As Abu Dhabi makes its mark on the sport with new courses at Yas and Saadiyat islands, we round up the iconic courses from around the world where you can play like the pros.
Top 10: professional-level golf courses
With the opening of new courses at Yas and Saadiyat in 2010, Abu Dhabi has laid down its marker as a top golf destination. As in previous years, the venue for the European Tour HSBC Championship is the Abu Dhabi National (Thursday to January 23), but Yas Links stages an exciting hors d'oeuvre on Monday. The No 1 golfer in the world, Lee Westwood, and the US Open champion, Graeme McDowell, head a line up of tour professionals for the invitational Pro-Am hosted by the Dubai entrepreneur Abdullah Al Naboodah. Half the Dh1.8 million purse will go to local charities and half to charities chosen by the winning professionals. Even if you're invited, you won't beat these guys, but you can join them at home and on other iconic courses around the world.
1. The Old Course, St Andrews, Scotland
The Scots claim golf as their own, insisting that the 12th-century shepherds who knocked stones into rabbit holes in coastal grassland were the pioneers. China and ancient Rome would disagree, but without doubt the Old Course is numero uno. It's neither the best nor the most testing, but first timers will be surprised that a flat stretch of scrubland and random gorse generates such an overwhelming sense of history. Swilcan Burn, the notorious Road Hole, pot bunkers and subtle greens, some of them shared, combine to ambush the unwary, especially when the wind blows. A tee time for four must be booked up to a year ahead, but those who want to play at short notice can enter a ballot for tee times the following day. There is also a daily singles line for those who are prepared to team up with strangers. As the St Andrews Links Trust controls six other public courses in the immediate area, so there is no shortage of alternatives: the New, the Jubilee and the Castle are excellent.
Green fees: until March 31 - £70 (Dh405) playing off mat; early April - £93 (Dh530); mid-April to mid-October - £142 (Dh812). Call 00 44 1334 477036 or visit www.standrews.or.uk
2. Yas Links, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi
In golf's rich global pageant, links status is the ultimate accolade but imitators in distant lands rarely achieve the real deal. Key ingredients are sand, sea, "natural" landscaping and an absence of intrusive real estate. Site selection and investment can supply the first three, but the fourth is harder in a necessarily commercial climate. Opened last March, Yas Links are within sight of the F1 Circuit and Ferrari World but there are no fairway villas. Blazing sun insists this is not Scotland, but walking hard past fairways, looking for errant balls in hairy rough and missing putts on huge greens provides a traditional ambiance. The American architect Kyle Phillips, who established gilt-edged links credentials with Kingsbarns, 10km from St Andrews, has worked a similar magic on a course acclaimed as "the best in the Middle East" by Golf Course Architecture magazine.
Green fees: October 1 to May 31 - Dh650 Sunday to Thursday, Dh799 Friday to Saturday. June 1 to September 30 - Dh399 Sunday-Thursday, Dh499 Friday to Saturday. Prices include cart and range balls. Call 2 810 7777 or visit www.yaslinks.com
3. Pebble Beach, California, USA
As the first choice on every golf simulator, virtual Pebble Beach must be the most familiar course in the world. And perhaps the most hated because the unpredictable outcome of banging a ball at a screen is way more frustrating than the worst day on the links. Happily, the reality - basking in Californian sunshine since it opened in 1919 - is truly outstanding. Like the Old Course, Pebble is a public facility, open to anyone prepared to pay the premium green fee. A regular US Open championship venue - it hosted the 2010 tournament - it dominates a rugged coastline with majestic ocean views. To get as many players round as quickly as possible, taking a golf cart is mandatory - and driving towards the sparkling Pacific on the third hole is unforgettable.
Green fees: US$495 (Dh1,820) (including cart for residents). Call 00 1 831 625 8518 or visit www.pebblebeach.com
4. Royal St George's Golf Club, Kent, England
Come the spring, the links at Sandwich will narrow the fairways by extending the rough so as to make the course harder for the world's finest golfers in the 151st (British) Open Championship, July 14 to 17. The course that hosted fiction's most famous game, the match between James Bond and Goldfinger, is very much as described in Ian Fleming's 1960s thriller. As it would be, because this distinguished club has changed very little over the past 125 years. Created by Wimbledon resident Laidlaw Purvis in 1887 for Londoners in search of quality, it has fulfilled its brief ever since. The course is wonderfully landscaped: varied, unexpected and sometimes blind. The clubhouse is eminently Victorian, with groaning lunch tables complementing wood panelling and leather armchairs.
Green fees: April 1to October 31 - £152 (Dh870) for 18 holes, £194 (Dh1,110) per day (members-only at weekends). Winter rates are £70 (Dh405) and £132 (Dh755). Call 00 44 1304 613090 or visit www.royalstgeorges.com
5. PGA Catalunya Resort, Costa Brava, Spain
Golf in Spain? Avoid the tourist hordes on the Costa del Sol by heading for the Costa Brava. Fewer people, superior cuisine and boutique hotels on a human scale: what's not to love? PGA Catalunya, built for the 1997 Ryder Cup but not completed in time to host it, is now right up to speed. The Stadium Course , the venue for the 2009 Spanish Open, is tough and uncompromising, with sand, water challenges and greens on which only the most sweetly struck putts will drop into the hole. High handicappers may prefer the easier Tour course. The green keeping on both is immaculate and the clubhouse, overlooking rolling countryside, is very welcoming. There is an on-site hotel and the historic town of Girona, known for its restaurants and museums, is a few minutes drive away.
