SCOTTISH GOLF TRANSPORT, THE LOWDOWN, THE PROS, THE CONS & OPTIONS
How Do I Get There?
When beginning our appraisal of Scottish golf transport we thought it sensible to start with the point of arrival. Edinburgh is the logical airport for most golf tours. Flights from North America land daily from New York in the early morning. At the time of writing there are direct flights from Chicago, and Philadelphia too. Edinburgh Airport is on the right side of the city for ‘getting away’ to St Andrews (the west) and connects with the motorway system within a mile. Faraway Fairways normally reckon that you can be in St Andrews by mid-day for those seeking to go straight there
Glasgow is normally considered the better option for Troon and Turnberry. It saves about an hour of road time. There is normally a single daily direct flight that again lands early in the morning. Glasgow also has peak season routes to Las Vegas, Orlando, Toronto, and Calgary. We would normally expect you to be on the Ayrshire coast by about 10.30
Faraway Fairways tend to advise that if you’re playing the Highlands or Aberdeenshire then you’re probably better off using Edinburgh. Alternatively you could fly to any English hub for regularly local connections to Scotland. In 2016 Heathrow began a direct service to Inverness, which services the Highlands. Inverness Airport is about four miles from Castle Stuart. The flight tends to arrive in the afternoon however, so the saving made needn’t be one of time, but rather one of convenience, avoiding what would otherwise be a three and a half hour drive from Edinburgh to the Highlands instead
Top Tip –
It’s definitely worth exploring whether or not you might route through Dublin. The Irish capital is often the least expensive route into Europe, and can offer significant savings. There are regular inexpensive flights from Dublin to the major cities of Scotland. Perhaps the biggest bonus for a golfer however is the proximity of the world top-100 links of Portmarnock to Dublin Airport (20 minutes away). With good advanced planning, (about 18 months of lead time) you might even be able to add the world ranked top-5 course of Royal County Down on the return leg, since that is less than 2 hours from Dublin airport. If you’re able to achieve a saving by routing through Ireland, then you might find that this subsidises book-ending your Scottish trip with these two Irish courses?
Edinburgh airport is located on the west side of the city and reasonably convenient for ‘getting away’ especially for Fife and St Andrews. The terminal and drop off area is to the right, whilst the car park is to the centre, with the vehicle hire pick ups a little bit beyond the multi-storey
A couple of itineraries involve starting in Northern Ireland. It’s normally worth giving strong consideration towards arriving in Dublin and then transferring over-land (2 hours). Alternatively fly to any English hub (London, Manchester, or Birmingham) for regularly local connections to Belfast. The cost of international flights do not appear in our price lists
A majority of clients choose to self-drive. Doing so has many advantages, cost being just one, but if you’ve got St Andrews in your itinerary (and most people do) then it makes sense to self-drive because of the additional flexibility it gives you to respond to the changing picture associated with ballot results
The vehicle pick-up bureau tend to be set back from the main airport terminals and parking areas and are connected by courtesy buses. The process isn’t super slick but neither is it difficult to navigate either. During the off-peak season we can arrange to have a meet and greet service to help guide through the final 800yds but during July and August we aren’t able to offer this.
If you’ve chosen to use a chauffeur drive transfer then it will simply be a case of observing the arrangements that have been made. These tend to be fairly international airport standard of a driver seeking to identify themselves to you in the arrivals halls
UK Driving Experience – What to expect
With 65M people, the UK is a densely populated little island, but Scotland is very ‘Jekyll and Hyde’. Some of her roads are ‘open’ in the liberating sense of the word, and a real joy to drive. Both Edinburgh and Glasgow however are notoriously busy and not terribly well signed.
