Golf is a game that is variously considered a pastime, recreation, sport, profession, religion or an obsession. The apparent object is to knock a small hard ball into a designated hole, using only a minimum number of blows of a stick or club, while avoiding the hazards of the terrain such as vegetation, water, soft ground and loose sand. While this may appear frustrating to some, the pleasure that so many people do derive from working out their frustrations in the course of this game means that golf and visiting the golf courses where the game is played is a significant reason for travel.
Golf originated at St Andrews, in Scotland. Because of this, Scotland, and in particular the Old Course at St Andrews, is considered the traditional home of Golf, and the standard to which all other Golf Courses are compared.
Golf spread throughout the British Isles, and by 1829, beyond them with the establishment of the "Royal Calcutta Golf Club" in India. By the end of the 19th Centuary, Clubs in Ireland, The United States of America, and Wales had come together to organise the sport at their respective national levels. Scotland and England followed after the First World War. Golf has two global Governing Bodies, the "R&A" at St Andrew's, Scotland and the "United States Golf Association" which work closely in partnership, for example in agreeing to changes to the "Rules of Golf". This joint approach helps to ensure that golf has not suffered the fate of other sports and split between a "British" sport, (e.g. Rugby and Cricket) and an "American" analogue (e.g. American Football and Baseball). Golf is golf wherever you play in the world, with the same standard rules, which is particularly useful if you want to play the sport outside your own country.
Today, perhaps one of the first two things that developers consider when wanting to attract more tourism to a destination is where to put the (next) golf course to go with the hotel they are wanting to develop.
Golf as we understand it originated in Scotland, although it is probable that ancestor games to modern golf originated on the Continent. However both the insular and continental European golfers do not let such matters divide them too much, when it comes to the Ryder Cup. That biennial trophy succeeds every two years to unify the Europeans in a way that has so far eluded the European Union.
The British Isles remain the main focus of golf in Europe. Throughout the British Isles you will find many good quality courses. The Celtic countries, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, in particular hit above their weight in terms of the courses they offer. This is due to the fact that their extensive coastlines offer ample opportunities to build links courses. Their larger neighbour England also has many fine courses. The most famous course undoubtedly would be the Old Course at St Andrews.
Iberia offers also offers the second most important focus for European Golf. Golf courses have developed in both Spain and Portugal, particularly in coastal areas. Valderama is probably the most famous of the continental courses, the venue of the first Ryder Cup held in Mainland Europe.
Other destinations have also developed golf courses. In France courses seem to be located disproportionately in the West of the country, in particular in Brittany. The Czech Republic for example has seen new courses open since the fall of communism, and the Scandinavian countries offer the opportunity of around the clock golf during the summer months.
The legendary home of golf and home to the one of the game's two co-governing bodies, the R&A. Scotland and St Andrews in particular is a must for any golfing enthusiast and is estimated to have around 550 courses - not all are open to the public and so the real figure is unknown.
Courses in Scotland include
- St Andrews - where else but...
- Carnoustie in Angus - venue for 8 Open Championships
- Gleneagles in Perthshire – venue for the 2014 Ryder Cup and 2019 Solheim Cup
- Royal Troon - Open Championship course on the beautiful Ayrshire Coast
- Royal Dornoch - One the trickiest course available
- Turnberry in Ayrshire - A newer (1903) Open Championship course attached to a world class hotel
- Muirfield - A highly rated championship course
- The South Fife coast - Not an individual course but more of an experience. An area near St Andrews where every town and village has its own course (no-matter how small). While they may vary in standard it is interesting to play in an area where the game is universally popular.
The Scottish Government's official golf tourism website gives details of many of the courses in Scotland. Many small towns have a golf course, and these often have tee times available with little notice during the week (if not at weekends).
England has a long golfing history where it is a well established sport. It has in excess of 1,900 golf clubs according to the English Golf Union. Men's Golf has been organised on a National basis since 1924, although this is later than in the other British Isles and the United States. That being said many of England's golf clubs have long histories.
One of golf's major competitions, the Open Championship, is held in England approximately every two years. It was last held in England in 2017 at Royal Birkdale in Lancashire; it returns to England in 2020 at Royal St George's in Kent.
