Travelers planning a golf holiday to prestigious courses in the UK may need to act quickly.
Some of the UK’s best venues are sold out, not just this year, but for venues – or start times – in 2023, in part due to growing confidence in international travel among affluent Americans.
Travelers are attracted by the chance to play in arenas played by some of the game’s best players, and first – class courses close to each other make Scotland a particularly popular ticket.
Gordon Dalgleish, a Scot who has run the American tour operator PerryGolf for almost four decades, says he has never seen so much demand from Americans who want to play exclusive courses in the UK, as the Old Course in the coastal town of St. Andrews and Muirfield, east of Edinburgh.
“These are the courses that are filling up much faster than I have seen in 38 years. Some are already full,” he told CNBC in an email.
PerryGolf has almost sold out of 2023 seats to play Old Course, which hopes to host Tiger Woods at the 150th Open Championship in July. The star so i a tweet that he had withdrawn from next week’s US Open due to health problems, and adds that he plans to be ready for the British event.
Dalgleish said travelers book trips months earlier than usual, especially those who accumulated money during the pandemic and are ready to spend.
“If you look at the typical demographic of the American golfer, maybe in the middle of later life, they have a lot more money, and they have less time than they had two years ago,” he told CNBC by telephone.
Now even famous people with money to burn are rejected, Dalgleish said. He said that “A-list businessmen” contact him, but “simply do not understand it [bookings] are not available, “he said.
It is estimated that nearly 67 million people worldwide played 9- or 18-hole courses in 2021, a record high, and a number that rose during the pandemic when people went outdoors to sharpen their handicaps, according to The R&A, which governs golf rules for most of the world.
Scotland’s best courses
St. Andrews Old Course
St. Andrews is home to seven lanes, and “Old Course “is where the sport of golf is said to have originated about 600 years ago. Jack Nicklaus won the Open Championship, or” Open “, there in 1970 and 1978, and it is known for features such as the 700 year old Swilcan Bridge and the 7 foot deep sand trapped Hell Bunker.
The best way for foreign travelers to get a seat on the Old Course is through an authorized provider. US companies PerryGolf and SGH Golf are on the list, as are others, including the Scottish-based DP&L Golf.
Jack Nicklaus won the 1970 Open Championship held at the Old Course in St Andrews, Scotland. The course is still one of the most popular among American visitors.
R&A Championship | R & A | Getty pictures
However, if you are willing to take a risk, Old Course runs a ballot for start times 48 hours before play. With half of the seats allocated this way, the lottery system “allows golfers who are in the area to still have the opportunity to play,” according to the website.
Another option is to go solo. Single golfers, who show up on game day, are sometimes grouped with two or three other players.
Ian Murphy, a Briton who lives in the south of England and said he takes three or four short golf holidays a year, recommends contacting hotels or tourist councils such as Visit Scotland to see if they have free tee times. If not, it’s possible to soak up the atmosphere of the Old Course without playing it, he said.
What is a “links” course?
“Links” courses are the original style of golf course, originating in Scotland. The term “links” comes from the old English word “hlinc”, which means ridge or rising hill, and refers to golf courses on the Scottish, Irish or English coast that are sandy and undulating. Such courses tend to be difficult to play, as they are exposed to the elements, and differ from well-kept park courses, which often have trees and man-made features.
“You can actually just walk around the golf course, and it’s almost as good as playing it,” he said. “You can stay in a nice guest house in St. Andrews, spend half an hour watching people turn out on the Old Course [and] have lunch in the clubhouse. “
Murphy – who has managed to play Old Course three times in the last two years due to a lack of international bookings related to the pandemic – also recommends booking tee times out of season. Besides, he said, the weather in Scotland can be unpredictable, so going in high summer does not guarantee sunshine.
Trump Turnberry, on the west coast of Scotland and the first track to host the Open in 1860, is a favorite of American club pro Kyle Phelps.
“It’s a set-up that is challenging, but that allows you to be rewarded if you play well. The views are stunning and the fact that the halfway house is a lighthouse is absolutely spectacular,” he told CNBC via email.
The course has tee times available this summer, although some weekend seats are sold out, according to the club’s website.
