North Inch Course, Perth, Scotland
Golf's birth has been traced back to 1502 when, according to the Scottish Golf History Web site, King James IV purchased golf clubs and balls from a bow-maker in Perth, Scotland. It is believed the king chose to play on the North Inch course, located northeast of Perth. That account suggests North Inch is the oldest recorded golf locale in the world. The course remains active to this day, operating at a par 70 while measuring just over 5,400 yards--relatively short by today's standards. One of the holes, the par 3 16th, measures just 79 yards.
Barry Links, Carnoustie, Scotland
Not far from where King James IV is credited with playing the earliest recorded rounds of golf, Sir Robert Maule is said to have taken up the sport himself in the 1520s. Maule fancied the Barry Links at Carnoustie, a coastal town which became one of the world's biggest golf hotbeds in the 1800s. And Carnoustie wasn't known simply for producing world renowned courses, either: Hundreds of golf-savvy residents headed to the United States at the turn of the 20th Century, taking advantage of vast land resources to produce some of the country's finest courses.They brought with them their on-course experience and club-making expertise.
Old Course, St. Andrew's, Scotland
The Old Course at St. Andrew's, located across the Firth of Tay from Carnoustie, proclaims itself the "home of golf," boasting that golfers have played there since the 1400s. The links course at St. Andrew's was officially open to the public in 1552 and has been in operation ever since. St. Andrew's expanded to 22 holes in 1764, then later reduced that total to 18, which became the standard number for nearly all major courses built afterward. St. Andrews remains challenging to this day, having hosted numerous British Open tournaments (one of the major events on the PGA Tour schedule) as well as British Senior Open competitions.
Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada
Golf didn't take off in North America until the mid-to-late 1800s, with Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario laying claim to the oldest golf course on the continent. (The Royal Montreal Golf Club insists that it was first, saying it was formed two years earlier). The brainchild of John Geale Dickenson, who laid out the first three holes of the 9-hole course across the street from his family home, the course overlooks Lake Ontario and remains quite affordable. For $20, golfers are entitled to play the course twice--quite a deal for a chance to golf on what may be North America's first-ever course.