For avid golfers, golf travel is part of our DNA. There’s just nothing like planning a trip, heading to destinations near or far and getting to experience golf in a variety of locations. The COVID golf boom and its long-lasting effects have translated into a changing landscape for those looking to take their game on the road, and that is never more apparent than in the British Isles. To help us gain some insight into navigating the golf travel waters across the Atlantic, we turned to Gordon Dalgleish, president and co-founding director of PerryGolf, who sat down with us for a Q&A on this hot topic.
GGPGo: Gordon, we thank you for taking time out to provide some insight into the golf travel segment, especially as it relates to upscale holidays abroad. Your company, PerryGolf, is a leader in this segment, but can you give our readers a quick summary of your company for those that might not be as familiar with the name?
Gordon Dalgleish: My brother and I established PerryGolf in 1984, and since that time we have operated luxury customized international golf tours, principally to the British Isles. Over the years, we have expanded our destinations to include New Zealand and South Africa, amongst others. Additionally, for over 20 years we have operated a golf cruise program. Since 2012, this has been exclusively in conjunction with Azamara. We shall have almost 40 voyages in 2024 and 2025, including the South Pacific, Asia, the Mediterranean, British Isles and Baltic Sea.
GGPGo: COVID changed golf travel in a variety of ways. How has it affected your business and, in turn, how has it affected the golf traveler who is looking to travel outside the U.S.?
GD: The biggest change by far is the booking window caused by pent-up demand – rather than booking at the top courses 8-10 months in advance, the ideal lead time for booking has moved to 14-18 months in advance of travel.
GGPGo: Golf in the U.K. has always been popular, but we’ve heard that the pent-up demand has resulted in levels never seen before. Should those dreaming of a U.K. trip still try to plan on coming, or would they be best-served to wait a few years?
GD: If they can make scheduling commitments further in advance than previously, there is no reason to delay their trip. The courses and experiences are as great as they always have been … and one lesson we all learned from the pandemic is that we do not know what the future holds!
GGPGo: For those who are looking to come to the British Isles in the next year or two, do you have any suggestions on how to maximize their money?
GD: Unquestionably the best value for superb golf is northwest Ireland. It is only now enjoying the profile it deserves, but it allows you to save money without sacrificing experience. Another suggestion would be to travel in April and October, which will be slightly discounted pricing.
GGPGo: We have heard a few horror stories of golfers who booked a trip with an online company (obviously not Perry) and submitted their down payments a year in advance, as was required by the booking company. When they circled back to check in and ask about some follow-up questions about their trip, they came to find out the website is no longer in existence. They contacted the hotels where they thought their money was going as a down payment, and there was no reservation. In this day and age of online companies, many of which look legit until they don’t, what advice do you have in terms of doing research on the company and confirming that this isn’t some scam?
GD: Good question. I have certainly heard some of the stories, which are extremely unfortunate. Some businesses closed down during the pandemic for genuine business reasons, and that is a different situation than full-blown scams. At the end of the day, research and genuine personal referrals are your best tools. The golf world is a fairly small ecosystem, and to connect with friends and associates with personal knowledge or experience is your best strategy. Look at length at business history. Every legitimate business has a significant digital-business footprint.
GGPGo: Everyone wants to play the Old Course and there are many “rumors” out there about how to do it. Can you give us a definitive primer on how best to get on (including booking with Perry of course).
GD: Easy question with a complicated answer! PerryGolf enjoys significant access to the Old Course, and of course we are able to blend a trip to Scotland for our clients with a round on the Old Course amongst other courses seamlessly together. Other options would be for golfers to enter the Direct Application process in late August for travel the following year. The Links Trust manages this, as it is intended for golfers seeking to make their own arrangements. It is oversubscribed but it provides a genuine pathway for golfers to play the Old Course. The third option is the daily ballot that may be entered online, with the lucky golfers posted 48 hours before play. Similarly, the option is usually oversubscribed. Finally, the walk-up option for single golfers (generally sitting on a bench overnight) is for the hard-core golfer who is willing to do anything to play the Old Course!
GGPGo: As the UK demand has spiked have you found that other areas have seen a rise in golf tourism?
GD: I think the two areas within the British Isles that have seen a solid increase in U.S. golfers is northwest Ireland and the Lancashire Coast of England (home to Open courses Royal Birkdale, Royal Lytham and Royal Liverpool.)
GGPGo: Compared to 10 years ago, how has the golfer who is coming on your trips changed (e.g., more couples, younger, longer trips, etc.)?
GD: We are seeing more couples, principally through our partnership with Azamara. However, we also are seeing some ladies-only groups to the British Isles. I think the days of 36 holes every day of a trip are starting to wane. Golfers enjoy more time to relax, enjoy the experience.
GGPGo: You have a nice partnership with Azamara Cruises and have a variety of trips with them scheduled each year. What are some advantages of combining your golf travel with the luxuries of a cruise?
GD: Our golf cruise partnership with Azamara has done extremely well as it opens seamless golf travel to many regions of the world. Unpacking once (on a luxury boutique cruise ship) and knowing that your golf clubs will appear on the first tee of each course is a great formula that allows golfers to relax and focus on their enjoyment.
GGPGo: As a follow-up, what cruise destinations do you have on tap for next year?
GD: We have doubled our capacity on our South Pacific golf voyages. The Mediterranean and the British Isles always do well.
GGPGo: We’ve talked about the UK a lot, is there a hidden-gem destination that you might suggest a golf traveler explore?
GD: I am a huge fan of South Africa, as the golf is excellent, alongside great food and wine, fabulous scenery and the majesty of a safari experience. At this time, the value of travel to South Africa with a weaker local currency is exceptional.