As a co-founder in 1984 of PerryGolf, and a director of that company, which organizes and runs high-end golf trips by land and sea, Gordon Dalgleish has a keen perspective on that business, especially as it emerges from all the chaos that was COVID-19.
A native Scot who now lives in North Carolina and runs PerryGolf with his brother Colin, a two-time Walker Cup captain, Dalgleish recently took time to share with GGP/Biz his thoughts on the state of golf travel and how things look for the peripatetic player in 2023 and beyond:
GGP/Biz: What is the overall climate for international golf travel today?
Dalgleish: There has been a real whipsaw, especially in the British Isles, from when you could not travel during the height of the pandemic to today, when we are seeing unbelievable demand. Right now, you cannot put together a meaningful trip for 2023 to play the premier courses in the British Isles in the traditional trip of six or seven rounds over a six- or seven-day period of time. I am talking about places like the Old Course in St. Andrews and Muirfield in Scotland, and Royal County Down and Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. They were effectively sold out within days of opening their tee sheets for the upcoming season.
On the hotel side, we are seeing very limited availability in some of those places, and weeks in a row where you cannot find a room. At the same time – and this is good news – there has been a lot of investment in hotels in Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland. But those places, whether new or refurbished, will not start to come online until early 2024.
As for the airlines, they seem to be taking a very aggressive stance with regards to recapturing lost revenues, which means fares are up and availability is down.
Having said all this, there is availability in golf destinations that are a bit off the beaten path, like the northwest of Ireland, the Lancashire coast of England and the Scottish Highlands. Those are all excellent alternatives.
GGP/Biz: What is fueling that very strong demand for the classic golf destinations?
Dalgleish: A desire to travel again after being grounded during COVID-19, for one. There have also been a lot of golfers rescheduling trips that were canceled in 2020 and 2021. It has something to do as well with the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews, which could not have come off better. The weather was great, the Old Course looked very good on television and the play was superb. And those things only feed the desire of people to come to St. Andrews.
GGP/Biz: What other off-the-beaten tracks places might golfers consider?
Dalgleish: South Africa is a great destination for those who like golf as well as the wild-game safaris and wine tastings that are also part of trips to that land. New Zealand and Australia, too.
GGP/Biz: What is the booking window for trips like these days?
“All in all, I do think 2023 will be a better year for traveling and that things will settle down as training improves and staffing levels rise.”– Gordon Dalgleish
Dalgleish: The demand is so great that we have had to back it up six months or so, to 18 months in advance of travel. In fact, we will soon start working on our bookings for 2024. People want to get to the front of the line.
GGP/Biz: The situation with airlines and the actual act of traveling was disastrous last summer, whether flying directly to England, Ireland and Scotland, for example, or through London. What caused things to get so bad? And what is being done to fix the problem?
Dalgleish: It was a number of factors. Understaffing of security, baggage handlers and airline personnel. A lack of training among airport and airline workers. And an industry built on legacy systems dating back to the 1980s that does not have the technology to deal with the demands of code sharing, for example, and baggage tracking. You also had problems with a carrier like American, which retired all its 757s when the pandemic hit. It was looking to replace them with 787 Dreamliners, but Boeing delayed delivery of those. Among other things, that forced Americans to cancel Philadelphia-to-Glasgow service in 2022.
Should travelers avoid London and Heathrow Airport? They can try doing that, but you can still have problems going through Paris or Amsterdam. And even JFK is not your most user-friendly airport. I think the key is creating a travel schedule that gives you plenty of leeway when it comes to times between connections. People need to pay more attention to those.
All in all, I do think 2023 will be a better year for traveling and that things will settle down as training improves and staffing levels rise.
GGP/Biz: Will inflation impact demand at all, and golfers’ abilities to travel internationally?
Dalgleish: Generally speaking, the people who come to us for golf travel are not changing those plans due to inflation. They have the money for discretionary spending like that, and if they want to play golf overseas, they will do so.
GGP/Biz: Is COVID-19 an issue anymore?
Dalgleish: No. It has pretty much disappeared as a problem for travelers.
GGP/Biz: Where are you traveling in 2023?
Dalgleish: I’ll probably go back to South Africa, where we will run a couple of very special golf cruises. And Northwest Ireland, which is such a terrific place for golf and getting better with the new Tom Doak course at Rosapenna (St. Patrick’s) and the Gil Hanse renovation at Narin & Portnoo.
GGP/Biz: And what are you recommending for your customers?
Dalgleish: Our job is to identify for our customers the places that will deliver a great experience for them, and just the sort of experience they are looking for, whether that means the classic links courses of the British Isles; the more under-the-radar places of Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales; and outposts like South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. And then, we find a way to take them there and show them a great time.
Top: Leopard Creek in South Africa. Photos: Courtesy Gordon Dalgleish
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