The 5 Best Places To Do Your Golfing Retirement Right

Ashford Castle Hotel & Country Estate
Ashford Castle Hotel & Country Estate. |©Patryk_Kosmider

“I have found golf to be, in all factualness, a universal language wherever I traveled at home or abroad.” – Ben Hogan.

In the wise words of a golfing great, the intricacies of the game generally stay the same. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes you resist the urge to smash your nine-iron to pieces after getting stuck in your third bunker of the day…

What does change, however, are the courses you play on. Why be satisfied walking the usual links in your neck of the woods, when there’s an entire universe of breathtakingly aesthetic, challenging golf courses in some of the world’s most beautiful, yet affordable destinations?

In retirement, you’ve finally earned the time to do it right. No more slinking out of work fifteen minutes early just to make your tee time, no struggling to fit in nine holes before you’ve got to pick the kids up.

Ask yourself: Are you content to thread those same greens a few minutes from your house you’ve hit up for the last five years? Or would you rather thread that hallowed ground of some of the most esteemed courses on the planet?

If, like us, you’d prefer the latter, here’s a collection of some of the best locations to hit the links and forge your own dream golf-retirement.

1. Silver Coast, Portugal

Far from the overwhelming throngs of tourists inhabiting the Algarve, a steady swell of sand dunes crest and peak along miles of sprawling golden-sand beach. Inland, rolling green hills and bountiful vineyards are interspersed with historically rich medieval castles, cathedrals, and old towns.

This is Portugal’s esteemed Silver Coast—one of the last affordable holds in Western Europe. Old towns brim with traditional charm, and the heaving throngs of tourists you sometimes encounter in the Algarve are nowhere to be seen. This is a side of Portugal rarely seen in the limelight, and what’s more, it’s an underrated golf haven.

The natural scenery makes for a delightful day on the links. Don’t be fooled, though, just because the surrounds are breezy, don’t expect the golf to be lackluster—there are some serious courses along the coast.

IL’s Recommended Course: Camporeal Lisboa

Camporeal Lisboa
©Dolce CampoReal Lisboa

Camporeal means “royal meadow”... and Camporeal Lisboa is an enchanting course providing a royal experience, no doubt about it. Designed by Donald Steel’s company, it’s easily one of the best golfing experiences in Europe.

Just 45 minutes from Lisbon and 20 minutes from the Silver Coast beaches, Camporeal was built on the grounds of what was once a hunting retreat for the Portuguese royal family, meaning the atmosphere is entirely different from the seaside courses, and it’s a world away from city life, too.

The course spreads over 135 acres along the protected area of the Socorro and Archeira mountains, and while playing, you’re surrounded by those mountains as you play through holes spanning across the hills and valley forests, and even moves through a quaint vineyard. There’s a horse riding center here, too—it’s a resort immersed in rural life. The course itself sits on 135 acres.

Don’t let the idyllic setting fool you... the golf is no walk in the park—you’re playing uphill and down, along ground which is naturally bumpy, so it’s not always easy to nail that shot. This is one course where renting a golf cart is recommended.

There are also some long holes that really make the most out of the beautiful landscape... The first hole plus the 17th and 18th are par 5s.

2. Southern Brittany, France

An elegant way of life... A rich pinot noir to savor with a gourmet meal... Cobblestone streets winding through Old-World towns... These might be a few of the things you think of when you hear “France.”

But there’s “another France,” too. A side to the country few North Americans hear about. This is a land of Neolithic monuments...Celtic spirits... and a thousand fairytales.

Europeans from other countries have known about this France for a while. But there are no important wineries in this part of France... No famous fashion houses... Instead, Europeans flock here for the golf.

Brittany is a region in France’s west, a huge peninsula at the north of the Bay of Biscay, jutting into the Celtic Sea. In fact, as the crow flies, Brittany is as close to Cornwall in the U.K. and to Ireland as it is to some other parts of France. 

