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Guiding Lights: Our Top 10 Golf Courses with Famous Lighthouses

lighthouse peanuts featured

Our Legendary Links series, has covered may of the world’s most challenging and scenic golf courses, all of which have something special to offer. While a course’s merit is often judged on its characteristics, strategic design, routing, and quality of the holes themselves, spectacular scenery adds another level to the experience and sense of place.

In this post, we’re going to explore 10 iconic lighthouses that serve as backdrop to some of these historic courses. From remote island locations to literally the most urban you will find, we’ll discover some of the most beloved and photograpged holes in the world.

seaside golf course lighthouse

Lighthouses have historically played a crucial role in maritime navigation, serving as beacons that guide ships safely to shore and warn them of potential hazards like reefs, rocks, and dangerous coastlines. They are strategically placed at significant or dangerous points along coastlines, where their lights help mariners determine their position and avoid accidents, especially during poor visibility conditions such as fog or at night.

The lighthouse, as recognized today, started to evolve around the turn of the 18th century, driven by the needs of expanding maritime trade and the associated navigational challenges. Many coastal golf courses developed adjacent to lighthouses with these landmarks serving double duty by adding to the aesthetic and assisting players with aim and naviigation around the course, epescially on blind approaches.

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Old Head Golf Links in Kinsale County - The Greenside Gallery

Sankaty Head
Nantucket, Massachussetts

sankaty head golf course lighhouse

Nantucket’s Sankaty Head Golf Club was founded in the 1920s on a sandy seaside site along the Atlantic coastline on Nantucket, designed as a classic links-style course. The course is characterized by rolling, windswept terrain, scenic ocean views, fescue grasses framing the fairways, and strategically placed pot bunkers.

The front nine plays in the shadow of the iconic Sankaty Head Lighthouse, which looms over the 5th hole, aptly named “Light A’Port,” and serves as a target for blind shots throughout the front nine. Some holes pay tribute to the island’s history with “Light Ahoy,” “Round the Horn,” “Long Journey,” and “Thar She Blows,” making up the closing stretch. Sankaty Head also contains nods to great holes and features of classic courses and templates with names such as “Pine Valley,” “Westward Ho,” and “Coffins Corner.”

Highland Links is a hidden gem in Truro, Massachusetts, that runs along the Atlantic Ocean. Founded in 1892, it is the oldest golf course on the Cape and one of the most scenic. The 9-hole links-style track sits on land that is now part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, making it federally protected property with a lease agreement to operate as a public course.

truro highland links lighthouse

The course sits next to the Highland Lighthouse, Cape Cod’s oldest lighthouse, built in 1797. Its characteristics are reminiscent of traditional Scottish courses – deep natural rough, thick gorse bushes, uneven lies, firm and fast fairways, and small greens. Alistair Cooke once called the course “the perfect example of British or Scottish links in the United States.”

Highland Links is one of only four “true links” golf courses in the United States, according to George Peper in his acclaimed book “True Links.” Peper identifies just 246 true links courses worldwide that meet his criteria of being located on linksland right along the coast, literally less than 1% of all courses worldwide.

Links courses originated in Scotland, built on sandy, rugged terrain with few trees, exposed to the wind. Highland Links fits this description perfectly with its seaside location on Cape Cod, sandy soil, rolling landscape, and windblown conditions overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

Harbour Town
Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Harbour Town is the only course on our list not yet documented in our Legendary Links series simply because I did too much Masters content and didn’t get a chance to finish it in time for the RBC Hertitage. However, no list of lighthouses would be complete without a mention.

Harbortown golf links lighthouse

Harbour Town Golf Links is located at Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina,designed by Pete Dye with Jack Nicklaus as a consultant. The course opened in 1969 and has since become a staple on the PGA Tour, hosting the RBC Heritage annually, the week after the Masters.

Spanning 7,099 yards with a par of 71, it features narrow fairways framed by towering live oaks, pines, and magnolias, which can penalize any wayward shots severely. The course’s design is influenced by traditional Scottish links, requiring well-thought-out shots and careful navigation.

