There are places on the planet where you simply feel more alive, where the world in front of your eyes enriches the soul and makes you think “I’m glad I came here.”
Golf is filled with such places. Some have historical significance. Some just have a pretty view.
In a sport obsessed with lists and rankings, here’s another to clutter the field. This is my list of golfing views any lover of the game would feel blessed to experience before they died. All of them are readily accessible without having to travel to a far side of the world most of us will never get to. The only exclusive club on the list at least opens its gates to ticket holders once a year.
Most of these places I’ve seen first-hand, with a few still serving as destination goals. That there is a strong bias towards links golf is undeniable, since the landscapes lend themselves to panoramic views as well as unrivaled golf.
Like Nigel Tufnel’s amplifier in Spinal Tap, this list goes to 11. Barely missing my cut are Waterville, Old Head and the European Club in Ireland, the view toward Ailsa Craig at Turnberry, Troon or Western Gailes in Scotland, the panorama from the clifftop 12th tee at Llanymynech in Wales, the view back toward the clubhouse at the Homestead's Cascades Course or the deer silhouetted at sunset against the ocean waves at Pacific Grove.
The fulfilling options out there are truly limitless.
1. The Old Course, St. Andrews, Scotland, 1st tee. With the Royal & Ancient clubhouse at your back, the medieval town to your left, the Chariots of Firebeach to your right and the holiest golfing ground on earth stretched out in front of you beyond the Swilcan Burn and its iconic stone bridge, there is simply no adrenaline rush quite like it. The view from the 18th tee looking back is more spectacular, but by then the loop, the tee shot over the Road Hole shed and all of the beguiling swales and bunkers save for the Valley of Sin will be behind you. Savor the moment that you push the peg into the ground and gather yourself for the first strike while people watch you from every side, wishing they were in your place. It will live with you forever.
2. Augusta National Golf Club, Georgia, 12th tee. Not everyone is lucky enough to stand in Amen Corner with a club in their hand, but anyone can try to get a ticket to stand behind the box during the Masters Tournament. The pictures on television and office walls are familiar to anyone with a passing knowledge of the game, but they can’t do justice to being there. This is the only venue that oozes as much history as St. Andrews, and the beauty of this particular corner in full bloom can stand up to any seaside vista.
3. Royal County Down. Newcastle, Northern Ireland, 9th tee.From the highest peak on the course the understanding of why County Down is considered the most scenic venue of the Royal links is clear. The view looks out over the clubhouse to the town of Newcastle to the Mountains of Mourne that rise hard against the Irish Sea. That the quality of the course surpasses the quality of the view makes it a fixture in any top-10 list of greatest venues.
4. Ballybunion (Old), County Kerry, Ireland, 11th tee. Herbert Warren Wind hailed it as “the finest seaside links course” he’d ever seen and the greatest American links master Tom Watson said it’s natural to believe “the game of golf originated there.” From the 11th that plays along the Mouth of the Shannon River you’ll wish you could play there forever. These are dunes no human could create without being branded a surrealist. To play golf among them is truly divine.
5. Cruden Bay GC, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, 9th tee.You won’t believe that the greatest clubhouse view you’ll ever see can be topped, until you’ve scaled the tallest dune that towers above the eighth green and realize you’ve only been looking at half the course and coastline. To the north the dunescape sweeps all the way to the quaint fishing village and the ruins of Slains Castle, reputedly the isolated cliff-top abode overlooking the North Sea that inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Then to the south lies the hidden sprawl of the course’s quirkier back side. You have to see this place to appreciate its immense beauty.
6. Gullane No. 1, East Lothian, Scotland, 7th tee.Some claim the highest point on Gullane Hill as the greatest viewpoint in golf, and it’s tough to argue. The view sweeps from Edinburgh Castle all the way to Bass Rock that looms over North Berwick and beyond to Dunbar. Across the Firth of Forth lies the renowned Kingdom of Fife. The tee box overlooks Muirfield on one side and a half dozen courses on the other, giving you a glimpse into the 20 courses that line 25 miles of coastline.
7. Lahinch Golf Club, County Clare, Ireland, 8th tee.Perched high above the beach overlooking Liscannor Bay, this spot offers another one of Lahinch’s many surprises. Who knew there was surfing in Ireland? Beyond the beach and the limits of sight are the Cliffs or Moher and the unique landscape of the Burren. But it’s the old course that emerges from the heart of town like at St. Andrews and winds through impossibly high dunes like Ballybunion that is the real treat.
8. Pacific Dunes GC, Bandon, Oregon, 17th tee. Any golfer who’s ever been to this coastal golf resort that’s less than 10 years old gushes that this is the only place in America where the true style and philosophy of the links golf experience exists in North America. Sure the private clubs on Long Island have figured out the architectural aspects, but to truly “get it” a links must be accessible to the public. Until the exchange rate with the British Pound gets under control, this is the most affordable alternative to a links pilgrimage.
9. Royal Dornoch GC, Sutherland, Scotland, 7th tee.By the time you’ve finished the first six holes, you already understand where Donald Ross got the inspiration for Pinehurst No. 2 and every course he designed. But it’s not until you’ve walked uphill through walls of gorse and emerged at the top where the significance of this place hits you. From this spot overlooking most of the rugged course, you look across the wide Dornoch Firth and wonder how Ross got from here to America more than a century ago to spread the genius of this links course.
10. Pebble Beach Golf Links, California, 7th green. There may be no more picturesque golfing spot in America, with the short par-3 green situated below on the rocky point jutting into the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean. It might not be the challenge that nearby Cypress Point offers at its 15th and 16th holes, but it’s on publicly accessible land you’re entitled to visit even without paying the exorbitant greens fee. It’s worth the price of admission to 17-mile Drive.
11. Kapalua Plantation Course, Maui, Hawaii, 1st tee. The entertaining course isn’t up to the standards of the others on this list, but the view across the sea toward the island of Molokai is irresistible. The weather can’t be beaten and neither can the sight of a breaching whale. Just being on this island is worth the journey.