My recent assignment at the Visit Scotland Travel Expo was to meet with golf executives and make my network of contacts larger when booking Scotland. One of only 10 travel executives invited from North America, I was standing in an aisle at the huge show trying to figure out where my next appointment was, when a voice behind me asked if I was lost. I turned around and saw a charming young man in a kilt and I said – yes I am, and you look nice. I’m Maureen Jones from California and when he said – I am the Duke of Argyll, and why are you wearing an Isle of Skye tartan with a Welsh name I nearly fell over. The head of the most powerful clan in Scotland, the Campbells, at a Glasgow trade show. I explained that my father was a MacDonald, and I married a good-looking U.S. Marine Colonel with a Welsh background. He gave me a lovely book on the history of his ancestral home, Inveraray Castle on the West Coast. I starting reading it on my 5 hour train journey to London. It turns out his wife is Eleanor Cadbury, heir to the famous chocolate empire.
It appears to be every golfer's dream to play the Old Course at St. Andrews. The Royal & Ancient Golf Club was founded in l754, and you wait years to become a member.
I just spent a week with Scottish executives from the Kingdom of Fife, on assignment to discuss how to get guaranteed tee times at some of the 550 golf courses in Scotland. Golf fees vary according to the course. At night we chatted about Home Rule for Scotland. Next year Scottish people vote on whether to break off from being under British rule.
First and foremost, you have to be a jolly good player to be accepted to play on the Old Course. Handicap 24 for men, and 36 for women. You also have to produce your handicap certificate, and have a letter from your country club recommending you.
The top courses in Scotland are: Ailsa course, Turnberry, south west, Machrihanish, south west, Royal Dornoch, north east, Skibo Castle, north east, Kingsbarns, Fife, Gleneagles Kings Course, Perthshire, central Scotland, Muirefield, Lothian, east Scotland, Carnoustie, in the east and Royal Troon in the west. There are 43 courses surrounding St. Andrews, and 30 courses within a 40 minute drive of Carnoustie. Most of the courses are what we call Links, which means they are close to the sea, windy, with no trees, and huge deep sand bunkers.
In September of each year, you fill out an application form with a 400 pounds fee, and submit it for a specific tee time and date the following year. 48 hours before a date, the lottery takes place, and people’s applications are picked. With some 40,000 applications, your chances of getting picked are slim. I was told by the head of the Fife Tourism Board that this is not the way for foreign tourists to get a tee time.
No golf carts are allowed at most of the courses in Scotland. At St. Andrews, you cannot pull your own clubs before 1.00 p.m. You have to have a Scottish caddie, at a cost of 50 pounds, plus tip. Only players can walk the course.
They have marshals on the course, and you are expected to play l8 holes in under 4 hours. You are expected to move from the green in 4 minutes. If you take too long, then you are asked to leave the course. There are signs on the course to this effect.
Hotels can't get tee times for you. Visit Scotland (the new name for Scottish Tourism Board) put me in contact with four Scottish Golf companies they recommend who book transfers, golf times, accommodation and sightseeing. They work with a Scottish Destination Specialist, such as myself, and together we put the itinerary together. You will find that Scots like to do business with Scots. We do groups and individuals. Forget playing golf in September unless you book a package a year ahead. May is good – can be a little chilly in some parts. October is good, but days are shorter in light.
Best way to get a round of golf on the Old Course if you meet the requirements is to buy a three-day golf package with accommodation. You play St. Andrew's Old Course, Dukes and Kingsbarns. The cost is in the region of 2,200 pounds, per person. If a partner does not play golf, then we would arrange sightseeing to a distillery, castle, shopping at a woolen mill or museums, depending on their interests. We book the golf package first, and when it's confirmed, then we build the rest of the itinerary around it, book golf at other courses, and last of all, book airline tickets. People make the mistake of getting their air reservations, and then can't get space at the courses.
You can rent clubs if you want to at every course. I wouldn’t rent a car. I recommend you get transfers to the various places. If you do rent a car, don’t leave your clubs in the boot, take them into the hotel at night. One chap told me he treasures his golf clubs more than his wife.
Tickets for the Ryder Cup will be impossible to get as an individual. There will be 45,000 people on the course every day. We can get tickets through our Scottish golf expert, who has an allocation of packages.