Jammy Sod touts golfing in Southwest Scotland
TROON, Scotland - In Glasgow they would call him a "jammy sod." In the States, he would be referred to as a lucky stiff. Not only was Stewart Smith born and raised in Scotland, but he's spent his entire professional career playing and promoting the sport in his native land.
For much of the past three years, Smith has been the Golf Tourism Manager for Scottish Golf Southwest, a group partly financed by the European Union. He's been marketing the region by coordinating media trips, organizing exhibitions and roadshows, and overseeing a web site. Serving as a liaison between hotels, courses, tour operators and travel companies, Smith also advises on product development - i.e., upgrades to both golf courses and hotels.
Why would Smith and Scotland need to promote the game that was invented here? For the same reasons virtually every other golf destination in the world has stepped up marketing efforts to attract you and your money - there are fewer of you traveling, you're making shorter trips and you're spending less money on them than you did prior to September 11th, 2001.
Despite a rich history in the game, the Southwest of Scotland has experienced a fair share of ups and downs in golf tourism over the past four years. "2000 was a good year but in 2001 we all know what happened at the season end," said Smith, who played professionally on the European Tour in the early 1980s. "That hurt a season which, despite the hoof and mouth crisis, had been pretty good. The result was an approximate drop off of around six to seven percent in American visitors in September and October."
"In 2002 we saw a great reluctance on the part of many Americans to travel due to the unrest caused, the drop off in the stock market, and a reluctance to be unpatriotic in spending money abroad - all completely understandable - which saw around another six percent drop off," he said. "The next year that trend continued, especially with the SARS situation."
"Overall, from 2000 to 2003 we might have been down around 15 to 17 percent. That was partly compensated for by a strengthening of domestic and Scandinavian business, but only partly as no market other than the North American one provides us with that high a level of incremental spending on caddies, drinks, food, etc."
Fewer visitors has some silver linings however. "I think all tour operators are saying that the groups are smaller," said Smith. "But they are quite happy with that in one sense as they can give a more personal service, which in turn is creating a greater level of repeat business."
"The tendency is still to have two or three bases - generally West Coast and East Coast, with many taking in the North, so multiple hotels are involved and there are probably slightly shorter stays if anything. Since business has been tougher in many sectors, most people can't be out of the office for long amounts of time like they may have in the past. But many clubs, including Prestwick and Western Gailes in the Southwest, have opened up more tee times on certain days, so it's easier now to condense an itinerary than it used to be."
Southwest Scotland boasts historic golf courses, quality lodging
There's no overlooked golfing ground in Scotland when it comes to American tastes, with St. Andrews always and perhaps forever the number one spot on every pilgrimage. But don't underestimate the Southwest, an area home to outstanding golf courses, quality accommodations and plenty of golf history.
"Notwithstanding that our claim to be the Home of the Open - Prestwick in 1860 - does not compare really with the home of golf itself, St. Andrews," said Smith. "But the Southwest gets a very good share of U.S. golfers. The numbers put the area only 13 percent behind in the amount of U.S. visitors to the East, i.e. Angus, Fife and Perthshire."
This is where you can play British Open venues like Royal Troon and Turnberry, home to both the excellent Ailsa course and the Kintyre course. There's also the utterly unique and memorable layout at Prestwick, venue for the first-ever Open Championship.
Hidden gem golf courses in Southwest Scotland
In addition to the more famous venues, the Southwest is full of lesser-known layouts that may never host an Open but are still worth a visit. "I think Western Gailes is almost played as much as Prestwick now by American visitors, and it's still our ultimate hidden gem," said Smith, who added to that category courses such as Machrihanish Golf Club, Machrie Golf Links, Southerness Golf Club, Glasgow Gailes and Kilmarnock Barassie. Add in solid tracks like Prestwick St. Nicholas and Irvine Golf Club in Bogside, and you could easily schedule 10 days full
of classic Scottish golf courses if so desired.
Comparing golf in Southwest Scotland to the East
When it comes to the bottom line, the difference in costs between the Southwest and East isn't that great, but Smith feels the Southwest has a stronger overall lineup of courses. "Regarding green fees, Turnberry or Troon would be on a level with say Kingsbarns and Prestwick, Western Gailes being similar to Carnoustie and the Old Course at St. Andrews, then say Leven Links or Lundin Golf Club being very comparable to Glasgow Gailes or Barassie," said Smith. "However, we have a greater depth of good courses with eight having held Open qualifying as opposed to Fife's four. So when you start to compare, say Lochgreen or Darley in Troon with the equivalent Fife golf courses, we offer much better value for money. I think our hotel rates are very similar also, with many value for money packages available involving golf and accommodation."
Those hotels especially received the economic benefits of last year's Open at Royal Troon, a stellar golf course overlooking the Firth of Clyde. The R&A estimates that approximately 35 million pounds were generated locally for the week, but the emotional impact was just as great for the natives.
"To be the host for five out of every nine Opens means a lot to Scotland in that we are very proud of our position in the game as having started it all off," said Smith, a Dundee native who has lived in Troon since 1990. "So having the golfing world's attention for that week in July and being able to showcase some of our best courses was fantastic."
Smith's own future looks bright as well. He was recently named Director of Golf at the luxurious Cameron House Hotel and Resort, overseeing the Carrick Course.
Sounds like the sod just got jammier.
Lodging in Southwest Scotland
Turnberry Hotel: A spectacular setting overlooking 36 holes of golf and coastline. This upscale Westin property features ocean and estate view rooms, plus separate cottages/lodges (perfect for you and the buddies). There's also a spa, outdoor activity center, and a Colin Montgomerie Links Golf Academy on site where you can learn the bump and run shots you will definitely need. This is easily one of the world's foremost golf resorts.
Enterkine House: This former private residence offers luxury on a small scale in the country just east of Troon. There are six suites and fabulous food offerings. Rooms from 75 pounds a night. Better for couples than for a crew of guys on a golf junket.
Marine Hotel: This 89-room hotel recently completed a three million pound renovation and overlooks Royal Troon. Book the Johnny Miller suite if available. Offering special rates for those participating in the Ayrshire Foursomes Tournament (for details go to www.prestwickgc.co.uk) being played this October over four Open qualifying courses.
Gailes Lodge: Malcolm Simpson and his wife opened this simple yet modern 40-room hotel in 2002. Located literally right next to a number of courses (Glasgow Gailes, Western Gailes, and Southern Gailes) and a public practice facility/golf shop. Nothing fancy but very welcoming and a great value at 65 pounds per night.
Other options include The Golfview, The Parkstone and Kincraig in Prestwick; South Beach in Troon; and Abbotsford in Ayr.
Dining in Southwest Scotland
Want to go upscale? Then dress up for dinner in the main room at Turnberry and enjoy the view of Ailsa Craig in the distance (a once in a lifetime experience). Of course there's the pubs too: head to the The Red Lion in Prestwick, The Old Loans Inn in Troon, Ship Inn (the oldest pub in Irvine), Caddyshack in Troon, and Rabbie's in Irvine (devoted to native son and poet Robert Burns).
The almost mythical course known as Machrihanish offers up a true links experience with rustic charm. There are two flights a day there from Glasgow. Or you can take a ferry to Arran and play Shiskine Golf Club (a unique 12 hole course) and then another ferry over to Macrihanish for 18. The trip takes about three and a half hours each way.
March 25, 2005