Extinct volcanoes, sweeping glaciers, Big Five sightings and moon landing myths — who said golf was boring? Here’s our guide to the very best golfing holidays, courses and places to visit over the next 12 months.

A view from 18th hole of Whistling Straits Golf Course on October 15, 2018 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
A view from 18th hole of Whistling Straits Golf Course © Gary Kellner / Contributor / Getty Images

Whistling Straits, Wisconsin, USA

Unbridled hedonism, unsporting behavior and flag-waving bordering on the ludicrous: the usual norms don’t apply during Ryder Cup week, and both the legends and reality of this biennial match-play are deeply woven into the international golfing community. In 2020, the Europe vs. USA head-to-head takes place at Whistling Straits, a Scottish-style links course overlooking Lake Michigan (25-27 September). While tickets in the lottery are sold out, there are plenty of packages available through the event’s partners — and the timing couldn’t be better. The World Cup of golf is many things — impossibly competitive and irresistibly addictive (even to non-golfers) — yet this time it may be best remembered for Lake Michigan’s fall colors and hanging autumn leaves. 

The Turnberry golf course lighthouse pictured in the distance behind rolling green hills
The Turnberry golf course lighthouse © Dale Kelly / Shutterstock

Dumbarnie Links, Fife, Scotland

By nature of Scotland’s design, with a coastline cut-up by rippling dunes and machair-topped ridges, there are enough courses for every day of the year. This is golf country, and the topography gives rise to impeccable big-hitters like The Old Course at St Andrews, Muirfield, Turnberry, Carnoustie and Royal Dornoch. The latest links course to add to the bucket list is Dumbarnie Links, 15 miles south of the home of golf, St Andrews, and opening in May. The 18 holes, mapped by former Ryder Cup player Clive Clark, sprawl along the Firth of Forth shoreline to eyeball Edinburgh and Scotland’s Golf Coast in East Lothian across the estuary to the south. The trick, this close to the ocean, is learning how to beat the unpredictable Scottish weather.

The tee shot on the par 5, 16th hole at the Westman Island Golf Club,
The 16th hole at at the Westman Island Golf Club © David Cannon / Contributor / Getty

Midnight sun golf, Iceland

A smoking volcanic cone breathes across the horizon. An Atlantic gale blows across a black sand beach and the occasional sheep runs for cover, watchful for whizzing balls. This is golf under the midnight sun in Iceland, a surreal sight for first-timers, yet where the game is played around-the-clock during the short season from May to September. Among the 65 courses, most of which are nine-holers, consider Akureyri Golf Club, where the Arctic Open tournament (24-27 June) fields four-balls up to 1am, or Westman Islands Golf Club, which ebbs and flows on a volcanic island reached by a ferry.

A genral view of the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Winged Foot Golf Club, the sun peeking through two trees
Winged Foot Golf Club © Mike Stobe / Stringer / Getty

Winged Foot Golf Club, New York, USA

If greens could talk ... Remember Phil Mickelson blowing hot and cold in 2016? Or Fuzzy Zoeller’s eight-stroke victory over Greg Norman in 1984? The 120th U.S. Open Championship (15-21 June) is returning to the treacherously-difficult Westchester course with giants of the game Tiger Woods, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy already in the line-up. Outside competition time, golfing in a place with this much history is an almost transcendental experience for amateurs: experiencing it in the rough is utterly different from seeing it on TV.

Image shot through the weeds of a woman post-swing
Royal St. George's © Stephen Pond / R&A / Contributor / Getty Images

Royal St George’s Golf Club, Kent, England 

Take a 90-minute trip east from London, then follow farm roads after Canterbury. Two miles on from Sandwich, the rolling fields surrender to wild flowers and wilder dunes, revealing the most famous 18-holer in southern England: Royal St George’s. By any measure, it’s a throwback to when players kept an appointment with the dawn and a drink in the members’ bar (note: jacket and tie still mandatory). With a handicap below 18, you’re welcome to play in the run-up to this summer’s Open Championship (12-19 July), the oldest golf tournament in the world, but you’ll have to be wary of the 470-yard, par-4 4th hole. Its bunker is the UK’s tallest and deepest, scything into a vast bank of tussocky dunes.

Scenic landscape with Moraine Lake and mountains of Canadian Rockies
Take a trip to Banff National Park after teeing up at Mickelson National © Daniele Molineris / Aurora Photos / Getty Images

Phil Mickelson courses, Canada, China and USA

US golf superstar Phil Mickelson, aka “Lefty,” cuts a divisive figure on the tour. He’s had plenty of high profile spats, most famously with Tiger Woods, and is known for often sneery off-course banter. What doesn’t split opinion is his ability to sink a ball and the impressive portfolio of courses to which he’s added his name. There are eight easy-on-the-eye Phil Mickelson Golf Properties scattered throughout his adopted state Arizona, but his latest venture is in Calgary, Alberta. Parked west of the city, Mickelson National opens this spring and is enhanced by vivid views of the Rockies, the mountains turning fairway green in summer, golf ball white in winter. To extend a trip, it’s hardly a tough sell to mention Banff National Park, Lake Louise and the Icefields Parkway an hour away. As for Lefty? He’s building a follow-up course in Shanghai.

