With the fourth and final installment of our series ranking the world’s golf nations (outside the U.S.) we consider the remainder of the globe, from South America to South Africa, Canada to the Caribbean
The final in our four-part series ranking the best golf countries outside the U.S. looks at the Rest of the World, or specifically nations not within the British Isles or part of Europe, Asia, and Oceania.
Although there were some fascinating results, this was our most lopsided ranking with Canada (81) finishing 14 points (out of 100) clear of second-place South Africa. Keys to the Canadian victory were both the quantity and quality of its many and varied golf courses. According to the R&A, there are more than 2,500 courses in Canada; only the U.S. and Japan have more. Crucial, aside from the sheer volume of golf available, is the number of genuine A-listers, both private and public access. Were some of the elite private clubs more accessible to visitors, and the Cabot courses (Links & Cliffs) a little less expensive, Canada would have challenged England (85) and Australia (84.5) for second and third spot worldwide.
For many, the surprises on this list will be South Africa ahead of the Caribbean and Mexico, and Morocco in fifth place. South Africa has a long and proud golf history, and its very best courses are not only terrific fun, they are well priced and accessible. There is a reason the country has produced so many champion players. Sadly, travel around South Africa has become riskier for tourists over recent years so it has probably slipped off the radar of many aspiring golf travelers.
That is unlikely the case with the Caribbean or Mexican hotbeds like Los Cabos. Luxury hotels and first-class golf facilities designed by some of the biggest names in the business are commonplace across these regions, and it’s really only accessibility and the cost of the game at the high end that prevented either from challenging South Africa for second place. As the results show, a “money-no-object” trip to the best golf in either the Los Cabos area or Dominican Republic in the Caribbean is truly world-class.
Further down the list, many will be shocked by the performance of Morocco, which is relatively unheralded in golf but gaining traction thanks to the growth of Marrakech as a desirable winter destination and some excellent standalone modern resorts like Mazagan, Michlifen, and Tazegzout. Though Royal d’Agadir is off limits to outside play, the country tops the UAE for value and the countries of South America for the fact there are so many more good courses there. It can be daunting to plan, but those interested in a golf trip to Morocco can fly into Fez, Rabat, El Jadida, Marrakech, or Agadir and find good golf nearby.
Like South America, the rest of Africa struggles to compete on a worldwide basis due to a lack of quality golf and the difficulty of planning a trip and getting around safely with your clubs. UAE is set up to accommodate the visiting golfer much more easily, and do boast a perfect winter climate for the game. Sadly, the golf here is fairly expensive and recommended more for the celebrity of famous tournament venues—like the Emirates Golf Club, Jumeirah Golf Estates, and Abu Dhabi Golf Club—than for any world-class course design.
HOW WE SCORED THEM
NUMBER OF COURSES: 10 pts. = 5,000+; 9 = 2,000 to 5,000; 8 = 1,000 to 2,000; 7 = 500 to 1,000; 6 = 300 to 500; 5 = 100 to 300; 4 = 50 to 100; 3 = 25 to 50; 2 = 10 to 25; 1 = fewer than 10
POPULATION PER COURSE: 10 pts. = less than 10,000; 9 = less than 15,000; 8 = less than 20,000; 7 = less than 25,000; 6 = less than 30,000; 5 = less than 50,000; 4 = less than 80,000; 3 = less than 100,000; 2 = more than 100,000