- Royal Birkdale, Southport
- Royal Liverpool, Hoylake, Wirral
- Royal Lytham and St Anne's
- Royal St George's, Sandwich, Kent
- The Belfry, near Tamworth – Venue for a number of Ryder Cups
- Wentworth, near Chertsey - Venue for the World Matchplay Championship
Scotland may be the home of golf, but Ireland was in fact the first country to organise golf on a national level. It is one of the more popular golf destinations. Its popularity has pushed prices up, and playing golf in Ireland is relatively expensive compared with other destinations.
Famous courses include:-
- The K Club, in the Republic, venue for the 2006 Ryder Cup
- Royal Portrush, in Northern Ireland, the only Open Championship venue outside Great Britain (hosted in 1951 and 2019).
- Killeen Castle, in the Republic, venue for the 2011 Solheim Cup.
- Adare Manor, in the Republic, announced as venue for the 2026 Ryder Cup.
The Island of Ireland's official golf tourism website gives further details.
Portugal is an important golf destination on the European Mainland.
In this domain Praia d’el Rey Golf & Beach Resort is reputed to be one of Portugal’s finest. Designed by Cabell Robinson, it is a championship course that boasts marvelous fairways and perfectly manicured greens. Even the bunkers are pro-active: left to their own devices, sunbathers tend to stretch out in them, risking the wrath of Caddie Master, Jim Lambert.
Roughs are made rougher by the presence of a sponge-like grass that insidiously attempts to digest anything that lands in it. Jim advises taking the strokes rather than adding up two-digit scores.
From Number 12 through 15, play is overlooking the Atlantic: sometimes windy, always stunning. The last three holes are all uphill to the 18th green and the way is not without potential disaster. A gap to the 16th green is narrow, requiring painstaking accuracy. Further challenge is added by Number 17, a 523-metre hole that is one of the longest Par 5s in Portugal; 17 is regarded as the most difficult hole on the course.
Another important golfing destination in Portugal is the Penina Hotel & Golf Resort, located in Portimão, Algarve. Consisting of three golf courses across the resort, the Sir Henry Cotton Championship Course was in fact the first 18 hole championship course built in the Algarve.
Designed and created by Sir Henry Cotton in 1966, somewhat prestigious events have taken place; Daily Telegraphs Senior's Match Play, National Finals of the Audi Corp and the Portuguese Open. The course at Penina is characterised by a grouping of Par 5s with four of the five arranged together in pairs in the beginning and end of the back nine, therefore producing a Par 38 as opposed to 35.
Spain is the major golf destination on the European mainland. It was the first country in continental Europe, as well as the first non-English-speaking country, to have hosted the Ryder Cup; France has since hosted that event.
Courses in Spain include
- Valderrama Golf Club (in Sotogrande) – site of the 1997 Ryder Cup, the first ever held in Continental Europe.
Wales like the other British Isles countries has a long golf history. It has approximately 150 golf clubs.
Wales has often been one of the earlier adopters of innovations in the game. Wales was the third country to start organising golf on a National Level, and indeed in 2007 both Men's and Ladies' golf came under the same organisational umbrella. The Stableford Scoring Systerm, used by most amateur club golfers also originated in Wales.
Wales has produced two Ryder Cup winning captains, Dai Rees and Ian Woosnam. Wales hosted the competition in 2010, at the Celtic Manor Resort, Newport.
Despite the prestigious golfing heritage, Wales' courses remain relatively undiscovered by international visitors. This however has its advantages, since it offers the visitor high quality courses, at prices generally lower than elsewhere in Western Europe, and crowding on Welsh fairways is thankfully rare. Wales is growing in popularity as a golfing destination, and the 2010 Ryder Cup is expected to generate further international interest.
The Welsh Assembly Government's official golf tourism website gives details of all courses in Wales.
The more prestigious Courses in Wales include.
- Aberdovey (Gwynedd) - Links course adjacent to the village of Aberdyfi
- Conwy- A Venue for 2006 Final Qualifying for the Open.
- Nefyn & District, Lleyn- offers arguably the some of the most spectacular holes in world golf.
- Machynys Peninsula, Llanelli, Carmarthenshire- Wales's only Nicklaus Designed Course.
