European Tour golf courses are an elite band of some of the best places to play golf around the world. It is fair to say that the European Tour has become somewhat of a world tour thanks to a lack of good weather in the continent through the winter months. This has been one of the key success drivers for the tour as it has captivated this global audience and taken the golfing circus to these far-away lands.
As we’ve said before on this blog, one of the most special factors in golf is that we can play the very same courses that our heroes play during the season. Playing at European Tour golf courses gives you a sense of just how good these guys are out there. You must always remember though, you’re playing the course under normal circumstances, not in tour mode.
Thankfully, these courses come with many teeing options and you don’t necessarily have to play the course at the same length that the stars do. If you’re a seasoned European Tour fan then you will no doubt have fond memories of some of the great moments on some of these courses.
We take a look at some of the best playing experiences you can have on European Tour golf courses. The countries and tracks that you should be adding to your ‘must play list’ then getting out there and testing your game against them. There are some absolute gems on this list, enjoy.
There are few European Tour Golf Courses as spectacular as the Seve Ballesteros Course at Crans-sur-Sierre. The annual host course of the Omega Swiss Masters, this is an event with arguably the greatest backdrop in all of professional golf. Sitting high in the Alps, the panoramas are captivating and the course is a perfect accompaniment to the views. There is no wonder why the Tour has been coming back here every year since 1972.
This is high-altitude golf and as a result, you will see your ball travelling further than you may be used to, always a bonus. In 1995, the true legend of European golf, Seve Ballesteros was invited to help refurbish the course. He then came back to concentrate specifically on modernising the greens. What he created is what we see today and the club were so impressed by his work that they named the course after him. The course is a lot of fun to play. With plenty of changes in elevation and with the use of strategically placed hazards, this course requires well-executed shots and a more conservative game plan. You will fall in love with this place so quickly.
Another of the outstandingly beautiful European Tour golf courses is a fairly new member of the club. Thracian Cliffs sits on the coast of the Black Sea and is the work of Gary Player. The course opened in 2011 and immediately caught the attention of the golfing world. One of the most photogenic courses in the world, this is just pure coastal drama as the holes skirt along the cliffs. Thracian Cliffs hosted the 2013 Volvo World Matchplay Championship which saw a host of European Tour stars, G-Mac was the eventual winner that week.
The crystal white cliffs combined with the piercingly blue sea makes for a wonderful visual experience. Many say that this course is made up of 18 signature holes, it’s a fair assessment, but if you had to single one hole out it would probably be the 6th. This long par 3 is over 230 yards and your tee shot is played from high above the green. The putting surface appears to have been carved out of the cliffs and anything right will face either bunkers or a watery end. The ever-modest Gary Player declared that this course will be “in the top three in the world”.
Belek is fast becoming one of the best golfing destinations in Europe, this fact has certainly been helped by the incredible following that the Turkish Airlines Open has created. Carya Golf Club ‘proved itself’ as a championship venue on by hosting the Turkish Challenge on the Challenge Tour for three years. After great success during that stint, it wasn’t long until the European Tour was stopping by in the aforementioned Turkish Airlines Open. The course has now hosted the event for the last three years and has seen back to back victories for Justin Rose and one from Thorbjorn Oleson.
This is quite a unique course as it is very similar to the heathland course of England. The course was designed by one the legends of The Open Championship, Peter Thomson. If you are visiting Turkey in the height of the summer, you can even play this one in the coolness of the night under floodlights. It is definitely worth playing this course in the day time and night time to get the full experience. This course makes its way through high pine and eucalyptus trees that perfectly frame the holes. There are a few water hazards out there that just wait on you slipping up whilst waste bunkering can test your scrambling. It is no wonder that this is a European Tour golf course, it is a wonderful playing experience.
Whilst Belek is a rising star in the golf destination category, few can compete with The Algarve. The Dom Pedro Resort in Vilamoura is one of the best resorts on offer here and the Victoria is a European Tour Golf Course. This is the fifth course to be built at this huge resort and is the work of the late and great Arnold Palmer. From the very early days of even planning this course it was thought of as highly ambitious but the project was an incredible success. Since 2007, this has been the host course of the Portugal Masters and honours list of that tournament contains some of the best European Tour players you could think of.