CANADA – 2,633 courses, Population: 37.7 million, 14,318 people per course; SOUTH AFRICA – 489 courses, Population: 59.3 million, 121,268 people per course; MEXICO – 253 courses, Population: 128.9 million, 509,000 people per course; ARGENTINA – 349 courses, Population: 45.2 million, 129,513 people per course; CARIBBEAN – 134 courses, Population: 43.6 million, 325,373 people per course; PUERTO RICO – 23 courses, Population: 2.86 million, 124,348 people per course; DOMINICAN REPUBLIC – 35 courses, Population: 10.8 million, 308,571 people per course; BAHAMAS – 12 courses, Population: 393,000, 32,750 people per course; JAMAICA – 11 courses, Population: 2.96 million, 269,091 people per course; BRAZIL – 126 courses, Population: 212.6 million, 1.7 million people per course; MOROCCO – 56 courses, Population: 36.9 million, 658,929 people per course; UAE – 30 courses, Population: 9.9 million, 330,000 people per course; NIGERIA – 54 courses, Population: 206.1 million, 3.8 million people per course; ZIMBABWE – 38 courses, Population: 14.9 million, 392,105 people per course; MAURITIUS – 14 courses, Population: 1.27 million, 90,714 people per course; EGYPT – 38 courses, Population: 102.7 million, 2.7 million people per course; KENYA – 43 courses, Population 53.8 million, 1.25 million people per course; CHILE – 82 courses, Population: 19.1 million, 232,927 people per course; COLOMBIA – 68 courses, Population: 50.9 million, 748,529 people per course; VENEZUELA – 23 courses, Population: 28.4 million, 1.2 million people per course; URUGUAY – 11 courses, Population: 3.5 million, 318,182 people per course; SAUDI ARABIA – 14 courses, Population: 34.8 million, 2.5 million people per course. (Note: USA = 21,813 people per course.)
BEST 5/15 COURSES
Despite a relatively short season, the quality of the best golf courses in Canada is truly world-class. Legendary architect Stanley Thompson left the country with a number of terrific old-school layouts, for both private club members and public golfers. The new Cabot courses in Nova Scotia have further enhanced the reputation of the country as a golf destination, and hopefully increased global awareness of Thompson’s nearby magnum opus, Highlands Links.
The other strong contenders in this category are Mexico and the Caribbean, each with a plethora of luxurious modern golf resorts and quality member-only designs from the game’s leading signature designers. The Caribbean’s Top 5 shades Mexico for the world-class nature of Teeth of the Dog, Mid Ocean, and Punta Espada, but we rate the best 15 in Mexico slightly ahead because of the large number of modern, coastal projects and the strength of private club and resort golf around Cabo San Lucas.
While many of the courses in the areas mentioned above were established to attract private-club golfers seeking a second home, modern golf development in Morocco and the UAE is generally targeted at the tourist market. Morocco’s facilities are generally more modest than the UAE’s, but there is a nicer variety of golf available across the country.
South Africa is similarly impressive coast to coast, and also set up to welcome the visiting golfer. Whether you park yourself near Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg, or George and the Garden Route, there are fun itineraries and decent golf courses for you to enjoy, provided the appropriate safety precautions are taken.
Despite interest in the Rio Olympics course in Brazil, Argentina is the highest-rated South American country owing to a higher number of overall courses and some decent old-school design in places like Buenos Aires. Unfortunately, South America has less golf-tourism appeal than other parts of the world, and few serious golf travelers would choose this region over those countries ranked above.
