10 – Hankley Common, Surrey
2013 green fee: £90

Many of the great Surrey courses are surrounded by houses but Hankley is set within an astonishing 850 acres, and this confers a sense of space and peace. It’s a magnificent heathland – now extended to over 6,700 yards.

Why it’s special: It’s so quiet you could be in the Cairngorms

9 – Cruden Bay, Aberdeenshire
2013 green fee: £90

You might find the occasional curmudgeon who will tell you that Cruden is just too quirky but the other 99 per cent of the golfing population absolutely love it. There are several unforgettable holes here. 

Why it’s special: Your first, elevated view of the links on arrival always stirs the soul

8 – Alwoodley, Yorkshire
2013 green fee: £80

This is the first course Dr Alister MacKenzie ever designed in an architectural career that also included Royal Melbourne, Cypress Point and, most famously, Augusta National. At Alwoodley he created a heathland layout of rare subtlety and sophistication. Partially concealed fairways; eye-catching and irregularly shaped bunkers; strategic choices; and large, often undulating greens are all trademarks of his design genius. A recent bunker renovation project also included increasing the length of the course to 6,900 yards.                   

Why it’s special: Reach the 3rd tee and the expansive beauty of Wigton Moor is revealed

7 – West Sussex, Sussex
2013 green fee: £75

This might just be the prettiest heathland course in Britain after Sunningdale and a round here is a blissful experience indeed. It is a surprisingly young course, dating back only to 1930, and measures less than 6,400 yards.

Championship golf it is probably not quite, but you should also be aware that there is only one par 5 (the 1st) against a sensational quintet of varied short holes, making for a miserly par of just 68. The closing stretch is especially strong here.

Why it’s special: The blend of heather, gorse, silver birches and beautifully-shaped bunkers all lend Pulborough a touch of class

6 – St Enodoc, Cornwall
2013 green fee: £75

St Enodoc has charm. In fact, it has an abundance of it. Being picky, it could be argued there are a few weaker holes, but then again elsewhere it reaches heights few rivals can match. Curiously, certain parts of the course have a parkland feel (the 4th springs to mind) and others are moorland (following the loop around the church) but the best bits occupy sensationally crumpled and natural linksland. Is it exaggerating the point to say that the last three holes (a par 5, a 3 and a long 4) are the best in the land? The start is pretty good too. 

Why it’s special: It’s worth coming just to see the cavernous Himalaya bunker on the 6th

5 – Ganton, Yorkshire
2013 green fee: £75

We can blame Ganton, indirectly, for the oxymoronic term ‘inland links’. In this case, and in this case alone, the description is accurate. Some nine miles west of the seaside town of Scarborough, Ganton is surrounded by farmland yet its firm, sandy soil, true greens, gorse-lined fairways and deep bunkers are the real deal. A fantastic course in the winter, length is never really the biggest issue here, even though it stretches to over 6,900 yards from the championship tees installed ahead of hosting the 2003 Walker Cup. The real key is avoiding sand.

Why it’s special: Positioning and strategy count for so much here

4 – Saunton (East), Devon
2013 green fee: £79

Arguably Herbert Fowler’s finest creation (along with Walton Heath), what sets Saunton apart is that, much like at Royal Birkdale, the holes tend to run through corridors between the dunes rather than through them. This means the fairways are largely flat and stances are even. Aside from an unremarkable stretch after the turn, the standard is maintained throughout and Saunton certainly finishes in some style with the par-3 17th and its elevated tee especially eye-catching. This is the real deal.  

Why it’s special: The view across the links from the 1st tee is one of the best in golf

3 – Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire
2013 green fee: £88

Woodhall Spa is perhaps not the most exciting course you will ever play but it is surely one of the best. Understated compared to, say, Sunningdale (then again where isn’t?) it nevertheless stands comparison with allcomers when discussions of the nation’s finest inland courses arise. It’s heathland in style, and brutally bunkered, so much so that many require steps to access them. This is a course of few weaknesses in terms of design and it is impeccably presented.

Why it’s special: Woodhall is classy, stringent and technically excellent throughout

2 – Nairn, Highlands
2013 green fee: £95

Nairn is one of the prettiest links you will ever play, with sea views across to the Black Isle and the Highlands beyond. Most of the front nine plays adjacent to the beach and close enough to see and smell the ocean. Then comes something different as you turn briefly uphill and inland before returning to the shore. The constant throughout is incredible playing surfaces. Nairn was a worthy host of last summer’s Curtis Cup, when GB&I’s ladies defeated the Americans.

Why it’s special: The greens here are the purest you will ever putt on

We’ve nearly reached the end of our list. All that remains is to discover which course made it to number one… CLICK HERE to find out.

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