IL’s Recommended Course: Golf de Belle-Île-en-Mer

Maybe golfing resorts aren’t your thing—no problem. You'll find something very different from resort golf on the island of Belle-Île-en-Mer (literally, Beautiful Island).

There isn’t even enough room for a full-size course here, but some pioneers have managed to conjure up an incredible golfing experience—a small- ball wonder—that you have to enjoy at least once in your life.

Fourteen holes have been carved out of cliffs of sheer rock on the Celtic island of Belle-Île-en-Mer. The course lies across the former estate of actress Sarah Bernhardt.

Your shots descend toward deep pools of darkness (naturally occurring water hazards)... You have to get to a green beyond a clifftop rocky path that looks almost too narrow for a human to cross... Greens sit literally on flattened rock high above the roiling waves, while all around you, the churning sea seems ready to take back this course at any moment. The signature hole is the second: You have to chip the call across the sea from one cliff to another.

Belle-Île itself is a simple, low-key spot, with small coves sheltering fishing boats bobbing in the tide. Cliff-top, ocean-view restaurants offer gourmet fare. Seafood is always on the menu, of course, including local favorites like langoustines, sea bass, and cockles. It’s been a favorite of well-to-do big-city French, but it’s still accessible. 

3. Hua Hin, Thailand

The golfing purists know that to really experience the best courses, you need to cast a wide net, and Hua Hin, Thailand is a great example of some of the gems you can find if you just expand your horizons.

Hua Hin, on the Gulf of Thailand, has been a summer refuge for Thai kings and aristocracy since the 1920s. It’s the country’s original beach resort. Think white-sand beaches lined with palm trees and seaside restaurants specializing in, of course, seafood.

These days it’s popular with the middle- and upper-classes from Bangkok, as well as a growing group of foreign expats.

One of the main issues you might be thinking of regarding a retirement to Thailand is the distance from your family and friends, but in our eyes, the substantially cheaper cost of living, stunning weather, and great quality of life, it’s well worth it. Here’s what our globetrotting Lifestyle Editor, Sean Keenan had to say on the matter:

“If Thailand were located off the coast of Ecuador, or Colombia, or even Spain, it would be heaving with North American expats. The country has everything you could wish for, except proximity. That’s an observation that came up every time I talked to an expat there. We all agreed that, for the sake of a single day in your life, the rewards outweigh the inconvenience.

That’s really all you lose—a day spent traveling. Eighteen hours or so, lounging in an airline seat, watching movies, and zoning out. It won’t be the best day of your life, but it’s not a gruelling ordeal either. It’s not even expensive. Flights from mainland U.S. airports leave for Thailand daily, and round-trip fares are available around the $600 mark.”

Plus, Hua Hin is a golfer’s paradise. This is Thailand’s original and best golf town—indeed, for our money at IL, the best in all of Asia, a continent that has rapidly risen on golfers’ radar in recent decades.

IL’s Recommended Course: Royal Hua Hin Golf Course

Royal Hua Hin Golf Course

 Thailand experienced a “golf boom” during the 1990/2000’s, and many modern courses sprung up in this time.

Not the Royal Hua Hin—the first 18-hole, international-standard golf course ever created in Thailand, is of an entirely different vintage than most of the options in Hua Hin. Created by a UK railway engineer from the UK so that British workers—laying the first Bangkok to Hua Hin railway line—could feel more at home, and so the Thai upper classes could sample true “British” golf.

Royal Hua Hin follows along a stretch of limestone cliffs, among verdant hills. The terrain undulates naturally. Old-growth trees stand guard at the edge of the fairways, accompanied with scenic views of Hua Hin city and the Gulf of Thailand.

The presence of the trees also narrows the fairways, and with doglegs on several holes and the greens are tight circles, sometimes elevated, you’re in for a great challenge.

4. Montevideo, Uruguay

Uruguay might just be one of the most overlooked retirement destinations on our beat—we like to call it a tiny piece of Europe that wound up in South America.

