North American golfers who crave their first taste of authentic links golf typically set their sights on one of two places for their first trip: Scotland and Ireland.
These two nooks have a magical appeal to seekers of ancient links. Scotland is the birthplace of golf with a deep history and culture in the game around every corner from Dornoch to St. Andrews. Meanwhile, Ireland's combination of impressive seaside dunes and pub craic is legendary.
And yet, England holds its own with top-rated links and heathland courses along with scores of unsung courses put into the spotlight by golf course architects, golf architecture and history buffs. Perhaps the country's larger size and population does it a disservice in the tourism trade. Or maybe it's the expense of London or Londonite members keeping visitor fees higher or more exclusive at some clubs.
My first overseas trip for links golf was to Scotland, and it'd be tough to suggest to anyone to go elsewhere. But take one links golf trip and you'll be eager for many more. England makes a very compelling case for your next visit. Here are four trips to consider while watching The Open at Royal St. George's.
Prior to the 2010 Ryder Cup I visited Southwest England, a region also known as the "Atlantic Links" or "Cornwall." Optimistic locals claim this is the warmest and sunniest part of the isles and a tour here feels very much like a slower-paced holiday land. There isn't much in the form of major metropolises, instead just small coastal towns and villages. Getting from course-to-course requires drives through narrow roads cut through farmland and along the coast.
I found the variety of courses I sampled on a five-day tour to be very fulfilling. Saunton's East and West courses felt very much like "medal links" in the sense they were thoroughly and properly designed layouts that seemed like they could host just about any level of tournament tomorrow. Trevose, with its onsite hotel and view of a dramatic links and beach, exuded a relaxing and hospitable vibe. Then there are the charmers: St. Enodoc's Church Course is as pleasant of a links walk as I've ever taken with scenery and history and some truly eye-popping holes. And England's first golf course, Royal North Devon (Westward, Ho!) is a raw and old links that still shares its grounds with sheep. The two members I played with were a riot and a fine argument against any idea that English are somehow more stiff or proper than its neighbors, perhaps a byproduct of so many rounds jostling for position among its club's woolly legion.
Bottom line: If you don't need to play an Open Championship venue and would prefer a quiet and hospitable week in holiday country while playing a neat variety of layouts, you'll enjoy England's southwest.
I was standing steps behind Jordan Spieth when he put his hands on his head in disbelief as his tee shot sailed dead right on the 13th hole at Royal Birkdale in the final round of the 2017 Open. What seemed like infamy in real time would instead become one of the great turning points in major championship history. Spieth's remarkable final holes became the latest legend for a region of England full of championship lore.
Thanks to long summer days and loads of nearby courses I was able to play some golf around Royal Birkdale in between duties covering The Open. The "Links along the line" is among the most golf-rich corners on the planet. There are three Open hosts: Royal Birkdale, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham & St. Annes. But look deeper and there is a long roster of clubs with a rich history and reputable links ranging from West Lancashire to Hillside to Southport & Ainsdale to Formby and Formby Ladies Club. The Merseyrail train goes by many of them, if you're up to for rails-to-tee golf. Southport was a nice-sized coastal town with a pleasant main street full of pubs and dining. Or, groups who prefer the city can opt for Liverpool.
Bottom line: Southport rivals Scotland's East Lothian as featuring the deepest roster of reputable links in the isles and many of them have unique histories that add richness to the experience. Consider a trip here the next time The Open returns to witness history while your golf group can make some of your own memories nearby. (Royal Liverpool hosts in 2023).
London's Heathlands (Surrey County)
As much as North Americans covet 19th century links, anyone who has played GB&I heathland golf will agree these courses are stellar in their own right and very much worth experiencing. The greatest collection of heathlands anywhere is just west of London in Surrey County and its surrounds where an embarrassment of riches await. Sunningdale, Walton Heath, St. George's Hill, Wentworth and Woking are all storied inland clubs that are offer their own brand of elite, inland designs.
Bottom line: Heathland solitude combined with acclaimed course designs and the attractions of a bustling London nearby make for a somewhat contrarian itinerary compared to England's links.
Kent County, England
We combined Kent County and London in our World Top 100 Destinations on the assumption you're visiting for a week and have the time to do both. A reasonable train ride southeast from London, Kent has a trio of links along the coastal towns of Sandwich and Deal, all of which have Open Championship history but are all very different in ambiance and styles. Royal St. George's is a staple of the modern Open rota and regarded as a complex and quirky links. Some amateurs admit they prefer playing Royal Cinque Ports, which last hosted The Open in 1920. Rounding out the trio is Prince's, located next to St. George's and hosted The Open in 1932 won by Gene Sarazen. One other argument for English golf is the availabilty of dormy accommodations - small lodging above or next to these links' clubhouses. Royal St. George's and Prince's offer onsite dormy houses for overnight accommodation.
Want to stay longer? Then add the James Braid-designed Walmer & Kingsdown, or visit Rye Golf Club, a popular H.S. Colt par-68 design that has also earned Top 100 international honors, just about an hour's drive down the coast.
Bottom line: A trio of Open rota links within easy access of London make Kent particularly great for a 2- or 3-day add-on after London.