Adjacent to the 18th hole stands the iconic Harbour Town Lighthouse, which has become a symbol of Hilton Head Island and a focal point during the tournament. Constructed in 1969 and first lit in 1970, the 93-foot tall structure, with its distinctive red and white bands, not only serves as a navigational aid but also as a tourist attraction, offering panoramic views of the surrounding area from its top.

Old Head Golf Links is regarded as one of the world’s most spectacular and beautiful golf courses. Perched on a dramatic 220-acre headland that juts out over two miles into the wild Atlantic Ocean near Kinsale, Ireland, Old Head offers breathtaking vistas and thrilling golf.

old head fourth hole lighhouse

Nine exhilarating holes run along the cliff’s edge, showcasing the rugged natural beauty of the windswept headland. With ever-present ocean breezes and sloping greens, Old Head presents a serious test of links golf matching its breathtaking scenery.

Aptly named “Razor’s Edge,” Old Head’s fourth hole is one of the most photographed in Ireland. The Old Head Lighthouse serves as a backdrop, with the Atlantic to the left below the cliffs.

The hole finishes below the iconic lighthouse, providing a perfect vantage to gaze back upon holes five and six, which dive through cliffside chutes to ocean coves. It encapsulates the experience of playing Old Head, combining the natural beauty of the rugged Irish coastline with a rigorous test of golf.

Bayonne Golf Club
Bayonne, New Jersey

Bayonne is a world-class links course featuring towering dunes, undulating fairways, and greens guarded by deep, penal bunkers. Instead of the “windswept shores” of Scotland or Ireland, this layout is located in the unlikliest of places – the heart of an industrial, urban landscape overlooking New York City. The course is a true engineering marvel, transforming a former landfill site between New York and New Jersey along the Hudson River, into one of the world’s most unique and visually stunning golf experiences.

bayonne clubhouse and lighthouse

The home hole, “Lighthouse,” is a long uphill par-4 that plays between large, grassy dunes, with the lighthouse serving as the aiming guide to the partially blind approach.

Golf Digest has consistently ranked it among the top courses in New Jersey, praising its unique character, challenging layout, and exceptional conditioning. Sports Illustrated hailed Bayonne as “the most audacious golf course in the world” upon its unveiling, lauding its ambitious concept of transforming an abandoned landfill into a world-class links-style course.

Dunbar Golf Club
East Lothian, Scotland

dunbar golf club - barns ness lighthouse

Dunbar Golf Club has over 400 years of documented golf history, making it one of the oldest courses in Scotland. The Dunbar Golfing Society played on the west side of Dunbar as early as 1794. Lesser known than its neighbors at Muirfield and North Berwick, the current Dunbar Golf Club was established in 1856, playing on what became known as Broxmouth Links.

A stretch of tough holes begins at the par-5 9th, a long three-shottter with a blind tee shot to an undulating fairway, which reveals the 121-foot-tall Barns Ness Lighthouse, which dates back to 1901, but shut down in 2005.

The course occupies a very narrow strip of land, at some points only ten paces wide from the boundary wall to the sea. This creates a unique and scenic links course squeezed between the wall and the ocean. It has been called “The Pebble Beach of Scotland,” referencing its coastal proximity and inspiring vistas. Dunbar also gets the nickname “Sunny Dunny” because it receives more sunshine than anywhere else along the Scottish coast.

Nefyn & District
Nefyn, Wales

nefyn Point of Ayr Lighthouse

Following the “Pebble Beach” of Scotland, Nefyn has been dubbed the “Pebble Beach of Wales” due to its striking similarities to the iconic California course. The course is situated on the stunning Llyn Peninsula in the picturesque coastal town of Nefyn in North Wales and dates back to 1907.

The name “Nefyn” itself is derived from the Brittonic words “nev” meaning “shore” or “beach,” and “yn” meaning “place,” reflecting the town’s coastal location.Also called “Wales’ Best Kept Secret,” it has drawn comparisons to Ireland’s Old Head due to its location on the Porthdinllaen headland with views of Point of Ayr Lighthouse. Located on Talacre Beach in North Wales, the historic lighthouse was built in 1776, but decommissioned in 1884.

