From Nicaragua to Cornwall, NCG's travel expert picks out his highlights – and some less memorable moments – from the last decade travelling the globe playing golf
I’ve been fortunate enough to have played all of our GB&I Top 100 courses and 92 of our Continental Top 100. I’ve also stayed and played at more than 85 of both out GB&I and Continental European resorts Top 100s. And in between those research missions, over the past decade I’ve been to some of the most wonderful and weird golf destinations in the world.
So what are his highlights – and his mishaps – from 10 years of globe-trotting…
A ridiculous question. I could make a case for 20 resorts but will narrow it down to five: Adare Manor in Ireland (luxury and personality yet a lack of fuss); Lemuria in the Seychelles (essentially paradise); Mukul in Nicaragua (same); Costa Navarino in Greece (36 holes, loads of facilities, superb accommodation); and, pictured below, Gleneagles (two world-class courses, a Ryder Cup venue, amazing non-golf activities and peerless F&B – oh, and a sense of being somewhere very, very special).
Another silly question, but made easier by excluding any I had previously played. That gives me a top five of Harry Colt’s heathland at Utrecht de Pan in the Netherlands, Tom Simpson’s effortless Parisian masterpiece Morfontaine, St Enodoc – often ludicrously poorly ranked given it has 14 magnificent holes – the irresistible charm of Royal West Norfolk and classy and scenic Skibo Castle.
Favourite country visited
In a golf sense, Scotland or England are streets ahead (I am poorly travelled in US) – and I don’t think we realise how lucky we are to have the depth that do. On the continent it would be France – from Morfontaine, Fontainebleau and Saint Germain in Paris to Golf du Medoc et al in Aquitaine. For non-golf reasons, it is Jordan; utterly amazing.
Favourite major venue
I found the wide fairways and domed greens of Pinehurst No. 2 (below) made it both playable and hard – in the best possible sense. The nuances of the design, the sandy, firm turf and the glorious pines. I love it and the whole resort.
Favourite city break
I love Milan, Lisbon and Munich, but Marrakesh is something else. So much golf – but unlike Belek it varies in quality so read an insightful guide before going – allied to terrific climate, super-friendly people, accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets and a city that is impossible not to love for its energy, randomness and sheer fun.
Favourite winter round
I’ll choose two. Southport & Ainsdale, when the sun lit up the ripples of the links beautifully, and Lanark, which was verging on too frozen to play but I totally fell in love with this character-packed moorland.
Favourite new course
West Cliffs, Castle Stuart and Trump Aberdeen in Scotland would be contenders (as would Turnberry, The Machrie and Skibo Castle if their overhauls class them as new courses) but I’m going for Saint Emilionnais (below) in France. I had the most beautiful sunny afternoon playing during Tom Doak’s annual ‘Invitational’ and was smitten by the short par 4s.
Favourite buddies trip
Again excluding previous trips, I’ll go for a surprise and say Belek. The low-hassle, self-contained, all-inclusive aspect isn’t something that naturally appeals to my nature but every now and again it is nice to have zero stress and just a lot of good golf (and the courses are all good), food and weather on tap.
Favourite travel drama
I wanted to get to Thracian Cliffs on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast and the closest airport was in Bucharest. Fine. Car hired (from a dodgy industrial estate) and all was well until we got to the border when the Romanian officials were deeply suspicious about the dog-eared photocopy of the car’s document. As I tried to talk them round, they then also noted it was out of date. I thought of hiring a second car to get in but got a taxi instead (who overslept on the way back and we nearly missed our flight).
The aforementioned De Pan in the Netherlands is one, because prior to my visit all rankings and articles suggested the coastal courses were the best there. But so was Parnu Bay, basically because it was in Estonia. How can these golf newbies have a world-class course? Well they do, a utopian sand-and-pine scene on the edge of the Baltic.
It wasn’t ALL amazing…
Worst hire car: OK! Rent-a-car, Majorca – started with a fake out-of-hours charge, and went downhill. Utter nightmare.
Worst airline: BA – expensive, dreadful lack of punctuality, complacent staff, hopeless with baggage.
Worst airport: Paris CDG – laissez-faire attitude to baggage, flight connections horrendous, laughable WiFi.
Worst pre-round prep: A night out in Bruges, ending up with the football club’s fans celebrating the title they’d just won.
Worst shot: Ostend, Belgium – a topped iron (by my friend!) 10 foot into bushes on one of the most dramatic holes of the decade.
What’s been your favourite trip or golf course played in the last 10 years? Let us know in the comments below or you can tweet us.