PerryGolf founder sees golf travelers 'resurfacing'

Dalgleish says the emergence of Castle Stuart could alter Scottish travel patterns.

Dalgleish says the emergence of Castle Stuart could alter Scottish travel patterns.

Gordon Dalgleish and his brother, Colin, co-founded PerryGolf in August 1984. Since then, their company has organized overseas golf trips for nearly 50,000 travelers – mostly to Scotland and Ireland, but also to more far-flung destinations such as New Zealand and South Africa.

During the PGA Merchandise Show, Gordon Dalgleish discussed the golf travel market with Golfweek.

Golfweek: How is 2012 shaping up in the golf travel category?

Dalgleish: 2010 was a bad year, 2011 was slightly disappointing because it started stronger but finished off weaker. 2012 is shaping up with some level of optimism. My sense is that we’re going to have a good improvement over ’11. One trend that we’re seeing is that a lot of repeat customers from 2005, ’06, ’07 – guys who were maybe two- or three-year-cycle travelers – missed a cycle. They’re now resurfacing. They’re thinking, “OK, the world isn’t perfect, we’re not getting any younger, we want to get back to doing things we enjoy as a group.” It’s a fairly noticeable trend when I see bookings come through. 

photo

Gordon Dalgleish

Golfweek: What’s the state of golf travel to Scotland and Ireland?

Dalgleish: Scotland continues to come back faster than Ireland. We cannot understand why. 

Golfweek: You think Ireland’s a better deal right now?

Dalgleish: Oh yeah. (Ireland has) had to aggressively reset their prices. One golf course is back to charging in local currency 2004 prices, another golf course is charging 2001 prices. So you’re talking about the lost decade. You’ve got the euro that’s relatively weak now compared to where it was. So price-wise, it’s as attractive as it’s been in quite a while. And layer on top of that availability. The likes of a Ballybunion, where in 2005 to 2007 demand far outstripped availability, now they’re probably closer to 95 percent. So there’s still availability, compared to the Old Course at St. Andrews, which has always run at, let’s just say, 160 percent. There’s always more demand (than available tee times). . . . The folks at Turnberry also are saying their business in ’12 is looking quite healthy. 

Golfweek: Irish tourism people seem very optimistic about 2012, that it might match 2007 numbers. Are they too optimistic? 

Dalgleish: Yes. I can only assume that golf mirrors general travel. It’s not going to be materially different. Scotland has a better chance of getting back to 2007 numbers than Ireland. There’s just no way from a golf perspective that Ireland is going to be at 2007 levels. 

Golfweek: What emerging golf destinations do you see?

Dalgleish: I think one that’s going to get substantially more profile is up in eastern Canada when Cabot Links gets fully up and running (this summer). I think that has the potential to be the mini-Bandon Dunes East. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the Trump course (in Aberdeen, Scotland) plays out in terms of the Scottish golf scene. Will people stay longer in Aberdeen? Will they tack it on between St. Andrews and a trip up into the Highlands? All reports are very positive on the course. The curious thing about the Trump course is that right now it doesn’t come off as being a place (customers) have an interest in playing. For all of the media that it has garnered, arguably for controversial reasons, that hasn’t translated to people saying, “I want to play there.” But I have no doubt it’s going to be a very good golf course. And Castle Stuart has certainly changed the dynamic of the Highlands of Scotland. Dornoch used to be the standalone there. Similarly, the addition of Machrihanish Dunes certainly makes Machrihanish (on the Kintyre Peninsula in southwest Scotland) a more attractive option.

Golfweek: Can you see Machrihanish being packaged with The Machrie Golf Links on the Isle of Islay? 

Dalgleish: So many Americans want to check off the main courses. The idea of spending three days at Machrihanish and Campbeltown, and then a couple of days at The Machrie would be fabulous way of spending a week. Peaceful, have a few drinks with your pals in a relatively quiet setting. But that’s a fairly unique American group that wants to do that. If they’re going to Scotland, they want to check off (the more famous courses). 

Golfweek: Do most of your customers still make their travel reservations by phone or over the Internet?

Dalgleish: It varies. There are some people who we’ll never speak to. It will be all done by email. And then there are some folks who call in and there are extensive conversations back and forth. That allows us to be proactive and anticipate questions they haven’t thought of. 

Golfweek: What are your three best travel tips for traveling golfers?

Dalgleish: From a technology standpoint, be organized and stay connected, particularly when you travel internationally. You don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for it. With the smartphones now, you can spend a bloody fortune. But with just a little bit of advance planning, it can be a negligible cost to stay in touch with your family with applications like Skype and Google Voice. 

Second, for domestic travel, I ship my golf clubs by UPS Ground. Put them in a Club Glove, slap a label on them. I’ve been billed as low as $10 and as much as $30, but even at $30, they’ve never lost it, and you avoid the hassle of carrying them through airports and in rental cars.

Third, on my iPad there’s an application called Zite that was just bought by CNN. It’s an aggregator of information. If you specifically ask for travel ideas, you’ll get some fabulous tips. On top of that, I’ve downloaded an app called Read It Later. Between Zite and Read It Later, when you’re on a plane you have all of these articles and you don’t need to be connected to read them.

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