Golf travel is perhaps something that’s really designed for four players, or at the very least even numbers you might think? Well there’s a grain of truth in this. Certainly groups of five can be quite awkward and they can find themselves getting penalised, but Faraway Fairways thought we’d take you through how Scotland handles groups of three, and what a Scottish golf trip for three players might look like, how you could adjust things, and how you can make some savings so as to ensure you extract maximum value

There are three main blocks of cost in any golf trip

  • Golf/ Green fees
  • Accommodation
  • Transport

Nearly every Scottish golf club will take a three-ball booking. There is little barrier here, and no financial penalty. The only exception we’re aware of is Muirfield who require that you apply as a fourball. You will need a handicap of 18 to play Muirfield, and in the past we have been able to find a local player who is prepared to make up a fourball for anyone who wishes to try this. You should expect to share the cost of the guest’s green fees between you though. The St Andrews Old Course will accept three ball ballot applications as will everyone else. This is not a barrier and there’s no financial penalty involved.

All of the top courses will reserve the right to add a single to a three-ball booking to make up a fourball should they need to do so however. If playing a three-ball you should certainly prepare yourself for the likelihood of becoming a fourball, and we make an allowance in our timings accordingly. Faraway Fairways do receive quite a few enquiries from single golfers desperate to try and play top courses and very often they’re finding themselves struggling to do so. Rest assured that in a majority of cases by welcoming a single into your three-ball you’re doing someone a really good turn and playing your little part in helping reinforce he game’s reputation for being ‘thoroughly decent’

The only other golf related area that a three-ball might want to appraise themselves of concerns the issues revolving around St Andrews Old Course guaranteed tee-times

Guaranteed tee-times are distributed amongst ‘authorised providers’ in blocks for fourball play. Guaranteed tee-times are always in high-demand. The operators / providers who hold them are rarely (if ever) in danger of failing to sell them. The fourball booking is the most popular in the market. Therefore, prospective suppliers have very little reason to break up the integrity of their fourball option and sell it to a three-ball in the knowledge that they’ve then got find a single player to maximise their sales revenue yield. It’s basically more time consuming to do so, when the easier and more lucrative transaction is to sell to a fourball. A lot of authorised providers will only sell exclusively to fourball applicants

Now that’s not to say that a three-ball party can’t buy a guaranteed Old Course package, only that it’s much harder to do so, and you’d have to be outrageously fortunate to do so on equal terms.

Guaranteed tee-times are very, very rarely sold in isolation to the bare essentials (the Old Course and one other St Andrews Links Trust course). They nearly always come with a minimum hotel stay attached to them (typically four nights) and frequently with a minimum spend per person at that hotel (about £100). You could easily find that you’re required to compensate the seller to the value that the fourth player would have been worth to them in order to take a guaranteed tee-time. This needn’t been restricted to nights stayed and hotel expenditure either. It can extend to other courses played that are on the package (usually Carnoustie and Kingsbarns) and can even involve transport too. As you might imagine, sharing the cost of a ‘phantom fourth player’ amongst three, on what is already an inflated retail price, becomes prohibitively very expensive, very quickly. Faraway Fairways can’t really advise that any three-ball doing this is getting value for it

The issue of accommodation however is a little bit more opaque and this where a three-ball might pick up some financial penalty, but even here there is sometimes some scope to create a saving with some local knowledge and astute planning.

In general terms, odd numbers don’t tend to work that well in the UK hotel market. Although some will make a concession to a single occupancy room, they never do so at 50% of the price. It tends to be in the region of 80% instead. What this usually means is that two players will share a twin room (two single beds) and the third player will normally have a double room under single occupancy. Single rooms do exist, but they tend to be the poor relation in a hotel’s portfolio

The double room under single occupancy is the superior choice, but it also happens to be the more expensive option. You might be prepared to accept this as a compromise. Although you’re paying more per person, you are at least getting something for your money

One thing you might consider however is a ‘family room’. Family rooms are typically larger than standard twin or double guest rooms. They typically have three beds, usually comprised of one double, and two singles. Obviously, the person who is allocated the double has the best deal on this arrangement. You’d need to decide how you arbitrate on this one. You might make it conditional on doing the driving, you might rotate it, or you might like to introduce a sporting angle and make it subject of a nearest the hole challenge on your par 3’s?

The big attraction of the family room however is that the per person rate is usually lower with three people sharing the costs of a family room, than two people sharing a traditional twin room. It can represent a saving to you

The final major cost consideration is transport. This is where a three-ball will nearly always get penalised.

A golfer typical generates one large luggage item plus a golf bag. Three golfer’s equal’s six significant luggage items. No ‘car’ can handle this without resorting to distinctly sub-optimal solutions of cramming golf bags onto back seats, wedging them into passenger footwells, and the third golfer contorting themselves accordingly. Don’t attempt it. Your ride comfort will be severely compromised

Instead you’ll need to use a multiple-person-vehicle (MPV) with the same capacity that a fourball would. These typically have between 7 and 9 seats, but critically they handle 9 luggage items. It might look like a bit like overkill, but there really isn’t much by way of alternative option. The downside of course is that the hire cost for the vehicle is the same regardless of whether three people or nine people are using it. The cost person rises with each less person there is to share the burden

The only way around this that might be conceivable is to use two cars, one large estate (4 to 5 luggage items) and one small hatchback or medium saloon (2 luggage items). This wouldn’t necessarily be a ‘saving’ in the strict sense of the word, but it would limit the damage as it usually works out cheaper than an MPV. In truth though, it’s clumsy and the cost differential isn’t actually that much. You’re probably better off keeping the integrity of your group together in a single travel unit where you can enjoy each other’s camaraderie

The only other ‘cost heading’ that can make a significant contribution to a golf trip that would possibly need attending to in advance are entry fees to visitor attractions. A group of three isn’t penalised on these, or to be more precise perhaps, a group of three isn’t considered large enough to benefit from any discount structures. If it’s any consolation, neither are groups of four either. Group discounts tend to begin at groups of eight

So what about in-situ expenditure? Things such as food and rink aren’t normally affected, although there is one potential caveat of concerning St Andrews Old Course guaranteed tee-times if for some reason you’ve found that you’ve been able to find someone who’ll sell you a three-ball option

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