Compared to any other modern sport, golf is by far the oldest in the world. Golf history dates back to 15th-century Scotland when it was under the rule of James II. And with leagues and clubs established in the mid-1700s, golf has lived through the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the life of Shakespeare, the American Revolution, two World Wars—and the list goes on and on.
But the real question remains: Where were people playing golf hundreds of years ago and what’s the oldest golf course in the world? The answer may—or may not—surprise you.
As of 2023, the oldest golf course in the world is officially the Old Course in St. Andrews according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Built in the 16th century in St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland, golfers have been enjoying this course for over 500 years, including some of the greatest to ever play the game.
Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus are just two legendary golfers to play here, thanks to the course being the location of one of the PGA’s prestigious majors. Home to The Open Championship—also known as the British Open—30 times, the course hosted the inaugural event in 1873, as well as the latest edition in 2022.
While it’s the oldest golf course in the world, it’s also one of the most expensive golf courses on the planet. If you can get a tee time, bring your wallet. Playing a round here can set you back as much as $450 during peak season.
But with that price, you get to hit over—and hopefully not out of—walled bunkers, across roads, and even over buildings. It’s a small price to pay for playing at one of the oldest golf clubs in the world.
The oldest golf course in the world was once the source of a heated debate. Some sources stated that the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland is the oldest golf course in the world while others gave the distinction to the Old Links at Musselburgh—also in Scotland.
While the Guinness World Records originally gave the award to Musselburgh, the organization reassigned the distinction to St. Andrews after documentation that golf was played as early as 1552 compared to 1567 at Musselburgh.
However, Musselburgh does have one interesting distinction among the oldest links courses in the world. According to historical records, Mary, Queen of Scots played the course in 1567, which is the very reason that it was once considered the oldest course.
So if you want to take the trek to Scotland to play on one of these illustrious courses, start with St. Andrews. However, you shouldn’t overlook Musselburgh as a backup plan or just another place to add to your to-do list.
Aside from Musselburgh and St. Andrews, the oldest golf courses in the world are still found almost exclusively in Scotland. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Scotland is widely regarded as the Home of Golf. Scottish golf courses were also the first to have clubhouses, leagues, and tournaments—all starting in the 1700s and predating any other courses around the globe.
So if you wanted to visit the unequivocal mecca of golf, get your plane tickets for Edinburgh or Glasgow, brush up on your slang, and watch “Braveheart.” You’re going to be spending a lot of your time in the northern part of the U.K.
As with any of the other golf courses on this list, the original founding of the golf course is up for debate. Some say that Montrose Golf Links is the fifth-oldest golf course, while some rank it just behind Musselburgh and St. Andrews. Either way, people have been playing links golf—the Scottish term for courses built on the coastline—since the 1560s.
Here you can play up to 36 holes of golf overlooking Montrose Bay, which many consider one of the most scenic courses in the world. And for a price of only £25, it’s quite the bargain.
Also located along the coastline in Fife just 10 miles from St. Andrews, Elie and Earlsferry Links has been home to golf since 1589. In 1770, the golf course was redesigned to accommodate both a short and long course, but today it features a single 18-hole course.
With fast, firm greens, undulating fairways, and a majestic view of the coastline, it’s a crowd-pleaser for golfers of all skill levels. Even five-time Open Championship winner James Braid called it one of his favorite golf courses of all time—and you should too.
During low season, you won’t even have to break the bank. Prices start at just £55.
The last Scottish course on this list may not be as famous as Carnoustie or Kingsbarn, but it’s still documented as one of the oldest golf courses in the world. Fortrose and Rosemarkie Golf Club was mentioned in correspondence between royalty as far back as 1702, and a royal golf society formed here in 1793.
Nestled on the shores of Rosemarkie Bay, it has all the familiar hallmarks of a Scottish golf course: lush greens, great views, and tons of history. If it’s your first time on a Scottish golf course, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option. Plus, it’s only £30.
If you don’t have the means to travel to Scotland or you just want to play something historic in your neck of the woods, there are still plenty of options. The oldest golf courses in the world don’t necessarily have to be 500 years old—just old enough to pique your interest. Here are the best from the four corners of the world.
Located 55 miles north of Pittsburgh, Foxburg Country Club in Foxburg, Pennsylvania, is the oldest continuously played golf course in North America, even though it’s only been around since the 19th century. Originally built in 1887, legend has it that founder J.M. Fox created the course to mimic St. Andrews after playing there in 1874.
However, the terrain didn’t accommodate the same layout, and Fox built eight holes as part of his private course. Foxburg eventually expanded to a nine-hole golf course and then an 18-hole course years later—which is just how you would find it today.
The interesting part is that Foxburg plays narrower and smaller than most other golf courses. A long drive isn’t always your friend, so make sure to pack a variety of smaller golf clubs in your bag and read the greens accordingly.
The course is open to the public from April 1 to October 31, and you can play for as little as $20 on a weekday.
Plenty of places lay claim to the oldest golf course in Asia, but the British connection gives credence to the Royal Calcutta Golf Club as the oldest in the Far East. Opened in 1829 and revamped as late as 1996, the course is interesting due to natural and artificial water hazards, as well as India’s natural flora.
If you’re looking to play on the cheap, this golf club is only 550 rupees—or about US$6.60.
Opened in 1891, the oldest golf course in Oceania, or Australia, or Australasia, or whatever you want to call it is the Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. Home to 16 Australia Opens—yes, that’s a real thing—the club is still widely regarded as the most beautiful and challenging of any course Down Under.
Just remember to save up. This bad boy costs A$780 per round, or around US$530.
Due to its affiliation with the U.K., South Africa is the undisputed capital of golf on the African continent. But the oldest golf course is none other than the Royal Cape Golf Club in Cape Town. Build in 1885 and surrounded by exotic plants and the famed Table Mountain in the background, its views are unmatched by almost any other course in the world.
Only 900 South African rand books you a spot on the course, or about US$50.
Situated in the wealthy suburb of San Isidro outside of Lima, Peru, the Lima Golf Club is the oldest in South America. Inaugurated in 1924, it’s still young compared to any other golf course on this list, but it’s also one of the most urban, giving it a unique vibe compared to some of the oldest golf courses in the world.
Despite its location, it’s not exactly cheap. Expect to shell out 350 Peruvian soles to play a round—or about US$90.
Getting into many of the world’s oldest golf courses can prove problematic. Many are private, and the ones that aren’t can have waiting lists for months or years at a time.
But if you want to get out on the links without too much hassle, you might want to try the oldest public golf course in the United States: Van Cortlandt Golf Course in North Bronx, New York.
Located on the northern edge of New York City, Van Cortlandt opened in 1895 and was the first municipal golf course in the United States. With unmanicured wilderness surrounding the pristine fairways and greens of the links, this golf course certainly doesn’t feel like you’re in one of the largest cities in the world.
Moreover, the rates are surprisingly affordable, especially considering that everything else in New York City, well, isn’t. You can hop on the course for as little as $30, add a golf cart for $21.50, and play the same holes frequented by Babe Ruth, the Three Stooges, and even Gordon Gecko.
Although new golf courses seemingly pop up every day, one thing that hasn’t changed is the approach to the game. It still takes discipline, practice, and resolve. However, technology and practice options away from the course are the greatest assets to your golf game outside of getting on the course.
Whether you use a handy tracer app, buy the latest equipment, or just set up a putting green in your office, the modern age gives you everything you need to excel. The only thing you need to do is book a visit, cast out the frustration, tee it high, and let it fly. Hopefully, the oldest golf courses in the world get to see your personal history made right before its very eyes.