The Seven Best Golf Courses That Tangle with Train Tracks

Until 110 years ago, riding the rails was the preferred mode of transportation to reach golf clubs situated in the countryside. In fact, the building of golf courses often went hand in hand with where the railroad stopped, making it a leisure-time marriage of convenience and enjoyment.

While passenger train travel has ebbed significantly in most locations, it’s hardly an anachronism in others. Many great and not-so-great courses continue to feature trains that rumble past at least one of its golf holes.

Here are the seven best courses that tangle with actively used train tracks.

1. Carnoustie Golf Club—Carnoustie, Scotland

The most rugged Open rota course for a variety of reasons—length, wind, penal bunkers, and a twisting burn that menaces the closing holes—this eight-time Open Championship venue also can wreck the concentration with the clattering of visible train cars through the trees behind the 9th green. Known as “Railway,” the 474-yard par four played as the hardest hole at the 1999 Open Championship, perhaps in part to players having to stop and start as the train cars on the main Dundee-Aberdeen railway line chugged by. “It can be a distraction when you play golf if it’s coming at the wrong time,” said Bernhard Langer to the New York Times in 2018. “But they’re not going to stop the train just because we’re playing golf.”

2. Royal Troon Golf Club—Troon, Scotland

The 10-time venue for the Open Championship tempts with the shortest hole on the Open rota, the 123-yard Postage Stamp 8th, then terrorizes with one of the toughest, the 482-yard, par-four 11th. Called “The Railway,” for the Glasgow Central-to-Ayr railway line that runs hard up the right side, the 11th was labeled by Arnold Palmer, “the most dangerous hole I’ve ever seen.” Its victims include then U.S. Open champ Jack Nicklaus in 1962, who collapsed to a 10 here in the fourth round of the 1962 Open. Among his miscues were a whiff, and hitting a shot onto the railroad track. At the 2016 Open, David Duval, Kristoffer Broberg, and Steven Bowditch each made 9 here and 2015 Australian Open champ Matt Jones was one who sliced his drive onto the tracks. “It’s a very tough tee shot, because you see nothing but trouble,” said Jones.

3. Royal Lytham & St. Annes—Lytham St. Annes, England

Host to 11 Open Championships and two Ryder Cups, “Lytham,” as it’s known, punishes errant shots with dense rough and 174 bunkers. It adds further potential misery to the slicer on holes 1, 2, 3, 7, and 8, which are edged by trees and an active railway line on the right. Trains are certainly in play at 2, 3, and 7, a 477-yard par four, a 481-yard par four, and a 589-yard par five respectively, but the tracks are particularly close to the action at the 417-yard, par-four 8th. With a cavernous bunker to the left off the tee and three cross bunkers that are etched into an abrupt rise, 50 yards from the green, it’s unfortunately all too easy to tangle with the railway when into a headwind.

4. Chambers Bay Golf Course—University Place, Wash.

Home to the 2015 U.S. Open, where Jordan Spieth nipped Dustin Johnson, this 7,585-yard, walking-only, Robert Trent Jones II design unfolds atop an old gravel mine at the southeast tip of Puget Sound, 45 minutes south of Seattle. Originally scheduled to be a parkland test, the Jones design team proposed a links instead. “With all of that sand and a railroad line that edged the property, the course seemed ideal as a links,” said Jones. “This could be Ballybunion on steroids.”  Indeed, the 16th and 17th holes feature the rumblings of Amtrak trains on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway line. Jordan Spieth memorably played a recovery shot at the par-three 17th on the final Sunday with a locomotive whizzing by. USGA executive director Mike Davis warned players of potential loud noises, but Phil Mickelson wasn’t having any of it. “It was slow, it was quiet, it was not a problem,” he said.

train golf
(photo by L.C. Lambrecht)

5. Prestwick Golf Club—Prestwick, Scotland

Home to 24 Open Championships, including the first 12 editions, Prestwick has always had its passionate admirers, as well as its fierce critics, who have deemed its archaic eccentricities as relics best confined to another era. Old Tom Morris left his St. Andrews home in 1851 to design a new 12-hole links for Prestwick in the west of Scotland and assisted the club in 1882-83 when it expanded to 18 holes. The 345-yard 1st hole, “Railway,” is one of the quirkiest, scariest in golf, with a stone wall and an active railway flush with the landing area’s right side from tee to green. There are few more terrifying opening tee shots than at Prestwick, with the prospect of a train coming at you in your backswing.

6. Royal Adelaide Golf Club—Seaton, Australia

A longtime member of the top 100 courses in the world and host to multiple Australian Opens, Royal Adelaide ascended to world-class status after a 1926 Alister MacKenzie makeover. MacKenzie lauded the “delightful combination of sand dunes and fir trees” and routed new holes through the magnificent seaside sand craters. His rerouting also fixed the problem of holes having to traverse train tracks. He put 12 holes on one side of the tracks that run through the middle of the course and six on the other. Only two carries remain today, from the back tee of the par-five 2nd hole and the back tee of the par-four 14th. Two pages of local rules cover situations concerning the holes that abut the busy Grange-to-Adelaide train line—numbers 1, 2, 3, 13, 14, and 18.

7. Formby Golf Club—Liverpool, England

Formby Golf Club on England’s Lancashire Coast boasts serious history. Its legendary asparagus were served on the Titanic and it witnessed a titanic British Amateur final in 1984, when Jose Maria Olazabal downed Colin Montgomerie. In addition, it played host to the 2004 Curtis Cup, when Paula Creamer and Michelle Wie led the U.S. to a 10-8 victory. Many respected critics call it a links, thanks to its sandy soil and proximity to the sea, yet the majority of its holes are bracketed by pines. Some of those pines were planted in the early 1970s to the right of holes 1, 2, and 3, in order to obscure the view of the trains that frequently pass by. Still, there is a healthy gap in the trees to the right of the green at the 432-yard, par-four 1st hole, where the tracks come perilously close to the putting surface.

What golf courses that tangle with train tracks did we miss? Let us know in the comment section.