Deal makes it easier, cheaper to book advance tee times at St. Andrews' Old Course

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Deal makes it easier, cheaper to book advance tee times at St. Andrews' Old Course

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Deal makes it easier, cheaper to book advance tee times at St. Andrews' Old Course

Golf’s most-coveted tee times will be more readily available in 2018 and, by most accounts, significantly less expensive.

St. Andrews Links Trust, which manages The Old Course and six other public courses in the historic Scottish town, recently launched a program for selling advance tee times, beginning with 2018 reservations. Those commercial tee times were sold through a company called Old Course Experience for more than 20 years. That agreement ends Dec. 31.

Under a policy change announced in December 2015, the Links Trust will sell those tee times directly to some 90 tour operators who are designated as “authorized providers.” The Links Trust recently allocated 2018 tee times to those tour operators, and will go through a second allocation in August.

The upshot, according to tour operators, is that more golfers will be able to buy Old Course advance tee times for less money in 2018. The savings could be significant, depending on the operators. Sam Baker, founder of tour operator Haversham & Baker, said, “Golfers playing The Old Course in 2018 will save about $1,000 over the price that was paid for an Old Course time per person in 2017.”

“We feel by bringing tee times back in house, it can improve things not just for (tourists) coming to St. Andrews, but across Scotland,” said Laurie Watson, spokesman for the Links Trust and part of the team that developed the new system. “By dealing with many (authorized providers), we would hope there would be more opportunities for golfers to come. There’s a variety of packages that will benefit not just St. Andrews, but Scotland.”

To understand the new system, one has to appreciate the Old Course’s stature among golf tourists.

“There’s not even an also-ran,” Gordon Dalgleish, president and co-founder of Perry Golf, said when asked if any destinations matched St. Andrews’ appeal. “It’s what drives the bus.”

Baker went so far as to say, “It drives everything – everything in the world. It’s in a completely different universe to everything else.”

Scotland is the favorite destination of North American golfers, and those trips often are anchored by rounds on The Old Course. Under the previous system, tour operators weren’t able to buy advance tee times from Old Course Experience until October.

“People before (the new allocation system) would sort of hang fire until they got the guaranteed Old Course time (in October), and then probably not come,” said Gary Wilkinson of Wilkinson Travel Services, a tour operator based near St. Andrews. “Now they can make that booking decision much earlier than before.”

Wilkinson said that securing Old Course tee times earlier already is having a positive impact on 2018 business.

“It allows us to get hotel space,” said Graham Spears, owner of Sterling Tours. “We know when to request other golf courses and hotels. In the past, we’d say, ‘We’ll let you know when we can get (Old Course) tee times. But a Royal Troon, for example, might be booked by the time we got (Old Course) tee times.”

As Spears indicated, consumers won’t be the only ones benefiting from the Links Trust’s policy shift. The ripple effect of the new policy should be felt across Scotland.

Golf tourists typically visit more than one part of Scotland – say, three or four nights in St. Andrews, then on to the Ayrshire Coast or the Highlands. Because of the expense of advance tee times under the previous system, Baker said corporate groups tended to gobble up many of those times. Unlike leisure travelers, those groups set up camp rather than tour the country.

“The most significant thing, as far as Scotland golf tourism is concerned, is that those extra tee times tour operators are getting will form parts of packages for golfers touring all over Scotland. . .” Wilkinson said. “The golfers will still be coming to St. Andrews, but they’re now general touring golfers. Our average length of stay is seven nights – still three nights in St. Andrews, but those other nights they’re going to go elsewhere.”

While the tour operators applauded the new system, the reality is there’s only one Old Course, and there will never be enough available tee times to satisfy demand.

Baker said his company was allocated five times as many Old Course tee times as in past years but that he could have sold three times as many as he got. Haversham & Baker will be among the tour operators trying to secure more 2018 tee times in the August round of allocations.

“We’ll buy as many as we can get,” Baker said.

(Note: This story appeared in the July 31, 2017 issue of Golfweek.)

 

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