UK Golf Travel Update: What You Need to Know

Like a Payne Stewart or Sam Snead golf swing, the constantly changing international travel situation could be described as “fluid.”

“Saying it is a dynamic environment right now would be something of an understatement,” Gordon Dalgleish, co-founder of PerryGolf, said during a February webinar on “The State of International Golf Travel.”

PerryGolf sold its first golf tour in 1984, since then it has created more than 100,000 trips and become one of the world’s leading providers of international golf tours and cruises, making Dalgleish something of an authority on the subject. So anyone looking to take their clubs overseas either this year or next will be pleased to hear him say conditions are improving rapidly. “Of course, there are still restrictions in some places,” he says. “And the pandemic has obviously had a profound effect on the industry, but right now we are moving in a very positive direction.”

Dalgleish was speaking shortly after New Zealand announced an easing of its entry requirements, albeit limited (it remains one of the more restrictive countries in the world and plans to lift all of its pandemic travel restrictions by October), and shortly before the UK said fully vaccinated visitors would no longer need to take a Covid-19 test upon arrival, a softening of restrictions that took effect on February 11th.

Not surprisingly, how convenient or otherwise traveling overseas might be depends on an individual’s vaccination status.

uk golf travel
Carnoustie (photo by Kevin Murray)

It’s important to know what “fully vaccinated” means. Taking the UK as an example, which seems sensible given that Dalgleish says “the UK drives the bus as far as international golf travel is concerned,” a person needs to have proof of vaccination with a full course of an approved vaccine. You can find a list of approved vaccines on the UK government website (gov.uk), suffice to say Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna are listed. And while Johnson & Johnson isn’t, Janssen (another name for the J&J vaccine) is. A “full course” usually means two doses plus a booster, although you should check the government website to be certain how many shots will qualify.

By now, I suspect you will have gotten the message if you didn’t have it already—don’t assume anything. Before making any overseas travel plans, check the website of the country’s government for up-to-date details.

A really good place to start, and a resource Dalgleish has been using since the pandemic began, is the website of a private company called CIBT Visas, a McLean, Va., firm with offices around the world and which claims to be the “largest and most well-established travel visa and passport company in the world.” Besides providing visa and immigration services, the CIBT website is very useful for finding each country’s latest restrictions and health/entry requirements. On the home page, simply key in the country you’re traveling to and from, along with your country of passport issuance and reason for travel, and you will find all of the pertinent information. And assuming it is the UK or Ireland you’re headed to, you will need to fill out a “Passenger Locator Form” regardless of vaccination status then submit it before traveling.

The only potential “problem” is that unless you’ve booked your tee times already, it’s very difficult to find one for this year as tee sheets are filling up rapidly. Indeed, Royal Dornoch announced on January 25th that it had taken 13,000 visitor reservations for the year which, when added to member demand, had caused the club to close the book for 2022. “It was a difficult decision,” the club’s General Manager Neil Hampton said in a statement posted on the club’s website, “but we felt obliged to give as many of our members as possible the opportunity to play.”

With so many of the more popular courses already unavailable, a number of less well-known areas in the UK are fast becoming welcome alternatives. England’s northwest coastline (Royal Birkdale, Royal Lytham, Hoylake, Formby, etc.) is seeing a significant rise in demand as are the Kent coast (Royal St. George’s, Prince’s, Deal, etc.), the northwest of Ireland (St. Patrick’s, Narin & Portnoo, Ballyliffin, etc.), the far north of Scotland (Nairn, Castle Stuart, Brora, etc.), and even South Africa, says Dalgleish, adding that U.S. golfers are showing symptoms of a condition known as “Revenge Travel.

“It’s become a common industry expression,” he adds, “and basically means keen travelers wanting to make up for lost time. People have been denied their links fix for a couple of years and they want to get back.”

uk golf travel
Rusacks Hotel

And when they get there, the chances are good travelers will find courses and accommodations have improved since their last visit. “I’m seeing that in many places,” says Dalgleish, “especially Scotland where St. Andrews’s famous Rusacks Hotel now has a grand extension with an amazing rooftop bar overlooking the 18th of the Old Course. And a Nashville-based hotel group—AJ Capital Partners—has purchased and is renovating the Marine Hotels in North Berwick and Troon as well as the Slieve Donard at Royal County Down in Northern Ireland.”

Another group has plans to build a boutique hotel at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland—the same group which has just received plans to renovate and expand the Scores Hotel in St. Andrews, just fifty yards or so behind the R&A clubhouse.

This all bodes well for your UK trip, but before you go, a word about returning to the U.S.—before boarding the plane you will need to show documentation of a negative viral test result taken within one day of the flight’s departure. That sounds a little irritating perhaps, but Dalgleish has done it many times and says it isn’t “too onerous.” Go online to find a test provider and purchase the rapid antigen test required with confirming documentation. “I use eMed,” says Dalgleish. “Once you’ve self-tested, they send you the test report which you then show to the airline at check-in. It’s quick and easy.”

If you’re fully booked and ready to go in 2022, we envy you and wish you a memorable trip. If you’re holding out for 2023, be warned that demand is already high and bookings are being made quickly. Whenever, and wherever, you’re going though, you can be fairly sure of a warm welcome as the International travel market hasn’t seen significant activity for over two years.

“October 2019 was the last time we saw meaningful numbers of travelers,” says Dalgleish. “We only saw a trickle in 2020 and 2021, so as places open up and those revenge travelers are able to satisfy their wanderlust, it promises to be a very busy time.”

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