Approaching Glencoe from Rannoch Moor North Bridge, central Edinburgh
Although heavy traffic is what tends to intimidate overseas drivers most, strangely enough congested conditions are often easier. The traffic is frequently gridlocked and allows you much greater opportunity to observe, plan, and even follow others if need be. The most challenging conditions are what we might describe as busy traffic that is still flowing
Although you will need to adjust to driving on the left-hand side of the road quite quickly, for such time as you’re in urban areas this is fairly easy to do as other motorists will ‘keep you honest’. Overseas visitors who are used to driving on the right-hand side of the road tend to be more vulnerable to lapses of concentration in remote rural locations. There are signs dotted around the Highlands saying ‘keep left’ but that needn’t be enough. Some modern driving management systems do of course have a warning ‘bleeper’ if they detect the vehicle has crossed a ‘white-line’ and moved onto the wrong side of the road.
Faraway Fairways will nearly always be able to secure you an automatic transmission, which means you have one less thing to worry about since changing gear only to find yourself winding down a window is a little bit alarming at first until you’ve adjusted. In addition to this aide, we will normally look to put an audio GPS Sat-Nav into a hire as well, so as to allow you to concentrate on steering and general road craft rather than navigation
Outside of the cities, particularly the Highland region, driving in Scotland is often considered a legitimate leisure pursuit in its own-right. The roads are uncongested and typically scenic. There are normally ample opportunities to pull over and admire a view.
Self-drive or Driver guide?
In common with a lot of operators, self-drive is our default offer. When we first began Faraway Fairways (2014) we were open-minded on this, but have since come to the conclusion that unless you really have a deep aversion to self-driving, it normally represents the best option
Other than cost, the principal gain of self-drive is 100% independence. Self-drive puts you in control and allows you to set your own programme in-situ. Even with a driver guide with whom you establish a good relationship, or someone who keeps out of your way to the point where you barely notice them, it is still never quite the same as being completely independent in your own friendship group.
Small Size Group travel (two players) – Self Drive
Seating capacities are rarely an issue on a golf trip. Luggage however is. In addition to a standard luggage item such as a suitcase, golfers also generate a golf bag. As you realise, golf bags are an awkward shape. Golfers invariably require a bigger vehicle than their bare number suggests they should. A two ball party should therefore be looking to use a ‘large estate car’
Small Group travel (four players) – Self Drive
Although we don’t see it that frequently, three is the critical number whereby we have to begin using a nine-person MPV (no estate car can take six luggage items – don’t allow anyone to kid you into thinking otherwise). The MPV such as the Mercedes V-Class is very much the workhorse of the Scottish golf industry. This would be the largest vehicle that most of you will be able to drive legally but adapting to an MPV isn’t that demanding, they’re quite powerful and responsive.
The Hyundai 40i estate, typical of the vehicle in this class Mercedes Vito typical of the MPV in this class
Medium Group travel (eight golfers +) – Self Drive
To a large extent everything in golf transport is geared towards multiples of four. An MPV has luggage capacity for nine items (four players using a golf bag and suitcase each). Tee times are of course sold in fourballs. It works out well. Consequently groups of eight are advised to use two MPV’s. Indeed, groups of twelve are advised to use three, we do eventually begin to encounter a problem however on larger groups as you might imagine, but there is a critical consideration we need to weigh that still means that we seek to use a fleet wherever we can rather than looking for a single large capacity coach
Two or more vehicles is the most flexible option, potentially allowing a group to split their areas of interest should you wish to do so (especially helpful for areas of non-golf activity). Having two vehicles can be particularly useful if you encounter split tee times (most likely to occur in groups of more than four golfers). Perhaps the most critical factor however is that many of you will be playing the St Andrews Old Course through the ballot, which means we get notification of tee-times just 48 hours before play. Under this scenario it’s entirely probable that you’ll encounter a situation whereby you’ll have two fourballs going in different directions, to play different courses, at different times, on the same day. Two or more vehicles would allow you to do this. We really don’t want to be scrambling about on the morning trying to put transport arrangements in place if we’ve only got the one vehicle or a hired-driver on a rigid ‘pick-up’ schedule of their own
Large Groups – (sixteen plus)
By the time your group begins to exceed sixteen or more, your options for self-drive are beginning to resemble an elaborate convoy solution! Yes, you might be scoff a little bit at this for looking clumsy and complicated, but it is still feasible incidentally, and shouldn’t be dismissed. Because everything is based on multiples of four you’d still enjoy all the same flexible advantages if adopting this, but we’d also need to accept that the more rigid midi-bus/ coach is starting to make some appeal too.
