). A visit during this most special of Opens is an alluring prospect, and so is a few days of playing in this revered region. Naturally, the Old is priority, but don’t overlook the New (“newer” by just a few years), which locals insist is the better course. Also make time for the tough Jubilee, located closest to the coast, or tackle the uber-playable, par- 70 Eden Course. What’s more, located just outside town, the Castle is a clifftop links with the best views of the whole lot. Lastly, a 30-minute drive will take you to the modern links of World Top 100 entry Kingsbarns by Kyle Phillips, or the brand new Dumbarnie, opened in 2020 to great acclaim. Then there are Crail, Lundin, Leven, and Elie—all historic links of varying character. While in Fife, consider decision fatigue a blessing.
And your base for the greatest week a golfer can experience? The Pittormie Estate, located 10 minutes from the Auld Grey Toun. Owned and operated by The Eden Residence Club, the historic castle is available to Exclusive Resorts Members and has been transformed into one of Scotland’s most sought after private clubs. Expect a rare level of well executed amenities and bespoke service.
And while Scotland may be the ultimate wish-list trip for golfers, these U.S. and Caribbean courses are certainly worth a trip, too.
THE ABACO CLUB ON WINDING BAY
This private beach resort features large four-bedroom Club homes and endless adventures (think tennis, snorkeling, spa, infinity pool, kayaking, sailing, and some of the best deep-sea angling in the world). But of top note? The Instagram-worthy course.
CLAIM TO FAME: 2011 Open Champion Darren Clarke calls this home for much of the year and has hosted the Web.com tour.
EYE ON DESIGN: Abaco’s course was envisioned by Tom Mackenzie of Mackenzie & Ebert (who consults on most Open Championship host courses). He was brought up at Dornoch, Scotland, a beguiling old-school links where the famous Donald Ross also learned the game. As such, Mackenzie has brought the essence of a Scottish seaside course to the Bahamas. This is far from “target golf” and will appeal to connoisseurs of the game.
MULLIGAN MOMENT: “If it’s breezy, I will do well to break 70 around here,” Clarke says. “Lee [Westwood] was the same when he was here.” Why? Well there is the wind, as Clarke says, that plays with your ball’s flight, but there’s also the greens, inspired by Dornoch’s “upturned saucer” style. Plus, expect a hint of the examination verging on evil that exists in the vintage Highlands links.
TAKE NOTE: Abaco’s course is beautifully set along a peninsula of land. On the front nine you’ll be calmed by the rippling Caribbean, while on the back nine, there’s a breathtaking climax invigorated by the crashing waves of the Atlantic.
19TH HOLE: Dreaming of a bar on white sand lapped by the waters of the Caribbean sound? Enter Flippers. Enjoy an open-air breakfast, lunch with a screensaver view, or house smoked ribs at night. And Theresa’s special cocktail? A must.
TIMBERS KAUA'I, AT HOKUALA
This oceanfront retreat graces Kaua’i, known as “The Garden Isle,” as 97 percent of the island is untouched mountain ranges and rainforests. Stay at one of four three bedroom Club residences with private porches and ocean views. Relax by the two-tiered infinity pool, lounge beachside, or recharge at the spa. Stroll some of the island’s 43 miles of Pacific-lapped sand, and make ample tee time.
CLAIM TO FAME: The only Jack Nicklaus signature course on Kaua’i, it has recently been named “Hawaii’s Best Golf Course” for the third consecutive year by the World Golf Awards. Expect the longest stretch of continuous oceanfront holes on the Hawaiian islands.
EYE ON DESIGN: Nicklaus, golf’s GOAT, was given the tools to create something special, and he capitalized. Nicklaus skillfully routed the front nine through a mango and guava forest, and on the back nine he unleashes half-a-mile of jaw-dropping ocean vistas from holes 13 to 16.
MULLIGAN MOMENT: Water is the danger at Hokuala, whether the Pacific or a 40-acre freshwater lagoon. Plus, it can get breezy on the back nine. Yet ultimately this course is about inspiration, not perspiration.
TAKE NOTE: Watch closely on the oceanfront holes and you might see whales or spinner dolphins playing in the distance.
19TH HOLE: Order a Mai Tai as you flick through pictures on your phone from the 13th onward, and then refuel with dining menus locally sourced from the on-site farm.
Newport Beach, California
A coastal enclave in a much-vaunted leisure destination, Pelican Hill caters to families as seamlessly as it does couples and friends. Camp Pelican is for guests aged 4-12, while adults stay busy at the spa and on the tees. Expect five casual but elegant four-bedroom villas while the centerpiece of the resort is the Coliseum Pool.
CLAIM TO FAME: Tom Fazio is one of the world’s most decorated designers and counts Augusta National among the clubs he advises. Here, he has created two courses: the North (1991) and the South (1993). The former has impressive consistency while the latter features plenty of oceanside “pinch-me” moments.
