Top 10 “Old” Courses You Can Play

With the recent well-received opening of Old Barnwell in Aiken, S.C., it got me wondering about the very best “Old” courses in golf—that is, courses ancient or modern that feature “Old” in the course name. While it’s true that some of these layouts go back many years, others are of considerably newer vintage.

Old Barnwell is completely private, as are superb Golden Oldies such as Old Sandwich, Old Memorial, and Old Town. Nevertheless, some of the world’s greatest “Olds” are accessible most of the time. Here are the 10 best “Old” courses you can play.

10. Rye Golf Club (Old)Rye, England

Home to the legendary President’s Putter match contested by the Oxford and Cambridge Golfing Society—famously in January—Rye won’t scare anyone with its scrawny par of 68 and scorecard yardage of 6,503 from the back tees, but when the wind blows off the nearby English Channel in southeast England, it can feel like 7,503 yards. Wildly rollicking fairways that yield an unending variety of lies and stances, blind shots through the dune ridges, and a quintet of rugged par threes are highlights. Rye’s original layout dates to 1895 and has been modified many times since, but it didn’t become the “Old” until the 1970s, when a new nine appeared. That course, with multiple changes and additions since then including a new hole built in 2014, is called the Jubilee. Rye is not the easiest club for visitors to access, but some outside play can be accommodated.

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Rye (photo by Kevin Murray)

9. Portmarnock Golf Club (Old)Portmarnock, Co. Dublin, Ireland

This low-profile but character-filled, Dublin-area links played host to the 1991 Walker Cup, where Phil Mickelson and the Yanks prevailed despite strong efforts from Padraig Harrington and Paul McGinley. Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, and Ian Woosnam are among those who captured Irish Opens here. Arnold Palmer once tabbed the 15th as one of golf’s best par threes. Deep pot bunkers and low dunes that offer little protection from the wind make Portmarnock Ireland’s sternest, yet fairest championship test. The Red and Blue are the club’s original nines. Fred Hawtree created the Yellow nine in 1971. References seem to be split 50/50 as to whether the preferred name for the original nines is the Old course or the Championship course.

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Portmarnock (photo by L.C. Lambrecht)

8. Old Macdonald at Bandon Dunes Golf ResortBandon, Ore.

This 2010 Tom Doak/Jim Urbina collaboration features turnpike-wide landing areas and gigantic, heaving greens. To get the ball into the hole, however, you’ll need to master angles, strategy, trajectory, and the ground game. You begin on what Doak called, “my favorite opening hole we’ve ever built,” a 341-yard par four known as “Double Plateau.” The driving zone is gigantic, which sets the tone for the rest of the round. Yes, the wind blows at Bandon, but at Old Mac, there’s a ton of room to accommodate strategic driving.

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Old Macdonald (photo courtesy Bandon Dunes Golf Resort)

7. Walton Heath Golf Club (Old)Tadworth, England

Its bleak, heathland setting won’t set anyone aglow but as a test of character and shot making, Walton Heath has few peers. A superb, strategic delight, it is stern but fair, with heather, gorse, rough, and bunkers that must be avoided at all costs. Yet, the chalk beneath the sandy subsoil allows for firm fairways that yield plenty of links-like run. Host to many important tournaments, Walton Heath was the venue of the 1981 Ryder Cup, when arguably the strongest American side of all time—featuring Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Raymond Floyd, Hale Irwin, Ben Crenshaw, and Tom Kite to name eight—demolished the Europeans, 18.5 to 9.5. The Old dates to 1904; its sibling the New opened as a 9-hole loop in 1907 and expanded to 18 holes in 1913.

