Photo: P. Tomkins/VisitScotland/Scottish Viewpoint
|Many golfers dream of playing in the birthplace of their favorite sport.
August 23, 2012
By Amanda Black
The Ryder Cup is returning to the birthplace of golf after a 40-year absence.
The renowned international professional tournament is not returning to Scotland until 2014, but the country is already getting ready.
To say the return of the biennial Ryder Cup, which pits European players against the United States, is a big deal is to vastly understate the case. Golf is part of Scotland’s lore and national fabric.
The 2014 Ryder Cup is Sept. 26–28, 2014, at the Jack Nicklaus-designed PGA Centenary Course on the resort grounds of The Gleneagles Hotel in Muirton, United Kingdom. This year’s Ryder Cup is Sept. 25–30 at Medina Country Club in Medinah, Ill., just outside Chicago.
Also in 2014, Scotland hosts the Commonwealth Games, which are held every four years and draw athletes from some 70 nations that are or were once part of the United Kingdom — including Canada.
But why wait until 2014?
The northern reaches of the United Kingdom are worth exploring well before then.
Besides golf, this is a nation known for its mix of landscapes urban and rural, thriving arts scene and heritage sites.
“Scotland is a very friendly place to travel,” said Jim Myers, operations manager at Morristown, N.J.-based CIE Tours.
“There’s so much to see in the Highlands, a good nightlife in the cities and the people are friendly.”
And don’t forget those golf courses.
‘Home of Golf’
Golf is a serious economic driver for tourism, adding 7,000 jobs and about $344 million annually to Scotland’s national economy.
On average, players spend twice that of other Scottish visitors, according to VisitScotland.
As legendary courses go, The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews’ Old Course in St. Andrews is in a class by itself. This is the “Home of Golf.”
Golfers have been playing their game here, in one form or another, since the early 15th century. Many of the elements so commonplace in today’s game started or were popularized on the Old Course, including 18 holes — with seven double greens.
The Open Championship is the oldest major tournament in the game, with this year’s British Open the 141st.
Last played in 2010 at St. Andrews and where it returns in 2015 (every five years), The Open was held in July at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club in Lytham St. Annes in July and returns in 2013 to Muirfield — or The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers as it’s known formally — in Edinburgh.
St. Andrews is where American golfer Bobby Jones, founder of Georgia’s Augusta National (home of The Masters), walked off the Old Course in frustration only to return in 1927 to shoot one of the best golf games in history. The first man to win the Grand Slam spoke frequently of his earned love of the Old Course, inspiring countless other golfers to pack up their clubs and head to Scotland.
The par-72, 7,305-yard public course continues to be operated by the St. Andrews Links Trust.
Because of the popularity of playing St. Andrews, groups need to be flexible, Myers said.
“Most people who call me for group tours don’t realize they have a number courses to play,” he said. “They can still say they played St. Andrews if they play one of the smaller courses.”
If playing the Old Course is the fulfillment of a dream that just can’t be shaken, tee times may just be available. Those can be booked along with guided walks through the St. Andrews Links Trust.
“Tee times come up all the time for (groups of) one and twos,” Myers said. “If you’re the type of golfer who gets up at 5 a.m. and checks for a tee time, you’ll probably find one. There are plenty of people who do this, and the majority of them have gotten tee times at the Old Course.”
St. Andrews is more than golf. The village, named for Scotland’s patron saint, has much to offer in a small space.
Within a mile of the Old Course, groups can visit the British Golf Museum; St. Andrews Aquarium, perched on the north-facing cliffs; a castle that dates in part to the 13th century; and the St. Andrews Museum that explores the city history from its medieval days to the present.
“People go to St. Andrews and see the course, but they don’t take time to see the town,” Myers said. “St. Andrews is a wonderful town for sightseeing.”
Photo: Glengoyne Distillery
|Scotland, with its fairways and whisky distilleries, is a popular choice for explorations.
Single malt, many options
Many of the same folks who travel to Scotland for golf enjoy another aspect of its culture: its whisky distilleries.
Like golf, there’s a mix of smaller, off-the-beaten path locations and bigger operations, each with their own charms.
In Speyside, follow the Scotch Malt Whisky Trail, home to seven working distilleries. Signposts lead visitors through the picturesque countryside to such places as Strathisla, home and heart of Chivas Regal and Speyside Cooperage where real coopers work with incredible speed and skill.
Moving on to the Scottish Highlands north of Glasgow, Glengoyne Distillery and Visitor Centre is a group draw. The distillery, which takes its name from Glen of the Wild Geese, has been producing an exceptional single malt scotch whisky for nearly two centuries. Owned by the Scottish family-owned business, Ian Macleod Distillers Ltd., since 2003, Glengoyne Distillery added a new shop and visitor center late last year. With the improvements, group tour experiences were upgraded.
“Glengoyne offers a wide range of comprehensive guided tours that take you behind the scenes and give you an amazing insight into the production of scotch whisky,” said Yvonne Granger, the sales and marketing coordinator based at Glengoyne Distillery.
“There is a tour for everyone, from your complete novice to your true enthusiast.”
Glengoyne offers an introductory film and guided tours explaining Scotland’s slowest whisky distillation.
Granger’s favorite experiences include “the amazing aromas in our still house, as you move from one room they get better and better” and “the scenery — we’re not called ‘Scotland’s most beautiful distillery’ for nothing.”
Even if a group isn’t into golf and whisky, that’s no problem. There’s an entire country to explore with something to offer all types of interests.
“Scotland has something for everyone,” CIE Tours’ Myers said.
“Sure it has the golf and it also has the whisky. But then it has the royal history, the medieval history, World War II history. You can turn Scotland into a tour for anybody.”
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2014 Ryder Cup
Scotch Malt Whisky Trail
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St. Andrews Links Trust
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