Iconic Golf Courses
These days, there are world-class modern golf courses in most cities around the world. But if you’re looking for something special, skip the slickest new resorts, and head to some of the world’s oldest courses instead. There you’ll find hundreds of years worth of tradition, and some of the best-known layouts that still challenge even the most accomplished golfers.
The following 14 courses — including the oldest in the world, dating all the way back to 1552 — were built during the earliest days of the sport, which developed first in Scotland before spreading to the United Kingdom, United States and beyond. Tee up at one to combine first-rate play with a touch of history.
Augusta National Golf Club, United States - 1933
Augusta National Golf Club is known worldwide for its long history and role as host of the annual Masters Tournament. The course, which first opened for play in 1933, was built on a former nursery, and still includes many of the plants from its former life, as well as holes named after them (like Pink Dogwood, Magnolia and Juniper).
Since its debut, the course has consistently ranked as one of America’s best. But it is not without controversy — astoundingly, the course only opened its doors to African-American players in 1990, and women in 2012.
Since then, it’s taken on a somewhat more democratic approach, although it still sticks fiercely to its status as a private course. As such, Augusta is only open to members and their guests, and membership is by invitation only. Because of this, many settle for the next best option — watching their heroes tee off at the annual Masters event.
Pebble Beach Golf Links, United States - 1919
Pebble Beach Golf Links along the California coast, known by most golfers simply as Pebble Beach, is perhaps the best known course in the United States — and the number one public course in the country.
The course dates back to 1919, when it opened as part of a resort hotel designed by one of California’s “Big Four” railroad barons. From the start, this par-72, 6,737-yard course has been famed for its oceanside location. Even non-golfers relish the idea of struggling through the course’s tricky 18 holes to take in dizzying views from the tees, greens and fairways.
Understandably, a round on the world-famous links doesn’t come cheap — non-resort guests will have to fork up $525 (plus a $40 per person cart fee) for a round.
Pine Valley Golf Club, United States - 1913
Pine Valley may not be the oldest course in the United States, but it still dates back some 100 years, and consistently ranks as one of the best in the country.
Golf Digest calls it a “genuine original,” with a core design that’s changed little from its founding. Many claim the 440-yard, dog-legged starting hole is one of the best — and most challenging — in the world.
Pine Valley is also a scenic place to take in a round, and the recent clearing of some trees in strategic locations now allows for sweeping views of the landscape. Though securing a round at the course is difficult for outsiders, the course does open its doors to the public on the final Sunday in September for visitors to watch the final round of the annual Crump Cup.
Chicago Golf Club, United States - 1896
If you want to tee off at the oldest 18-hole golf course in North America, and take a walk through American golfing history, then head to Wheaton, Chicago. The 18-hole, 6,200-yard private Chicago Golf Club moved there in 1896, and served as one of the founding clubs of the United States Golf Association.
The course saw its last major reconfiguration in 1923, and has gone on to host a range of prestigious events. But in spite of the upgrades and renovations, it’s still famously difficult from the back tees. Many still make a pilgrimage here to experience golf as it was at the turn of the century in the United States.
Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, United States - 1891
Shinnecock Hills Golf Club is another classic American golf course from the turn of the century. It’s a links-style course located on Long Island, and claims to be the oldest organized golf club, with the oldest golf clubhouse, in the United States. After its 2018 hosting of the U.S. Open, it also became the only club to host the tournament in three centuries.
The course is consistently recognized as one of the best in the U.S., and has ranked in Golf Digest’s top 10 courses every year since 1987. It’s a course still loaded with tradition — guests can only visit alongside members, appropriate golf attire is required throughout the premises, and cellular phones are only allowed in vehicles or a special telephone room.
Muirfield Village Golf Club, Scotland - 1891
Not to be confused with the American course by the same name, Muirfield Village Golf Club in Scotland has its roots in the very beginnings of the sport.
Muirfield started out in 1744, and moved to its current home in 1891. This par-71 links course has earned a reputation as one full of challenges, and its traditional, memorabilia-packed clubhouse is among the world’s finest. The course has also hosted several important golfing championships, including 11 Amateur Championships and 16 Open Championships.
Muirfield consistently ranks in the world’s top 10 courses, and achieved a recent ranking of four in Golf Digest’s World’s 100 Greatest Courses list. This, combined with its palpable history, has earned it a place atop many golfers’ bucket lists.
Fortunately, it’s open to visitors — provided they’re willing to pay. The course welcomes outsiders on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and green fees start at around $320 USD for a single round.
Royal County Down Golf Club, Ireland - 1889
Northern Ireland’s Royal County Down Golf Club was founded back in 1889, and with its dune-land terrain, is both eye-catching and challenging. It’s set beneath the Mountains of Mourne — a setting so magical, it inspired C.S. Lewis to write "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" — and on a clear day, many laud it as one of golf’s most beautiful courses.
