Scottish club opens: The secret to low-cost play in the birthplace of golf
There aren't many secrets left in Scotland golf. The misty origins of the game, the legendary links, the famed holes - you've heard about them all.
But the Scottish scene still harbors one well-kept secret - well-kept from Americans, anyway (although not by Scots' choice): Virtually every course here holds an Open Competition each summer.
These competitions last from one to seven days, and anybody with an established handicap may enter, regardless of nationality. You get the opportunity to play multiple rounds at some of the country's best courses, with guaranteed tee times, at a price that's often lower than a single day's green fee.
You could play a round at the regular summertime visitor's green fee of £75, £85 on weekends. Or you could sign up for the course's Carnegie Shield competition, named for the trophy donated by local-boy-made-good Andrew Carnegie.
This week-long competition held every August gathers 270 golfers in two "flights" (one for players with handicaps up to nine, the other for 10- to 21-handicappers. Two days of stroke play on Royal Dornoch's Championship course winnow each flight's field to 32 competitors, who battle it out in three days of match play. For those who miss the match-play cut or lose in the first knockout round, there's a one-day consolation competition on the club's Struie course. For a £55 entry fee, you get a minimum of three rounds on one of the great Scottish links.
Of course, it's not quite that simple. The Carnegie Shield is the most prominent club open in the country, and golfers from across Great Britain apply to play. You must get your entry in very early - probably by mid-February, and even then you might be subject to a drawing for slots. Get all the details at the club's web site, and start getting ready for next year.
In the meantime there are plenty of other options across the Highlands and Islands, smaller and shorter contests that still allow you to play terrific courses under competitive conditions at major savings. Consider the open at Nairn Dunbar Golf Club's just east of Inverness along the Moray Firth.
This five-day competition, also held in August, starts with 200 golfers in three flights (scratch, low handicap and high handicap) playing 36 holes of qualifying stroke play. The top 32 in each category go on to match play; for the less fortunate, there is a two-day consolation tournament. The cost for the whole competition? Just £70.
There is one catch. To participate in these competitions, you must travel independently. You can't be tied to a package tour's schedule.
But this is really a blessing in disguise. Traveling independently is actually the best way to have that great "Scottish golf experience." You play with locals, not other tourists. You can play any number of wonderful courses not accessed by package-tour companies.
Best of all, the independent golfer will pay less than half of what a tour package costs for the same amount of golf.
To find a competition that fits your planned travel times, go to any club's website - most feature competition news. A phone call to the course may be necessary to get details and an entry form. Because these club opens are so popular, you should firm up your plans at least six months before the open dates.
To help you in your search, track down a copy of The Wee Yellow Book of Amateur Golf, sold at Scottish golf clubs and online. Published annually, this small paperback lists all the amateur golf events in Scotland, their dates and types of competition, and the phone numbers of the hosting clubs.
Adapted from Willis Copeland's The Independent Golfer's Guide to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (TIG Publications). This book, and its associated Web site, offer advice on planning your Scotland golf vacation, from getting tee times at the big courses and finding the lesser-known gems to primers on local customs, pointers for driving on the left and secrets for big savings.
February 2, 2007