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Top 100s England

NCG Top 100s England: ‘We’re in a golden age for English courses’

NCG Top 100s founding editor and chairman Dan Murphy looks back on our second attempt at ranking England’s best courses

 

We’ve updated our rankings for the NCG Top 100 Golf Courses in England. Some thoughts…

The standard is rising

Just look at the calibre of the courses in the Next 25 – not to mention the others we considered. The hardest part of this job, if I can call it that, is not differentiating between one Royal and another at the sharp end of the list but agonising over those bunched together around the Top 100 threshold.

What’s clear from our list this year is that courses that are standing still are effectively falling backwards. In the Top 100 are several courses that have undergone anything from significant change to metamorphosis in recent years – and it’s always for the better.

Every place they climb is pushing the rest down the list. Add in all those making incremental gains and it’s a dangerous business to be standing still.

It’s so tight at the lower end

A glance at the marks will tell you there is little to choose between courses separated by 25 or 30 places, and often you are obliged to express a preference between, on the one hand, an impeccably presented modern parkland of 7,000 yards and a rugged old moorland that’s barely 5,000 yards and is 120 years old.

One might have several lakes, enormous bunkers and greens stimping at 11; the other perhaps one natural stream criss-crossing a couple of fairways, no sand bunkers at all and well-grassed greens.

Ultimately, most of us gravitate more towards one of those types of course than the other.

How to assess courses in mid-transition?

Golf courses are living breathing things, always changing. And that’s at the best of times, let alone while major work is taking place. It’s hard to know how to judge such a course at any given moment in time.

One such example is The Addington. It’s heart-warming to see Abercromby and Colt’s genius once more being revealed to the world thanks to the ongoing restoration. Equally, it will be a couple of years before it’s a finished project. We’ve tried to take a view of the direction of travel but we can only really judge on what we can see.

This is a golden age for English courses

When even as traditional a club as New Zealand is in the process of making significant changes, you know there is something in the air. Up and down the land, our finest clubs are recognising that even Rolls Royces need a tune-up and a polish from time to time. 

We are very lucky. For many years, little changed at Golden Age courses – that was kind of the point of them. They revelled in their museum-piece status. Now there is barely a club in the top 100 that hasn’t recently consulted with a notable architect. The results are there for all to see. It should also be said that our premier architects are invariably improving the courses they are working on, which is hugely to their credit. 

A toast to absent friends

A handful of courses asked not to be considered this time around, for various reasons. That’s fine with us – in that we only want to consider courses that are happy to be considered. Also, we write to all the shortlisted clubs at the start of the year to tell them what we are doing. We want to work in plain sight. 

We’d also like to produce the best possible Top 100 list. And that relies on all the contenders we identify being considered. So we’ll be inviting all those clubs to participate when we come to refresh our list in a couple of years and we hope they say yes next time.

And finally, it’s all about finding out something new

It’s a particular privilege to play the courses that are in the upper reaches of our Top 100. Realistically, though, we are not telling the discerning golfer a huge deal by nodding approvingly at, say, the bunkering at Lytham or the perfection of Sunningdale Old

What is most satisfying, and rewarding, is finding or reacquainting yourself with a course that is less widely appreciated. England is absolutely full of them. 

I will give you four examples of courses that I played in 2021 either for the first time or for the first time in a long time: Trevose, Seascale, Seaton Carew and Yelverton. 

All were a revelation in their own way – I loved playing them.

We guarantee you will have a great experience at every course on our list so I urge you to spread your horizons in 2022 a little beyond the usual suspects.

More from NCG Top 100 golf courses in England

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Tom Irwin

Tom Irwin

Tom is a lifetime golfer, now over 30 years playing the game. 2023 marks 10 years in golf publishing and he is still holding down a + handicap at Alwoodley in Leeds. He has played over 600 golf courses, and has been a member of at least four including his first love Louth, in Lincolnshire. Tom likes unbranded clothing, natural fibres, and pencil bags. Seacroft in Lincolnshire is where it starts and ends.

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