The Golf Life: As the Old Course goes, so goes Scotland

No. 16 at St. Andrews' Old Course Getty Images

The Golf Life: As the Old Course goes, so goes Scotland

Digital Edition

The Golf Life: As the Old Course goes, so goes Scotland

Tee times on the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland, have become less expensive and more readily available to leisure travelers over the past year. That’s good news not just for golf tourism in St. Andrews, but across Scotland, according to several tour operators.

Old Course tee times might be the most coveted in all of golf, and for more than two decades, the St. Andrews Links Trust, which manages the historic links, contracted with a third party, Old Course Experience, to dispense tee times to tour operators.

Last year the Links Trust brought that business in-house, effectively cutting out the middleman and dealing directly with more than 90 tour operators – known as authorized providers – around the world.

‘More choice, more packages’

“Rather than having to go through one channel to play the Old Course, the 90 can offer a variety of different ways,” said Laurie Watson, head of communications for St. Andrews Links Trust. “So hopefully there’s more choice, more packages put together by the operators, so that more people come to Scotland to play golf.”

That seems to have been borne out over the past year since the policy took effect. Several tour operators applauded the Links Trust for implementing a system that has made it easier for more golfers to visit St. Andrews, and probably is contributing, at least in part, to what is shaping up to be a banner year in Scottish tourism.

“Scotland remains as strong as ever, if not stronger,” said Gordon Dalgleish, president of tour operator PerryGolf. “It’s almost a little bit spooky how much demand there is.”

Dalgleish cites various factors, including the exchange rate and pent-up demand, for the strong sales, but adds that “consumers have gained quite substantially” from the Links Trust’s new policy.

Maura Nolan, president of Irish Links Tours & Travel, said the change has resulted in “a significant price decrease” in Old Course tee times. Those prices will vary based on packages put together by tour operators.

“There was a premium on the Old Course guaranteed tee times in the past,” Nolan said. “Now we can offer the Old Course at a fair price. You’re not dealing with a middleman, so right away there’s a savings.”

Sam Baker, chairman of tour operator Haversham & Baker Golfing Expeditions, said he is able to offer tee times on the Old Course and one other Links Trust course – typically either the Castle, Jubilee or New – for as little as $750, less than half the price under the old system.

Baker lobbied Links Trust officials for years to cut Old Course Experience out of the equation, reasoning that it would be good for tourism in St. Andrews and around Scotland.

Baker said he often told Links Trust officials: “This is Scotland’s public golf course. You have some obligation to use this in a way that benefits all of Scotland.”

Tee times now available earlier

Under the policy established last year by the Links Trust, authorized providers are able to get Old Course tee times by June, about three months earlier than the old system. That allows them to book itineraries faster. Tour operators also say the more affordable prices are reshaping the clientele booking those coveted tee times.

“It’s opened it up to everyone,” Nolan said. “The prices were so high before that it would be more corporate groups going, and now it’s wonderful to be able to offer it to a broader market.”

Baker said those corporate groups might typically spend three nights in St. Andrews, then leave Scotland.

“Now that (business) is going to tour operators, and we’re in the business of selling six to eight nights at a time,” Baker said. “That means those St. Andrews times are benefiting the west coast, the Highlands, because people aren’t just coming to St. Andrews and leaving Scotland. They’re going someplace else. That’s a critical factor in Scotland tourism.”

Dalgleish said that when the Old Course is closed – for an Open Championship or the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in October – other Scottish golf destinations feel the impact. Conversely, he said, when it’s open and more readily available to golfers, everyone benefits.

“When golf travelers gain because of a change at St. Andrews, that washes through to the rest of Scotland. . .” Dalgleish said. “When St. Andrews does something that makes it more attractive, it brings more inquiries, more travelers. These people that come over for three days in St. Andrews are also going to spend three days at Gleneagles or Turnberry or (Royal) Dornoch or Aberdeen or wherever it may be. It’s not only helping St. Andrews, it’s helping Scottish golf.” Gwk

Latest

More Digital Edition
Home