Royal County Down has played host to several championships over its long history, and visitors are welcome to play at select times throughout the week. Green fees for visitors start at $300 USD. Just note that the popularity of the course necessitates advanced bookings.
Tenby Golf Club, UK - 1888
Tenby Golf Club officially dates back to 1888, but there are accounts of local golf enthusiasts playing some form of golf amongst the dunes there as far back as 1875. Regardless of its actual founding date, Tenby is widely considered to be the birthplace of golf in Wales.
When the humble nine-hole course received an upgrade to the full 18 in 1907, it quickly became one of the must-play courses in the UK — a title it still holds to this day. It’s a classic links course with firm greens protected by tricky rough and pot bunkers. Those less concerned with their scores can simply relish the surrounding scenery and breathtaking sea views.
Visitors are welcome to book a round at Tenby, and with fees starting at under $40 USD, it’s an obvious inclusion on any historical golf course tour of the United Kingdom.
Royal Cape Golf Club, South Africa - 1885
Given Britain’s past conquests, it’s hardly surprising to find old golf courses dotted throughout its previous colonies. The Royal Cape Golf Club in Cape Town is the oldest golf club in the country, and quite possibly the continent. The club harks back to 1885, when Lt General Sir Henry Torrens declared the country was in need of a course and club. Less than 12 months later, the general teed off at the course’s first medal competition.
Royal Cape still stands as one the proud golfing country’s finest places to play. The course has been the breeding ground for many local legends, and although the layout changed in 1929, there’s still a sense of history throughout.
The club is open to visitors, and green fees start at under $30 USD per player.
Royal North Devon Golf Club, England - 1864
The Royal North Devon Golf Club is the oldest in England, with a founding date of 1864, and many consider it the St Andrews of the South. The links course layout and difficult wind conditions make this among the toughest in the country. This, together with its historical significance, has earned the course high placements in “must-play” lists around the world.
The natural layout of Royal North has changed very little over the last 100 years, and the honors boards in the clubhouse feature some of the country’s greatest golfers. Visitors are welcome at the club, and in spite of its illustrious history, green fees are still competitive — a peak-time weekend round of 18 holes costs around $100 USD, but member’s guest and off-peak rates are significantly cheaper.
Ratho Farm, Australia - 1822
If you find yourself Down Under and hankering for a round of golf at a historical course, head to the famous Ratho Farm. This 18-hole course takes its cues from Scotland’s famous courses, owing to its Scottish founders who immigrated there in 1822.
Ratho Farm is in many ways a golfing time capsule, with very little seemingly having changed since its early days. You’ll still find grazing sheep keeping the fairways in check, and fences to keep them off the greens.
Ratho Farm is open to visitors and remains competitively priced, with all profits going towards maintaining one of the southern hemisphere’s oldest and quirkiest courses.
Royal Aberdeen Golf Club, Scotland - 1780
The Royal Aberdeen Golf Club is the sixth oldest in the world, dating back to 1780, during the earliest days of the modern game. The course may have a long history, but it’s continued right through to the modern era, hosting several recent iterations of popular tournaments, including the 2005 Senior British Open, the 2011 Walker Cup and the 2014 Scottish Open.
Historical accolades and tournaments aside, the course at Royal Aberdeen Golf Club is incredible. It runs along Scotland’s North Sea shore, with a mixed layout over dune formations and plateaus that makes for challenging golf.
Visitors can play the course at select times throughout the week, and late afternoons on weekends, with peak summer green fees starting at around $300 USD per person per day.
Musselburgh Links, Scotland - 1672
At one point, the old course at Musselburgh held the Guinness World Record for being the oldest in the world (only for that to be reassigned to St Andrews). Records of play at the course date back as far as 1672, and according to some accounts, Mary, Queen of Scots played nearby in 1567. It’s also one of the original venues for the Open Championship, hosting the event on six occasions up until 1889.
This nine-hole course is open to the public throughout the year, and green fees are remarkably affordable — adults can play a round amid centuries of history for about $20 USD.
St. Andrews, Scotland - 1552
St. Andrews in Scotland is called “the home of golf” for a reason — the Old Course there, established in 1552, is considered the oldest in the world. It had a direct impact on how the game of golf is played today, most notably with its 18-holes approach.
Although today there are several courses that fall under the St. Andrews banner, including New Golf Club, St Andrews Golf Club, St Rules Golf Club and St Regulus Golf Club, playing a round at the Old Course is the holy grail for most of the world’s amateur and professional golfers.
Players looking to tick the Old Course off their list can book a tee time, though these sell out many months in advance. An alternative is to enter the Old Course Ballot, which is drawn 48 hours prior to play and allocated to those unable to make a booking.