For 99% of prospective visitors from North America, a trip overseas probably means one thing: links golf.
And for good reason. The "usual suspects" are incredible. Even some of the lesser-known links are gems, too.
But if you want to be a real rebel while still having an incredible golf trip across the Atlantic, you could avoid links courses altogether.
Yes, I know that sounds crazy, but it's not. You don't hear much about them, but there are several non-links courses that are incredible in their own right and totally worthy of your consideration.
I'm talking about the British heathlands, perhaps the most underrated golf region in the world.
Heathland golf: the Northern Hemisphere's Sandbelt
What makes heathland golf courses so special?
Perhaps the biggest factor is the one it shares in common with all links courses: sand.
Some links courses actually don't have much in the way of formal bunkers, but what makes the turf so firm and fast, even on wet days, is the sandy soil, through which water drains extremely quickly and easily. Likewise, heathland courses are set on sandy soil and tend to be much firmer and faster than other inland golf courses. While there's no ocean to gawk at during your round, the more inland setting tends to make for more rolling and rumpled terrain, whereas some links can be a little flat.
Given the ready availability of sand on-site, many heathland courses are known for their bunkering, which at some clubs is as bold as you will find anywhere in the world.
Like their links cousins, the best heathland courses are decades - usually more than a century - old, and as a result are absolute joys to walk. These courses transport golfers through ancient forest, over patches of purple heather (a unique hazard if you've never hit your ball into some before), past rock outcroppings and sometimes past stately English estates.
Like the great links, many of the best heathland courses belong to "private" clubs, but just as at those great seaside courses, visitors are far more welcome here than they would be at private clubs in the U.S. You may have to have your home club pro to arrange your round at a couple of these courses, but the experience will be well worth it.
Stately clubhouses, sumptuous sit-down lunches (jacket and tie sometimes required; be sure to inquire with each club before visiting) and a traditional vibe reigns at these clubs, turning them into great golf experiences - not just great courses.
But in the end, the courses are most important. And for a relatively limited geographical region, they punch well above their weight.
South of London, in the county of Surrey, lie more than a dozen excellent heathland golf courses, the vast majority of them accessible to visitors on certain days of the week.
If you're a keen golf fan, you probably noticed an omission from the list above: Wentworth Golf Club. It's come under private ownership in recent years, and no longer takes any non-member play. While the East Course remains a charming heathland layout, the West Course, which hosts the European Tour's BMW Championship, has been largely Americanized in recent years. Even if you could get on Wentworth, you will find more authentic heathland golf experiences elsewhere.
Finally, another mark in favor of this micro-region of incredible golf is pure geography. All of these golf courses are in relatively close proximity not just to each other, but to London. Heathrow Airport is one of the world's most accessible, and it's less than ten miles from Sunningdale and other heathland courses.
All in all, though I would never actively encourage people away from the great links of Scotland, England and Ireland, I also don't think an education in golf courses is complete without a healthy dose of heathland golf. Take that as you will.