NCG Top 10: Hardest UK courses to go and play

Courses and Travel

It isn’t impossible to play these courses, but it’s often a case of who you know. At others, you’ll need deep pockets and these courses might just ask you to prove it before they let you join

10. Ardfin

Isle of Jura, Inner Hebrides

Designed by Australian Bob Harrison, the course on the Isle of Jura is finished but not yet open. We don’t know how open it will ever be. It may just become the private plaything of its owner, Australian millionaire Greg Coffey.
The population of Jura is just 200 so it is unlikely that there will ever be a queue on the 1st tee.

9. Swinley Forest

Ascot, Berkshire

Swinley Forest

You can play at Swinley as a visitor, but only if they want you to. Generally, a key deciding factor is whether or not you have been before. They’d much prefer it if they already knew you. So it can be a bit catch 22. Swinley Forest, which the greatest architect of all, Harry Colt, modestly described as “the least bad course” he ever designed, didn’t have a scorecard for many years. To this day, they certainly don’t have a website and they may or may not have a phone. 

8. Skibo Castle

Dornoch, Sutherland

This course is arguably the best in our list. It was originally designed by Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie but has changed much since then thanks to further work from Mackenzie, alongside Skibo’s director of golf and former European Tour pro, David Thomson.

Skibo has had a few owners over the years but is now owned by Ellis Short, the US millionaire who also owns Sunderland, though he’d like to sell it. Sunderland that is, not Skibo. At one stage, Skibo would have been even higher up the list but it it is now possible for visitors to play, by prior arrangement, and enjoy what is a special course. 

7. The Royal Household Golf Club

Windsor, Berkshire

This is a 9-hole course in the grounds of Windsor Castle, owned by the royal family. Guests are by invitation only and must play with a member.

Money is not the deciding factor. But breeding may well be.

6. Loch Lomond

Luss, Dunbartonshire

The work of American due Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish, Loch Lomond formerly belonged to the American Lyle Anderson.

He went bust in the global recession and it defaulted to RBS, meaning it was technically the property of the taxpayer for a while. Now it belongs to the members, who are encouraged to bring their guests along for a game.

5. The Renaissance Club

Gullane, East Lothian

Tom Doak’s first and only design to date in the UK is located between Muirfield and Archerfield in the golfing paradise of the East Lothian coast.

The Renaissance has a mainly international membership who enjoy an exquisitely presented course with incredible practice facilities. Renaissance recently swapped some land with Muirfield, allowing them to build three new holes by the sea and Muirfield to extend their 9th hole with a new championship tee.

4. The Wisley

Woking, Surrey

It’s members and their guests only at this 27-hole Robert Trent Jones Jnr-designed American-style parkland on the outskirts of London.

The key features are lots of water, great conditioning and amazing practice facilities. The three nines at The Wisley have all recently been renovated to mark the club’s 25th anniversary.

3. Wentworth Club

Virginia Water, Surrey

Visitors used to be welcome at Wentworth – providing they were happy to pay £350 a time, though that did include a caddie, if not a tip. Now though, since being purchase by Reignwood, a Chinese conglomerate owned by a Thai billionaire, you will struggle to get on the property unless you are a member or guest.

The West course continues to host the BMW PGA Championship and Wentworth remains the home of the European Tour. How compatible that is in the longer term with the wishes of the new owners is unclear.

2. Beaverbrook

Leatherhead, Surrey

Beaverbrook was designed by quite a double act – try the five-time Open champion Tom Watson and the renowned architect David McLay Kidd, who has given us the Castle Course and Machrihanish Dunes in his homeland.

Beaverbrook is a mixture of downland and parkland. The estate is owned by the Cadbury family and the course belatedly opened last year after some protracted legal wrangles over the use of the land.

It’s a similar model to Queenwood. Whether there are enough tycoons, captains of industry and super-rich golfers to sustain both these clubs in their present form remains to be seen.

1. Queenwood

Ottershaw, Surrey

Lot of courses say they will do what Queenwood does but few have ever managed to deliver the hyper-exclusive, behind-closed-doors, top-quality golfing experience that Queenwood has offered for a good 10 years now. It’s a model that seems to work for them and them alone. It helps being located in Surrey.

The atmosphere is low-key and the members genuinely come here to escape from the world and play golf rather than see and be seen. It’s also a very good course, designed by Scot David McLay Kidd. In terms of style, there are shades of the Duke’s at St Andrews in places.

New members, say the club, must be recommended by existing ones. There are currently no vacancies.

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