Like Switzerland, Uruguay is safe and stable. There are no hurricanes, earthquakes, or volcanoes. Like Italy, the climate is seasonal and mild,  snow is a rarity. And like Portugal, Uruguay has some of the finest beaches you’ll find on the entire Atlantic coast.

Best of all, this life is easier and cheaper to live than you probably imagined. It might not be the cheapest in South America, but it’s still relatively inexpensive, and when you take into consideration Uruguay’s political, economic, and social stability, you can enjoy a fantastic quality of life.

Montevideo is the country’s capital city, and boasts a cosmopolitan lifestyle that has something to offer to everyone—attending vibrant live performances in the beautiful Solis theater, enjoying fine dining restaurants, partaking in a tango class in Plaza Fabini in Montevideo’s Centro, or just lazing out on the beach working on your tan.

Uruguay also boasts a thriving golfing culture.

IL’s Recommended Course: Club de Golf del Uruguay

You’d be hard pressed to find a golf club with better credentials than Club de Golf del Uruguay—It was designed by Alister MacKenzie, whose work includes Cypress Point, Royal Melbourne, and the Augusta National in Georgia, as well as two of the finest courses in Ireland, Portmarnock and Lahinch—plus another of my favorites, Cork Golf Club.

But Club de Golf del Uruguay isn’t a stuffy private club. In fact, because the course was built on municipal land, the city of Montevideo requires the course to be open and free to play for anyone, every single Monday. All year round. It’s a condition of the club’s rent.

The course sits at the southernmost edge of the capital city, on a little peninsula jutting into the Río de la Plata, where the river meets the Atlantic. You’re right on the coast looking out over the ocean and at the same time, a stone’s throw from the city center. It’s an experience that might be impossible to find anywhere else.

The narrow, wooded fairways (the layout is squeezed by the presence of the river on two sides) along with greens flanked by bunkers, will test the skills of even the most avid golfers.

The 16th hole even made GOLF magazine’s list of the 500 greatest golf holes in the world, in the year 2000. 

5. Mayo, Ireland

The countryside is dotted with an assortment of relics from an ancient heritage—ring forts, megalithic tombs, Ogham stones, holy wells, and tumbledown abbeys—some of which date back to before the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids—decorate the  Visible from most of the county, cone-shaped Croagh Patrick is a pilgrimage mountain that thousands climb every year. According to legend, it was from here that St. Patrick cast the snakes out of Ireland.

Co.Mayo, Ireland, leaves a lasting impression. And it’s not just the heritage that’s appealing. In the local towns along this stretch of the Atlantic, you’ll find a yacht club, superb restaurants and nightlife, boutique shopping, galleries, and an incredible sense of community. The beaches look like they could be plucked from the Caribbean—white sand, and perfectly clear water with views to the islands beyond.

As for the golf... Mayo is home to 11 parklands and links courses within a 40-mile radius, with membership options from as little as $440 and green fees from an unbelievable $16.50.

From any of the links courses you’ll enjoy stunning views over the Atlantic, or the bay—dotted with hundreds of tiny islands once used as hideouts by pirates. 

IL’s Recommended Course: Ashford Castle Hotel & Country Estate

There’s few who can claim they’ve played all 18 on the grounds of an ancient Irish castle—just a few people like JFK and John Lennon, to name a couple. If you want to join this esteemed company, look no further than the Ashford Castle Hotel.

Spanning a 350-acre estate, the golf course was originally a deer park. Designed by celebrated Irish golf architect Eddie Hackett, it blends beautifully with the existing landscape.

You’ll enjoy views not only of the 800-year-old stone castle and its walls, but the expanse of Corrib lake (on the shores of which the castle was strategically built).

The largely flat, par 35 course is not the most challenging in Mayo. But the very fact that you can play a solid, fun round on this ancient site—what many believe to be Ireland’s finest country estate... You’ll want to experience it for yourself.

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