The first priority when playing this course is avoiding the many and large water hazards that litter the course. An overly safe shot or the occasional dropped shot is far more conducive to a good score than trying to be a hero on every hole and adding to the vast collection at the bottom of the lakes. The greens at Dom Pedro Victoria are vast and fast. Just make sure you keep the ball dry and let your putting do the talking. The 7,273 yard championship course also has many well-placed bunkers for you to navigate around but with plenty of teeing options, you should take time to pick the most suitable tee so that you can really enjoy the quality of this course.
The Scottish Open has traditionally been the tournament before The Open Championship, this is a rather privileged spot on the calendar as it means many PGA TOUR players are around preparing for the quirks of British golf before the major. For many years this event was held at the sumptuous parkland, Loch Lomond Golf Club. After 2010, a great decision was made to start to play this great event on links courses. The first venue to get the new version of the event was Castle Stuart and it was an amazing start to the new era of the tournament. The wonderful links course near Inverness is one of a handful of amazing new links courses that have cropped up in Scotland. For three years the event was held at Castle Stuart and all of a sudden it started to draw more international players who were using it as a chance to ready themselves for the links shots required to win an Open. Among the early winners there were Luke Donald and Phil Mickelson, in 2016 Alex Noren also took the title in Inverness.
Castle Stuart was the project of developer Mark Parsinen and the work he took quickly after the incredibly successful Kingsbarns. This piece of land sits on the Moray Firth and, although on links terrain, has far more elevation change than your average links course. The dramatic elevation change is used to great effect creating exhilarating tee shots down the cliffs onto the fairway. Few course architects could have done this land the justice that Gil Hanse did in bringing Parsinen’s vision to life. The long par three 17th leaves a memorable challenge to keep you honest until the end. The hole is perched on the cliffs and is one of the many highlights of the round.
This is a unique member in this list of European Tour Golf Courses, it has hosted the Ryder Cup and it is also the annual venue for US Open International qualifying. The course hosted five European Opens on the European Tour between 1978 and 1991 and then saw a return of the tour as the host course of the British Masters in 2018. Fan favourite and all-round good guy, Eddie Pepperell would win the event which was hosted by Justin Rose. The newly revamped and repackaged British Masters has been a huge success for the tour in recent years and this was another fantastic edition of the event.
Other great facts about Walton Heath are that it is the only course in British history to have a reigning monarch as captain of the club and it is where Winston Churchill played his golf as a member for 55 years. The land on this course is fairly unique too. It has the fiery and hard-packed nature of a coastal links but the sea is nowhere near. As the name would suggest, this also has a feel of heathland golf to it and the course is decorated with wild heather which adds a great flash of colour to the terrain.
Walton Heath is not an easy course as it requires both length and accuracy from the tee as well as a sound strategy through the bag. Many holes force you into long carries over the heathery land and test your ball striking with the driver. The closing holes, starting from the 13th are regarded by many as among the finest in all of golf. The par-five 16th is one of the major challenges of the final holes and at 535 yards requires you to have left something in the tank for the end. Bunkering on the right and unappealing lies awaiting misses to the left keep you true from the tee, however, that’s the easy part. The green is guarded in a similar set-up and a deep bunker awaits those missing right whilst that pesky heather awaits on the left again. If you’re feeling strong and confident then a great birdie opportunity awaits you on this hole but your mishits will be punished. You have been warned. This is a rare playing experience and a course with a wonderfully rich history. If you get the chance to play it, cease it with both hands.
The European Tour is where some of the most skilled golfers in the world ply their trade and scintillate golf fans. If you have ever been to an event on the tour, you will know just how much comes with the event to draw in crowds and build the spectator experience. It is an amazing thing to go watch a tour event and see the course set up for that week then to go back and see it under normal circumstances. When you can see the course without the grandstands and penal set-up it is like seeing a whole new course again.
We must take full advantage of the fact that we can experience these wonderful courses and most of them are great value to play. You may not have the opportunity to play in front of the cameras and expectant crowds but you can always imagine them as you make your way around. As a golf fan, you must do yourself a favour and play a European Tour course at least once in your life, you owe it to yourself.