Where to Play the Best Golf Links in the World

By Ryan Watson

Links golf represents golf at its purest, as the game of golf was first invented on Scottish ‘linksland’. Linksland is the name for the land directly off the coast, full of tall grasses and sandy dunes. Because of this, golf links are characterized by the use of natural dunes, undulating fairways, sandy soil, and a complete or near-complete lack of trees. The result are very fast golf courses that lack gimmicks and require strategic, accurate play. While links courses began in Scotland, they have since spread throughout the world, though the majority of the world’s greatest links courses remain on the British Isles. They are perhaps best known through the Open Championship, a majot that plays exclusively on links courses. The following is our list of the world’s best links courses.

Pacific Dunes

57744 Round Lake Rd,
Bandon, OR 97411

The Tom Doak masterpiece is the only North American course on the list, located in the golfing paradise of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort. Pacific Dunes uses the natural topography to create a course that feels like every inch of routing serves a purpose. The wind comes into play often and golfers must use a variety of shots to keep their scores low. The layout is unique, with 4 par-3s on the back 9, but with amazing ocean views this quirk can be forgiven. The course is also noted for the variety that Doak has added within what may seem at first glance to be a traditional links course. The variety of long, short, open, and closed holes combined with elevation changes and the crashing Pacific in the background make this one the best courses in America. Period.

Royal Dornoch Golf Club

Royal Dornoch Club Golf, Golf Rd.
Dornoch IV25 3LW, Scotland, United Kingdom

One of Scotland’s natural links treasures, Royal Dornoch has sometimes been overlooked for its remote location. Records of golf in Dornoch date to 1616, though the current layout was laid first by Old Tom Morris in the late 19th century, before being updated by John H. Taylor and George Warren. The course is well known for its domed greens that have challenged golfers for over a century. The course has earned the praise of Tom Watson, an honorary member, who counted the course as one of his favorites. The views of the surrounding countryside provide a sublime backdrop and the course is often less busy than the courses on this list, making it easy to get lost in this former Open Championship host.

Barnbougle Dunes

425 Waterhouse Road
Bridport, TAS, Australia 7262

Barnbougle Dunes is the premier links course in Australia, located on the southern Island of Tasmania right off the mainland. The course is relatively new, only opening in 2005 after its design by Tom Doak and Mike Clayton. The course is surrounded by large natural sand dunes that provide a stern test for golfers. The real genius of this design is how well the layout hugs the natural landscape, shaped by the natural rolling topography and sandy terrain. It is the kind of course that golf purists will absolutely love as it relies purely on skill, not gimmicks, to create a linksland masterpiece.

Trump Turnberry Golf Course

Turnberry Ayrshire KA26 9LT
Scotland, United Kingdom

Turnberry is the most recently added course to the Open Championship rotation, hosting its first tournament in 1971. Despite this, Turnberry was built in 1902 in South Ayrshire, Scotland. However it was repurposed as an airbase during both World War I and II. The Alisa Course was fully restored in the 1950s and quickly earned a stellar reputation. Turnberry would go on to host the Amateur Championship, Women’s Open Championship and Walker Cup. It has hosted the Open Championship 4 times and has witnessed wins from Nick Price, Greg Norman and Tom Watson.

Royal County Down Golf Club's Championship Course

36 Golf Links Rd, Newcastle BT33 0AN,
Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

Nestled on the Northern Irish coast and framed by the Mountains of Mourne, Royal County Down’s Championship Course is one of the world’s most scenic links courses. The course is over 130 years old and has been listed as the world’s best course as recently as 2018 by Golf Digest magazine. The course was originally designed by Old Tom Morris, and would later be modified by Harry Vardon and Harry Colt. The course is one of the most challenging on the list and any golfer will likely feel both wonder and frustration while playing, just as the game’s inventors no doubt intended.

Old Course at Ballybunion Golf Club

Sandhill Rd, Ballybunion,
Co. Kerry, Ireland

The Old Course at Ballybunion Golf Club is widely considered the best course in the Republic of Ireland. This is in no small part because the course is sitting on Ireland’s biggest sand dunes. The course was constructed in 1893 and has become widely known for the difficulty of the layout, especially with the variable winds blowing up from the Irish Sea. The course was given an update in 2015 to change the greens from poa annua to fescue, meaning golfers can expect even more challenge with the harder, faster greens.

Royal Portrush Golf Club

Dunluce Rd, Portrush BT56 8JQ,
Scotland, United Kingdom

Northern Ireland’s Royal Portrush Golf Club became the first non-British course to host the Open Championship in 1951. However, the course dates back to 1888 and features a more undulating course than many other links courses. Currently, Royal Portrush Golf Club has only hosted the 1951 tournament, won by Englishman Max Faulkner. The course will host its 2nd Open Championship next year in 2019.

Carnoustie Golf Links

Links House, Links Parade
Carnoustie DD7 7JE, Scotland, United Kingdom

The 2018 Open Championship host Carnoustie Golf Links has roots dating back to the 16th century, with the course eventually coming into the public’s hands in the 1800s. The modern course was first conceived as a 10-hole course designed by Allan Robertson with help from legendary golfer and course designer Old Tom Morris. This layout has been maintained with minor tweaks, and is widely considered the most difficult course to host the Open Championship, which it has hosted 8 times. Players can drive onto the same fairways that have seen wins from the legendary Ben Hogan and Tom Watson.


Duncur Rd, Muirfield, Gullane,
East Lothian, Scotland EH31 2EG, United Kingdom

Muirfield is home to the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, founded in 1744. This Golf Club originally played on a public course but decided to build the private Muirfield in 1891. The course was designed by the prolific Old Tom Morris and is unusual in its layout, featuring each half of the course designed as a loop. Until this point, links courses had traditionally been played in a linear out and back fashion, with a front 9 heading one direction and the back 9 returning in the opposite direction. The course has hosted the Open Championship 16 times between 1892 and 2013, seeing wins from Phil Mickelson, Lee Trevino and Harry Vardon.

Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews

KY16 9JD,St Andrews
Scotland, United Kingdom

Largely considered to be the oldest golf course in the world, St Andrews is the spiritual home of golf. Golf has been played in this area of Scotland since the early 15th century, and the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews remains the most prestigious golf club in the world. It is also the course that set the standard for 18-hole courses, as prior to the late 1800s course could have anywhere from 12-22 holes. St Andrews has hosted the Open Championship a record 29 times, and is the definition of links golf. A must-play for any golfer.

About the Author

Ryan Watson is a freelance sportswriter and history professor. He has been an avid fan of golf since his father signed him up for golf camp as a young child. Ryan enjoys following the professional game and learning about new equipment and gadgets.