EYE ON DESIGN: Fazio’s genius is in employing the natural landscape to cleverly frame the holes—whether the backdrop is the Pacific Ocean or lush green vegetation of sage and eucalyptus trees. Changes in elevation demand “open-your-shoulders” downhill drives mixed with brawny uphill approaches.
MULLIGAN MOMENT: The par 4s on the North are as strong as they are varied; some strain every sinew, others charm you into submission. Yet the highlight is the 17th, a par 5. It winds around the canyon with a lake on the right as you play towards a bunkered infinity green, with the Pacific behind.
TAKE NOTE: The par-3 13th hole on the Ocean South has two greens (not a double green, but two of them). Split by a jigsaw shaped bunker, they are both close to the cliff’s edge: one is 131 yards off the tips, the other a cute 108.
19TH HOLE: For lunch, refuel with ahi tuna poke or blackened fish tacos and pair them with a Napa Valley sauvignon blanc. Come evening, opt for the Chilean sea bass bouillabaisse with the food-friendly Rombauer chardonnay.
THE ROCKS CLUB
Scottsdale is a paradise for golfers, and The Rocks Club has access to 12 of the best. Add the comforts of high-end villas and the revered service of Troon Golf, and you have the appealing Rocks Club. The clubhouse is the vibrant hub, with a fitness center, billiards room, cigar terrace, massage rooms, plunge pool, and hot tub.
CLAIM TO FAME: Among Golf magazine’s “Top 100 Courses You Can Play (2019),” Troon North’s Pinnacle was No.25 and Monument was No.52. Both were designed by former British Open Champion Tom Weiskopf.
EYE ON DESIGN: Weiskopf is a brilliant creator of intriguing golf courses. On both Troon North’s courses he serves up the classic desert golf experience: immaculate fairways, bentgrass greens, beautifully framed holes, and a layer of strategy not seen elsewhere.
MULLIGAN MOMENT: The appearance of water on the short-but-dangerous 13th means anything pushed right gets wet.
TAKE NOTE: The 3rd on the Monument has a huge rock boulder in the middle of the fairway, giving the course its name and the hole a unique atmosphere. Weiskopf and his build team looked to move it during construction, then decided to leave it as a memorable moment.
19TH HOLE: Dynamite Grille is packed with temptations morning, noon, and night, but the tacos are the standouts: saguaro smoked brisket, smoked pulled pork, blackened shrimp, mahi mahi. Pair it with a raspberry lemonade, Scottsdale blonde draught beer, or one of the specialty artisan cocktails.
Cap Cana, Dominican Republic
Tucked into the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic, this dreamy enclave features one of the safest swimmable beaches in the country. If you can bear to leave the achingly perfect sand, other amenities include a world-class kid’s club, tennis, equestrian, water sports, high-end dining options, and the Punta Espada golf course.
CLAIM TO FAME: Just five minutes from Eden Roc at Cap Cana, Punta Espada has been named the Best Golf Course in the Caribbean and ranked No.35 in the world by Golf Digest. It also hosted the Cap Cana Championship (a Champions Tour event), the first PGA Tour event in the Dominican Republic.
EYE ON DESIGN: This Jack Nicklaus signature course follows an intricate layout on the edge of bluffs, along beaches, and past waterfalls, and frames ocean views from all 18 holes.
MULLIGAN MOMENT: Talk about a hero shot. The 13th is the quintessential signature hole, and it leaves nothing in the tank. This exquisite but demanding par 3 asks for a 250-yard carry over a corner of the Caribbean to the green. Forward tees are available, but your ball still has to fly the water. Epic doesn’t do it justice.
TAKE NOTE: To do is to dare; the 12th hole is one of those rare times when the entire length of a par-5 hole is lined with water. How much of the sweeping hole do you dare cut off? No matter how long your approach shot is—with a wedge or a 3-wood—it will give you one of your most memorable moments in the game.
19TH HOLE: Sip a chilled Presidente beer or locally spiced rum just yards from the white sand, with miles of Caribbean Sea as far as the eye can see.
ON PAR & PLAY
This year is the most exciting era of golf course construction in 100 years, and these five global courses ensure bucket list swings.
TE ARAI (North Island, New Zealand)
Two courses—Bill Coore & Ben Crenshaw’s South will open in 2022 and Tom Doak’s North scheduled for 2023—are being built by the owner of Tara Iti, the world’s top-10-ranked Doak designed course located just along the coast.
CABOT POINT (St Lucia, West Indies)
Another Coore-Crenshaw course, this time working on the cliffs of the Caribbean island with the Atlantic Ocean’s waves crashing below.
ST. PATRICK’S LINKS(Donegal, Ireland)
The third 18-holer at the Rosapenna resort on the edge of Downings Bay, this Doak links opens this summer and promises to be an instant Irish classic.
SEVEN MILE BEACH (Tasmania, Australia)
Land has just been broken on this Mike Clayton-Mike DeVries design, which has been the long-time dream of former Tour pro and Tasmanian native Mathew Goggin.