Faraway Fairways normally provide transport in line with comfort to distance. Many of the journey’s we undertake aren’t that far removed from a daily commute by way of time burden (45 mins). Consequently de-luxe options with their extra wide seats, individual arm and footrests, seat back tables, air-conditioning, TV/DVDs, mood lighting, double glazed windows and full draw curtains and cool boxes or fridges might be considered an unnecessary extravagance. It’s a decision you’ll need to make, what we can tell you though is that Scots don’t travel like this. If you choose to do so, you will be advertising that you’re an overseas visitor. Having perhaps said that with an air of disapproval Faraway Fairways are equally aware that this might be something of a false equivalent. For many a golf trip to Scotland is something of a life-time ‘experience’. There is the old saying of, if it’s worth doing, then it’s worth doing properly. Whereas a local journeys between say St Andrews and Kingsbarns under these conditions might be overkill, if you’re doing a longer-distance, say St Andrews to Turnberry, then you can certainly justify the additional luxury in your travel
To help you make a little bit more sense of the geography, mileage, and journey times, we’ve linked the RAC’s journey planner. Simply add the ‘to’ and ‘from’ destinations (A & B) and then click ‘Get Route’. You can add a ‘via’ point by clicking ‘add destination’ underneath the two options you’ve entered.
The train actually enjoys a very special relationship with Scotland’s golf links being responsible for the development of so many of them, circa 1880 – 1895. This legacy means that it does become an occasional option for playing a few select courses if you wanted to reduce the driving burden
Prestwick is a mere 150 yds from the railway station to the clubhouse and can be reached on a direct service from Glasgow. North Berwick is 375 yds on a direct service from Edinburgh. Finally Carnoustie is 400 yds although this usually involves changing trains at Dundee so is perhaps less attractive. There is a fourth option too that’s a little bit of ‘trick’. Despite being in the north east of Scotland, there is a fast train service between Edinburgh and Aberdeen (the train that serves this route is actually the world speed record holder for a diesel locomotive). Although you’d probably decline this journey by road, it’s possible to play Royal Aberdeen by train from Edinburgh in a single day and get back to the capital that evening. You will need a local taxi at Aberdeen station though
The train is usually the most convenient and best-value method for anyone wishing to shuttle between Edinburgh and Glasgow. The journey takes about an hour, but only costs about $20 return, and drops you centrally in either location.
If wishing to visit Edinburgh from St Andrews (some Edinburgh time is definitely advised) then the train is a good option. It’s not really advisable to take a vehicle into central Edinburgh unless you have to. It can become something of a burden to you if you do. Luckily Edinburgh Waverley Station is literally right in the heart of the city centre (not all railway stations are). The station is in a cutting below street level but backs onto the national gallery and Prince’s Street. What you do is drive to Leuchars Station (pronounced Loo-kers) which is about 12 minutes from St Andrews, park, and then take a direct train to Waverley (about 60 minutes)
The entrance to Waverley is somewhat under-stated Trains to Glasgow or North Berwick are local commuter services
The best way of making the St Andrews/ Edinburgh day-trip work would be to play one of the shorter St Andrews Links Trust courses on an early morning tee-time and then head to capital, potentially returning quite late should you choose to extend into the evening a bit
Getting Around Edinburgh Without Your Own Vehicle
One of the most convenient ways of getting around the hilly city of Edinburgh is use the 48-hour hop-on/ hop-off rover bus ticket. There are three operators that serve a fourteen stop circuit that has been designed to link up all of the city’s principal visitor attractions. The rover ticket allows you to use these open-top buses inter-changeably. A ticket is valid for 48-hours and you simply do as it says, hop-on and hop-off
The three bus operators. Majestic Tours (blue) Edinburgh Tours (green) and City Sightseeing (red).
