Top 25 bucket-list golf destinations, from St. Andrews to Cabot Links

If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: The top three bucket-list golf courses for any avid golfer should be the Old Course at St. Andrews, Pebble Beach and Augusta National.

The reason is simply this: They are the most recognizable courses in the world, we know all 54 holes, and they have been the stage for many of golf's greatest moments.

Two of them you can actually play, so I had to lead my list with St. Andrews and Pebble Beach. What comes after those two is certainly debatable -- especially the order -- because bucket lists are different for everyone. But here's mine. Feel free to comment below.

1. St. Andrews, Scotland

This was automatic. The birthplace of golf and home of the Royal & Ancient has to be the top bucket list destination for any avid golfer. There's so much more, though, besides the Old Course. There are six other courses in the St. Andrews Links Trust (including the not-so-new New Course and newest, the Castle Course), plus Carnoustie and Kingsbarns are just down the road. Additionally, the town of St. Andrews with its famous attractions such as St. Andrews Cathedral, The British Golf Museum, Dunvegan Hotel and Old Course Hotel is magical, to say the least.

2. Pebble Beach, California

Simply put, there's nothing like Pebble Beach and its iconic coastline. Not only has Pebble Beach Golf Links played host to five U.S. Opens as well as the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on the PGA Tour and numerous other important championships, but the other courses at the resort aren't too shabby either. If not for Pebble Beach Golf Links, Spyglass Hill, for example, would probably be a top-10 course, and there's nothing like having a beer and a brat with sauerkraut in the famous Tap Room at the Lodge. Pebble Beach Golf Links is the only place in the world where I don't mind a six-hour round.

3. Cape Kidnappers, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

Tom Doak used fingers of land to create Cape Kidnappers on New Zealand's North Island.

If a journey to Middle Earth wasn't enough, Tom Doak's Cape Kidnappers stands out as one of the planet's most stunning golf experiences. Opened in 2004, the course plays high above the ocean atop dramatic cliffs, built on a ridge-and-valley landscape that Doak says would have been a national park had it not been a golf course. The accompanying Farm at Cape Kidnappers is among the nicest hotels in the world.

4. Bandon Dunes Resort, Brandon Oregon

Bandon Dunes, quite simply, is the spot for serious golfers in the United States. It started with the original David McLay Kidd design in 1999, followed by Tom Doak's highly-touted Pacific Dunes. Now there are five courses total, including one of the best par 3s in America, all walking with no homes and views of the Oregon coastline that rival most anything offered in Ireland or Scotland.

5. The Melbourne Sandbelt, Victoria, Australia

Some of the world's best golf courses are located in the sandbelt region of Melbourne, including Victoria Golf Club, Metropolitan Golf Club, Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath Golf Club (many influenced by Alister MacKenzie). These clubs are technically private, but you can get on them with a little effort. Plus, we're talking Australia, for Pete's sake, which makes it a bucket-list choice even without the golf.

6. Whistling Straits, Kohler, Wisconsin

There are two Pete Dye courses at Whistling Straits -– the Straits Course, a three-time host of the PGA Championship, and the Irish Course. Both were basically created out of nothing by moving an unfathomable amount of dirt, resulting in a spectacular wind-swept Irish links look right on Lake Michigan. As a bonus, there are two more excellent Pete Dye designs at the American Club as well. Among them is the River Course at Blackwolf Run, giving this historic resort three courses in America's top 100.

7. Fancourt Resort, South Africa

There are three courses at Fancourt Resort, but the Links Course is the one that hosted the 2003 Presidents Cup. Designed by Gary Player and Phil Jacobs from a dead-flat airfield, more than 760,000 cubic yards of earth were moved to create a linksy looking golf course that's kept in impeccable condition. The best part is that this mega resort, owned by SAP's Hasso Plattner, is along the Garden Route of South Africa, certainly one of the most exotic locations on earth. It goes without saying that safaris are a must with any trip to South Africa.

8. Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Like Melbourne, Sydney Australia features several top private clubs that foreigners can access. New South Wales Golf Club is very scenic and right on the coast, and The Australian is the oldest golf course in the country. Royal Sidney rounds out the list of some of Australia's best and most historic clubs.

9. Southwest Ireland

Ballybunion Golf Club anchors one of the most popular golf tours -- southwest Ireland.

