To misquote Tennyson, "In the spring, a golfer's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of fairways." The US Masters at Augusta earlier this month heralded the traditional start of a new season, as the nation's golf clubs are dusted down from their under-the-stairs hidey-hole. And no sooner is that first round of spring under the belt than an irresistible desire to pencil in a golf break or two rapidly follows, with UK golfers eager to make the most of it before the next dreary winter puts the dampeners on things for all but the most hardy of year-round golfing souls.
Some might simply want to play golf; others may wish to take in a bit of tuition while they've got time to work on their swings. Renowned coach Peter Ballingall (00 34 959 02 42 42; peterballingall.com) runs a golf school from 13-20 May at El Rompido on Spain's Costa de la Luz, which costs €1,660 for two (excluding flights), combining seven nights' B&B with five two-hour lessons and five rounds of golf. For non-golfing partners, many resorts boast luxury spas, sometimes even allowing treatments in lieu of golf, as with the K Club's "two-night ultimate golf experience" in Kildare, Ireland, where non-golfers get to indulge with an hour-long massage or facial.
If you're taking your own clubs, always use a purpose-designed flight cover for protection – either a hard case or a generously padded one such as Titleist's dependable Club Glove. But beware – clubs can cost almost as much as bodies on short-haul flights, with each-way charges of £20 with EasyJet, £25 on Monarch and £40 on Ryanair (both Monarch and Ryanair have a restrictive 20kg limit). British Airways makes no charge, but clubs do count towards your total luggage allowance. Most resorts will rent you a set: condition and age vary. Tour pro Paul McGinley's new business venture ( clubs2hire.com) lets you hire full sets from €35 per week at selected airports – currently Faro, Malaga and Dublin – with Edinburgh due to open by early summer.
Golf courses around the globe can be captivatingly beautiful, from the heart-stopping Cape Kidnappers (00 64 6 875 1900; capekidnappers.com) – a New Zealand clifftop miracle – to the glorious Alpine spectacle that is Crans-sur-Sierre (00 41 27 485 97 97; golfcrans.ch) in the Valais region of Switzerland. Your golfing education may never be complete until you've stepped on the tee at an overseas wonder course, but many believe you need never leave these shores to savour the best links golf on the planet. If you relish the challenge of a stiff sea breeze with firm fairways and greens that demand imaginative shot-making, the Wirral and Lancashire coasts can claim an almost unrivalled concentration of premier links tracks, among them the Royal Open Championship trio of Lytham & St Annes (01253 724206; royallytham.org), Liverpool (0151 632 3101; royal-liverpool-golf.com) and Birkdale (01704 552020; royalbirkdale.com). The area is designated "England's Golf Coast" ( englandsgolfcoast.com), and Golfbreaks.com (0800 279 7988) is offering two nights' B&B at Southport's Ramada Plaza and three rounds at Royal Birkdale, Southport & Ainsdale and West Lancashire for £459 per person in May.
Yorkshire golf boasts everything from the links and cliff-top layouts of the coast to the moorland courses of the Dales. It's the only ancient county with three separate Ryder Cup venues in the classic heathland trio of Moortown (0113 268 6521; moortown-golf-club.co.uk), Ganton (01944 710329; gantongolfclub.com) and Lindrick (01909 475820; lindrickgolfclub.co.uk). White Rose Golf Breaks (01943 609888; whiterosegolfbreaks.co.uk) offers a round on each plus two nights' half board at the Newington Hotel, York from £325 per person.
Yet nothing can really match the spine-tingling thrill of the Auld Grey Toon of St Andrews, with the stunning new Castle Course bringing the St Andrews Links Trust (01334 466666; standrews.org.uk) portfolio up to seven courses. The nearby Dukes course, Kingsbarns Links and Torrance and Kittocks courses at the magnificent Fairmont St Andrews hotel mean you can enjoy golfing heaven for well over a week without venturing more than a few miles. The "Golf, Golf and More Golf" package at the five-star Fairmont St Andrews (01334 837000; fairmont.com/standrews) offers two nights' B&B with unlimited golf, buggies (on the Kittocks course) and range balls from £349 per room per night until 31 October. See the website at StAndrewsGolf.org, or call 01334 474799 for a full range of packages at the Home of Golf's 11 courses.