It’s a shame that the taxi got in the way to ruin the picture, but hey …. you know what an Edinburgh city taxi looks like now!
The most recent addition to the city transport network is the tram. If staying on the west side of the city (Dalmahoy for luxury and premier class, or the Premier Inn at Gyle for affordable class) the tram makes a lot of sense. Trams run every 7-10 minutes from ‘Edinburgh Park station, and take 20 minutes before they’re trundling along Prince’s Street. They’re inexpensive, clean, and relatively quick. Starting in 2020 Dalmahoy is running a courtesy shuttle service for guests from the hotel to Edinburgh Park tram stop. Anyone staying at the Premier Inn needn’t worry, it’s a 75 yd walk from the entrance to the tram stop
Tours that combine Northern Ireland with Scotland can involve crossing the Irish Sea. Playing Royal County Down requires that we use the larger, modern, high speed ferry service, and the deep water port of Belfast. The crossing to Stranraer takes a little over 2 hours. The UK has over 100 passenger ferries leaving ports for European destinations daily. Their safety record is excellent. Only one has ever been lost in peacetime, and that was in the English Channel.
Sea crossings do run an enhanced risk of travel disruption however. The services between Scotland and Northern Ireland won’t normally sail in ‘rough’ conditions. We will usually have some indication in advance of a deteriorating picture, and might be able to mitigate cancellations with alternative arrangements. It is worth being aware that periodically inexpensive flight tickets become available. Purchasing one of these as a contingency can sometimes be justified if the price isn’t too prohibitive. This might sound counter-intuitive? Well at one level it is. Why purchase a flight ticket and then not use it? Well the answer really revolves around the convenience of being able to use a car ferry. That is to say, drive straight off the boat within ten minutes of docking and disembarkation. If your next stop is Turnberry for instance, this is quite a bit quicker than flying to Glasgow, going through baggage reclaim, hiring a new vehicle, and then driving down the Ayrshire coast
The Stena ‘super fast’ service takes 2 hrs 20 mins from Belfast to Cairnryan
Our ‘Wilderness’ tour is more vulnerable to inclement sea conditions. The ferries used for linking up the Scottish islands aren’t as modern as those used on the Irish lines. They are however rugged and durable. We have less scope for mitigation against cancellations here as flights are much less frequent and even non-existent in some cases. Also the aircraft used to service the Hebridean islands can face disruption themselves in particularly poor weather. The greatest limiting factor however is the vehicle. You can’t fly your car off the island
Essentially golf is an outdoor sport, and the western isles of Scotland are remote. A degree of effort, and even logistical risk is needed to experience it. Basically there reaches a point where golfer’s will need to accept this. For the most part we’ll be OK, but every now and then we will face an issue of a cancellation and need to ‘sit it out’ and wait for things to improve. Faraway Fairways do have contingency plans in place for regaining the itinerary, but they will only be able to absorb so much before they overload. We would expect to be able to absorb 24 hours of disruption and recover a majority of the tour by way of its structure. 24 hours tends to be what bad weather would generate
In a lot of cases local ‘hopper’ flights to the Highlands or Northern Ireland take longer door-to-door than overland transfers or sailing. The exceptions are the flights from Glasgow to Machrihanish, or Glasgow to Machrie on the island of Islay. These can be completed as a golfer’s day-trip, or as part of a wider tour. The twin engine ‘Otter’ is the workhorse of the Highlands and Islands. It has proven to be durable and reliable. They even land them on beaches in the far north! Don’t worry, Campbeltown has a conventional runway