When they asked five-time British Open champion Tom Watson what he thought of 36-hole seaside Ballybunion (Old Course and Cashen), this was his response: "After playing Ballybunion for the first time, you might think the game of golf originated here." Indeed, Ballybunion is synonymous with golf in Ireland, and its location puts you within short driving distance of some Ireland's other great layouts such as Lahinch, Waterville, Tralee and Old Head, just to name a few.

10. Pinehurst Resort, Pinehurst, N.C.

When you think classic American golf, Pinehurst is at the head of the class, including the famed No. 2 Course, the three-time U.S. Open course designed by Donald Ross and recently restored by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. And there's also the new Cradle, a spectacular 789-yard par-3 course designed by Gil Hanse that has the place abuzz. In all there are now 10 golf courses at Pinehurst, designed by some of the game's best, including Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones, and Ellis Maples. Better yet, the accommodations and dining are as legendary as the golf.

11. South Ayrshire, Scotland

There are a number of Scottish clubs and resorts you could put on your bucket list, but I'm choosing Royal Troon because of its eight-time British Open pedigree, iconic holes (including the Postage Stamp on the Old Course). The second course, the Portland Course, by the way, was designed by MacKenzie. Nearby Prestwick was the original home of The Open, and Turnberry Resort is also just down the road.

12. Dominican Republic

This small island has some of the best golf you'll play anywhere in the world. Start with Casa de Campo, home of Pete Dye's famous Teeth of the Dog Course, regarded universally as the best course in the Caribbean, then head over to nearby Punta Cana, which has 12 courses and counting, including spectacular layouts by Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, P.B. Dye and Tom Fazio.

FROM $307 (USD)
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC | Enjoy 4 nights' accommodations at Casa de Campo Resort & Villas and 3 rounds of golf at Casa de Campo - Teeth of The Dog, Dye Fore & The Links Courses.

13. Northern Ireland

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Round Trip Feature: Northern Ireland

Originally crafted by old Tom Morris in 1889, Royal County Down is one of the oldest golf clubs in Ireland and one its most revered. There are two 18-hole links courses -- the Championship Course (often ranked among the top five courses outside the U.S.) and the Annesley Links.

14. Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, Jasper, Canada

No. 3 is a long par 4 named "Signal Dip" at Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course.

I picked Jasper Park over Canada's Banff Springs because simply, I like the golf course better. Like Banff, Jasper Park was designed Canadian architect Stanley Thompson, and Jasper Park might be his defining masterpiece. Add in the Fairmont for accommodations and you've got an unforgettable experience.

15. Kapalua Resort, Maui, Hawaii

In general, Hawaii is a bucket-list destination for golfers, but if I had to narrow it down to one specific location, it would be Kapalua Resort. The Coore/Crenshaw-designed Plantation Course offers ocean views from elevated tees like no other, plus it's a blast to play. The other course at Kapalua, the Bay Course, doesn't exactly lack in the scenery department either. Stay at the Ritz-Carlton to round out the experience.

16. Kiawah Island, South Carolina

Site of the famous "War by the Shore" Ryder Cup of 1991, Pete Dye's Ocean Course is one of the most difficult and most scenic in America. One of five courses at the Kiawah Island Golf Resort, the course has 10 holes right along the Atlantic, the most of any course on the East Coast.

17. Royal St. George, Sandwich, Kent, England

That this was the setting for Ian Fleming's fictional golf match between James Bond and Goldfinger is reason enough to put Royal St. Georges on your bucket list. The course, designed by William Laidlaw Purves in 1887, is situated on the same stretch of coastline as Royal Cinque Ports Club and neighboring Prince's Golf Club, both former Open Championship venues as well.

18. Valderrama, Andalucía, Spain

Not far from the Rock of Gibraltar is Valderrama Golf Club, host of the 1997 Ryder Cup Matches. It was the first time the matches were held on continental Europe, and the course put the Andalucia part of Spain on the worldwide golfing map. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., this once daily-fee parkland facility was bought and greatly enhanced by late Spanish golf legend Jaime Ortiz-Patino. It's private, but public tee times are offered for a couple of hours a day and quite expensive. Expect to pay around $500 to play it.