The lighthouse stands among the ruins of Turnberry Castle from the 13th century, and Phelps, who is a professional golfer at the Rhode Island Country Club, said that part of the appeal of Scottish courses is that their topography is different from the well-kept courses in the United States.
The lighthouse on the Ailsa course at Trump Turnberry Resort. The Trump organization bought the course in 2014.
David Cannon | Getty pictures
The paths may contain burns, or streams, plus large parts of heather plants, double greens – which have two holes to play instead of one – and pot bunkers, which are small and deep as opposed to shallower sand bunkers, Phelps said.
The Trump organization has owned Turnberry since 2014, and it claims to have spent 200 million pounds (253 million dollars) on the restoration. The ownership is not without controversy: Days after the attacks on the US Capitol, the R&A, which organizes the Open, said that they would not hold the championship in the club while it is owned by the former president’s company.
Muirfield dates to 1744 and will host the Women’s Open Championship in August. Reports have suggested that start times for the summer of 2023 are fully booked, but a representative told CNBC that although May to September is “high demand”, there are still some places during this period, as well as in April and October next year.
A woman is playing golf at Muirfield, Scotland, in 2019, when the club opened its doors to women for the first time. It will host the Women’s Open Championship in August.
Jeff J Mitchell | Getty pictures
Play multiple courses on one turn
Perry Golf’s customers on a six-night tour can take on several top courses, for example Royal Troon Golf Club, which will host the Open in 2024, Carnoustie Golf Links – where golf legend Ben Hogan first played links golf in 1953 – and Kingsbarns Golf Links, where American swimmer Michael Phelps made a “monster” 153-foot putt in 2012.
Such a trip could cost around $ 12,000 per person, including airfare and expenses, Dalgleish said. “Our demographics are people who are members of several clubs who spend a lot of money joining clubs … and that’s just part of their lifestyle,” he explained.
American Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at Kingsbarns Golf Links on October 5, 2012.
Ian MacNichol | AFP | Getty pictures
Kyle Phelps said being able to stay in one hotel and play in a variety of venues is the best part of golf in the UK
“On a long weekend you can play The Old Course, Carnoustie & Kingsbarns,” he said. “In the United States, it would be equivalent to playing Pine Valley, Merion and Pebble Beach on consecutive days.”
Another high-demand course is one of Murphy’s favorites: Royal Dornoch in the Scottish Highlands in the northeast of the country. When the sun is so far north, the sun sets about an hour later than in London, giving “spectacular” views further, Murphy said.
The Scottish golf course Royal Dornoch has seen “outstanding demand” from those who want to play in 2022, according to the website.
Lucinda Lee / Eyeem | Eyeem | Getty pictures
“It’s just stunning in terms of views of the Dornoch Firth and out to the North Sea, and the town itself is a beautiful Scottish highland town with an ancient cathedral,” said Murphy. The course is located “right in the center of the village as well, so it is a central part of the community”.
However, due to “outstanding demand”, bookings for the club’s “championship course” are closed this year, according to the club’s website, and golfers are advised to register online for future availability.
Just outside Aberdeen in northeastern Scotland is Murcar Links, a “hidden gem” with a “warm, friendly” environment, according to Murphy.
“It’s right on the coast, with a view of the oil rigs and the wind turbines in the ocean in the background,” he said, calling it a “beautiful, quaint little golf course.”
It is nine miles from Aberdeen Airport, and has bookings available for this summer, starting at around £ 130.
Castle Stuart Golf Links
Near Inverness Airport is Castle Stuart, opened in 2009 and designed by the late developer Mark Parsinen and architect Gil Hanse, both Americans.
Swedish Alex Noren plays at the Scottish Open at Castle Stuart Golf Links on July 8, 2016. He won the tournament.
Kevin C. Cox | Getty pictures
Murphy likes the course for his service: “Everyone knows your name from the moment you arrive … Everything goes so smoothly between arrival, check-in, the meal in the clubhouse, the trip to the driving range, the visit to the first tee, the man who serves you drinks halfway. “It’s more like American service, but on a personal level,” he said.
The course currently markets packages for October and November, and golfers are advised to send an email for availability.