Travelers planning a golfing holiday to prestigious golf courses in the UK may need to act quickly.
Some of the UK’s best venues are selling out not just this year, but for spots – or tee times – in 2023, in part due to growing confidence in international travel among wealthy Americans.
Travelers are drawn to the chance to tee off at venues played by some of the game’s best players, and premium courses that are close together make Scotland a particularly popular ticket.
Gordon Dalgleish, a Scot who has run US tour operator PerryGolf for nearly four decades, says he has never seen so much demand from Americans wanting to play luxury golf courses in Britain, such as the Old Course in the seaside town of St Andrews and Muirfield, east of Edinburgh.
“These are the courses that fill up much faster than I’ve seen in 38 years. Some are already full,” he told CNBC by email.
PerryGolf has nearly sold out of 2023 spots to play at the Old Course, which Tiger Woods hopes to host at the 150th Open Championship in July. The star said in a tweet that he had withdrawn from next week’s US Open due to health concerns, adding that he plans to be ready for the event in the UK.
Dalgleish said travelers are booking trips months earlier than usual, especially those who have collected money during the pandemic and are ready to spend.
“If you look at the kind of typical demographics of American golfers, maybe mid-to-late age, they have vastly more money and less time than they did two years ago,” he told CNBC by phone.
Now even famous people with money to burn are being turned away, Dalgleish said. He said “A-list businessmen” are contacting him, but “I just don’t understand” [bookings] are not available,” he said.
According to The R&A, which set the rules of golf for most of the world.
Scotland’s Best Courses
St Andrews Old Course
St. Andrews is home to seven courses, and the “Old Course” is where the sport of golf is said to have originated some 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 trap Hell Bunker.
The best way for foreign travelers to secure a spot on the Old Course is through an authorized provider. US companies PerryGolf and SGH Golf are on the list, as are others, including Scotland-based DP&L Golf.
Jack Nicklaus won the 1970 Open Championship at the Old Course in St Andrews, Scotland. The course remains one of the most popular with American visitors.
R&A Championships | R & A | Getty Images
However, if you’re willing to take a risk, the Old Course will hold a vote for tee times 48 hours before the game starts. With half the seats allocated this way, the lottery system “allows nearby golfers to still have the opportunity to play,” according to the website.
Another option is to go alone. Single golfers, who appear on match day, are sometimes grouped together with two or three other players.
Ian Murphy, a Brit who lives in the south of England and says he takes three or four golf short breaks a year, recommends checking with hotels or tourist offices such as Visit Scotland to see if they have tee times. If not, it’s possible to soak up the Old Course atmosphere without playing it, he said.
What is a “links” course?
“Links” courses are the original golf courses from Scotland. The term “left” comes from the Old English word “hlinc”, meaning ridge or rising ground, and refers to golf courses on the Scottish, Irish or English coasts that are sandy and undulating. Such courses are often difficult to play because they are exposed to the elements, and are different from well-maintained parkland courses, which often have trees and artificial features.
“You can basically just walk around the golf course, and that’s almost as good as playing,” he said. “You can stay in a nice guest house in St Andrews, spend half an hour watching people tee off on the Old Course [and] have lunch in the clubhouse.”
Murphy – who has managed to play the Old Course three times in the past two years due to a lack of overseas bookings related to the pandemic – also recommends booking off-season tee times. In addition, he said, the weather in Scotland can be unpredictable, so going in high summer doesn’t guarantee sunshine.
Trump Turnberry, on Scotland’s west coast and the first course to host the Open in 1860, is a favorite of American club professional Kyle Phelps.
“It’s a layout that’s challenging, but you can be rewarded if you play well. The views are amazing and the fact that the halfway house is a lighthouse is absolutely spectacular,” he told CNBC via email.
The course has tee times this summer, although some weekend spots are sold out, according to the club’s website.
The lighthouse stands among the ruins of 13th-century Turnberry Castle, and Phelps, chief golf professional at the Rhode Island Country Club, said part of the appeal of Scottish courses is that their topography is different from the well-maintained courses in the United States.
The lighthouse on the Ailsa Course at the Trump Turnberry Resort. The Trump Organization purchased the course in 2014.
David Kanon | Getty Images
Courses may include burns or streams, plus huge areas 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 claims to have spent £200 million ($253 million) on its restoration. Ownership is not without controversy: Days after the attacks on the US Capitol, the R&A, which hosts the Open, said it would not keep the championship at the club while it is owned by the former president’s company.
Dating back to 1744, Muirfield will host the Women’s Open Championship in August. Reports have suggested tee times for the summer of 2023 are fully booked, but a rep told CNBC that while “May through September is in high demand,” there are still some slots in this period, as well as April and October of next year. .
A woman plays golf in Muirfield, Scotland, in 2019, when the club first opened its doors to women. It will host the Women’s Open Championship in August.
Jeff J Mitchell | Getty Images
Play multiple courses in one trip
Perry Golf’s customers on a six-night tour can take several top courses, such as the Royal Troon Golf Club, which will host the Open in 2024, Carnoustie Golf Links — where golfing legend Ben Hogan first played links golf in 1953 — and Kingsbarns Golf Links, where American swimmer Michael Phelps made a 153-foot “monster” putt in 2012.
Such a tour could cost about $12,000 per person, including airfare and expenses, Dalgleish said. “Our demographic is made up of people who are members of multiple clubs who spend a lot of money joining clubs…and that’s just part of their lifestyle,” he explained.
US Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at Kingsbarns Golf Links on October 5, 2012.
Ian MacNichol | AFP | Getty Images
Kyle Phelps said the best part of golfing in the UK is being able to stay in one hotel and play in a number of locations
“In a long weekend you can play The Old Course, Carnoustie & Kingsbarns,” he said. “In the US, that would be like playing Pine Valley, Merion and Pebble Beach on consecutive days.”
Another in-demand course is one of Murphy’s favorites: the Royal Dornoch in the Scottish Highlands in the northeast of the country. Because it’s so far north, the sun sets about an hour later than London, providing longer “spectacular” views, Murphy said.
Scottish golf course Royal Dornoch has seen an “unprecedented demand” from those looking to play in 2022, according to its website.
Lucinda Lee / Eyeem | Eyeem | Getty Images
“It’s just stunning in terms of views over the Dornoch Firth and the North Sea, and the town itself is a beautiful Scottish Scottish town with an old cathedral,” Murphy said. The track is “also right in the village, so it’s a central part of the community.”
But due to “unprecedented 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 the northeast of Scotland is Murcar Links, a “hidden gem” with a “warm, friendly” environment, according to Murphy.
“It’s right on the coast, overlooking the oil rigs and the wind turbines in the sea in the background,” he said, calling it a “lovely, quirky little golf course.”
It is nine miles from Aberdeen Airport and bookings are available for this summer, starting at around £130.
Golf Links from Castle Stuart
Close to Inverness Airport is Castle Stuart, opened in 2009 and designed by the late developer Mark Parsinen and architect Gil Hanse, both Americans.
Alex Noren from Sweden will play at the Scottish Open on 8th July 2016 at Castle Stuart Golf Links. He won the tournament.
Kevin C. Cox | Getty Images
Murphy loves the course for its service: “Everyone knows your name from the moment you arrive…Everything runs so smoothly between the arrival, the check-in, the meal at the clubhouse, the trip to the driving range, the visit to the first tee, the guy who serves you drinks half way… It’s more American service, but on a personal level,” he said.
The course is currently promoting packages for October and November, and golfers are advised to email for availability.