A young male caucasian adult playing golf inside the Entabeni Game Reserve at sunset with a view over the Hanglip or Hanging Lip mountain peak
Golf inside the Entabeni Game Reserve © SL_Photography / Getty Images

Golf safaris in Limpopo, South Africa

Close shot: you’re standing in the bush, nervously keeping an eye out for a big cat amid the springboks. A wider cut reveals a well-groomed fairway, with kudu on one side and a giraffe poking its head onto the green in the distance. This is a standard tee-shot scene at the Legend Signature Golf Course in Limpopo province, the self-billed golf and safari capital of Africa, where vast and luscious African plains inhabited by the Big Five marry with some of the world’s most picturesque fairways. At Koro Creek Bushveld Golf Estate, to complement the golf, there are horse safaris into Lion King territory; at Elements Private Golf Reserve in the Waterberg there’s bird watching and game viewing straight from the tee. Hit a memorable three-iron at Hans Merensky Hotel and Spa and it may end up next door inside Kruger, South Africa’s largest national park.

Jeong-Eun6 Lee of South Korea hits out of a 16th fairway bunker during the final round of the World Ladies Championship
Lee Jeong-en will defend her US Women's Open title at Champion's Golf Club in 2020 © Matt Roberts / Stringer / Getty Images

Texas, USA

Occasionally, golfers end up in some pretty strange places. After leaving Houston behind nearly 50 years ago on 6 February 1971, golf enthusiast — and Apollo 14 Commander — Alan B. Shepard became the first person to hit a golf ball on the moon, shanking his first hit into a crater 40 yards away. Ever since, the Lone Star state has gone golf crazy and nowadays it’s home to more than 400 clubs. For out-of-this-world spectacle, there’s Bluejack National in Montgomery, Tiger Woods’ first signature U.S golf course; Whispering Pines in Trinity; and Dallas National, where Texan three-time major winner Justin Spieth is a member. But for diehards, there’s only one address in summer 2020: Houston’s Champions Golf Club, where, from 4-8 June, South Korean Lee Jeong-eun will attempt to defend her U.S. Women’s Open title.

The sun setting at Furnace Creek in Death Valley, California
Furnace Creek Golf Course © LizzieMaher / Getty

Death Valley, California, USA

Part unlivable desert, part lunar-like landscape, part unfathomable record-breaker, California’s Death Valley National Park  is wonderfully abstract at the best of times. The below-sea-level basin is the hottest, driest and lowest national park in the U.S, but it’s also the unlikely home of one of the world’s most challenging golf courses. The sun is never on holiday here, which makes the par-70 Furnace Creek Golf Course an intense, sweat-guaranteed workout, even when a bank of clouds rolls in. Playing golf where it feels as if hell has broken loose may seem crazy, but beyond the bucket-list brag it becomes the tipping point for other adventures. Namely, stargazing with zero light pollution, wildlife spotting for snakes, scorpions, coyotes and wolves and luxuriating at the newly-refurbished and quaintly-nostalgic Inn at Death Valley, where movie stars like Clark Gable and John Wayne once escaped Hollywood’s glare.

Sebastian Soderberg of Sweden plays a bunker shot on the fourteenth during Day Four of the Omega European Masters at Crans Montana Golf Club
Crans Montana Golf Club © Stuart Franklin / Staff / Getty Images

Winter golf, French and Swiss Alps

Amid the bluster of new golf resorts and once-in-a-generation tournaments each year, it’s worth remembering golf doesn’t always need grass. Snow golf, ice golf, winter golf — whatever you call it — is well-loved for a reason. Beyond the silver shock of mountains skirted by evergreens, the lungfuls of life-affirming glacial air, the apres-ski scene to rival any 19th hole clubhouse, there’s the unusual, slightly barmy, thrill of frozen fairways and frosted greens. It’s so popular nowadays, in fact, the annual Winter Golf Cup has grown to a four date event on the tour calendar, taking in the super-slick Alpine resorts of Courchevel, Megeve, Val d’Isere and Crans Montana. Other treats await, of course: how about some skiing?

Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter. Make sure you're ready for anything with travel insurance from our trusted partners.

This article was first published Nov 14, 2019 and updated Jan 28, 2020.

Explore related stories

adults, alps, aosta valley, dirt track, extreme sport, fitness, mountains, only adults, trail


6 long-distance bike itineraries in Europe that promise epic adventure

Apr 11, 2023 • 4 min read