You’re probably familiar with all of the courses of the Open Championship rota by now.
You know the ones: The Old Course, Carnoustie, Royal St. George’s, yadda yadda yadda, not to mention jolly old Royal Birkdale, which hosts the Open this week.
But what about the “best of the rest?”
In this case, many of "the rest" are better than the Open venues themselves.
These links courses in the Isles will never host an Open, but they are "must-play" courses for your next UK golf trip.
We’re going to limit this list to bona fide links courses because there are so many great courses in the U.K. That includes England’s incredible heathland courses, which we covered here.
Royal County Down Golf Club
The Open’s 2019 return to another Northern Irish gem, Royal Portrush, makes us feel particularly good about mentioning Royal County Down, which may be the world’s greatest links. Spectacular scenery, a wild dunescape and a consistent, engaging, fun challenge makes County Down one of our favorite places to play golf anywhere. The long par-4 ninth, with views of both mountains and sea, is worth the greens fee alone.
Royal Dornoch Golf Club
Few golf courses can claim direct influence on two of history’s greatest all-time golf course designers, but Royal Dornoch can. Donald Ross grew up playing the course and Pete Dye’s pilgrimage to Dornoch early in his career proved critically influential. If that isn’t enough to convince you to go, consider the course’s tremendous seaside setting.
Kingsbarns Golf Links
Situated as it is in the middle of the Kingdom of Fife, Scotland, this Kyle Phillips-designed modern links is a must-play course for anyone visiting the area. Even more so than the polarizing Castle Course at St. Andrews, Kingsbarns is a beloved modern course that serves as a wonderful complement to all the ancient links tracks nearby. Half a dozen holes border the North Sea, highlighted by the cliff-hanging par-3 15th.
Rye Golf Club
Rye is one of the most historic courses in the U.K. outside the Open rota, which it will never join, although it has hosted Open qualifying many times in the past. In particular, it is a haven of alternate-shot play. The course is a par-68 layout, but don’t let that fool you into thinking the course is easy. It’s a great challenge, sleeper-lined bunkers and all.
Cruden Bay Golf Club
A ways north and east of Aberdeen lies Cruden Bay, a Tom Morris/Archie Simpson design that dates back to 1899. The original 5,300 yard course has grown to just shy of 6,300 yards, which makes it far too short to host an Open Championship but plenty long enough to delight any visitor.
Royal Aberdeen Golf Club
The European Tour (especially winner Justin Rose) loved Royal Aberdeen (pictured at the top of this article), which has hosted the Scottish Open and was the site of the 2005 Senior Open Championship, won by Tom Watson. It features one of the golf world’s best and toughest front nines, and the inward half is no slouch, either.
Royal West Norfolk Golf Club
Royal West Norfolk, also known as Brancaster, features a unique entrance road in the world of golf. The long-ranging tides on the nearby beach have been known to inundate cars traversing the road at the wrong time of day, and golf balls can suffer similar fates on a number of holes.
North Berwick West Links
One of the world’s most fun and quirkiest courses, North Berwick is something of a pilgrimage site for golf course architecture buffs in particular, but everyone gets a kick out of the course that is known as the birthplace of the Redan hole (the 15th), with its banked green and fearsome flanking hazards.
What are your nominations for the top courses in the British Isles that have yet to host an Open Championship? We know we left some great candidates out; help us round out the list in the comments!