The Celtic Tiger may have fled across the Irish Sea, but one lasting legacy is a wealth of new, first-rate golf facilities scattered throughout the Emerald Isle. The K Club (00 353 1 6017 200; kclub.ie) of 2006 Ryder Cup fame in Kildare and the spectacular cliff-top Old Head Golf Links (00 353 21 4778 444; oldhead.com) near Kinsale in the south, are among the headline newcomers at the top end of the market. But where the green fee alone on the K Club's Ryder Cup course was once over €300, its "ultimate golf experience" now offers two nights' B&B, a round on both courses, plus full use of the "K Health & Fitness" facilities from €350 per person in April and October, based on two sharing. These modern arrivals complement long-established classics, such as Royal Portrush (00 353 287 082 2311; royalportrushgolfclub.com) and Royal County Down (00 353 28 4372 3314; royalcountydown.org) in the north.
If you were to pick just one area of Ireland, head for the Atlantic coast, where within an hour of Shannon airport you'll find the 19th-century links at Lahinch (00 353 65 708 1003; lahinchgolf.com) and its 21st-century neighbour, Doonbeg (00 353 65 90 55603; doonbeglodge.com). The accommodation at Doonbeg is impressive, and the magnificent Greg Norman-designed course, set amid towering dunes, is one of the finest tracts of links-land you could ever wish to play over.
Ballybunion (00 353 6 827 146; ballybuniongolfclub.ie), with its renowned Old links and mesmerising late 20th-century sister, The Cashen, lies south of the Shannon Estuary in County Kerry via the Killimer Ferry ( shannonferries.com). Arnold Palmer's cliff-top treat at Tralee (00 353 66 713 6379; traleegolfclub.com) is an hour and a half further south, and the isolated golfing sanctuary of Waterville (00 353 66 947 4102; watervillegolfclub.ie) a similar distance.
If you're up for a spot of competitive holiday golf, the inaugural Great Irish Links Challenge (00 353 65 905 5685; greatirishlinkschallenge.com) from 22-25 May takes some beating. Doonbeg is offering packages from Heathrow from €1,650 per person or from Manchester at €1,665. The price includes flights, transfers, four nights' B&B in a two-bedroom suite, welcome reception, daily transfers to the three competition courses at Lahinch, Ballybunion and Doonbeg and a gala dinner.
The European Tour used to hold its annual qualifying tournament at La Manga in Murcia, and although other regions of Spain have since gained a greater stronghold, newcomer Las Colinas – just inland from Spain's eastern seaboard – could help make southern Alicante the place to go once more. The course lies in a secluded, tranquil valley halfway between the hilltop town of San Miguel de Salinas and the Costa Blanca beaches. Stay-and-play packages, excluding flights, at Las Colinas Residences (00 34 965 323 786; aworldapart.es) start at €134 per person for two nights' B&B, plus two rounds.
If Portugal appeals more, head for the western Algarve, where the ever-expanding Oceanico Group now operates eight wonderful courses. Among them is the Victoria and Old at Vilamoura (00 351 91 55 00 100; vilamouragolfbookings.com), plus two recent newcomers at Amendoeira crafted by Ryder Cup heroes Nick Faldo and Christy O'Connor Jnr, with Faldo's, perhaps surprisingly, the more adventurous as it heads up into the hills. Oceanico Amendoeira Golf Resort (00 351 289 310 333; oceanicodirect.com) offers stay-and-play packages from €159 per person based on three nights' accommodation and three rounds of golf, excluding breakfast; flights are not included.
Turkey's Belek region now has enough high-quality courses to fill a fortnight, among them Nick Faldo's 27-hole Cornelia Resort (00 90 242 710 16 00; corneliaresort.com), and Colin Montgomerie's Maxx Royal course (00 90 242 710 2700; montgomeriemaxxroyal.com), formerly the Papillon club.
Another recent addition is the LykiaLinks course (pictured) at LykiaWorld Antalya, a wonderful oceanside layout created by Perry Dye, son of Pete Dye. There is plenty to keep non-golfers occupied too. LykiaWorld (0844 482 1674; lykiagroup.co.uk) has seven-night packages from £676 per perwith no single supplement, including all-inclusive accommodation and three rounds of golf. Flights and transfers are extra, but start at around £200 during summer, when temperatures can climb well into the 30Cs.