The great Peter Alliss called Nefyn “a truly spectacular golfing location in North West Wales. It boasts a rich variety of majestic and challenging holes on its 6,500-yard Championship course, set against the stunning backdrop of Snowdonia and the Irish Sea. The welcome and sheer beauty of the place will take your breath away.”

Ardglass
County Down, Northern Ireland

The road to St John's Point Light house

Ardglass is considered one of the finest links courses in Northern Ireland and has steadily climbed the rankings of top courses in recent years. In 2022, Ardglass was voted the 58th best course in the UK and Ireland by Golf Monthly magazine. It’s also consistently ranked inside the top 15 courses in Northern Ireland by outlets like Golf Digest and Today’s Golfer.

The 12th is a great par-3 played over grassy “moguls.” From the tee, you can see the yellow-and-black-striped St John’s Lighthouse, which is three miles away. Dating back to 1844, it’s the tallest onshore lighthouse on the Irish coast at 128 feet tall.

One unique aspect of Ardglass is its clubhouse, which has the distinction of being the oldest still in use worldwide. The existing building originated as a fortified warehouse in the early 15th century, likely built during the rule of Sir John De Courcy. The clubhouse has unique architectural features like towers, turrets, arched doorways, and small water closets. While the course dates back just over 125 years, the clubhouse structure has origins going back over 600 years, possibly even further.

Falsterbo Golf Club
Falsterbo, Sweden

Located on Sweden’s southern tip along the Baltic Sea, Falsterbo (Falsterbo Golfklubb) is one of two seaside links courses in Sweden (Ljunghusen, more of a heathland course, being the other). Surrounded on three sides by the Baltic Sea, Falsterbo features authentic linksland attributes like dunes, fine fescue turf, pot bunkers, firm and fast conditions, and coastal views of the sea. Its windswept landscape provides a demanding test reminiscent of classic British links courses.

falsterbo lighthouse

Falsterbo Golf Club was founded in 1909, making it Sweden’s third-oldest golf club. The first 9-hole course was designed by Robert Turnbull, the professional at Copenhagen Golf Club, and opened in 1910 close to the current location near Falsterbo Lighthouse.

In 1911, the course was moved a few hundred yards to its present location. The first nine holes were constructed around the lighthouse and Ule Nabbe, which had better grass. The course had to share the land with horses and cows then. In 1930, the course was expanded to 18 holes, designed by local doctor Gunnar Bauer. The new holes incorporated the landscape around Flommen Nature Reserve.

The course is adjacent to Sweden’s oldest nature reserve, called Måkläppen. Established in 1898, this protected coastal area is known for its beautiful sandy beaches, dunes, wetlands, pine forests, and abundant birdlife. Falsterbo is an important stopover site for migratory birds and home to rare species like gray and harbor seals. 

Turnberry (Ailsa)
Ayrshire, Scotland

Set along the picturesque Ayrshire coastline, Trump Turnberry’s AIlsa course is steeped in history and natural beauty. This iconic links has been captivating golfers for over a century, its windswept fairways and undulating greens bearing witness to legendary moments etched in the annals of the sport. Serving as backdrop are the iconic Lighthouse and the presence of Arran and volcanic island Ailsa Craig just out to sea in the Firth of Clyde, presiding over the links.

turnberry ailsa lighthouse

Turnberry’s strategic coastal location led to its requisition by the military during both World Wars, but heavy machinery and aircraft left the courses in disrepair, requiring extensive restoration after each war. Turnberry’s two courses were renamed, rebuilt and redesigned in 1949, and the Ailsa reopened to great acclaim in 1951.

Turnberry’s Ailsa has hosted four Open Championships, including the iconic “Duel in the Sun,” saw an epic battle between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, with Watson emerging victorious by a single stroke. Greg Norman, Nick Price, and Stewart Cink won the others, with a 59 year old Watson almost pulling off a miracle in 2009, before bogeying the 72nd, needing just a par to win.

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