CANADA: Cabot Cliffs, Cabot Links, Highlands Links, St. George’s, Banff Springs, Jasper Park, Capilano, Toronto Golf Club, Hamilton, Devil’s Paintbrush, Devil’s Pulpit, Beacon Hall, The National, Tobiano, Sagebrush, Blackhawk, Victoria, Shaughnessy, Bigwin Island, Oviinbyrd; SOUTH AFRICA: Durban, Fancourt (Links/Montagu), Humewood, Glendower, Sun City (Gary Player/Lost City), St. Francis Links, Pearl Valley, Pezula, Wild Coast, Royal Johannesburg (East/West), Houghton, Arabella, East London, Pinnacle Point; MEXICO: Diamante (Dunes/El Cardonal), Cabo del Sol (Cove Club/Desert), Punta Mita, Chileno Bay, Querencia, Quivira, El Dorado, Vista Vallarta, Puerto Penasco, El Camaleon Mayakoba, Twin Dolphin, Club de Golf Mexico, TPC Danzante Bay, Costa Palmas, Rancho San Lucas; ARGENTINA: Jockey Club (Red/Blue), Olivos, Buenos Aires, Termas de Rio Hondo, Chapelco; CARIBBEAN: Teeth of the Dog, Punta Espada, Punta Cana (Corales/La Cana), Mid Ocean Club, Sandy Lane (Green Monkey), Dye Fore, Apes Hill, Baker’s Bay, Playa Grande, Abaco Club at Winding Bay, Royal Westmoreland, Albany, Tryall, Port Royal, White Witch, Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo; BRAZIL: Rio Olympic, Terravista, Santapazienza, Gavea; MOROCCO: Mazagan, Michlifen, Tazegzout, Royal Dar Es Salam (Red), Royal d’Agadir, Assoufid, Fairmont Royal Palm Marrakech, Samanah; UAE: Yas Links, Abu Dhabi GC, Al Zorah, Jumeirah (Earth/Fire), The Emirates (Majlis/Faldo), Trump Dubai, Dubai Hills, Dubai Creek, Arabian Ranches, Els Club, Saadiyat Beach, The Montgomerie Dubai; CHILE: Los Leones, Patagonia Virgin, La Serena, Rocas de Santo Domingo; URUGUAY: Carmelo, Club de Golf Uruguay, Santa Martina; COLOMBIA: El Rincon, TPC Cartagena; EGYPT: New Giza, Allegria, Katameya Dunes, Cascades at Somabay, Palm Hills; MAURITIUS: Ile aux Cerfs, Heritage, Anahita, Avalon; ZIMBABWE: Royal Harare, Leopard Rock, Elephant Hills; KENYA: Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Royal Greens
AVERAGE GREEN FEES & VALUE
For these criteria, we considered courses that featured on various Top 100 lists produced by Golfweek, Golf Digest, SCOREGolf, and National Club Golfer (UK) and on the Top100GolfCourses.co.uk website.
Average Green Fee (USD$) Top 100 caliber courses: 10 pts. = < $80; 9 = < $100; 8 = < $120; 7 = < $150; 6 = < $180; 5 = < $220; 4 = < $260; 3 = < $300; 2 = over $300
CANADA – $140; SOUTH AFRICA – $61; MEXICO – $259; CARIBBEAN – $279; MOROCCO – $80; UAE – $255; BRAZIL – $80; EGYPT – $74; MAURITIUS – $185
CANADA: Average $140—Cabot Cliffs $280, Cabot Links $280, Highlands Links $130, Banff Springs $250, Jasper Park $209, Tobiano $120, Bigwin Island $155, St. George’s $282, Devil’s Paintbrush $110, Devil’s Pulpit $110, Capilano, Toronto GC, Hamilton, Beacon Hall, The National, Blackhawk, Victoria, Shaughnessy, Oviinbyrd, The Summit; SOUTH AFRICA: Average $61—Durban $50, Fancourt (Links/Montagu) $154/$56, Humewood $52, Glendower $34, Sun City (Gary Player/Lost City) $64/$64, St. Francis Links $47, Pearl Valley $109, Pezula $80, Wild Coast $21, Royal Johannesburg (East/West) $105/$40, Houghton $22, Arabella $88, East London $32, Pinnacle Point $80; MEXICO: Average $259—Diamante (Dunes/El Cardonal), Cabo del