If you're after a real one-off experience, Nullarbor Links ( nullarborlinks.com) in southern Australia might just appeal. Hailed "The World's Longest Golf Course", its 18 holes span a mind-boggling 1,365km with one hole at each participating site along the Eyre Highway stretching from Kalgoorlie to Ceduna. Some are purpose-built; others located on existing courses. The Chasing the Sun Golf Festival from 1-9 October is an ideal chance to play the course from east to west.
Keeping up with the Joneses
The most popular Stateside golf destinations have long been Florida and Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, whose intoxicating blend of warmth, sunshine and an embarrassment of extremely well-conditioned courses make them an ideal choice. The Orlando area alone boasts 170, with prices varying significantly. Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Club of PGA Tour fame will set you back $225 (£150) and is open only to members and hotel guests; while the nearby Errol Estate Country Club is just $56 (£37) midweek – so there's an Orlando golf budget to suit all. If you fancy taking on Florida's ultimate test of nerve, try the "Island Green" 17th at TPC Sawgrass. VGolfHolidays (020-8421 7010; vgolfholidays.com) has a June package at the Marriott Sawgrass Resort, Florida for £1,499 per person. It includes seven nights' room only accommodation, hire car, return flights with Virgin Atlantic from Gatwick to Orlando, and four rounds on different courses, including the famous TPC Stadium.
If you want to venture a little off the beaten track, the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail comprises 468 holes spread across 11 golf resorts throughout Alabama, part of a scheme originally intended to diversify the assets of the State's pension funds. Trent Jones was one of America's most prolific modern-day course designers (though actually born in England), notching up 500 designs or re-designs across the globe, including Spyglass Hill at Pebble Beach and Valderrama in Spain. The 54-hole Grand National (001 334 749 9042; rtjgolf.com/grandnational) at Auburn/Opelika is perhaps the cream of the Trail's crop, with the easiest access via Atlanta International Airport in Georgia then a two-hour drive down the I-85. Golfthere.com's (001 205 313 6415) Auburn Grand National package offers three nights in the Auburn Marriott plus three rounds on its Links and Lake courses from $449 (£299) per person excluding flights, while summer golf specials with Southerngolftours.com (001 877 476 7034) start from $423 (£282) for accommodation and three days of unlimited golf on the Trail, based on two sharing. The Trail has been hailed the largest golf construction project ever, and "the best public golf on earth".
Now for something completely different
When the European Tour first visited the Emirates Club (00 971 4380 2222; emiratesgolf.com) in 1989 for the inaugural Dubai Desert Classic, it was a solitary oasis in a vast desert. Since then development has continued apace with neighbour Abu Dhabi thrusting itself into the golfing spotlight too, thanks to two new top-quality waterside courses in 2010: Saadiyat Beach (00 971 2 557 8000; sbgolfclub.ae) and Yas Links (00 971 2 810 7777; yaslinks.com).
The Gary Player creation at Saadiyat Beach and Kyle Phillips' Yas Links complement the longer-established Abu Dhabi Golf Club (00 971 2 558 8990; adgolfclub.com) admirably, making up an enviable triangle of courses that are less than an hour from one another. Player was a bunker magician, so it's no surprise that sand plays a leading role at Saadiyat, where swathes of vast bunkers adorn fairways and greens. Phillips has clearly been inspired by traditional British golf, as Yas plays like a true links, with a touch more sunshine.
Avoiding the fierce heat of a Middle Eastern summer, Elegant Golf Resorts (020-8421 7019; elegantgolfresorts.com) has October packages with Etihad from Manchester or Heathrow for £1,069 per person based on two sharing, covering flights (including golf club carriage), four nights' B&B in a deluxe room at The Yas Hotel and a round each at Yas Links, Saadiyat Beach and Abu Dhabi.
Those concerned with the ethics of lush golf courses in such hot climates will be relieved to learn that Saadiyat Beach Golf Club has registered for the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program (promoting environmentally-sensitve courses) and installed an irrigation system to meet its water conservation needs.