- Royal Porthcawl, Porthcawl- Venue for the 1995 Walker Cup, the defeated USA team included Tiger Woods
- Royal St David's, Harlech- Links course overlooked by the famous Harlech Castle
- The Wales National, Vale Hotel, Golf & Spa Resort, Hensol, Pontyclun
- The Twenty Ten, Celtic Manor Resort, Newport- Venue of the 2010 Ryder Cup
- Gary Player Country Club, Sun City
- Sun City Golf Course, Sun City
- Glendower Golf Course, 20 Marias Rd,Dowerglen ext 2, Johannesburg, +27 (0)11 453-1013, 
- Steenberg Golf Course, Tokai Road, Tokai, Cape Town, +27 (0)21 715-0227 (mailto:email@example.com), 
- Durban Beachwood Course, Durban
- Humewood Golf Course, Marine Drive, Port Elizabeth, +27 (0)41 583-2137.
- Clovelly Country Club, Clovelly Drive, Clovelly Cape Town, +27 (0)21 782 1118
- The Asian Tour
- The Japan Golf Tour
See Golf in China
Thailand has about 200 golf courses where more than 100 of them are met international standards. Some of them are even recognized international for outstanding quality and standards.
Nearly 50% of all golf courses are found in and around the city of Bangkok, all reachable within 2–3 hours drive from Bangkok. Generally, courses in Bangkok are highly utilize and cost more than those courses that are further away with the exception of courses in Phuket. As such, golfers without pre-booking are more likely to get tee-off times for courses further away from Bangkok, even during weekdays.
Famous golf courses and more information:
- Alpine Golf & Sports Club This venue located in the province of Pathum Thani, is usually for members only and is rated to be one of the most challenging courses in Thailand. They have hosted many international competitions including the prestigious Johnny Walker Classic and the 13th Asian Games.
- Thai Country Club Not only is this course one of the finest in Thailand but also one of the best in Asia. It has been voted Thailand’s Best Golf Course 2001-2007 and Best Golf House in Asia 2000-2007. They have been host to many major competitions such as the Johnny Walker Super Tour, Asia Honda Classic and Volvo Masters Asia.
There are over 400 registered New Zealand golf courses from local clubs to internationally renowned golf resorts. These include;
- Carrington Club - Northland. Oceanside location but plays like an inland golf course complete with rolling hills, vales and natural water hazards.
- Kauri Cliffs - Kerikeri, Northland. Designed by David Harman, the course is stunningly situated overlooking the Cavalli Islands on 4000 acres of rolling coastal farmland.
- Gulf Harbour Country Club - Auckland. Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. this oceanfront course was the scene of the 1998 World Cup of Golf.
- Formosa Auckland Country Club - Auckland. Situated on the beautiful Pohutukawa Coast and designed by Sir Bob Charles the course was modeled on the Augusta National Golf Course home of the US Masters.
- Wairakei International Golf Course - Taupo. Rated by US Golf Digest to be in the Top 20 courses in the world outside the USA.
- Cape Kidnappers - Hawke's Bay. Tom Doak designed, on a special site with links to New Zealand’s important Maori culture.
- Paraparaumu Beach Golf Course - Paraparaumu near Wellington. A true links test with the best in design, shot making and world class greens. It has been the scene of the NZ Open on ten occasions.
- Clearwater Resort - Christchurch. The home of the NZPGA championship and was designed by John Darby and Sir Bob Charles.
- Terrace Downs - Canterbury. Close to high country sheep farms and in amongst the Southern Alps.
- Millbrook Resort - Queenstown. Designed by NZ’s golfing great Sir Bob Charles and set amongst exquisite mountain scenery.
Mountains, oceans and Arctic tundra form the backdrop to challenging fairways and immaculate greens. Celebrated names like Nicklaus, Thompson, Robinson, Furber and Whitman loom large on world-class courses. Play all night under the warm glow of the midnight sun in the Far North. Or putt your way around beautiful Prince Edward Island in full view of the sparkling Atlantic. In Canada, spectacular golfing is just par for the course.
The United States is a major golf destination, it has more golf courses than any other country, approximately 10,000 golf courses.
The U.S. also has a surprisingly long golfing tradition. The formation of the U.S. Golf Association in 1894 was predated only that of by Ireland's Golf Union. Indeed the U.S. Golf Association, as well as acting as National Golf Association for the U.S., is one of the worldwide game's co-governing bodies.
The United States is home to many of the world's most famous golf courses. The most famous is the Augusta National Golf Club, where membership is strictly by invitation only and a very exclusive privilege. The Augusta National Golf Club is the home of the Masters, one of the world's most prestigious professional golf tournaments, and also one of the four majors in men's golf. The U.S. is also home to 2 of the other 3 majors in men's golf, namely the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, which rotate between different golf courses in the U.S. every year. Golf is popular both as a participation and spectator sport, and the U.S. supports several major professional tours:
- The PGA Tour is the leading men's tour in the world, although the European Tour is very close in level of competition if not in prize money. Tournaments are held throughout the U.S., plus stops in Canada and Mexico, as well as the Open Championship in the UK (one of the four "major championships").
