Scottish golf industry hit hard by lack of tourist tees

Travel restrictions mean international golf fans won't be on the greens this summer.

Scotland may be on course to return to normality in the months to come but for the country’s golf tourism industry the effects of the pandemic are still taking a serious toll.

Courses up and down the nation are open to locals but for those who run them, the lack of international travellers making a pilgrimage to the home of golf has seen takings plummet and business owners are concerned about the impact.

This time of year would normally see an influx of tourists with clubs in bag, ready to spend money that helps to sustain the golfing economy in Fife but insiders told STV this year is looking difficult.

David Roy of Crail Golfing Society said: “Under normal circumstances we would be welcoming up to 10,000 visitors a year and 70% of them would be from overseas.

“So you can imagine, you do the arithmetic, you can imagine how much of a disruption that has been to the club and all the staff.”

Marc Gentles, owner of St Andrews Golf Travel, agrees the outlook for the next few months is worrying. He said: “About 99% of our business comes from the US.

“I think with the vaccine news at the end of last year we were really hopeful this would year would really go ahead in full, but I think with the travel restrictions, and us having to work with a sixty day timescale with hotels and courses we are already moving bookings till the end of July, so it’s not looking great.”

It’s not only those working directly in the sport who will be affected, with travelling golfers accounting for a majority of the summer business for some accommodation providers.

But the lifting of lockdown has meant Scottish golfers have been keen to get out on the course and that’s been a welcome boost for some.

Dumbarnie Links is Scotland’s newest golf course. It only opened last May right at the height of the first Covid lockdown. A big part of the long-term business plan is to attract US golfers but with international travel reduced they have made up for the loss of trade with the golfers coming from the UK.

General manager David Scott told STV: “It’s a pay and play golf course, no membership at all, so everybody coming back was paying a green fee every time.

“From a cash flow stand point we were very pleasantly surprised. Our business model is certainly aimed at the overseas visitors coming here and so to go for plan B and look at the Scottish market and get that support from them… we feel very blessed.”

With countrywide travel allowed once again there’s room for optimism, but those making a living from the golf industry won’t feel they’re out of the rough until international travel is teed up once again.