15 Low-Key Golf Courses Everyone Should Play

Only 17-percent of Americans had passports in 2000 — more than 40-percent have them today. Pandemic aside, world travel is easier and more comfortable than ever — in large part to smartphones and the internet. Map apps, Airbnb, Uber and language translating tools make it easier to get around. Thirty years ago on the PGA Tour, rookies spent their first five seasons sorting logistics, organizing flights and finding hotels — how times have changed. Young players like Hovland, Morikawa and Wolff are winning. Easy travel and a shrinking world has a lot do with that.

New golf courses are popping up all over. Like never before, golf is burgeoning in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Mexico.

High on my list and unchecked are South Africa, New Zealand, Canadian Rockies, Scotland, Spain, Portugal, Japan, Hawaii and South Korea. And while I’ve played eight golf courses in Ireland — there are another 30 I’d love to see including Royal Portrush, Royal County Down, County Sligo and Lahinch. I’ve played a lot of golf in California, but no Pebble, and I’m okay with that. I think I’d rather play Cabot in Canada than Pebble. Haven’t played Augusta, but would accept an invite from Hootie, Meryl, Skeeter or other member there — feel free to DM me on the “Gram,” it’s @worldsbestgolfdestinations.

I have a lot of work to do, but here’s my four continent spread which I’m proud of by the way. My parents left the U.S. once–they took a train from Dallas, Texas down to Mexico City for their honeymoon. I have so many incredible memories from these golf courses and the memorable people and won wagers — here they are in no particular order.

Red Mountain Golf Club; Phuket, Thailand

Red Mountain Golf Club; Phuket, Thailand
We arrived at Red Mountain just after sunrise. A heavy fog blanketed the rugged jungle golf course. The terrain on this beautiful golf course is thick green and mountainous. Course conditions are pristine and customer service is 5-star. The player-caddy experience in Thailand is equal in significance to the round as course conditions. Caddies drive the cart and players ride shotgun. When the sun comes out, an umbrella goes up, when the Singha beer is near empty, another cracks open — it is an experience unlike any other.

The #13 horseshoe green at The European Club

The European Club; County Wicklow, Ireland
There are more than 400 links and parkland golf courses on the Green Isle and this one is one of the finest. I experienced all four seasons on my round at The European Club designed and owned by Pat Ruddy. It was so miserably cold around the 12th hole that my Irish friend Dermot wanted to quit, but we were at the furthest point from the clubhouse. We weathered a cold rain and twenty minutes later is was 74F/23C, clear skies and sunny. The European Club is a lovely mix of dunes, ocean and gnarly rough. There are some extremely difficult holes where par is brilliant, but they’re beautifully designed. Some difficult golf courses aren’t fun, but this one is a test I’d gladly welcome three times a week for a decade.

Caddies at Club los Lagartos in Bogota, Colombia

Los Lagartos Golf Course; Bogota, Colombia
I wouldn’t mind living in Colombia — I like it that much. I sing praises for golf there every chance I get. Los Lagartos is a private club — caddie and long pants required — walking only. And the walk is a test. At 8,600 feet elevation and intense undulation — wear comfortable shoes and prepare for an endurance battle down the stretch. This beautiful golf course has more flower gardens than the White House.

Tegernseer Golf-Club, my favorite golf course in Germany

Tegernseer Golf Club Bad Wiessee; Tegernseer, Germany
Perhaps the most underrated golf destination in the world — Germany. It has everything golfers want: quality golf courses, delicious wiener schnitzel and schweinshaxe, the best beer in the world and kinky nightlife. An hour train ride southeast of Munich is Lake Tegernseer, it’s so beautiful that it doesn’t seem real. It feels like a ride at Magic Kingdom. The Tegernseer Golf Club is perched above the lake and quaint village on the side of little mountain. You can hear the rattle of cow bells and the sky is filled with paraglide chutes coming off the nearby Wallberg Mountain. The grass is a rare level of lush only seen in these parts. Bavarian balcony gardens burst with bright blooming flowers. A local told me that all of Germany’s leaders have visited Lake Tegernsee — even their worst one.

Alpine Golf Club near Bangkok, Thailand

Alpine Golf Club; Bangkok, Thailand
All class and pristine conditions at this gem outside of Bangkok. And while Alpine doesn’t have the dramatic terrain like Red Mountain 895 km/556 miles south — it’s equal or better in its conditioning and design.

