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Top 100 Golf Courses of Continental Europe 2018

22 December, 2017

Top 100 Golf Courses of Continental Europe 2018

Unlike many recent listings we’ve published, where there’s been little movement in the upper reaches of the chart and we’ve seen only a few new entries to freshen things up, the Top 100 for Continental Europe is positively bristling with volatility, such is the nature of the re-ranking process in this wide-ranging part of the golfing world, encompassing forty-eight countries.

There are many large leaps up the table and quite a few heavy falls. Astonishingly, only six courses remain in the same position, and four of those appear within the top six positions. Fifteen courses drop out of the standings, with two of their replacements arriving in the top half of the hundred. The European Top 100 is dominated by courses from Spain, France and Portugal, with these three nations accounting for almost half the chart entries.

Although only the top three European courses are listed in the 2018 edition of our World Top 100, don’t for a minute think the standard of golfing layouts within this vast region is in any way inferior to many of those that appear in our global rankings – it’s a very thin line that separates the really great from the truly exceptional. Some might even claim there’s a bias against Europe in US-centric world ranking charts which favour courses in less deserving geographical locations but that’s an argument for another time, perhaps.

The Top 100 Team didn’t play every single contender during the last two-year ranking period but we visited a large percentage of them, trusting our network of continental contacts to keep us fully informed about the others. If you have played extensively through Europe then we’d love to hear from you with a view to helping us with our next chart revision. The more informed opinions we assimilate into our process, the more authentic and authoritative our rankings will become, hopefully.

And so to our revised Continental Europe Top 100, where the Grand Parcours at Morfontaine remains in the number 1 slot, a position that it’s held for five of the six editions that we’ve published since 2008.

Laid out by Tom Simpson in the late 1920s, the course is still being refined in the modern era by Kyle Phillips, though the architect has told us his work there involves nothing other than “trophy polishing”. One of our core team members, Brian Ward, who’s played more than 1,000 courses worldwide, visited Golf de Morfontaine last year, describing it as “a class act and one of my best experiences in golf.”

Three more French courses reside within the Top 10, two of which are also Tom Simpson layouts – the Vineuil at Chantilly (still at number 5) and Fontainebleau (still at number 6) – along with Robert von Hagge’s mid 1980s design at Les Bordes (down four to number 8) so there’s absolutely no denying the strength in depth of this often underrated golfing nation.

At number 2 in our new continental listings, the course at Koninklijke Haagsche (Royal Hague) in The Netherlands holds onto the runner-up spot, having risen seven places last time around. A Harry Colt and Hugh Alison redesign from 1939, the course was pronounced as “a mighty encounter on a gorgeous piece of property with a dynamic routing that will joyfully bring you to your knees” by a recent reviewer.

One place behind, soaring six places to number 3, the Utrecht de Pan course is another Colt/Alison Dutch design that has enjoyed the most sensational progression in our chart, ever since it debuted at #85 in 2008. “It’s lovely here,” is how a reviewer portrayed it a couple of months ago, with a second person marvelling at “the brilliance of the strategic routing, the magnificent short par fours and the mouth-watering charm of the par threes.”

Three old Dutch Masters also make very strong upward moves in our latest European listings: two more fabulous Harry Colt layouts at Eindhovensche (up sixteen to 29) and Hilversumsche (up twenty to 34), together with Frank Pennink’s remodelled Rosendaelsche (up twenty-six to 46). The Netherlands has been notoriously reluctant to promote its top golf facilities but we’re catching up fast with what’s on offer and will continue to provide a prominent platform for the very best layouts within that country.

Spain is one of the “Big Three” in European golf, with three of its courses ranked inside our Top 10, but the big Iberian story is about Javier Arana’a masterpiece at El Saler, which just misses out on a place in the top tier, climbing thirteen places to number 11. It’s a rather unappreciated layout that our two most travelled correspondents, David Davis and Fergal O’Leary visited last year. David had this to say: “there is a lot to like about El Saler… very interesting green complexes and surrounds… fantastic bunkering” and Fergal ended his review with: “El Saler is not only the #1 course in Spain, but it’s a glaring omission from the Top 100 courses in the World.”

Three more Spanish tracks make great strides up the top half of the table. Two of these courses are located along the famous golfing playground of Costa del Sol: Finca Cortesin (up six to 19) has hosted four editions of the Volvo World Match Play starting in 2009 and has also recently relaid its greens with environmentally-friendly Bermuda grass. Real las Brisas (up ten to 37) was where the 1973 World Cup of Golf and the 1987 Spanish Open events were held and the third big mover Son Gual (up nine to 42) is situated on the holiday island of Majorca, close to the international airport.

The first of our new entries arrives in a rather conspicuous position at number 16 and it’s the Cynthia Dye-designed West Cliffs course on Portugal’s spectacular Silver Coast, which was unveiled this summer. Already it’s received rave reviews with comments such as, “ridiculously good… exhilarating… a staggeringly scenic golf course… out of this world!” and we have to agree with one reviewer’s assertion that this fantastic links layout is a possible World Top 100 course in the future.

