There’s a lot of drama on the golf course these days – waves crashing on the Black Sea coastline, wild elk running in the Arctic Circle in Lapland and rare bird-watching opportunities on Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand.
Even for serious golfers who have their eye on the ball (and on the prize), it’s hard not to take in the dramatic landscape around them as they sink their heels deeper into the green, take a big breath and look to the heavens in the hope that today is their lucky day to snag that elusive hole-in-one.
If you don’t play golf, you probably don’t know that golfers are some of the luckiest travelers in the world. With golf being the prestigious sport that it is, golf courses are often positioned in some of the most far-flung and dramatic scenic locations.
Once seen as a niche sport for the newly retired or high-flying executive who preferred the green over a stuffy, unventilated boardroom, golf is currently booming – and a whole new audience of players are taking up the sport.
“The ‘you only live once’ mentality post-COVID-19 has contributed to a swell in golf tourism and an appetite for new luxury experiences.” – Sean Noble
During the pandemic, golf was seen as an ideal way to socially distance and, like outdoor sculpture parks for culture buffs, the green became a place to practice self-care with both mental and physical health benefits – a fine argument for those who require yet another plausible excuse to tee off.
The golf tourism boom is now on its umpteenth wave, with many experts in the field explaining that the latest rise in interest for the sport possibly came about during the pandemic.
“The first boom really came with digitalization and the advent of low-cost air travel, both of which put more power into the hands of the golfing consumer to research and book their golf vacations,” says Sean Noble, Managing Director of Azalea Group.
“Post-pandemic, we have seen a significant momentum shift in global golf participation, with The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews reporting earlier this year a rise of 10 million adult golfers (an increase of 34 percent) playing the sport since 2016.
Combined with this, an upgrading of travel experiences and the ‘you only live once’ mentality post-COVID-19 have contributed to a swell in golf tourism and an appetite for new luxury experiences.”
The Tee Off
Scotland, Ireland and Canada remain the traditional golfing destinations, garnering the respect of novice and professional golfers alike, and remain at the top of their game when it comes to providing excellence in golfing experiences.
However, as the golfing industry and public enthusiasm for the sport continues to grow, unsuspecting destinations like Sicily, Vietnam and Morocco are investing in golf tourism, tapping into the once-niche industry.
What makes all these new golfing nations appealing in the modern era of sports is that they don’t necessarily cater to just golfers, but also to luxury holidaymakers who take to the mountains or coastal waters for vacations in the summer and dabble in a bit of golf because it’s there.
St. Moritz in Switzerland remains one of these great examples where golf plays second fiddle to Mother Nature, offering a nice-to-have luxury amenity in the summer to lure travelers back to the Alps during the off-season.
“We are spoiled as golfers because there are so many great places to go.” – José María Olazábal
“People travel for various reasons to St. Moritz. We welcome a colorful mix of winter and summer sport enthusiasts, foodies, wellness lovers, art connoisseurs and, of course, golfers from all around the world,” says Marijana Jakic, CEO of the St. Moritz Tourism board.
“In general, our golf courses most certainly count as a highlight of the Engadin Valley and golf enthusiasts are in the best of hands in the Engadin Valley.
“The challenging nine-hole executive course at Kulm Golf St. Moritz makes for an unforgettable experience as it is one of the highest courses in Europe, as does the 18-hole Samedan Golf Course with around 40 tees. The 18-hole golf course in Zuoz-Madulain features a distinctively hilly profile that demands both strength and endurance from experienced and occasional golfers alike.”
With courses that immerse you within stunning natural landscapes, it’s harder than ever to refuse just one more game. Here’s our round-up of the best courses to seek out.
The International Olympic Academy Golf Course, Greece
Located in Costa Navarino in the south-west of Greece, The International Olympic Academy Golf Course opened in 2022 and was created and designed by double Masters champion José María Olazábal.
It’s part of the Navarino Hills golf resort, which was named the World’s Best New Golf Development in 2020 – and it’s easy to see why. Set amid rolling green hills, overlooking historic Navarino Bay and the Ionian Sea, Navarino Hills offers two breathtaking courses to choose from, with the new Olympic Academy course the longer and tougher to tackle.
“We are spoiled as golfers because there are so many great places to go, but Costa Navarino is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to,” Olazábal says. “It is more than just the golf offering here, it is the whole experience that is exceptional – from the nature, the culture and the people with their amazing hospitality, to the food, the beach and so many activities to choose from.”
When not teeing off on the greens (there are four 18-hole courses on offer across Costa Navarino, so plan and book ahead), golfers can enjoy the five-star amenities at either The Romanos, a Luxury Collection resort, or The Westin Resort Costa Navarino.
Thracian Cliffs Golf & Beach Resort, Bulgaria
Covering more than 85 hectares of land, this immaculately groomed cliff-side course was designed by golf legend Gary Player and is considered one of the best golfing experiences in the world, with stunning views of the Black Sea coast.