The Shark with Editor Elvis Anderson on Emerald Bay, a Greg Norman design

Sandals Emerald Bay Golf Course; Great Exuma, Bahamas
A Greg Norman-design in the Out Islands of the Bahamas — a place with some of the most clear, aqua water in the world. The famous swimming pigs are there. Its fishing, spearfishing and diving are second-to-none — the ocean floor is literally crawling with Bahamian lobsters. Best of all — Great Exuma is less than an hour flight from Miami. This golf course works inland through mangroves and brackish water lagoons and back out along the ocean. We spoke with Norman about his design approach: “Initially the developer had the houses on the water, which forced the golf course to the interior, but I convinced them on one road in, that same road out and a cul-de-sac,” says Norman. “With the houses on the water, you need more roads and a loop system. By infrastructure costs alone, it makes more sense to build the houses on the interior. Fortunately they bought into it. That allowed the golf course to be on the outside and now the residences have ocean views and golf views.”

Well done, Shark.

#5 at Quivira Golf Club

Quivira Golf Club; Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Jack Nicklaus jokes when he says, “I’m known as the guy that ruined Cabo.”

His first design there was in 1992 with Palmilla Golf Club — there are seven Nicklaus designs there now and Cabo has the attention of the golf world. His most beloved Cabo design is Quivira Golf Club. It’s 18 postcards, it’s 18 Facebook profile pics, it’s 18 money shots — the golf course is a magnificent mix of Pacific Ocean, mountain and desert views. They made the Quivira heaven a little better with their addition of “Comfort Stations” throughout the course. They’re restaurant-bars with fresh fajitas, tacos, scratch margaritas and ice-cold Mexican beers. Feel free to hang a while — the stations have marshals to mange pace of play.

Corales Golf Club; Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Alas, Graeme McDowell won’t get the chance to defend his 2019 win at the Corales Puntacana Resort and Club Championship. We’re told the wind doesn’t blow in late March when the tournament is held annually. It must’ve been still when McDowell went around Corales for a -18 total. I played Corales in February with 20-plus MPH wind and it was a beast. You know it’s a good golf course when it kicks your ass and you love every minute of it. And even tho I shot a million, it was good enough to sweep the “Nassau” which is certainly one of our favorite golf betting terms. It’s a Tom Fazio design with a lot of bite — more than most Fazio courses. Inland and along the Caribbean Sea, there isn’t a weed on the golf course and the greens are perfect. A lot of golf courses claim to be on the ocean, but you get ocean spray in the face at Corales.

Fox Harb’r Golf Course; Nova Scotia, Canada
You can see Prince Edward Island from this golf course — it’s directly across the Northumberland Strait. Built by Ron Joyce, the co-founder of Tim Hortons donut and coffee shops, the villa balcony views of the most beautiful blue skies are worth the trip alone. Cool, brisk, fresh air in the morning paired with a hot cup of Tim Hortons coffee is a memory I’ll never forget. The golf course is perfect — the bent grass greens slick. Pines line the fairways always looking to smack your golf ball — accurate ball striking is a must.

Masterpiece Course, Treetops Resort; Gaylord, Michigan, USA
Northern Michigan is home to perhaps the best golf values anywhere in the world. If Michigan’s golf season was longer then it would be Palm Springs, with better golf courses. When the snow melts, wild flowers bloom and golf courses flourish from tee to green. Beautiful blue spruce pines are plenty in the area and you can hear elk bugles from the think woods. An island tee box on the par 4 ninth is a nice touch by Designer Robert Trent Jones Sr. Then Jones goes for your juggler on the par 5 tenth — it plays 605 yards, uphill from the tips — it feels like a thousand yards.

The National by Tom Fazio

The National Course, Reynolds Lake Oconee; Greensboro, Georgia, USA
Variety is the slice of life at Reynolds — there are six golf courses in the sprawling golf community on Lake Oconee. Yeah, SIX! It’s hard to pick just one of em’, but The National, designed by Tom Fazio is a contender. It’s a lot of fun to play and is Georgia to the core. There are thousands of tall pines, lots of rolling hills, the same chirping bird sounds you hear while watching the Masters and the Azaleas bloom in spring. Reynolds is also home to The Kingdom, one of the most sophisticated lesson centers in the world. Their short game area is a retired Dave Pelz Short Game Academy and we all know how damn detailed Pelz is. Several chipping and pitching greens are there and any shot inside 120 yards can be imagined. And if the golf game is in the dumps, there’s the lake and a hundred other things to do.