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Walton Heath (photo by Kevin Murray)

6. Old Head Golf LinksKinsale, Co. Cork, Ireland

Twenty-five years ago, LINKS proclaimed Old Head to be the most spectacular course in the world. Today it remains at or near the top. In recent years, however, design and maintenance tweaks have elevated playability and conditioning to where the shot values nearly equal the eye candy. No matter where you stand, it’s undeniable that this clifftop layout is jaw-dropping from start to finish. Holes on each nine drape 300-foot-high cliffs above the Atlantic Ocean and backdrops include a lighthouse, castle ruins, and the spot in the sea where the Lusitania went down.

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(photo courtesy Old Head Golf Links)

5. Royal Troon Golf Club (Old)Troon, Scotland

Arnold Palmer, Tom Weiskopf, and Tom Watson are among the Americans who have won at Troon, yet the most memorable shot was struck by a non-winner, 71-year-old Gene Sarazen, who aced the 123-yard “Postage Stamp” 8th during the 1973 Open—with a 5-iron! While some argue that the closing stretch is flattish and dull, it is undeniably tough, earning Troon its long-held accolades. Host to the 2024 Open Championship, Troon’s Old is quite old, dating to 1888 as an 18-holer. Its well-regarded Portland course appeared in 1895 and was redesigned by Alister MacKenzie in 1921.

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Royal Troon (photo by Kevin Murray)

4. Lahinch Golf Club (Old)Lahinch, Co. Clare, Ireland

Lahinch charms with titanic sandhills and stunning views of both the Atlantic Ocean and of the Cliffs of Moher. Old Tom Morris’s 1893 design, coupled with Alister MacKenzie’s 1927 renovation and Martin Hawtree’s 2003 restoration form a seamless fit on ideal terrain, even as relics such as the par-five 4th and par-three 5th wow with their blind, old-fashioned quirk. Toss in MacKenzie’s drivable par-four 13th, an intimate in-town setting and goats that act as weather barometers for an utterly enticing package. Architect John Harris designed a new nine for Lahinch that opened in 1963. It was joined by another nine holes in 1975 to form the Castle course.

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Lahinch (photo by Evan Schiller)

3. Sunningdale Golf Club (Old)Sunningdale, England

Perhaps the noblest of the London-area heathland courses—and possibly golf’s most enjoyable walk—this charming, 1901 Willie Park Jr. design is dotted with handsome trees, heather patches, and ingeniously placed bunkers. Architecture buffs will appreciate the par-four 5th hole where the first man-made water hazard in golf design appears in the form of a pond on the right side of the fairway. H.S. Colt, Sunningdale’s secretary when the club’s first course debuted, later designed the New in 1923.

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Sunningdale (Old) (photo by Kevin Murray)

2. Ballybunion Golf Club (Old)Ballybunion, Co. Kerry, Ireland

This southwest Ireland gem is wedged between huge sandhills and the Atlantic Ocean. “Nothing less than the finest seaside course I have ever seen,” waxed Hall of Fame writer Herbert Warren Wind. Echoed five-time Open champion Tom Watson, “It is one of the best and most beautiful tests of links golf anywhere.” With dunes, beach, and sea all in sight and play, it’s easy to see why Wind and Watson were so wowed. The par-four 11th, which dishes out a downhill plunge amid broken ground and a beach on the right, is unforgettable. The Old in its present form dates to 1936. Robert Trent Jones Sr. designed Ballybunion (New) in 1984, but for the past three decades, that course has been known as “Cashen.”

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Ballybunion (Old) (photo by Evan Schiller)

1. St. Andrews Links (Old Course)St. Andrews, Scotland

If there’s a single course on Earth that’s worthy of the “Old” name, it’s St. Andrews. The home of golf features the oldest course on the planet, with play documented in the 15th century. Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods have won two Opens apiece here. So did two members of the Great Triumvirate—J.H. Taylor and James Braid—between 1895-1910. Tweaks and refinements are a constant at St. Andrews, but essentially, the Old Course plays as it did 150 years ago. Of course, it wasn’t the “Old” until St. Andrews opened the “New” course in 1895.

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Old Course at St. Andrews (photo by Kevin Murray)

What is your favorite “Old” course?

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