- The LPGA Tour is unquestionably the world's top women's tour. Most tournaments (including three of its five major championships) are still held in the U.S., but the tour now has major championships in the UK and France, plus regular stops in the Bahamas, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and several Asian countries.
- Run by the PGA Tour, PGA Tour Champions involves golfers 50 and older. Generally, all PGA Tour stars, and many from other world tours, play here from age 50 to roughly 65, unless unable to for health reasons. One of this tour's five major championships is in the UK, and one regular event is in Canada; the rest of the tour takes place in the U.S.
The U.S. has for many years produced many of the world's best golfers, and remains a golf superpower, despite losing the Ryder Cup to the Europeans in 7 of the first 9 matches in the 21st century. The USA hosts the event in years divisible by 4; the next Ryder Cup to be held in the U.S. will be in 2020 at Whistling Straits near Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and the 2024 edition will be at the Bethpage Black Course on Long Island.
Two other major team events are alternately hosted by the U.S. The Solheim Cup is the women's equivalent to the Ryder Cup, featuring teams from the U.S. and Europe. The Presidents Cup is a men's event that features a U.S. team facing an "International" team made up of golfers ineligible for the Ryder Cup. Both events are held in odd-numbered years, and the U.S. hosts both in the year after it hosts the Ryder Cup, meaning that the next editions of both competitions in the U.S. will be in 2021. The next Solheim Cup in the U.S. will be held at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio; the next Presidents Cup in the U.S. will be at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Another major team event, the International Crown for women, was launched in 2014, and takes place in even-numbered years. Unlike the other events mentioned here, the International Crown involves only national teams, with eight participants. The next edition will be in 2020 at the Centurion Club north of London; no future U.S. site for that event has yet been announced.
Three of the four major golf tournaments for men, three of the five major tournaments for women, and four of the five major tournaments for men 50 and over are played in the U.S. Some of the most famous, and best, courses can be found there.
Somewhat surprisingly, challenging courses and major tournaments are hosted in the Caribbean. Some of the main courses include:
- Tierra Del Resort Spa and Country Club, Aruba - This course was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., and includes 18-holes, par-71 course totals 6,811 yards in length, with its highest tee at over 95 feet above sea level. The Aruba International Pro-AM Golf Tournament is a major tournament that takes place on this course.
- Temenos Golf Club, Anguilla - Opened by Cap Juluca in 2009, this 18 hole course includes challenging holes and breathtaking views.
- Half Moon, Jamaica- Caribbean World Magazine named this course the "Best Caribbean Golf Resort". The course is appropriate for both novice and advanced golfers. Half Moon is also home to David Leadbetter Golf Academy.
See Golf in Argentina for further details.
Golf is an increasingly popular sport in Argentina, thanks in part to the success of Argentinian players such as Angel Cabrera, Andres Romero and Eduardo Romero. There are around 280 courses in the country, most around Buenos Aires. They include such well-known names as the Jockey Club, Olivos and Hurlingham. On the Atlantic coast in Mar del Plata are a couple of courses that have held international events, and Patagonia has excellent resort courses such as Llao Lloa, Arelauquen and Chapelco (a Nicklaus design) as well as the 9-hole course in Ushaia.
At larger and more popular courses, the on-course Pro Shop will normally be able to supply all the necessary accessories.
Many golf courses have a Clubhouse that serves meals. Some provide a full service restaurant.
Most Clubhouses have a bar; such establishments are colloquially known as the 19th hole.
Golf is the sort of game that can be played in all sorts of weather conditions, especially if one wants a challenging game. However, lightning and severe storms are contraindications for safe play.
Consider golf insurance. This will pay out in the event of a hole-in-one, or if you injure other golfers.
If you use a caddies (and in many places you have no choice), you may be expected to tip them. In other places tipping is not permitted. You should ask when you book your round what the expected tip is.
Once you have finished playing be sure to clean your equipment. If you are crossing borders with your gear be sure to declare it, particularly where countries have biosecurity controls to limit the importation of equipment that has been in contact with farmland and the like. Otherwise you might find you are delayed while the equipment is cleaned, or worse, confiscated.