The world’s best golf courses offer an unrivaled playing experience; lush rolling fairways, glass quick sculpted greens and total respect.
Does it get any better? It does if you can enjoy a relaxing luxury spa after your round.
Laguna Golf Club, The Banyan Tree Phuket.
My diminutive lady caddie was adamant. ” a 6 iron, Mr. Andy, no question.” And as my ball sailed to the middle of the green, I received a bow and a giggle, before she hurried off to the green laden with bag, water, camera, wet towels and fresh fruit. Laguna is like that, a haven of golf that treats you like royalty.
Set around the lush tropical landscape of the Banyan Tree Resort in Phuket, amid coconut groves and lagoons and fringed by mountains on one side and the Andaman Sea on the other, Laguna’s 6,654 yard course uses water as its main threat, coming in to play on no less than 13 of its18 holes. It’s not a championship course, but the setting, the service, and the lack of crowds make it one of my favourites. The Banyan Tree spa is a welcome haven of tranquility and lies at the very heart of this stunning luxury resort. A true sanctuary for the senses, the spa specialises in eastern therapies and well being and even has its own restaurant promoting healthy food for the mind and spirit..There is simply no room here for impatience, just let the therapists take you to place of rest and relaxation and you’ll never worry about playing badly again.
Penha Longa, Estoril
Whilst the Algarve remains Portugal’s premier golfing destination, those in the know will avoid it and head for Estoril just a short distance from Lisbon. This was where the Portuguese royals came to holiday and today it remains a hidden golfing jewel. There are some outstanding courses here, but the best of them all is Penha Longha, simply a great test. Part of the 5 star Penha Longa Ritz-Carlton Resort and designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr. this beautifully manicured course is ranked in the top 30 courses in Europe.
Running in-between the stunning Sintra hills on one side and the rugged Atlantic Ocean on the other are velvety rolling fairways and some deviously sloping greens in true Trent Jones style. The 6th is the signature hole, with lots of water down the left and the remains of a Roman aqueduct nestling by the green. Tucked away on the resort amidst beautiful landscaped gardens and a 3 metre high waterfall, lies the Six Senses Spa. This is a virtual body temple; 1,500 square metres of space for treatments and relaxation with a platform directly over the contrast pool for Yoga, Qi-Cong and two gazebos for meditation and treatments.
Pebble Beach, Northern California
Possibly one of the most famous par 5 holes in golf, the 18th at Pebble Beach winds its way right alongside the mighty Pacific Ocean. This is pure golfing heaven. The Pebble Beach luxury resort complex lies within the famous 17 Mile Drive on the beautiful Monterey peninsula. There are four championship courses to choose from; Spyglass Hill, The Links at Spanish Bay, Del Monte and of course Pebble Beach itself, the jewel in the crown. It’s a landscape not unlike the links you’ll find in Scotland,( there’s even a kilted piper who plays each evening to make that Scottish feeling even more appropriate).But what a prospect lies in store when you play Pebble Beach.
After a gentle opening first four holes, the next seven are all along the ocean including the 7th, a scary 106 yard par 3 facing straight down into the Pacific from an elevated tee. Then of course, there’s that glorious 18th to finish with. Believe it or not, Pebble is still a public course, so you simply book a tee time to play, but be warned you’ll need to book well in advance of your visit. Lying in the heart of the nearby Del Monte Forest adjacent to Pebble’s first fairway, you’ll find the magnificent Spa at Pebble Beach; a spa that exclusively uses the plants, herbs and minerals native to California’s Monterey Peninsula. This is a facility that oozes class, with a plethora of treatments from water therapy to hot stone massage and even a post golf therapy.
St Andrews Old Course, Fife, Scotland
This is the home of golf and nowhere else on earth is quite like it. I remember the first time I played it, I had chills just thinking of the great players who walked in my very footsteps; Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player; I was in good company that’s for sure. The course is a masterpiece of design, little changed from when it was first carved out over 600 years ago.
The double greens (all but four of them are doubles) share with holes coming from the opposite direction and contain some frightening slopes. Hundreds of bunkers, some are obvious like the terrifying Road Hole Bunker in front of the 17th green, and others tiny pot bunkers hidden in the most unlikeliest of places; fairways with a multitude of humps and hollows, and many blind drives that will have you aiming straight out to sea. It will be the greatest course you will ever play. The Old Course Hotel lies along the 17th fairway and contains the remarkable award winning Kohler Waters Spa. The spa embraces the theory that as our bodies are in essence water based, they will respond more positively to water treatments. With hydrotherapy whirlpools, plunge pools and deluge showers to experience, you’ll have every opportunity to put that theory to the test.
The Majlis at Emirates Golf Club, Dubai
Dubbed ‘The miracle in the desert’ when it first opened in 1987, The Majlis close to the centre of Dubai, was the Middle East’s first ever grassland golf course, literally carved out of the natural desert terrain and despite some challenging competition particularly in recent years, still reigns supreme. I had my first ever hole in one at the par 3 11th, and it will always have a special place in my heart, but the rest of the course is just as memorable. Lush fairways, rolling undulating greens, 7 challenging fresh water lakes and of course plenty of desert sand!.
The whole course is an extraordinary challenge from start to finish with practically every shot to the green needing to fly over grassy sand dunes or water. The club now boasts two additional courses, The Faldo, an 18 hole course designed by the man himself and a 9 hole par 3 course that hosts a mini tournament for the professionals on the eve of the annual Dubai Desert Classic. Nestled inside the Bedouin inspired clubhouse, a sensory tour of the Orient awaits at the award winning SensAsia Urban Spa, specialising in treatments from Japan, Bali and Thailand. In true Dubai attention to detail, everything is tuned to your well being, from the Feng Shui designed interiors to the pampering from the therapy team. My ying and yang have never been in better shape.
The Grove, Hertfordshire UK
Sometimes you just have to hold your hands up and give credit where it’s due. The privately owned Grove started out in 2004 with the best intentions; to build a luxury hotel with outstanding dining opportunities and have one of the best golf courses in Europe. To its credit, it’s achieved just that, and better still, managed to maintain its high standards ever since.
The 7,152 yard championship golf course has been a labour of love, using imported grasses whilst Kyle Phillips has designed a layout that would not be out of place in Spain or Portugal. The course is open all year round and will always be in tip top condition whichever time of the year you play. The Grove’s spa is called Sequoia, after the giant trees in California; but there’s nothing giant here, just low lighting, soft music, and a complete sense of well being. There’s a delightful Zen garden, infinity pool and an army of therapists to perform facials, hot stones, envelopments and Ayurvedic treatments.