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Planning a golf trip to Scotland, England or Ireland? The weak dollar hurts but values do exist

Brandon TuckerBy Brandon Tucker,
Managing Editor
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American travelers will take an added beating to their wallet at courses like Turnberry thanks to poor exchange rates. (Brandon Tucker/GolfPublisher.com)

If you're planning a golf trip to St. Andrews in Scotland or to Ireland to play Ballybunion and Doonbeg, you know the dollar's falling value hurts. You CAN still book the UK golf vacation of a lifetime and save money, though.

Americans taking their U.S. dollar abroad are getting bullied by the world markets this summer.

This month, the dollar dropped to record lows against the Euro ($1.37/€1). That same week, it hit a 23-year low against the British pound ($2.02/£1).

That's bad news if you're planning an authentic links golf tour, especially to Scotland and Ireland. It's already an expensive, often once-in-a-lifetime golf holiday. The dollar's weakness isn't helping tour operators either.

"It's sent a shiver down the Scottish tourism industry," said Ronnie Pook, from Scotland Golf Tours. "It certainly relies on the U.S. market."

Golf packagers say the lower-income travelers are feeling it most.

"We're getting a mixed response," said Pook. "The bottom end is taking a hit. It's affecting those on a budget, but the upper end is holding reasonably firm."

But if you're in the class currently feeling priced out of the Scotland and Ireland golf, there is hope. With a little savvy, you can save money a variety of ways and still make the one trip every golfer dreams of.

Scotland and Ireland golf vacations: Budget tips

For starters, you can nix the convenience of an experienced golf tour operator and self plan. It will take much more effort and if you aren't very familiar with the region, it will cause major headaches. But do your homework thoroughly and you can save good money finding the cheapest lodging and mixing in "solid seconds" between your "must play" Ireland and Scotland golf courses. Just be sure to plan a trip that is efficient geographically, or you'll lose fuel and time.

If you're not confident as a self-planner, get a tour operator to plan your trip but select the "self-drive" option instead of a chauffer, which can save you $400-600 a person, according to St. Andrews Golf Tours.

Most golf packagers promote their signature, high-end itineraries, but most offer tours that suit lower budgets too and even offer tailor-made tours.

Delaying your trip until the "shoulder season" is another option. Official dates vary course-to-course but are usually around April and October. Green fees are usually 1/3 less compared to peak seasons, and accommodations will be less expensive with more vacancy in most towns. The weather is cooler, but nothing a turtleneck and gloves can't handle.

You can save even more during the winter months, but the weather is very spotty and the courses are often under repair. It's a risky bet.

Pook also says to consider changing your dollars into pounds now if you're planning a 2008 golf tour, since all package prices are calculated in pounds anyways. UK financial forecasts see the dollar only getting weaker in the near future.

Golf in Northwest Ireland and Wales: Good value

There are relatively undiscovered regions in the Isles that still offer value.

Golfing in Ireland and Northern Ireland has become about as expensive as Scotland in recent years with one exception: the northwest region.

You'll be sacrificing century-old, world-renowned links by Old Tom Morris for courses built in the 1960s and 70s, often by Eddie Hackett. It doesn't host any pro tour events (yet). But Ballyliffin, Enniscrone, Rosapenna and County Sligo are all world-class links and only €50-80, compared to €150-250 in the more popular southwest.

It also has less of a commercial atmosphere compared to heavily trafficked Ballybunion, Old Head, Doonbeg and Lahinch. You'll be surrounded by more locals, not fellow North Americans.

Wales is gearing up for the 2010 Ryder Cup at the parkland Celtic Manor Resort and making a serious marketing push to be included alongside tourism heavyweights Scotland, Ireland and England.

Wales is a smaller country with fewer golf courses, but its top links - all a considerable value - are worth the trip.

"On average the courses here are about one-third less expensive than our near neighbors," said Claire Sanders from Wales Tourism. "It's also much easier to access tee times here and the golf courses are more relaxed."

Royal Porthcawl is the country's best known links course (£80-100); it hosted the 1995 Walker Cup. Other famous links include Royal St. Davids, Nefyn & District, Pennard, Aberdovey are very easy on the wallet (£40-55).

Golf and stay in St. Andrews, leave the car behind

If you're hell-bent on experiencing the tradition of Scotland, stay in St. Andrews. It's concentrated enough with golf that you can avoid rental car and fuel costs. You can walk to the six Links Trust courses if you're staying in town, and the five other courses besides the Old (£125) are all very reasonably priced (£12-65).

You can ride the free hourly shuttle from the golf museum or cathedral to the Fairmont St. Andrews resort and their two links courses less than two miles away. Or hop a taxi or bus to the posh Kingsbarns (£155) about seven miles from town.

Before the American in you gets self conscious about lugging a golf bag onto public transportation, remember you're in a university town that bleeds golf. You likely won't be alone.

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Enniscrone Golf Club - No. 14Old Course, St. Andrews, Scotland
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Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Channel Courses & Travel. 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.

 
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