West Cliffs isn’t the highest ranked Portuguese course in our listings however as that accolade belongs to the stellar Jack Nickaus Signature layout at Monte Rei (North) in the eastern Algarve, which eases up one position to number 9. Other honourable mentions for courses in mainland Europe’s westernmost country include Robert Trent Jones Senior’s terrific Troia (up fourteen to 22), the much-loved late-1980s Joe Lee design at San Lorenzo (up eleven to 32), the splendid Robert Trent Jones Junior renovation at Palmares (Praia & Lagos) (up twenty-six to 41) and Cabell Robinson’s exceptional late-1990s layout at Praia D’El Rey (up twenty-five to 48).

The second highest placed newcomer in our European Top 100 might surprise a few people as it didn’t seem to attract the same media coverage as other new build courses which opened this year. And so, flying a little under the conventional golfing radar, we present Great Northern in Denmark as our new number 27.

This 27-hole facility is funded by Thomas Kirk Kristiansen, vice chairman of the LEGO company, and no expense appears to have been spared when constructing the course and its inherent infrastructure. As our Scandinavian correspondent Jan Nordstrom noticed, “upon arrival at Great Northern… one can immediately sense the attention to detail that has gone into the development of the Great Northern resort.”

Another Nordic entry appears for the first time in our rankings at number 51 and it’s the remote Lofoten Links course in Norway. Our man Jan recently made a 3,000-kilometre round trip (including a 2.5-hour ferry trip each way) from his home in Oslo to play there and was suitably impressed by what he found. One reviewer has called it “a spectacular course with fantastic views” with another reviewer endorsing that sentiment by saying “the views are just gorgeous to the extent that the golf is almost incidental”.

Other chart highlights include prodigious surges up the table from a couple of courses in France’s Côte d’Opale region, where Brian Ward, our aforementioned correspondent for the Midlands and North of England, visited a few months ago. The Les Pins course at Hardelot (up thirty-six to 23) and La Mer course at Le Touquet (up twenty-one to 35) are early 1930s designs from Tom Simpson and Harry Colt which are managed by Open Golf Club, the well-respected golf facility operator.

Both courses have benefitted from a substantial financial investment – involving tree removal, green enlargement, fairway widening and bunker reconstruction – which was undertaken by architect Frank Pont and Patrice Boissonnas, whose family own Open Golf Club, and their efforts are now reflected in the vastly improved chart positions of the layouts. Brian, in his reviews, felt Le Touquet had “all the ingredients for the perfect golf break” and he was spot on when he said of Les Pins: “a big move forwards in the Continental Europe rankings during the next few years is all but guaranteed.”

A couple of Turkish tracks also leap up the listings and it’s no big shock to learn that they’re both located in the golf-intensive Belek area, which has grown from nothing to a major resort golf destination in the last twenty years. The Tim Lobb-designed course at Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort, currently the host venue for the Turkish Airlines Open, advances twenty places to number 40 and Nick Faldo’s Prince layout at the 27-hole Cornlia Resort jumps up from number 75 to 59, an impressive sixteen-place rise.

What about other leading countries you might ask? Well, the 1930s Harry Colt layout at Hamburger Falkenstein remains the German #1 (though it’s down one to 13). The classic old links at Falsterbo holds onto its #2 status in Sweden (rising six to 24) and Fred Hawtree’s mid-1960s design at Royal Limburg also retains its position as national #2 in Belgium, climbing four to 33. Villa d’Este assumes the mantle of Italian #1, rising fourteen to 49, and this 1920s Peter Gannon layout is a timeless classic, revered by golfing connoisseurs who readily appreciate its undoubted charms.

Eight courses that filled the final ten positions in the last published hundred have fallen by the wayside, with some interesting replacements from a few unlikely places now ensconced in the lowest tier of the standings. For instance, the Dunes course at Costa Navarino in Greece squeezes in at number 98, the King’s course at Royal Bled in Slovenia slips in at number 96 and the Parnu Bay Golf Links in Estonia enters at number 94. It’ll be interesting to see if these (and the other new entries in the lower reaches of the chart) progress further when we re-rank in another two years.

Perhaps in that next edition, we’ll see new entries from some of the other central European countries, like Poland or the Czech Republic, where we plan to visit next year. Sometimes it’s only by getting out and about to the more unheralded golfing destinations that you might just discover the odd nugget here and there. We might even explore what’s happening on the golf front in some of the new emerging nations such as Azerbaijan or Croatia, you never know.

We appreciate your comments when publishing an international ranking list like this so please take the opportunity to let us know what you think of our new Top 100 for Continental Europe. Is there a glaring omission from the chart or have we included a course that really shouldn’t be there? Perhaps we’ve promoted one too strongly or allowed another to slide too far down the list? Whatever you’re thinking, click the “Respond to this article” link at the bottom of the page to share your view.


To view the complete detailed list of the 2018 Continental Europe Top 100 click the link.

Jim McCann
Top 100 Golf Courses


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