Sol (Cove Club/Desert) $265, Punta Mita (Pacifico/Bahia) $255/$255, Chileno Bay, Querencia, Quivira $323, El Dorado, Puerto Penasco, El Camaleon Mayakoba $300, Vista Vallarta $210, Twin Dolphin, Club de Golf Mexico, Danzante, Costa Palmas $210; CARIBBEAN: Average $279—Teeth of the Dog $395, Punta Espada $395, Mid Ocean Club $275, Sandy Lane (Green Monkey) $390, Dye Fore $295, Apes Hill, Baker’s Bay, Playa Grande, Abaco Club at Winding Bay, Royal Westmoreland $250, Albany, Tryall $150, Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo $240, Tucker’s Point $210, Port Royal $180, White Witch $179, TPC Dorado Beach (East) $292, Punta Cana (Corales/La Cana) $395/$175; MOROCCO: Average $80—Mazagan $81, Tazegzout $86, Assoufid $92, Royal Dar Es Salam, PalmGolf Marrakech, Michlifen $76, Royal d’Agadir, Fairmont Royal Palm Marrakech $70, Samanah $92; UAE: Average $255—Yas Links $302, Abu Dhabi GC $338, Jumeirah (Earth/Fire) $287/$230, The Emirates (Faldo/Majlis) $230/$328, Trump International $217, Dubai Creek $287, Saadiyat Beach $338, The Montgomerie Dubai $201, Dubai Hills $205, Al Zorah $185, Arabian Ranches $170; BRAZIL: Average $80—Rio Olympic $90, Terravista $80, Santapazienza, Gavea $70; EGYPT: Average $74—New Giza $50, Allegria $60, Katameya Dunes $70, Cascades at Somabay $90; MAURITIUS: Average $170—Ile aux Cerfs $165, Heritage $165, Anahita $175; URUGUAY: Los Leones, Santa Martina.; CHILE: Los Leones, Carmelo, Club de Golf Uruguay, Santa Martina; COLOMBIA: Club El Rincon, TPC Cartagena; ZIMBABWE: Royal Harare, Leopard Rock, Elephant Hills; KENYA: Nigeria: Saudi Arabia: Royal Greens
The top four countries in this ranking are blessed with bucket-list-type layouts that golfers across the world are eager to play. Each of Teeth of the Dog, Mid Ocean, Punta Espada, Albany, and Sandy Lane lure serious global golfers to the Caribbean each year. The same is true of St. George’s, Banff Springs, Jasper Park, Capilano, Hamilton, Toronto GC, Devil’s Pulpit/Paintbrush, Highlands Links, and the Cabot courses in Canada, as well as Diamante (Dunes), Cabo del Sol (Ocean), Punta Mita, Querencia, Chileno Bay, and Vista Vallarta in Mexico.
While you need serious connections to organize games at the top private clubs in such places, each of the leading courses in South Africa is welcoming of outside play and, relatively speaking, inexpensive. Again, some people might be scared away, which is a shame because a trip that includes old-school gems such as Durban, Humewood, and Glendower along with the likes of Fancourt, St. Francis Links, Pezula, and Sun City would be unforgettable—and affordable.
For those on the lookout for a value trip and not prepared to risk travel in South Africa, both Canada and Morocco are excellent options. The rack rate to play the Cabot courses in peak season is well over our maximum of $150, but you can still include Highlands Links, Jasper Park, Bigwin Island, Greywolf, Tobiano, and others as part of a more economical itinerary. In Morocco, most golfers would be surprised at the quality of a tour that includes Mazagan, Tazegzout, Michlifen, Royal Dar Es Salem (Red and Blue), and courses like Assoufid, Palm Golf, and Royal Palm in and around Marrakech.
