Words by Kevin Gray. Images provided by the respective golf course, unless otherwise noted.
All across the world, there are beautiful patches of green dotting the coasts and the countryside. With perfectly kempt grass and rolling fairways, tricky bunkers and fickle greens, these are the golf courses of legend—where major tournaments assemble, and where the golf obsessed spend their leisure time fighting for par.
Point being, there are some really fine golf courses out there, and regardless of where you live, many are worth the trip. So whether you’re a scratch golfer or preemptively wear high-water pants for ball retrieval purposes, these are 10 of the best, most vacation-worthy golf destinations in the world.
St. Andrews (Fife, Scotland)
Known as the “home of golf,” St. Andrews has been hosting golfers for an absurdly long 600 years. The seaside town features seven courses, so you’ve got plenty to choose from, including the famous Old Course. Dating back to 1552, it’s considered the oldest course in the world, and has hosted more British Opens than any other site. The almost comically named New Course was established in 1895. Both are great. And if you can’t get a tee time at either, well, you’ve got five other quality links-style courses at your disposal.
American Club Resort (Kohler, WI)
Located on the western shore of Lake Michigan and just an hour’s drive up from Milwaukee, Kohler may be best known for its eponymous appliance company. But golfers know it as the home of four world-class courses—including the Straits, which has hosted multiple PGA championships and will host the Ryder Cup in 2020. Stay at the American Club Resort, and you’ll have easy access to each course as well as the rejuvenating Kohler Waters Spa.
Pinehurst (Pinehurst, NC)
Since its first course was built in 1898, Pinehurst has hosted more championships than any other golf club in the country, which might be why they call it “the cradle of American golf.” Pinehurst boasts a whopping nine courses, giving the roving golfer a preponderance of options. If you want to soak in the history, opt for Course No. 2 to relive some of golf’s finest moments. Then, if you’ve got eight more days to spare, play the rest of them.
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort (Bandon, OR)
This rugged, windswept destination features true links-style golf, the likes of which you typically just find in the U.K. Here, Bandon Dunes offers four full courses, plus a 13-hole Par-3 and a putting course. And perched along the coast 100 feet above the Pacific Ocean, the views won’t disappoint. There’s not much else going on in these parts, but that’s okay—the resort offers comfortable accommodations, and you’re here to golf.
Pebble Beach Resorts (Pebble Beach, CA)
You can’t have a serious conversation about iconic golf vacations without mentioning Pebble Beach. It’s consistently rated as one of the best public courses in the world, it runs along spectacular coastline, and it will be home to its sixth U.S. Open in 2019. Naturally, it’s popular with locals and visitors alike, and it’s certainly not cheap. But it’s not your only option. So if tee times are too hard to come by, try one of the area’s other five courses—including the famed Spyglass Hill.
Kauri Cliffs (Matauri Bay, New Zealand)
Built along the coast of New Zealand’s Northland region, you’ll find one of the more picturesque courses in the world. Fifteen of the 18 holes at Kauri Cliffs sport a view of the ocean, and six of those are alongside cliffs that fall into the water below. So… if you lose a ball, it’s lost—don’t go chasing it over the edge. But do relax after your round at the spa, take a scenic helicopter tour, or explore the 6,000 acre property on a four-wheeler. That’ll be fun.
Kiawah Island Golf Resort, (Kiawah Island, SC)
This peaceful barrier island just down the coast from Charleston features five courses, including the famous Ocean Course, which is one of only a handful of courses in the world to have hosted every major PGA event. It draws golfers from across the country—and the world—who want to take advantage of the resort’s storied greens and Kiawah Island’s temperate climate. When the day’s done, visitors can retreat to the spa for a relaxing massage before a well-earned steak at the Ocean Room restaurant.
Black Mountain Golf Resort (Hua Hin, Thailand)
The resort town of Hua Hin is located along the Gulf of Thailand, so visit here, and you’re already doing well. But base your stay at Black Mountain, and you’ll have villas, pools and a waterpark to keep you occupied. Oh, and golf. They’ve got 27 holes of award-winning, regularly-named-best-in-Asia golf. Which is the real reason you’re here.
Fancourt (George, South Africa)
You don’t have to journey to South Africa to play golf. But one look at Fancourt, and you’ll want to do exactly that. This gorgeous gem of a bucket-list vacation features three courses, each designed by former PGA pro—and native South African—Gary Player. The Links course is regularly rated as the top course in South Africa, and one of the best in the world. But since you can’t tee up 24 hours a day, the property takes accommodations, food and wine almost as seriously as it does golf.
Kapalua (Maui, HI)
Maui is an attractive place. This isn’t news. But there’s more to see than just the ocean from your beach chair. For instance, you can see tee boxes from your golf cart. For that, your best bets are the Bay Course and Plantation Course, both located at Kapalua. Stay in one of the area’s luxury hotels or opt for a vacation rental—either way, you’ll be in close proximity to golf. Kapalua is also a fine spot for tennis, in case you’re a multi-sport athlete with energy to spare.