For the last eight months or so I’ve been working on the logistics for a bucket list golf trip to Scotland. We will watch the British Op…excuse me, the Open Championship, for two days, and will play golf for two days.
I’ve learned a lot during the process and thought this might be helpful for anyone who is thinking of going over, or for that matter, going back over, for a golf trip.
The Idea Becomes Reality
My wife and I were fortunate enough to get lottery tickets to The Masters in 2013. Due to the extreme generosity of a close friend, we were able to obtain clubhouse passes to the U.S. Open at Oakmont in 2016. And for my birthday she gave me tickets to the PGA Championship in our new hometown of Charlotte last year.
When we got back home after the trip to Quail Hollow, we both said, “All that’s left is the Open Championship to complete our Grand Slam.” I gave it some thought for a few days, then said, “If not now, then when we will ever go?”
So in November last year, I began the planning process. Here are six things I’ve learned that might help you as you prepare for an upcoming trip.
1. Decide what kind of trip it will be
In our case, we wanted to see the Open Championship primarily in order to complete our Grand Slam of all four majors (plus a couple of Ryder Cups). It only made sense to couple The Open with golf, so we are doing both.
You may want to make it a golf trip only. You may want to play the Old Course and nothing else will do. You may just want to watch the Open and not worry about golf, traveling with clubs, playing in unpredictable weather, etc.
It doesn’t matter, but it does matter in terms of planning, so the first decision to make is what kind of trip it will be, and how long it will be for. How many courses do you want to play (if that’s important)? How much money are you willing to spend, since golf in Scotland at Open rota courses is going to run around $200-300 per round, not including caddies.
2. Airlines routinely change departure times
I’ve flown a lot in my life, so I thought I was prepared for most of what airlines would throw at me. However, I was not ready for the multiple airline time changes that have occurred since I booked tickets in November.
This lesson is: If you want to book months in advance, be ready to have some times changed.
I did some investigation and learned that Norwegian Airlines is the Southwest Airlines of international air travel. They were much cheaper flying to Edinburgh than any other airline (hundreds of dollars cheaper per ticket), so I booked with Norwegian. However, they fly out of Providence, Rhode Island, and not too many other places. I had to get us from Charlotte to Providence, which I did with a separate ticket on American.
Then I get an email from Norwegian saying they had changed the flight…to another day! A day later leaving, and a day later coming home. We already had Open tickets and golf tee times set by that time (see below), so I had to call Norwegian and cancel that flight. They gave a full refund since they initiated the change by a complete day, but then I was back at square one to get to Edinburgh.
Cutting to the chase, we booked with United, are now flying to Providence for no reason, then United to Dulles, and Dulles to Edinburgh. Both United and American have also changed their flight times in the last few months, although not enough to affect each other.
3. Decide whether to take your clubs or rent them there.
There are pretty solid reasons to both take your clubs, and to rent clubs while in Scotland.
Taking Your Clubs
- They are your clubs. You’re used to them, and you know how they play.
- You don’t know exactly what you will get when you arrive at your chosen course.
- Some courses may have really nice sets, and some may not
- There is a lot of unknowns as it is when playing golf in a different country. Having your own clubs gives a feeling of comfort.
- There is a significant rental charge when renting clubs, and if you are planning on playing several rounds that is going to add up.
Renting Clubs There
- Most of the “name” courses have very nice rental sets.
- It is expensive to have your clubs shipped on airlines.
- ShipSticks is a great option in the U.S. When I checked, they were charging over $200 to ship a set to the U.K., so that isn’t a viable option unless money is no object.
- You don’t have to schlep your clubs through airports, store them in hotel rooms, and figure out how to squeeze a set or two, plus your travel carrier, in a rental car.
Consider all the options and do your homework before deciding. If I were going to play just one day, I would probably rent clubs there (especially if it’s a nice set). But playing multiple days, I wanted my own sticks.