“Money No Object” itinerary
CANADA: Cabot Cliffs, Cabot Links, Highlands Links, St. George’s, Banff Springs, Jasper Park, Capilano, Toronto GC, Hamilton, Devil’s Paintbrush, Devil’s Pulpit, Beacon Hall, The National, Victoria; SOUTH AFRICA: Durban, Fancourt (Links), Humewood, Glendower, Sun City (Gary Player), St. Francis Links, Pearl Valley, Pezula, Wild Coast, Royal Johannesburg (East/West), Houghton, Arabella; MEXICO: Diamante (Dunes/El Cardonal), Cabo del Sol (Ocean/Desert), Punta Mita, Chileno Bay, Querencia, Quivira, El Dorado, Vista Vallarta, Puerto Penasco, El Camaleon Mayakoba, Twin Dolphin, Club de Golf Mexico, TPC Danzante Bay, Costa Palmas, Rancho San Lucas; CARIBBEAN: Teeth of the Dog, Punta Espada, Punta Cana (Corales), Mid Ocean Club, Sandy Lane (Green Monkey), Dye Fore, Apes Hill, Baker’s Bay, Abaco Club at Winding Bay, Royal Westmoreland, Albany; ARGENTINA: Jockey Club (Red/Blue), Olivos, Buenos Aires, Termas de Rio Hondo, Chapelco; BRAZIL: Rio Olympic, Terravista, Santapazienza, Gavea; MOROCCO: Mazagan, Michlifen, Tazegzout, Royal Dar Es Salam (Red), Royal d’Agadir, Assoufid, Fairmont Royal Palm Marrakech, Samanah; UAE: Yas Links, Al Zorah, The Emirates (Majlis), Trump Dubai, Dubai Hills, Abu Dhabi GC, Els Club, Saadiyat Beach, Jumeirah (Earth/Fire), The Montgomerie; CHILE: Los Leones, Patagonia Virgin, La Serena, Rocas de Santo Domingo; URUGUAY: Carmelo, Club de Golf Uruguay, Santa Martina; COLOMBIA: Club El Rincon, TPC Cartagena; EGYPT: New Giza, Allegria, Katameya Dunes, Cascades at Somabay, Palm Hills; MAURITIUS: Ile aux Cerfs, Heritage, Anahita, Ava lon; ZIMBABWE: Royal Harare, Leopard Rock, Elephant Hills; KENYA: Nigeria; SAUDI ARABIA: Royal Greens
Best golf under $150 (peak rate) per round
CANADA: Highlands Links, Jasper Park, Tobiano, Bigwin Island, Greywolf, Muskoka Bay Club, Humber Valley Resort, Predator Ridge, Stewart Creek; SOUTH AFRICA: Durban, Fancourt (Montagu), Humewood, Glendower, Sun City (Gary Player/Lost City), St. Francis Links, Pearl Valley, Pezula, Wild Coast, Royal Johannesburg (East/West), Houghton, Arabella, East London, Pinnacle Point; MEXICO: Palmilla GC, Las Palomas, El Rio GC; ARGENTINA: Jockey Club (Red/Blue), Olivos, Buenos Aires, Termas de Rio Hondo, Chapelco; CARIBBEAN: Palmas Athletic Club, Cinnamon Hill, Tierra del Sol, Old Quarry; MOROCCO: Mazagan, Tazegzout, Assoufid, PalmGolf Marrakech, Michlifen, Fairmont Royal Palm Marrakech, SamanahUAE: Jebel Ali (9 Holes); BRAZIL: Rio Olympic, Terravista, GaveaEGYPT: New Giza, Allegria, Katameya Dunes, Cascades at Somabay; CHILE: Los Leones, Carmelo, Club de Golf Uruguay, Santa Martina; COLOMBIA: Club El Rincon, TPC Cartagena; ZIMBABWE: Royal Harare, Leopard Rock, Elephant Hills; SAUDI ARABIA: Royal Greens
CANADA: The premier private clubs in large urban areas like Toronto and Vancouver can be difficult to access, but there are plenty of high-quality public courses in Canada and some fantastic road trips to consider, despite the vast distances.
SOUTH AFRICA: It is unfortunately dangerous to self-drive now in South Africa, which is a great shame because the clubs and courses are open to outside play and the industry at large is as welcoming as anywhere in the world.
CARIBBEAN: Though unlikely that golfers would island-hop among, say, Bermuda, Bahamas, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic on a single trip, each country has enough quality golf to appeal as a standalone destination.
MEXICO: Localized travel in Mexican tourist regions may be fine, but scores were down here because of the number of leading courses in Mexico, such as at Diamante, Cabo del Sol (Ocean), Querencia, Chileno Bay, and Club de Golf Mexico, that are private and off-limits to visitors.
MOROCCO: There are some Royal-designated courses in Morocco that are exclusive, but generally the golf here is open and accessible to all. The travel between cities and golf resorts often proves the biggest challenge in Morocco.
