There are almost 6,000 golf courses in Europe and sadly not one of our European staff have played them all. Their knowledge, however, is quite comprehensive, particularly in the west of the continent, which houses the majority of courses.
European associate editor Dave Bowers has picked the brains of his band of experienced writers and offers up their choice for the best of 2003.
Some big-name venues are missing from the list, but, quite simply, everybody's requirements and tastes are unique. Some prefer parkland to links, or vice versa. And it's always difficult to compare them like for like.
However, you won't go far wrong with the choices here. And if you disagree, feel free to offer up your personal choices to Dave Bowers on our reader feedback page.
Best new course: Hard to look beyond The Grove, London. The Kyle Phillips-designed course is already racking up the accolades as one of the best in the world and opened only a few months ago.
Other than that, although the St. Andrews Bay resort is 2 years old, the Torrance Course is new and is a treat. Catch it if you can.
Best service at a course: One could argue that you'll receive a typically great Irish welcome at any Irish club, so the accolade must go to the Emerald Isle. And from the experience of our European associate editor, Dave Bowers, you'd be hard pressed to top the quality of service and produce at Powerscourt.
Best resort: Purely from a golfing perspective it's hard to find fault with St. Andrews Bay: Two great courses on site and six at St. Andrews itself, including the legendary old course. If that's not enough there are 60 courses within an hour's drive. Fill your boots ...
Alternatively Celtic Manor in Wales surpasses most of its rivals.
Best course you can play: Do you want to play a testing course, a spectacular course or wallow in history? You could do all three at St. Andrews, which has six courses. If you can't get on the Old Course, the others are still challenging and a real experience.
Best weekend getaway: Mount Juliet, Ireland. Take the chance to play the course that captivated Tiger Woods.
And you can stay in the middle of the 1,500-acre estate, overlooking the meandering waters of the River Nora, in Mount Juliet House, an 18th Century manor house, now a luxury hotel and AA Hotel of the Year in 1999.
Best value: A lot of courses offer good value, but The Machrie, Scotland, (The Machrie Hotel & Golf Links) is something else. Admittedly it's not the easiest place to get to - it's either a short flight from Glasgow or a two-hour ferry trip to the Isle of Islay - but the ridiculously inexpensive links course and the hotel make it all worthwhile.
If you're still not convinced, bear in mind the Isle of Islay specialises in whiskey distilleries - Bowmore, Lagavulin, and Bruichladdich to name but three.
Best architect: If The Grove is the best new course, then Kyle Phillips deserves the accolade of best architect. The only thing is he's not British. So for his work on the new course at St Andrews Sam Torrance gets the nod - though it's tough to ignore some of the other excellent work which has taken place in 2003.
Best new course: The eagerly awaited Santana Golf & Country Club, west of Malaga, opens on January 1. Included in 2003 as it will be a year old when we're talking about new courses in December 2004.
Best service at a course: Santa Clara (Spain) where you will receive a big American-style welcome or Mijas Golf Club, which possesses two courses, the Olivos and Lagos, where the staff is exceptional.
Best resort: La Cala Golf Resort has a five-star hotel, two courses - North and South - with a third course being built at the moment, tennis and squash courts. Still in Spain, La Manga has everything you could possibly want - small wonder it is chosen as the training base for many national sports' squads.
Best course you can play: Valderrama, on the Costa del Sol. Designed by Robert Trent Jones and host to the 1997 Ryder Cup. It's quite simply magnificent and one of the toughest challenges on the continent.
Best weekend getaway: A quick trip over the channel for the Brits and you can take in Dinard, a delightful course in Brittany with stunning views. And undiscovered Brittany - with its wide choice of accommodation - is an ideal venue for spending any amount of time.
Further afield, on the Costa del Sol again, the Benabola Guest Quarters Aparthotel in Puerto Banus is ideally situated for the many local courses, with plenty of nightlife within walking distance.
Best value: Difficult to pin down just one course across the whole of the continent, but our European associate editor, Dave Bowers, always enjoys Brest-Irois, Landerneau, France.
He says: "The new owners have huge plans for the whole complex which has been badly mismanaged over the last 20 years. It has a wonderful course and until the new hotel rooms are built the existing accommodation is available at a very competitive rate."
For a course alone, La Canada, Spain - another Robert Trent Jones design - is great value at just ?48.
Best architect: The man who's currently setting golfers' pulses racing on the Costas is Cabell Robinson, who was previously Robert Trent Jones' European director. His reputation is set to expand across the continent in 2004.
January 20, 2004
Dave lives on the south coast of England with partner Jackie and their three children. Originally a football writer in his homeland, he even rose to the giddy heights of public relations manager for an English professional Premiership side. But he'd been bitten by the golf bug and returned to his roots in journalism as executive editor for Golf Management Europe magazine and as a sports sub-editor/golf writer on one of the country's largest regional daily papers. Like all of us, he plays golf whenever he can - which isn't as often as he would like - and has even performed stand-up comedy in a top comedy club.
While you might not find a leprechaun with a pot of gold north of Dublin, you'll find other great treasures. From world-class links layouts, traditional Irish music and a legendary whiskey distillery to friendly B&Bs and awesome pubs, this part of Ireland offers the complete package for golfers. Here are 10 reasons to plan a golf vacation to Northern Ireland.
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