Expect drama both on and off the green thanks to the spectacular scenery and the challenging course design. However, if you stay motivated and charge on through the course, you will find the sixth hole the most memorable.
The tee sits on top of the cliff with the green cut into the hillside 40 meters below. You’ll need to keep all your focus to hit straight and true as the turquoise waves of the Black Sea crash around the cliff’s base. But don’t worry, even the most discerning golfers take time to look up when teeing off to take in the impressive vistas.
Golfers can rest up at two charming villages within the resort. Stay at the buzzy Marina Village or the quieter Hillside Village.
Terras da Comporta, Portugal
Newly opened this year, Comporta Dunas is located in the tranquil village of Comporta, an hour south of Lisbon. Designed by renowned golf architect David McLay-Kidd, the course spreads out over 38.4 hectares of land and takes its cue from the beautiful natural landscape of the beaches and dense pine forests that surround it.
The lush links course has been created with sustainability in mind, with a low water consumption and a computerized irrigation system in place.
Golf Lech, Austria
The glitzy and luxurious ski resort of Lech is a golfers’ destination in the warmer months. Nestled in the Zug valley, the nine-hole course winds across the banks of the River Lech with views of the Austrian Alps in the distance.
The car-free zone of Oberlech makes this golfing paradise unpolluted and unadulterated, so golfers of all levels have no excuse not to hit that hole in one when playing on Austria’s highest alpine golf course.
Five-star luxury resorts surround the golf course, with Hotel Burg Vital Resort and the boutique hotel Kristiania Lech a short 10-minute drive away, ideal for early morning teeing off. Reward yourself at one of the gourmet restaurants in the village – Rote Wand Gourmet Restaurant and the wine cellar at Goldener Berg are prime locations for post-game discussions.
Björkliden Golf Course, Sweden
In Sweden’s Lapland, 250 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle, you will find one of the most scenic and unique golf courses that you can experience in the summer months.
Nestled among the Arctic mountains, the nine-hole course is open around the clock during midsummer, with the Swedish midnight sun guiding you at every hour of the day.
The nearest mountain lodge is Låktatjåkko Mountain Lodge, but if you want to enjoy a quintessential Swedish experience, drive further south and hit up the Arctic Retreat for some cold-water bathing and fika in the woods.
Apes Hill, Barbados
Mother Nature is at her best on this 192-hectare property in Barbados. The Apes Hill Resort is, in its own right, a luxury property boasting 12.5 kilometers of nature trails, a sprawling fitness center and two TigerTurf tennis courts.
For golfers, however, the standout on this tropical island resort is, of course, the golf course. Tee off with views of deep winding gullies and coral rock formations, as well as dunes and white-capped breakers, but be sure to check out the clubhouse, which overlooks both the west and east coasts of Barbados.
“I love Barbados and this tiny Caribbean Island certainly packs a punch in golfing terms,” Noble says. “The new star, and now one of the finest golfing venues in the Caribbean, is Apes Hill. Situated 1,000 feet [305 meters] above sea level, the complete renovation of the course was finished late last year and it is like playing golf in a natural botanical garden.”
St. Moritz, Switzerland
When Sean Connery filmed his famous 007 scenes in Switzerland, he traveled to the Alps with his golf clubs. Many decades have passed since then, but the glitzy ski resort still welcomes some of the world’s best-known celebrities for a round of golf.
St. Moritz and Engadin Valley are affectionately referred to as the ‘cradle of Swiss golf’, despite the region being known primarily for its ski culture.
Luxury palaces dating back to the 18th century surround the two golf courses in St. Moritz, including Badrutt’s Palace Hotel and Kulm Hotel. Both offer prime locations and golfing packages for an unrivaled golfing experience in the Alps.
If you find yourself in St. Moritz during the winter, you can still enjoy the ‘green’ with a nine-hole program on the frozen lake of St. Moritz. “It’s an amazing outdoor activity for guests during summer, autumn and, more recently, winter,” Jakic says.
The second edition of the St. Moritz Snow Golf Days will take place 7–9 February, 2024 on the frozen lake of St. Moritz. Every day there will be an official amateur tournament, followed by open golf for all participants.
Paradis Golf Resort & Spa, Mauritius
“The golf-rich island of Mauritius has plenty of great courses, but the setting for the course at Paradis is hard to match,” Noble says.
Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful golf courses in Mauritius, the greens and fairways lie in the heart of the five-star luxury resort. The 18-hole, par 72 course stretches almost 6,000 meters between Montagne du Morne and the crystal-clear waters of the lagoon.
The green is punctuated by colorful bougainvillea and poinsettias, while gently leaning coconut palms remind you that you are, in fact, in a tropical paradise.
There are five holes located on the edge of the lagoon with the others on the foot of the mountain, so there is a range of varying difficulty here. The golf course has its own luxury hotel, not vice versa – golf reigns supreme here.