UAE: Very much setup as an inbound golf destination, even private-club tournament hosts in the UAE like Emirates GC and Abu Dhabi GC offer regular tee times for visitors. Distances are quite short between courses, and self-driving is easier here than in most regions.
ARGENTINA: The Jockey Club in Buenos Aires is home to the country’s most significant golf course, Dr. MacKenzie’s Red Course, which is sadly closed to outside play. The same is true of other old-school clubs, though some will accommodate overseas golfers who write and request access.
BRAZIL: The 2016 Olympics shone a spotlight on Brazil, whose best golf course is the venue built by Gil Hanse and his team to host the event. With the exception of the mysterious Santapazienza course, foreign golfers can access the rest of the premier golf here during certain times of the week.
HISTORY / HYPE
CANADA: With almost 150 years of golf history, Canada is an important country and a perennially popular destination thanks to its many terrific courses. Though new course development has slowed in recent times, the success of Cabot Links and then Cabot Cliffs has kept Canada very much front of mind for many golf tourists.
SOUTH AFRICA: Although its profile has decreased since the memorable 2003 Presidents Cup at Fancourt Resort, South Africa continues to produce great golfers and host important events on the European Tour. Unfortunately, safety problems in recent years have reduced its appeal as a golf destination.
CARIBBEAN: From old-school C.B. Macdonald at Mid Ocean and genius Pete Dye at Teeth of the Dog, through to a host of exciting modern resorts, golf in the Caribbean has a strong history and plenty of ongoing appeal. That appeal will only increase with the opening of the new Coore & Crenshaw Cabot course on the island of Saint Lucia, which is currently under construction.
MEXICO: Having hosted some significant tournaments in recent years, and produced both elite male and female golfers, Mexico has become an important part of the global golf community. As each new signature course opens on the Baja California Peninsula, its appeal grows.
MOROCCO: Golf has been played in Morocco since 1914, and although there aren’t many courses there is a growing culture among locals and some fanatical ex-pats. The late King Hassan II was a passionate golfer and responsible for not only establishing an annual tournament on the European Tour, but also building its venue, the fine Royal Dar Es Salam Golf Club in Rabat.
UAE: With a European Tour office in Dubai, and prominent annual events established at Abu Dhabi GC, Emirates GC, and Jumeirah Golf Estates, the UAE has become a significant member of the international golf community. Its golf courses aren’t great by world standards, but this small corner of the Middle East seems to become more influential with each passing year.
ARGENTINA: Though Argentina is one of the few countries to own an original Dr. Alister MacKenzie track (Jockey Club, Red Course), the lack of high-quality back-up options prevents a higher History/Hype rating.
BRAZIL: Pre-Olympics there was little interest in golf in Brazil, and that unfortunately remains largely the case due to security risks associated with travel here and the lack of strong backup options. Those who have played the Rio 2016 course have enjoyed the experience, as have those able to make it to the nearby seaside Gavea course or the private Santapazienza near Sao Paulo.
LINKS MAGAZINE’S OVERALL RANKINGS OF THE BEST GOLF NATIONS IN THE WORLD (OUTSIDE THE U.S.)
1. Scotland (86) 2. England (85) 3. Australia (84.5) 4. Canada (81) 5. Ireland (74) 6. New Zealand (72.5) 7. France (70.5) 8. Wales (69) 9. Sweden (68.5) 10. South Africa (67)11. Japan (66.5) 12. Denmark (66) 13. Holland (64.5) 14. Portugal (62) 15. Caribbean (60.5) T16. Germany (59.5) T16. Vietnam (59.5) 18. Spain (59) 19. N. Ireland (58) T20. Mexico (57.5) T20. Belgium (57.5) 22. Morocco (57) 23. Malaysia (56) T24. Thailand (55) T24. Italy (55) 26. China (54) 27. Norway (53.5) 28. S. Korea (52.5) 29. UAE (49.5) 30. Argentina (48) 31. Chile (47.5) 32. Brazil (47) 33. Indonesia (46.5) 34. Singapore (42.5) 35. Egypt (40.5)