The Oldest Golf Courses in the World

St Andrews links course in Scotland is the oldest in the world
St Andrews links course in Scotland is the oldest in the world | © FotoHelin / Alamy Stock Photo
Golf is one of the premier events in the annual sporting calendar and its championships are still held at some of the historic golf courses around the world. The game was invented in Scotland, so you won’t be surprised to discover that most of them are found there. We’ve picked several of the oldest that are still the best.

The origins of golf are unclear, but an early version of the game was discovered in Scotland in the 15th century. The earliest version of the game involved players – young Scottish gentlemen – hitting small stones with clubs over sand dunes and around tracks. It quickly gained popularity among the Scottish youth, whose enthusiasm for the sport led them to neglect their obligations, including compulsory military training for males over the age of 12. In 1457, James II, king of Scotland, banned the sport as his country prepared to defend itself against another invasion by the English. Golf’s popularity, however, continued to grow, until the ban was finally lifted in 1502 by King James IV, who took an interest in the sport and made it available to the public. Since then, golf has become one of the premier sports in the world and its historic golf courses continue to attract hundreds of visitors every year.

St Andrews Links

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Known as the ‘home of golf’, the Old Golf Course in St Andrews is the oldest in the world. Established in 1552, it is situated in St Andrews, a seaside city – just two hours’ drive from Edinburgh – dating back to the sixth century and home to the oldest university in Scotland. The club offers seven courses, including the Old Course, which has bunkers and humps along its 18-hole layout and continues to attract golf enthusiasts and expert players from all over the world. Besides the top-rated 7,305yd (6,680m) terrain, you’ll also find a golf academy, three clubhouses and four shops selling clothing, equipment and gifts.

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Elie and Earlsferry

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Elie and Earlsferry is a coastal town 12 miles (19km) south of St Andrews that’s home to Ellie Harbour beach, a mile-long Blue Flag stretch with soft sand that is popular with families, beach lovers, and watersports enthusiasts. Elie golf course, opened in 1589, is in a spectacular location overlooking the ocean; the 18-hole course is open to players all year round, and the current layout dates back to 1895. The on-site golf club was established the same year and shares the course with other clubs, including the Earlsferry Thistle Golf Club, also formed in the 19th century.

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Musselburgh Old Course

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The first evidence of golf being played at Musselburgh Old Course dates back to 1672, but the course claims that Mary Queen of Scots played here in 1567. The course is situated in East Lothian, a historic county less than a 30-minute drive from Edinburgh. The council land is one of 32 areas that were established in the Middle Ages and is surrounded by rolling countryside and a 40mi (64km) coastline. Musselburgh Old Course, a nine-hole, par 34 course, is a former Open Championship venue that hosted six events between 1874 and 1889. The historic course has been well preserved and remains largely untouched, but golfers should pay attention to hidden bunkers.
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Fortrose

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Enjoy breathtaking views as you play a game at Fortrose, a historic town that’s famous for its golf course as well as the 13th-century cathedral. Located on the narrow Chanonry Peninsula, just under four hours’ from Edinburgh, Fortrose is an 18-hole course; established in 1702, it was once a six-hole course but was extended in 1924. The 5,881yd (5,378m) course offers panoramic views of the ocean and mountains. The golf club dates back to 1889, and in 2019 won Golf Club of the Year for Scotland by the Luxury Travel Guide Lifestyle Awards 2019. In the past 10 years it has hosted multiple National Championships on behalf of Scottish golf.

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Kinghorn Golf Course

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Founded in 1887, this traditional golf course is located in Kinghorn, a seaside resort in Fife, Scotland. The former royal burgh is where Alexander III of Scotland died in 1286 when he was accidentally thrown off a cliff while riding his horse. Today, the town attracts visitors who come to play at Kinghorn golf course and lounge on the small sandy beach, surrounded by white and brown stone houses.The 18-hole, 4,724yd (4,320m) course provides stunning views of Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth, an estuary of several Scottish rivers. Though the golf course only had a nine-hole layout when it was first established, additional holes were added in 1947. A new clubhouse was opened in 2009 by Scottish Open champion Paul Lawrie.

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Royal North Devon

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Often called the St Andrews of the South, Royal North Devon is the oldest golf course in England. Near the small town of Northam, between Barnstaple Bay and the river Torridge, the 18-hole course was founded in 1864 and inaugurated by Queen Victoria three years later. The 7,044yd (6,441m) terrain has a flat appearance, but as you get closer to the spacious green course, you’ll spot towering dunes that can be found throughout.

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Foxburg Country Club

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Established in 1867, Foxburg Country Club is the oldest golf course in the US. Situated in Foxburg, Pennsylvania, the course was designed by Joseph Mickle Fox, a descendant of an affluent family in Philadelphia, after his frequent visits to Scotland. The nine-hole course is surrounded by a large forest and is set on a hill above Allegheny River, which runs between western Pennsylvania and New York. The 64-acre (26 ha) area is also home to the American Hall of Fame, a two-floor museum that exhibits historic artefacts from the beginnings of golf through to the current era.

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These recommendations were updated on June 15, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.