19. Streamsong Resort, Florida

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Golf Advisor Round Trip Feature: Streamsong Resort

This one may be somewhat surprising, but already I think young Streamsong, with its Red Course and Blue Course and now the new and separate Black Course (it also has a its own clubhouse, practice holes and putting course) is a bucket-list destination. There's nothing like it in Florida, and its natural links look built on the sand dunes of an old phosphate mine between Tampa and Orlando draw favorable comparisons to Bandon Dunes. With four of the best architects in the game -- Doak, Crenshaw, Coore and Gil Hanse -- the resort (which also offers fishing, shooting, great dining and terrific accommodations) already has quite a pedigree.

20. Fairmont Banff Springs, Banff, Alberta, Canada

Located in the heart of Canada's Rocky Mountains, this Stanley Thompson gem offers breathtaking views in every direction, frequent moose sightings (as does Jasper Park) and holes that are actually designed as optical illusions because of the immensity of the mountains. The original 18-hole Banff Springs golf course was designed in 1928 along the Bow River. An additional nine holes were added In 1989.

21. Wales

Site of the only Ryder Cup matches played in Wales, Celtic Manor has three courses, including the Twenty Ten Course, the first layout ever specifically designed for a Ryder Cup. At nearly 7,500 yards long, the Twenty Ten is anything but traditional, and it takes advantage of the valley and hillsides outside of Cardiff. With rates starting as low as around $160, it's also very affordable and you'll love the resort. Bucket-list links golf is also just a chip shot away at Royal Porthcawl, plus Pennard, Southerndown and other great, quirky links.

22. Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

There are many spectacular golf resorts in Mexico, but Cabo San Lucas on the Baja Peninsula may have the best overall collection in the country. There are dozens of courses in the area, many of them overlooking the sea of Cortez, plus Cabo, simply put, is a lot of fun. Highlights include Davis Love III's Dunes Course at Diamante, a linksy layout right on the ocean, as well as Tiger Woods' El Cardonal, inspired by the southern California courses he grew up playing.

23. TPC Sawgrass, Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

As the home of the so-called fifth major, The Players Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass is one of the most recognizable courses in golf and has perhaps the most famous par 3 in the world, the iconic, island-green 17th. It also has one of the most magnificent clubhouses in the world (at 77,000 square feet), and another Pete Dye course (the Valley Course), which hosts a Tour event. Stay at the Sawgrass Marriott to complete the experience.

FROM $487 (USD)
JACKSONVILLE, FL | Enjoy 2 nights' accommodations at Sawgrass Marriott Golf Resort & Spa and 2 rounds of golf at TPC Sawgrass - PLAYERS Stadium & Dye's Valley Courses.

24. Bethpage State Park, Farmington, New York

I've compared the check-in process at Bethpage to a DMV experience, but there's no denying that this is one of the finest collection of golf courses in the entire world. With five altogether, including the difficult U.S. Open Black Course, this is classic municipal golf through and through.

25. Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada

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A Trio of spectacular courses on Canada's Cape Breton Island

There isn't much in the way of true links golf in North America (most of it is located at Bandon Dunes), so Cabot Links stands out for that reason, plus its setting. With this well appointed resort located along the shoreline of Cape Breton, the Rod Whitman-designed Cabot Links doesn't lack in the shot value or scenery department. The newest course, Cabot Cliffs, a Coore-Crenshaw design on an even more dramatic piece of property, is making waves in Top 100 lists. The icing on the cake here is proximity to one of Golden Era architect Stanley Thompson's best national parks courses, Highlands Links. It makes for a striking contrast of modern links and historic parkland golf, all of which is gorgeous and walkable.

49 Min Read
Oh, the places you can go in pursuit of all the pleasures golf has to offer.

Mike Bailey is a former Golf Advisor senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. He has also been on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.

Trying to design a 100 day trip around the world and play 75 different courses. Thoughts?

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Just to keep you up-to-date only 9 golf clubs in Punta Cana -La Cana (27 holes) Corales (18 holes)Punta Espada (18 holes)Caribbean Golf Course (18+9 hole course)Cocotal (27 holes)The Lakes (18 holes)Punta Blanca (18 holes)Iberostar Bavaro (18 holes)Hard Rock at Cana Bay (18 holes)

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Top 25 bucket-list golf destinations, from St. Andrews to Cabot Links