BASIC ADVICE FOR GOLF TRAVELERS TO SCOTLAND (and Ireland, for that matter)
The First Fact - There are two ways to make a golf trip to Scotland: (1) you can buy an overpriced "package" full of hidden costs from an agency or (2) you can plan your own trip and save hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.
If you're an independent traveler . . . if you want to meet the Scots and get to know their country . . . if you value your hard-earned dollars . . . then I encourage you to avoid the tour operators and read on!
How to Have a Better Trip for Less Money
What makes for a "better" trip? To me that means (a) playing a variety of courses; (b) lodging in comfortable, small-scale hotels, guest houses, or B & Bs; (c) taking time to discover the country and meet the people where they work and play.
The basics are pretty simple. If you do not agree with all or most of the following principles, then a self-planning, money-saving approach is probably not for you. Here's how to take two trips for the price most people pay for one trip.
1. Do the booking yourself. With my guidebook, a computer, and a phone, it's easy.
2. Drive yourself. A coach and driver are budget wreckers.
3. Play some of Scotland's "Hidden Gems." Balance the over-priced "name" courses with some value-for-money courses (see Course Index #2 in my guidebook). Ask about "twilight rounds" - many courses reduce rates after 3 or 4 p.m.
4. Buy "combo tickets." For example, St. Andrews offers 3-day and 7-day passes. See my guidebook for more examples.
5. Lodge in 4-star guest houses or 3-star hotels. Scotland has a rigorous rating system for lodging. Four-star guest houses and 3-star hotels are generally "can't-miss." Leave the 4-star and 5-star big hotels (e.g., Old Course Hotel, Trump Turnberry) to those for whom money is no object.
6. Stay put . . . for at least 2-4 days in each place. Spend your time playing golf, not driving from pillar to post.
7. Better yet, "Stay-and-Play" for a week in one place. Rent a flat or cottage. Get more space and value for money. Rather than self-drive, this approach allows you to use "local transportation" (i.e., taxis, coaches) on an as-needed basis. Cost will be similar to self-driving for a group of four. Five of the thirteen itineraries in my guidebook are stay-and-play.
8. Book the golf first - start with priority courses and fill with secondary choices. When that is done you can book lodging and transportation. Exception: On a stay-and-play trip there's no reason to wait on lodging. Good flats and cottages get booked up early.
By making typically 10-20 phone calls and applying these principles, you can organize a good golf trip for about half the price of the trips offered by tour operators.
ALLAN McALLISTER FERGUSON