Green fees: the Stadium course costs €124 (Dh590) in high season, €93 (Dh445) in mid-season, €83 (Dh395) in low season. The Tour course costs €104 (Dh495) in high season, €83 (Dh395) in mid-season and €72 (Dh345) in low season. Call 00 34 927 472 577 or visit www.pgacatalunya.com
6. The Hurlingham Club, Buenos Aires, Argentina
The Hurlingham Club, loosely modelled on its London namesake, is a favourite playground for the Buenos Aires elite. In addition to the golf course, opened in its present form in 1928, it has six grass tennis courts, unique in Argentina, cricket and polo grounds and a track for training racehorses. The 18-hole course is flat parkland, with spreading camphorwoods providing welcome shade. Although short by modern standards, it is no pushover: a lake and a creek get in the way on half the holes and tricky greens demand accurate approach shots. The handsome clubhouse, with its gables and cabinets full of huge silver trophies, is a throwback to a bygone age. A night in the 40-bedroom Dormy House would complete the feeling of detachment from the real world.
Green fees: 205 pesos (Dh190) Monday to Friday, 411 pesos (Dh380) at weekends. Call 00 54 11 4662 5510 or visit www.hurlinghamclub.org.ar
7. Saadiyat Beach Golf Club, Saadiyat Island, Abu Dhabi
Designed by Gary Player, Saadiyat buys proudly into its beach concept with seven hectares of bunkering. On many holes, the fairways are half-sand and half-turf; on others, extensive golden hazards block off easy access to the greens. On the back nine, gritty swathes combine with saltwater lagoons to reduce safe landing zones to virtual pinpoints. Saadiyat Beach is a protected breeding ground for the hawksbill turtle, but during the day you're more likely to spot dolphins in the sea alongside the sixth hole. Currently, the fairways lurk among cranes and skeleton buildings, future real estate for the Cultural District nearby. The no-expense-spared clubhouse was designed by the Canadian architect Frank Gehry, also responsible for Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, due to open next year.
Green fees: Dh600 Sunday to Wednesday, Dh850 Thursday to Saturday, including cart and range balls. Call 2 557 8001 or visit www.sbgolfclub.ae
8. Blue Canyon Country Club, Phuket, Thailand
The world is not short of luxury golf hideaways, but Blue Canyon, seven minutes from Phuket airport, ticks all the boxes. "One of the best I've ever played," said Tiger Woods after making a spectacular comeback to win the 1998 Johnnie Walker Classic. The Canyon course laid out around a lake among regimented trees give clues to its former usage as a tin mine and a rubber plantation. Test yourself on the signature 14th, nicknamed the Tiger for his amazing tee shot to the island green. Shorter and wider fairways guarantee an easier ride on the Lakes course. Girl caddies are compulsory - and delightful. Once you've checked into the lodge with its spa and Andaman Sea views, it's hard to leave its luxurious confines to go exploring Phuket's scenic beaches.
Green fees: 5,695 Thai baht (Dh685) for the Canyon course, 4,490 baht (Dh540) for Lakes. A caddie costs 250 baht (Dh30). Call 00 66 76 328 088 or visit www.bluecanyonclub.com
9. Doonbeg Golf Club, County Clare, Ireland
Picking one course from an outstanding Irish portfolio is a tough call. Names like Royal Portrush, Portmarnock and Ballybunion echo through the 19th and 20th centuries, but Doonbeg is strictly contemporary. Greg Norman's links, laid out among grand dunes and tussocks above golden sands, are traditional, but the development is the brainchild of Buddy Darby, owner of Kiawah Island in South Carolina. Although visitors are warmly welcomed, he runs it mostly as a private club with a membership that is predominantly American and Irish. The lodge has deluxe accommodation, gourmet dining in the Long Room and treatments in the White Horse Spa.
Green fees: until April 30, prices are €93 (Dh445) Monday to Thursday and €104 (Dh495) Friday to Sunday. From May 1, prices are €145 (Dh690) Monday to Thursday and €177 (Dh840) Friday to Sunday. Discounted rates offered to residents. Caddies are available. Call 00 353 65 905 5600 or visit www.doonbeggolfclub.com
10. Royal Calcutta Golf Club, West Bengal, India
Although India is building golf courses fast, the Royal, the oldest club outside the British Isles, is the essence of the subcontinental game during the colonial era. Started in 1829 near Calcutta airport, it moved first to the Maidan and then to its present location in Tollygunge in 1910. Laid out on former paddy fields, it has been landscaped with trees and shrubs, but the defining feature is water. As if keeping the ball dry wasn't tricky enough, two tanks on the seventh fairway tempt players to the kind of risky shots that often ruin a scorecard. For an authentic taste of the Raj, order Bengali fish curry or afternoon tea in the low white clubhouse.
Green fees: foreigners pay 3,394 Indian rupees (Dh230). Call 00 91 33 2473 1352 or visit www.rcgc.in