Is there anywhere that can truly match England when it comes to sheer variety of great golf? Shakespeare called the country “this royal throne of kings” and when it comes to fairway and greens, there’s little to beat it.
Yes, Scotland is the Home of Golf, and rightly so. But only in Blighty do you find such incredible variety, remarkable links, sumptuous heathlands, peerless parklands – you get the drift.
One of the great things about being an NCG Top 100s panellist is that I’m very privileged to visit a lot of golf courses and I’ve picked out a round’s worth of the holes that have resonated most from the places I’ve visited in England.
Now, there will be some omissions, so don’t @ me! I’ve not played either of the Sunningdale courses, or those at Walton Heath, for example, and I’m pretty convinced they’d all feature if I had.
But I have ticked off more than a half century on our shortlist and I’ve been to plenty more worthy courses that weren’t considered this time.
I do it so you might find some inspiration in here to wind your way across our great nation when Covid is, hopefully, a distant memory in the summer.
If you want to play along with your own 18, these are the rules:
– You must have played the hole
– It has to correspond with the number on your virtual card (so your 1st has to be an opening hole and so on)
– You can only use a course once
I used the white tees for this list but play off whatever yardage suits you – just keep it uniform throughout.
All good? Right, let’s get stuck in…
Best golf holes in England: Front 9
1st: Southport & Ainsdale (Par-3, 204 yards)
You’ll notice a theme of par 3s popping up in this list – I do love a short hole – and it’s hard to beat the opener at S&A for sheer joy and ferocity.
This is classic Braid bunkered brilliance at its best. It can play from mid-iron to driver, depending on how fierce the wind is blowing, and the pot bunkers that protect the front of the green are death. The green runs off at all angles. You’re hitting with everyone watching from the nearby clubhouse. Believe me, three is a very good score here.
2nd: Royal Liverpool (Par-4, 366 yards)
It’s all about the green here and, particularly, the quite treacherous bunkers that guard the front. Fall into one, as I did, and escape is impossible. The tee shot favours the left hand side of the fairway but there’s some thick stuff waiting for those with a propensity to hook – along with another couple of brutal bunkers.
3rd: Burnham & Berrow (Par-4, 370 yards)
I don’t think much beats the start at Burnham & Berrow and this is the pick – not least for the punchbowl green that is a greenkeeping marvel. The big hollow on the left, along with a pair of evil bunkers, have caught out even the best and the second shot will almost certainly be blind. But, again, just take a few seconds to appreciate that green. It’s really something.
4th: Swinley Forest (Par-3, 171 yards)
This 171 yards of wonder at Swinley Forest is the hole I hope I can play every day in the next world.
I just don’t know how you better it. The Redan green, the steep drop off the front, the cavernous bunkers waiting for your misstep – it’s my idea of the perfect par-3.
5th: Royal Worlington & Newmarket (Par-3, 155 yards)
Bernard Darwin described Royal Worlington & Newmarket as ‘The Sacred Nine’. If that’s really true, then the 5th is positively holy. One of the best nine-hole courses in the world is capped by this quite incredible par-3. It’s only 155 yards but a stream runs immediately in front of the tee and all the way down the right-hand side.
You may think that it can’t possibly come into play but just leak one slightly right and see what happens. The green is incredible – sloping severely on all sides. It’s particularly pronounced from the left, where you’ll be chipping to an incredibly small landing area from a tight lie or trying to defy gravity with putter in hand. A phenomenal hole.
6th: Hunstanton (Par-4, 336 yards)
It was a toss-up between this and the 7th but, in fairness, I could have picked a multitude of holes at this Norfolk classic and been happy to justify them to anyone. But I just loved the second shot here to a green that looks like it’s sitting in the heavens. It’s a miracle if you can hold it, moving as it does from back to front, and there are nine bunkers waiting on this hole for a poorly placed tee shot or iron.
7th: Formby (Par-4, 377 yards)
One of the best par-4s I’ve had the pleasure to tackle. The tee shot looks unbelievably tight but it’s mostly an illusion – there’s more room out there than you think and even if you run up the bank on either side, the ball more often than not finds its way back towards the fairway.
The approach is probably harder than the drive. It’s a hike from the bottom of the fairway to the green and the putting surface slopes severely from back to front.
If you find yourself on the wrong level then nothing you can produce with the flatstick is going to help you.
8th: York (Strensall) (Par-4, 463 yards)
You didn’t think I’d leave my home course out of this, did you? Don’t be daft. This is not a biased addition, though. I genuinely love the 8th and it’s worth its place – particularly in the summer when the heather’s up and the pine is looking its best. You hit over the pond that’s the main threat on the short 7th and there is some room to find the fairway.
But even if you avoid the deep bunker on the left, you’ll still have a lengthy approach to the putting surface. Beware the traps that guard a big green. This is the stroke one for a reason, and it’s marvellous.
9th: Prestbury (Par-4, 455 yards)
An elevated tee but a blind landing area – how does that work? The 9th at this Macclesfield delight manages it as the hole dips severely before then taking you on an uphill trek towards the green. Out of bounds is all the way down the right and the 10th tee is very, very, close to the putting surface. And that green? It’s long but very narrow. Take your par and run.
So that’s Steve’s front nine. Take a moment to soak it all in, then head to the next page and see what’s in store as we head for home…