The Signature Course, Haig Point; Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, USA
The only way to Haig Point on Daufuskie Island is to pass the Calibogue Sound by boat or helicopter. Their golf course is a fantastic Rees Jones design and a lot of fun to play. The course makes good use of the Lowcountry marsh that’s common in the area and there are plenty of ocean views. But best of all are the island vibes and high spirit of the people. It’s golf carts only and a lot of flip flops on the island. Daufuskie residents take the water taxi over to Harbour Town for the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage and to party at the Barmuda Triangle. Savannah, Georgia is nearby and Charleston is about two hours north, but the only way home is by boat and that’s a good life.

The Island Golf Club; County Dublin, Ireland
The craters, canyons and dunes at The Island must be what it’s like on the moon. Several of the holes cut through incredible Irish gorges covered with tall fescue grasses. Founded in 1890, it’s only 15-minutes from the Dublin Airport — deplane and go to The Island. It’s consistently ranked a top five links in Ireland, which is like having a top five yacht in Miami. And the fish and chips in the clubhouse with a few pints of Guinness equals any in Ireland. The long par 3 thirteenth and tight par 4 fourteenth coming back is one of the best golf combos in the world. From arrival to departure — this place is class.

Threetops Course, Treetops Resort; Gaylord, Michigan, USA
Every golf course in this listing is a typical 18 hole layout except this one. This nine hole par three golf course is the perfect day-cap with a few local Michigan beers. Nicklaus, Palmer and Floyd have played this one and Lee Trevino made an ace for $1 million in 2001. Designed by Rick Smith, it’s conditioning and design are incredible — so much fun to play this one which can be done in less than an hour.

Champion Course, Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge; Orlando, Florida, USA
The spirit of The King lives forever at Bay Hill. I’ll never forget the double eagle I damn-near had on the par five fifth (tap-in eagle). He was notorious for joining groups on the par 3 seventeenth and playing in. Just imagine Palmer pulling up in his cart and saying, “Hey, y’all mind if I play the last two with you?” He spent his winters at Bay Hill and did this regularly with members and resort guests. Palmer liked quality, but was famous for saying, “I don’t like fufu.” It’s a cozy resort — the Lodge, bar, restaurant, range and first tee are all within a hundred yards. And while Palmer has been gone almost four years — his legacy is alive and well.

Crandon Golf Course; Key Biscayne, Florida, USA
Anyone can play this municipal golf course which hosted a Champions Tour event for 18 years. Like the European Club, Crandon Park isn’t easy, but you will respect it. And like Haig Point, this one is also on an island, except it’s accessible by a big ol’ bridge. The ocean, mangroves and brackish ponds are in-play throughout. Its eighteenth hole offers some of the best views of Downtown Miami. A lot of people like to play Trump Doral, but no ocean there. Others like to play at Turnberry Resort in Aventura, no ocean there either. All the reasons people visit Miami are at Crandon — it’s a waterfront, island beast — pack a dozen balls, minimum.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Sundance Golf Course, A-Ga-Ming Resort; Kewadin, Michigan, USA
  • The Country Club of Colorado, Cheyenne Mountain Resort; Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA
  • County Louth Golf Club Baltray; County Louth, Ireland
  • Kölner Golfclub; Köln, Germany
  • Heritage Hills Golf Course; McCook, Nebraska, USA
  • TPC Cartagena; Cartagena, Colombia
  • Quarry Course, Black Diamond Ranch; Beverly Hills, Florida, USA
  • Copperhead Course, Innisbrook Resort; Palm Harbor, Florida, USA
  • Shangri-La Golf Club; Monkey Island, Oklahoma, USA
  • Desert Course, Cabo Del Sol; Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
  • Pine Needles Golf Course; Southern Pines, North Carolina, USA
  • Seabrook Island Club; Seabrook Island, South Carolina, USA
  • Ratliff Ranch Golf Links; Odessa, Texas, USA