How the pandemic is impacting 2021, 2022 golf travel to Great Britain & Ireland

The lack of inventory at famous links, a slow vaccine rollout and ongoing travel restrictions remain hurdles to a strong summer travel season.
Wispy fescue is never far off the fairways or greens at infamous Royal County Down.

The waiting game continues for the majority of North Americans who booked golf packages overseas in 2020.

Almost a year into the global pandemic, international borders remain closed and coronavirus cases are surging in certain hot spots, leaving golf packagers and their clients in limbo still. They're both left hoping that the vaccine rollout can eventually bring links lovers back to Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales. The question is when?

"Certainly 2021 is not looking as promising as it did a few months back," Marty Carr, founder and chief executive officer of Carr Golf Group Dublin, Ireland, wrote in an email. "The new wave, different variants, new lockdowns across Europe and the slower than expected roll out of the vaccine are making travel in the first half of the year unlikely. We do expect some of our clients to travel in the second half of the year but most likely in the July/August through October window. Courses and hotels are fully booked for the remainder of the year, and we will have to wait and see how these multiple issues all play out."  

PerryGolf President Gordon Dalgleish said clients are making the final decision to travel or to re-book generally 60 days prior to the trip. That's when the final payment is due.

Joe Lyons, the co-founder of Irish-based Lyons Links, said many of his groups booked to travel in April and May have already rescheduled for 2022. "All July through October clients are leaving their bookings on hold," he added. "Given the vaccine roll outs and the extensive lock down here at the moment, I would be very confident we will see overseas visitors in Q3." 

All four golf tour operators interviewed for this story indicated that inventory at the most famous links will be scarce this year, and that issue is starting to push into 2022. Next year also happens to be the 150th anniversary of The Open, which will be held at St. Andrews.

The moral of the story? If you want to play a bucket-list links sometime in the next 18 months, book now to secure your spot. All packagers, airlines and hotels are still offering no-penalty cancellation and/or re-booking policies during the pandemic.

"The primary courses in the British Isles will be historically very busy April through October, because of the rolled-over business," Dalgleish said. "It all depends on where you are going. The Old Course (at St. Andrews), Muirfield, Ballybunion, Royal County Down, they are in prime demand."

An opportunity for unsung destinations

The accommodations at Rosapenna Hotel & Golf Resort are comfortable.

The squeezing of inventory could open the door for lesser-known links destinations like Wales, Northwest Ireland and England. PerryGolf has created new packages, called the Authentic Scotland & Ireland Collections, to tout places less frequented by Americans like Portsalon, Ballyliffin and Rosapenna in Ireland and Cruden Bay and Moray in Scotland.

Carr indicated that his team will be "directing people to other regions" like Northwest Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland, home to Royal Dornoch, Brora, Nairn and Castle Stuart, for events like the 3rd annual Donald Ross Pro-Am in September. Northwest Ireland is quite intriguing with Gil Hanse's redesign of Narin and Portnoo and the scheduled summer opening of St. Patrick's Links by Tom Doak at Rosapenna.

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"Northwest Ireland is definitely a great option if borders reopen with less pressure there on (tee) sheets. In my honest opinion, the courses there easily stack up against their better-known counterparts," Lyons added. 

Changing habits

The Greywalls Hotel next to Muirfield is home to the excellent Chez Roux Restaurant.

Sam Baker, the founder and chief executive officer at Haversham & Baker, a high-end packager, noted that the pent-up demand for links golf might be changing how his clients travel.

"Their travel habits have been changed and they require a more tailored approach," he indicated by email. "For example, that might mean booking exclusive use lodging near Muirfield or private dinners in the Old Course Hotel. For these golfers, the ability to travel when they want, stay and play where they want, and do so with exactly whom they want is more important than ever."

Incredible coastal scenery and a legendary warmth from locals makes Ireland one of the most coveted golf destinations on the planet. Golfers seeking a little luck of the Irish will bask in incredible links meccas from Northern Ireland to County Kerry. Before or after golf on such legendary links as Ballybunion, Royal Portrush or Old Head, enjoy a fresh Guinness in Dublin or take in the sights of the Ring of Kerry. Friendliness of the clubs, hotels and pubs are a hallmark of a trip here. Let our expert golf package team line up an epic tour that showcases the finest of the Emerald Isle.
England and Wales, while U.K. neighbors, present very different golf tour experiences to the visiting golfer. Both may be somewhat unsung as links golf destinations compared to popular Scotland and Ireland, but they present incredible history and spectacular links golf courses. England has more Top 100 World courses than any other GB&I country and has multiple Open Championship venues to take on. These prestigious links range from around metro London to the famous “Links along the Line” golf mecca south of Liverpool, one of the most golf-rich regions on earth. Wales, meanwhile, boasts a collection of charming and undiscovered towns and courses with tremendous value from the south near the main city of Cardiff to remote and spectacular experiences in the north. Let our expertly planned golf packages to England and Wales show you the finest of each country’s renowned golf and lodging.
The game of golf isn’t any more historic or fulfilling than a trip to Scotland, the birthplace of the game. Golf has been played in St. Andrews since the 15th century when townsfolk began playing on the sandy dunes beside the ancient town. Today, the town in the Kingdom of Fife remains the heartbeat of the game in Scotland. A Scotland golf tour can take place in one or two towns, like Prestwick or Dornoch or St. Andrews, or be more ambitious and seek out far-flung links golf clubs in Dornoch or on the Mull of Kintyre. Members of nearly all of Scotland’s golf clubs welcome visitors and share their clubhouse, locker rooms and tee sheets with them. A golf trip to Scotland features more than just the storied links of The Open rota like Carnoustie or Turnberry. Trips can savor lesser-known links, scenic heathland courses and even modern clubs like Castle Stuart or Kingsbarns. There are limitless ways to experience a golf trip in the game’s home. A once-in-a-lifetime trip may be the first of many.

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 1,000 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfadvisor and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.
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How the pandemic is impacting 2021, 2022 golf travel to Great Britain & Ireland