July 2005 sees the return of the world’s greatest golf tournament to its spiritual home on the Scottish East Coast. With the 27th staging of the British Open taking place on the Old Course in 2005, St Andrews has held the event more often than anywhere else which has reinforced its strong reputation as the « Home of Golf ». This year’s event comes at a period of time where the Scottish Golf Industry is enjoying something of a renaissance, with more and more people choosing to visit the country for golfing holidays and test themselves on some of the world’s most famous courses.
The Old Course at St.Andrews, where this year the world’s greatest golfing talent will compete for the famous Claret Jug, originally consisted of 22 holes ? eleven out and eleven back. However, in 1764 the local society of St.Andrews Golfers decided that the format of the course needed to change as the many of the holes were simply too short. As a result the total number of holes was cut to 18 ? which is now synonymous with golf courses around the world.
However, despite the now settled structure of the course many in the town felt the links would be better served as a commercial opportunity rather than a playground for golfers. This combined with the local councils financial difficulties led to the links being sold in 1799 to a rabbit breeding company! This proved to be a very controversial move which essentially led to what is known locally as the « Rabbit Wars » for the best part of twenty years. Eventually, in 1821 a gentleman called James Cheape bought the links for the sole use of local golfers ? which essentially led to the great golfing legacy which still exists to this day.
While in many countries golf is seen as a game for the financial elite, it has always been a sport that was accessible to all levels of society in Scotland. The popularity of the game continued to grow and in 1860 Prestwick Golf Club held the first Open Championship and won by Willie Park. St Andrews first held the Open in 1873 when Tom Kidd claimed the title and more than a century later the course has seen some of the most exciting opens including the famous Tiger Woods victory in 2000 where he set a low-scoring record of 19 under par while becoming the youngest player to have achieved a career « grand slam » of golf’s four major tournaments.
In addition to the famous win by Tiger Woods the winner of the 2005 Open will be following in the footsteps of other legends such as Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Locke and James Braid who have all won over the famous links. Put simply winning the Open at the home of golf is the absolute pinnacle of achievement that any golfer can hope or even dream to achieve.
It seems hard to imagine that a country with the rich history of golf that Scotland enjoys could lose its way in terms of promoting itself as a great golfing destination. However, during the 90’s this was certainly the case. Countries such as Portugal, Spain and even Ireland worked tirelessly to sell themselves to the outside world as the ideal destination for a golfing holiday. Scotland was perhaps guilty of arrogance thinking that it could survive on its historical reputation alone.
However, the last four years has seen a definite shift in the market with large amounts of (particularly English, American and Japanese) golfers once again visiting Scottish shores. Helped by the publicity surrounding this years Open at St.Andrews more and more golfers are looking for golfing breaks and have a large number of companies competing for their business.
One such company is the short break specialist www.superbreak.com whom offer a range of golfing breaks to top Scottish resorts such as Marriott Dalmahoy which is set in 1000 acres of wooded parkland at the foot of the Pentland Hills and has hosted both the Solheim Cup and the Scottish PGA Championship. In St.Andrews itself the relatively new St.Andrews Bay Golf Resort provides 5 star luxury that rivals the best of golfing hotels anywhere in the world. Sitting amidst the rugged coastal landscape of East Fife the hotel is within a short distance of all the St.Andrews courses as well as other top local courses such as Lundin Links, Leven Links, Scotscraig and Ladybank.
It seems despite heavy investment in promotion of golfing resorts in other countries Scotland will always command a very special place in the global golfing community. Lessons seem to have been learnt and the Scottish golfing industry is unlikely to rest on its laurels again. While a rich history and flagship tournament are important, if the industry is to continue to flourish then continued and focussed investment most remain a priority.