4. Do it yourself, or hire a golf trip company
This is a big–maybe biggest– one. Hiring a golf trip company is going to add anywhere from a few hundred, to close to one thousand extra dollars per person, depending how much you want them to do.
There are two reasons that hiring a company is a slam dunk:
- Money is no object;
- You’ve never traveled to the U.K. (or any foreign country for that matter) before, and you don’t really know where to start.
Anything else is another case of weighing pros and cons. I’ve been to England around 15 times or so due to my time in the Navy, so I’m (relatively) comfortable driving and getting around there. I therefore had to decide whether to try and plan this trip myself, or hire a company to do it for me.
I decided to do a hybrid. Using a golf travel company saves a lot of time and stress, plus they can get tee times and nicer hotel options than most people can get trying to book everything on their own. So I went with Tailormade Luxury Golf Holidays. They seemed to offer the best value of the companies I looked at (and there are at least a dozen who do this, maybe more). I obviously haven’t been yet so I can’t say how well they did, but so far, the communication and customer service has been excellent.
As described above, I booked all the flight info, and left the securing of tickets to the tournament tee times, plus rental car and hotel, to Tailormade.
I spoke to a friend of a friend who has traveled multiple times on golf trips and he strongly advised planning it myself. I was tempted, and may do that if we go back, but for this first trip, I thought it was worth the money to ensure that we had the tee times and tickets we wanted, plus a nice hotel in St. Andrews, plus golf courses we wanted to play.
5. Make a list
I’m a list-maker anyway, but if any trip begs for a list, it’s this one. We have a large piece of paper on the refrigerator and every time one of us thinks of something, it goes on that list. Just a few examples: golf umbrella, extra socks, passports, cool weather clothes just in case, my separate file I’ve created that has maps and trip itinerary, voltage converter kit, and about a dozen other thoughts.
I gotta remember to add “Download The Open app” to the list…
6. Enjoy the process!
Part of the fun of this trip, and any big trip, is the anticipation. Every time we add something to our list it reminds us of the trip. When we got our big packet of information and vouchers from Tailormade last week, we got excited again.
Planning it has been a hassle at times, especially with all the flight changes, but that is also part of the fun.
7. Bonus Thoughts!
St. Andrews has seven courses, including the Old Course. If you want to play “St. Andrews,” you have options. We are playing the Castle Course, which also gets an automatic entry into the lottery for playing the Old Course. Cross your fingers…
Kingsbarns is a Top 100 in the world course, and it’s not overly difficult to get a tee time there. How many times will you get to play a truly links course that is a Top 100 course? So I’d recommend that as an option, as it is for us.
Hire a caddie. We are using caddies at Kingsbarns. If you’re spending the money to get there and play it, using a caddie on a Scottish links course just makes sense. Some experiences are priceless and to me, this is one of them.
Take the lightest golf bag you can. First of all, if you’re taking your clubs, you don’t want to have a heavy cart bag to lug around. Second of all, you don’t want to have to carry a cart bag for eighteen holes. Third, some courses require a carry bag if you are using a caddie.
Check your airline for their rules on golf clubs (if you are taking your clubs), how much they charge, and how the clubs should be secured.
Pack enough golf balls. Golf balls, I’ve read in several different places, are quite expensive at the pro shops there.
Allow enough in your budget for souvenirs. You know you are going to want something from the pro shop, something that says St. Andrews, something for the kids, something for the people who are watching your dog, something for your Aunt Edna who plays golf…
Be sure you pack your, as Sir Nick Faldo likes to say, waterproofs. A rain suit in Scotland is a must, both to play and to have as a backup when at the Open.
The Old Course closes on Sundays, and becomes a public park. Many people don’t know this, but it is open to the public to walk on Sundays. If we don’t get in the lottery to play it, we are going to walk it on the Sunday we are there (and there will be a picture on the Swilcan bridge). One way or another, we are getting on the “Auld.”
If you’ve been on a golf trip to the U.K. and have anything to add, please feel free to write in the comments, or just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading, and enjoy Shooting Your Age!