Golf is one of the most popular sports in the UK, with twice as many courses registered in England than in any other country in Europe. One of the main reasons for this is the diverse landscape found across the UK, from links courses by the sea to lush inland courses, there’s plenty to choose from.
But, while the majority of the population in the four nations of the United Kingdom enjoy plenty of golfing retreats, it’s a different story for Londoners. Space is limited in the capital, which restricts how easy it is for those living in the city to play the sport in its traditional 18-hole format. Fortunately for golf-loving Londoners, the sport has been adapted for city living and there are still plenty of ways to swing a club.
The UK’s love affair with golf
Golf was, as many people know, created in Scotland and it remains one of the Celtic nation’s national sports, alongside rugby and football. It originated in 15th-century Scotland and throughout the years has grown to be one of the most lucrative sports in the world.
Top UK golfers, like Rory McIlroy, Nick Faldo, Colin Montgomerie and Laura Davies have won hundreds of millions of dollars between them. Rory McIlroy is arguably the most successful British (and Irish) golfer of all time, and he sits in the top 10 PGA career earnings of all time with a cool $61,895,095.
In 2022, an average of 852,000 UK viewers tuned into the closing moments of the PGA Tour Masters, showing that it’s popularity remains, especially as the tournament is held in the USA with tricky time zones to factor in. Golf is also big business in the UK, with golfers spending over £4 billion a year on their beloved sport.
How important is golf in London?
London got its first taste of golf when the sport was introduced into Middlesex in the late 19th century with the formation of several clubs; notably, Staines and West Middlesex. While the sport would grow in popularity in the city, it would also have to contend with the expansion of London’s metropolis.
Golf is a sport that requires ample outdoor space, but as the years have gone by, that has been harder to come by in the capital. Established clubs have been allowed to remain but, understandably, the more urban the city has become, the less room there is for golf.
That said, there are still over 100 registered golf courses in Greater London. Highgate Golf Club has the honour of being the closest 18-hole course to Central London but there are many courses on the outskirts of this city too. Golf courses such as Highgate and Wimbledon Park are located just a short way outside of Zone 3 tube and train stations, but there are plenty in the outer zones.
London golf: but not as its founders knew it
People in London are fortunate that they can pretty much choose to do anything they want. There is a list of attractions, leisure activities, entertainment venues and museums to make the mayor of any other world city jealous. While the traditional 18-hole format of golf isn’t right on the doorstep of anyone living centrally, there are still plenty of ways to play the sport.
You might argue that mini golf is the best version of the sport as it requires some skill to get the ball in the hole but also it’s all about the fun factor. Courses come in various shapes, sizes, colours and themes, from pirates and medieval to cyberpunk and dinosaurs.
Many are available outdoors if you like to keep it fairly traditional, while you can also enjoy indoor mini golf to stay away from the bad weather. For those who have never played before; mini golf is commonly 18 holes played with just the putter, as golfers avoid obstacles to test their skills.
The scoring system remains the same with the fewest shots on the scorecard winning the game. London plays host to many mini golf courses and it’s a great way to pass the time with friends, whether you like golf or not!
Where you can play mini golf in London: Mini golf courses are sprinkled throughout Central London.
Driving ranges and simulators
As there aren’t many golf courses available at the epicentre of London, many people choose the weekends to get out of the city and onto the surrounding courses. But if you’re looking for somewhere to hone your skills during the week, driving ranges and simulators are ideal.
Driving ranges require a decent amount of outdoor space as golfers hit their balls from the range into an open field or playing area. This allows golfers to enjoy swinging the golf club and maintain rhythm in their swing before they step out onto the course.
A golf simulator, on the other hand, can be used indoors and offers a much more rounded experience. It works by using photometric and radar technology to track the movement, speed and spin of the ball to accurately predict its trajectory. Simulators offer golfers instant feedback and shot analysis, acting as a virtual coach and showing them where to make improvements.
But, simulators are more than just a coaching device. They can be set up to virtually recreate the most famous courses in the world, offer mini games and allow friends to compete against each other.
Best driving ranges and simulator locations in London: Top Golf is a great choice for adding target practice to the driving range. For a golf simulator experience to share with friends in London, try Urban Golf and Tee Box.
Short golf courses
Although full-size golf courses are in short supply in Central London, some smaller versions can still give someone their golfing fix. For example, nine-hole golf courses require half the space of an 18-hole course, and still offer a great golfing experience.
They are the same game, with par-three, par-four and par-five holes, it’s just that there are fewer of them. This means players can stop at nine holes, or recreate the 18-hole course experience by playing it twice.
An alternative to a nine-hole course is pitch and putt, which is made up of shorter holes, typically par threes. These are commonly more accessible and suitable for beginners and are more for fun than for seriously honing your golf skills.
London’s short golf courses include: Aquarius, SE22, Hampstead, N2, and Palewell Common, SW14.