2011 shaping up to be a big year for St. Andrews, Scotland golf travel

Louis Oostheizen's runaway victory at the 2010 Open Championship on the Old Course at St. Andrews may not have been as memorable as some of the past Opens held at the Home of Golf.

But as with most years the Old Course is put on the world stage, golf travelers all over the world have already started making plans for a 2011 golf vacation to St. Andrews and Scotland.

The recent trend toward booking golf tours with less lead time has reversed for the upcoming golf travel season in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and guaranteed tee times on the Old Course are filling fast, said Marty Carr, operator of Carr Golf Travel.

"I think anyone going to Scotland with more than four people in their group, it will be difficult to accommodate [the Old Course]," Carr said of 2011's outlook. "We would certainly need to hear from them within six to eight weeks for them to have any chance at all at a guaranteed tee time."

Even if you haven't booked your St. Andrews times yet for 2011 and miss out on a guaranteed slot, there are still advantages to planning now. Tour operators trade tee times with one another to accommodate their clients. Also, they can identify days in the Old Course ballot that might not be as busy as others, so you can be near St. Andrews on those days with a chance to get there with short notice.

Old Course cancellations always occur, so it's good to have a tour operator with an ear to the ground to hear of any new available times.

Demand in Scotland beyond St. Andrews

The Old Course in St. Andrews isn't the only spot in Scotland getting attention from golf travelers for 2011. Muirfield in East Lothian, the most exclusive of the Open venues, is nearly sold out of its limited public times for the year. The links is slated to host the Open Championship in 2013, the first time since 2002. Muirfield lies in the heart of historic and golf-rich East Lothian near Edinburgh, home to other more accessible links such as North Berwick Golf Club and Gullane Golf Club .

Carr says he's noticing some of Scotland's newer courses, such as the Castle Course at St. Andrews and Machrihanish Dunes, gaining momentum with visitor requests. Both courses received mixed reviews upon opening, but public opinion appears to be turning in their favor and both are receiving more interest from golfers.

"It's a lot like what happened when Doonbeg opened," said Carr, referring to the Irish golf resort that opened its Greg Norman-designed links in the shadow of Lahinch. "When the course opens, people tend to be hyper-critical because they're set among the old greats."

With the new, David McLay Kidd-designed Machrihanish Dunes settling in beside the historic Machrihanish Golf Club , this remote spot on the Mull of Kintyre is becoming more requested by groups that now have two very different links to experience in Campbelltown. Carr said you can avoid the four-hour drive down from Glasgow by taking either a boat or air transfer from Ayrshire, where the Open Championship links such as Turnberry, Royal Troon and Prestwick can round out a week's tour.

Another new addition in an old neighborhood is Castle Stuart Golf Links . Set in the Scottish Highlands on the Moray Firth, it is already earning praise among the best of the historic links club that stretch along the coast such as Nairn Golf Club and Royal Dornoch. Golf tours can include links farther south like back toward Aberdeen and Cruden Bay, and enjoy a sampling of Scotland's best links in this region alone.

But whether the remote Highlands or the hub of Scotland golf in St. Andrews has your eyes, it pays to plan ahead for 2011.

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker and on Instagram at BrandonTuckerGC.
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Is it sacrilegious to call a links course in the birthplace of golf the Bandon Dunes of Scotland? In many ways, that's exactly what Machrihanish Dunes is. Both are on hard-to-get-to sections of coastline that attract golfers to play neoclassic links golf. The big difference is that in pre-Kidd Bandon, Oregon there was nothing, but the pre-Kidd Kintyre Peninsula was already home to fabled Machrihanish Golf Club. That is where the story gets interesting.
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2011 shaping up to be a big year for St. Andrews, Scotland golf travel
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