As our local golf season winds down, many golfers are eagerly planning their next golf adventure for warmer climates and thinking about where they might go next year. However, the COVID pandemic has put more than a few hurdles in the way, with travel restrictions imposed by governments and some trepidation on the part of travelers wondering which destinations are safe. That being said, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccine uptake is strong in many countries around the world, safety protocols are being implemented, and there is a general sense of optimism among travelers.
To get the latest update on golf travel and what’s possible, Fairways spoke to TJ Rule, Owner and President of Golf Away Tours, a boutique golf travel company based in Toronto that has been creating lifelong golf and travel memories for over 20 years.
Fairways Magazine: Welcome TJ. At this time of year, a lot of people are thinking about a golf trip to some warm weather destination in the U.S. As it stands now, travel is only permitted to the States if you fly. Is there any word on when the American government will open the border to land travellers?
TJ Rule: There always seems to be a rumour or two swirling around and the latest rumour is that something may happen in November, which would be nice for both travellers and snowbirds. But there isn’t anything definitive at this time. Fingers crossed that changes in the next couple of months so that people can enjoy some warmer temperatures and golf when the snow flies up here.
What’s the status of the U.K? Are golf courses now open to Canadian travelers?
Yes, golf courses are open to anyone who can get into the country and luckily for us, Canada was added to the UK’s green list on August 30th. So that means we can enter the UK without having to quarantine as long as we are double vaccinated. Furthermore, we got some good news last week as the UK finally approved mixed vaccines. So, if you were vaccinated with an Astra Zeneca first dose and Pfizer or Moderna second dose, they will recognise that as being fully vaccinated, starting sometime in October.
Because of the pandemic, a lot of golfers haven’t been able to travel, visit second homes in warm weather spots and couldn’t even dine out during various lockdowns. Consequently, there’s presumably a huge pent-up demand to get out of town and would-be travelers have plenty of cash available to spend when they get the green light to go. Are you sensing that this is the case?
Absolutely, the pent-up demand is off the charts. We have clients that have had to postpone trips for up to two years and they are anxious to travel, to the point of booking a second trip next year to make up for lost experiences over the past two years. It bodes well for a nice rebound in the travel industry after a pretty tough stretch.
We’ve heard that some of the demand is being funneled in to advance bookings for 2022. Places like Cabot Links, Bandon Dunes and other high end golf destinations are practically sold out for next year. What are you advising clients looking for some of these exceptional golf experiences?
It’s true that the top golf destinations in the world are fully booked for most of 2022. Obviously with so many postponed trips being pushed forward from both 2020 and 2021, that left very few openings for 2022 to begin with. Most courses then opened their 2022 tee sheets this past spring and the tee times that were still there didn’t last long. As a result, we are telling our clients to explore some of the other lesser-known golf destinations that still provide great experiences and often better value. There are so many great places to book a golf vacation, and maybe 2022 is the best time to explore some of them.
Is the same true of the top courses and accommodations in Scotland and Ireland? Will people likely have to wait until 2023 to play St. Andrews, Turnberry, Royal Portrush, Ballybunion and others?
For sure. Those courses are pretty much sold out for 2022, with some possible openings in April and October. Courses like Royal County Down and Royal Portrush opened their tee sheets on May 3rd this year and were pretty much sold out of 2022 tee times in days. So, we are already booking groups in to play those courses in 2023, which is shaping up to be a busy year as well.
If the top spots are sold out or in limited supply, what destinations are you suggesting to clients that still want to go somewhere in 2022 for a memorable golf experience?
There are so many great spots for a golf trip around the world. Since we do the majority of our business to the UK and Ireland, we often focus on other spots within those countries. So, if you can’t get on to the Royal County Downs and Carnousties of the world you can always good something like NW Ireland or Northern Scotland or Wales. Each of those spots has amazing links golf and perhaps a more authentic experience for less cost than the top ranked courses. We love to promote the NW of Ireland, which I think is the best bang for your buck if you want a great links golf trip. Of course, there are lots of destinations outside of the British Isles such as Spain and Portugal, two countries that are certainly becoming more popular for golf vacations.
When do people need to book their travel to secure the courses and accommodations they want?
It really depends on the destination, but we always say you can’t start the process too early. For the top golf courses, you need to be looking about 18 months in advance to ensure you get tee times, especially for the next few years when demand will be higher than it has been historically.
Outside of the well-known destinations in North America and the UK, are there a few hidden gems you could recommend to readers?
There are lots, where do I start? I mentioned Spain and Portugal before and I think they are great spots, not just for golf but also food and wine and great weather. Although it may not be considered a hidden gem, we send a lot of clients down to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic and I believe it’s the best golf resort in the Caribbean. And although they may not be in people’s plans for the near future due to travel restrictions, there are great places to visit in the Southern Hemisphere like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and even Argentina. So many great places to visit.
What’s your favourite golf destination?
St Andrews still gives me the chills when I drive into the town, it’s such a magical place. But aside from that I love the South-west of Ireland. It has so many dramatic golf courses, lots of great little towns with good craic and the people make the experience that much better. You can’t beat a golf trip to Ireland.
So TJ, why should golfers choose Golf Away Tours to plan their next golf trip?
We are a small company that focuses on our relationships with both our clients and our suppliers. We work with our suppliers to secure great rates that we can pass on to our clients. At the same time, we know how to organise a trip to ensure it has great flow and provides the best experience to our clients. It’s important to know which hotels should be used to minimise driving times, when to book the tee times to make sure you aren’t overextending yourself on a trip. The trip has to have a good flow and that’s what we do best in setting up the itinerary. We also know who the best coach companies and drivers are, as they are an integral part of any successful golf vacation. So really, it’s the expertise we bring to the table, which we have achieved through years of building relationships.
We were awarded the World Golf Awards “Best Outbound Golf Tour Operator for Canada” in both 2019 and 2020, demonstrating not only the satisfaction of our clients, but also the strong relationships we have developed with our suppliers that allows us to deliver the best possible travel experiences.
For more information on Golf Away Tours and planning your next golf trip, click HERE.