While holidaymakers continue to flock, with good reason, to the golfing hubs in Spain and Portugal, there are several lesser-known destinations that should be on your bucket list.
Whether you travel to the sun-soaked shores of the Black Sea, to the spectacular Alpine setting in Central Europe, or the glacial fjords in golf mad Iceland, there are a host of golfing treasures just waiting for you to discover.
Blanketed in snow for much of the year, Iceland may not be the first-place golfers think of when planning a vacation, but boasting more golf courses per capita than any other country in the world, few nationalities can claim to embrace the sport with such gusto.
When the fairways open in May, after a winter of almost total darkness, over 20% of the Icelandic population dust off their clubs and make the most of the 24-hour sunlight. Built upon a hotbed of geothermal activity, the island also boasts some sensational golf courses, which combined with the dramatic landscape, makes it among the most unlikely and underrated golf destination on the planet.
Visitors should be sure to book a tee time at Keilir Golf Club, where players are required to thread their ball between lava fields on the front nine, only to find the back nine opens up to offer a fabulous close-up of the famous Snaefells Glacier. Originally opened in 1967, but remodelled two decades ago, the course is often considered the nation’s finest, and with its beautiful clubhouse providing panoramic views across the Atlantic Ocean would be worth a visit merely to enjoy a beer alone.
Wedged in an area of pristine beauty between the Alps and the Adriatic, in the very heart of Europe, Slovenia is still an up and coming golf destination, but with easy access to the rest of Europe, affordable prices and some stunning golf courses looks set to rise to the very top.
The country currently boasts thirteen courses, most of which are within an hour's drive of the capital Ljubljana, including Bled Golf Club, the oldest, and undoubtedly best course in the country.
A one-time host to the ‘’Bird Watching Ryder Cup,’’ the course carves its way through dense woodland and, despite being set in the foothills of the Slovenian Alps, is surprisingly flat, providing a welcome break from the hilly courses found across the border in nearby Austria. The challenging course, which requires supreme accuracy off the tee, is home to an abundance of wildlife and offers breathtaking views of the mountains on every hole.
No trip to Bled would be complete without a visit to the emerald-green lake from which the course takes its name. Stretching a mere 2km, the lake is famed for the picture-postcard church sat on an islet at its centre, the medieval castle on its banks, as well as the stunning Julian Alps which form its backdrop.
Dubai has emerged as one of the most exciting golf destinations on the planet in the past decade, with a selection of stunning courses and jaw-dropping off course attractions.
The quality of its golf courses, as well as the hospitality and quality assurance, have also allowed Dubai to become one of the golf’s most important destinations for championship golf. Home to LET flagship tournament, the Omega Dubai Ladies Classic; the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, a mainstay on the European Tour since 1989; and the dramatic culmination of the European Tour’s famous Race to Dubai, the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, it is a destination well-known and much loved amongst golfers worldwide.
Host to the 2010 Ryder Cup, Wales remains somewhat overlooked as a golf destination, with visitors to the British Isles all too often heading straight to the classic links of Scotland and Ireland.
Those who venture off the beaten track will be rewarded with some of the finest links in the United Kingdom, often for a fraction of the cost.
Head to the north of the country and visitors will find some outstanding courses, most of which lie next to or within close proximity to the medieval castles for which the county is synonymous. Among the finest is Royal St David’s, which sits in the shadow of Harlech Castle, and with the Ocean beyond, and Snowdonia mountain range in the distance, is bestowed one of the most majestic settings in the game.
Meanwhile Nefyn and District Golf Club, an hour further north, is not going to be voted the world’s most accessible golf course anytime soon, but with eight sensational holes that run along a narrow headland, the clifftop links is among the most spectacular courses in Britain. Golfers should be sure to take a break at the fifteenth to enjoy a quick pint at the Ty Coch Inn, a quaint beachside pub, only accessible by foot, that has been voted among the top ten beach bars in the world.
Black Sea Coast, Bulgaria
Long heralded as the place to travel for affordable winter holidays, Bulgaria has begun to emerge as Eastern Europe’s next big golf travel destination. Golf may still be in its infancy here, but a cluster of world class resorts on the Black Sea coast have placed the country firmly on the golfing map.
The Gary Player designed Thracian Cliffs, opened in 2011, is among the most talked about courses in Europe. Set upon the clifftops of Bulgaria’s Black Sea Coast, the course affords the golfer ocean views on every hole and has been described by its legendary South African designer as ‘twice as good as Pebble Beach’.
The nearby BlackSeaRama and Lighthouse Golf Resort, also boast outstanding clifftop views, and are both fantastic designs, with the latter voted the best new golf course in the world for 2009 by Golf Inc. magazine.
Situated on the Bulgarian Riviera, a beautiful 400km of sensational coastline which is home to some of the best beaches in Eastern Europe, the three courses are all located within close proximity to the ancient town of Varna, which has long drawn visitors for its extensive roman baths.
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